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“There’s so much potential within the graduate school that I came from, and what’s better than to give back to my alma mater.” —Francis Shen on his recent gift.

Creating a multimillion-dollar company directly out of graduate school may not be rocket science, but for alumnus Francis Shen (UTIAS MASc 8T3), a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) certainly helped.

This past summer, Shen donated $1 million to the Institute to develop an entrepreneurship incubator, enabling future engineers with the competencies and opportunities he’s learned over decades in business.

“I want to show graduate students that there are more options than simply finding a job after you graduate,” said Shen. “Instead of working for someone else, you can create jobs for yourself and others, building prosperity within your community and giving back to your economy,”

Shen’s program will provide mentorship, networking and funding to participants with promising ideas, while encouraging collaboration amongst the groups.

“UTIAS is an ideal place for an entrepreneurship program of this type,” said Professor David Zingg, UTIAS director. “UTIAS’s cutting-edge research has the potential to be commercialized in so many different areas, both within and outside aerospace, as has so often been demonstrated in the past.”

In 1983, Shen founded Aastra, an R&D consulting firm that rapidly grew to become North America’s largest provider of caller ID units. The firm recently merged with Mitel Networks Corp. for a combined worth of more than $1 billion and over 60 million customers around the world.

“We are grateful to Francis Shen for his commitment to UTIAS,” said Dean Cristina Amon. “His generous gift will provide students with the infrastructure and support needed to explore entrepreneurial opportunities in aerospace engineering. It also demonstrates the deep connection our alumni feel toward the Faculty.”

Shen looks forward to being involved with the program and seeing students progress.

“I want to do something meaningful with my time and with my resources,” he said. “I want to give back to the place that helped me get my start.”

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Marit Mitchell
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