Standing in front of 1,254 students on the first day of their engineering undergraduate careers, alumnus entrepreneur Mike Branch (ECE 0T3) declared, “You’re at the start of something incredible right now… you’re in the exact right place at the exact right time.”
On September 4, the Faculty welcomed this year’s incoming class with a special plenary lecture from Branch at Convocation Hall – from the same stage students would cross at their own graduations four or five years from now.
“Students, today is the beginning of a new journey,” said Dean Cristina Amon in her opening remarks. “Today is your first day at the finest engineering school in Canada and one of the very best in the world.”
“This journey will not always be easy,” she shared, “but you did not decide to study engineering at the University of Toronto because it was easy – you came seeking a challenge.”
The theme of challenging yourself and pushing boundaries echoed in Branch’s address, as he encouraged students to continually try new things and reach beyond expectation.
“As aspiring engineers, my biggest advice to you is to challenge yourself,” said Branch, “not just in the classroom, but in everything you do in life. When you do, you’ll inevitably open yourself to more opportunities, and therefore more chances for success.”
Branch, who started as a U of T engineering undergraduate just 15 years ago, knows all too well how it feels to sit in the seats of Convocation Hall. Now, a little over a decade after graduation, he is the founder of two successful software companies, Inovex Inc. and MapsBI.
His first company, Inovex Inc., is a software firm that Branch started in his parents’ living room shortly after graduating from U of T Engineering. The firm specializes in developing software applications for the health care, energy and environmental sectors.
With the success of Inovex, Branch and his team started MapsBI, an award-winning cloud-based software that uses mapping technology and business intelligence to interpret geographical data for a number of applications, such as analyzing the correlation between obesity rates and proximity to fast-food restaurants.
As an engineer who’s experienced a great deal of success in entrepreneurial ventures, Branch encouraged students to seek their own passions, whatever they may be.
He asked students to think deeply about why they had decided to pursue engineering, and invited them to respond using the hashtag #engineerbecause. Responses were shown on a projector via live feed. Many students agreed it was with the intention of making a positive difference on the world.
#EngineerBecause …I saw problems around me and I wanted to solve them.
— Jason Bazylak (@ProfBazylak) September 4, 2014
#engineerbecause I like it so I'm gonna put a ring on it
— Padmanie (@PadmanieAnn) September 4, 2014
“For me, it was the feeling I got when I created something,” said Branch. “I like to think that maybe some of you are here for the same reason… bringing your imagination to life.”
With a series of achievements under his belt already, Branch has no plans of slowing down. He challenged new undergraduates to follow opportunities, to innovate and to have a positive influence.
“I challenge you to take what you learn here and do something game changing with it,” he said. “Create something that will make a difference.”
Watch Branch’s plenary address: