The entrepreneurial spirit is thriving.
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Canada has the highest rate of early-stage entrepreneurship among the major developed countries. But, and unsurprisingly given the changing economic landscape, it seems young people are the ones most energized by this opportunity. In 2013, BMO reported nearly half of Canadian students – 46% – aspire to start their own business upon graduation.
Many individuals feel empowered to create their own futures through commercial ventures, while others realize the best business opportunities could be under their nose. Large companies, such as MasterCard, recognize the importance of entrepreneurial skills and are creating cross-collaborative teams to generate innovative ideas. They are encouraging and attracting ‘intrapreneurs’.
The growing interest in entrepreneurship and demand for entrepreneurial skills is prompting post-secondary institutions to consider how to integrate this learning into their curriculum and campuses.
Entrepreneurship is a natural extension in places like Sheridan, where creativity is embedded into the mandate and active investments are made in entrepreneurial skills and pathways for students.
Sheridan includes entrepreneurship courses within expected faculties such as business, but also integrates entrepreneurship skills into a variety of diverse programs. Benjamin Scott, a graduate of Sheridan’s Bachelor of Game Design program and co-founder of game development company Oddbird Studio, says the experience of an entrepreneurial seminar and industry day during his program changed the course of the business. “During industry day we got a lot of interest in work-for-hire. We met a lot of people and they were all great, but one company is now our biggest client. That all started from that day,” says Scott.
Post-secondary: The Ideal Start-up Platform
The post-secondary network can support and strengthen the skills needed to launch a new business or be a high-performer in the ever-changing career market. Sheridan recognized that with its breadth of program areas, emphasis on creativity, and clear demand from students, a dedicated entrepreneurship space would produce lots of interesting outcomes.
In September 2017, Sheridan launched the EDGE Entrepreneurship Hub to provide critical supports for aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups, including a dedicated workspace, training, mentorship and support to access funding for early-stage entrepreneurs.
The ability to come together as a team to brainstorm, solve issues and ultimately develop a vision is of great importance to start-ups. Although ‘solo-preneurs’ – those who go it alone – are plenty and a viable option, teamwork is powerful in building new ventures. As Scott describes, “getting a good team together has been one of the most valuable things. Being able to rely on people and bounce ideas off them helped build confidence in our company decisions.” He notes, however, that finding space to work together consistently was challenging.
Sheridan provided a sponsored space early on to the OddBird Studio team, enabling them to work together during co-op terms. This access showed the team how important it was to work in a shared location. Once EDGE opened, “it solved our space problem and allowed us to work, share advice, and have a lot of fun with our ideas” says Scott, adding that the creative campus mandate of Sheridan and EDGE also complemented their existing company culture.
Access to co-working space also promotes collaboration among faculties and disciplines. This collaboration played an important role for Shauna-Kay Jones, founder of Motify, an app dedicated to student success for those on the Autism spectrum. For Jones, the most critical part of her business development has been building contacts and relationships, which she experienced in Sheridan’s Software Development and Networking Engineering program and as a current EDGE member.
“I’ve noticed it’s all about networking. If you’re thinking about a start-up and have spaces like EDGE in your school, get in as soon as you start generating ideas, so you can do enough customer discovery,” says Jones. For Motify, support from other entrepreneurs has been invaluable. Jones appreciates the community support, where members “continually message each other about upcoming opportunities because we care about the success of the group. It’s important to be around like-minded people who understand the obstacles and hurdles you face and are able to offer help.”
Post-secondary institutions have access to highly educated professors with vast industry experience. EDGE has built on this resource, with several Sheridan faculty mentors working alongside industry mentors to advise and coach start-ups. For Oddbird Studio, the team relied on meeting with professors during their studies and the development of their first games, with one professor continuing as a mentor at EDGE. “I mean, now we call them mentors, but they’re still profs and people we know and trust. We’re able to continue asking questions and getting their advice.”
EDGE also offers seminars and workshops tailored to different stages of venture development. This includes programs like Leap, which provide members exclusive access to sessions designed to take an entrepreneurial idea to execution.
Renee Devereaux, the manager of EDGE, believes that “working on a start-up – whether a traditional for-profit or a social enterprise – is a highly creative endeavour. Building something you care about from the ground up is a learning experience you’ll take with you for life, whether or not your current idea is the one that makes you famous.”
EDGE workshops aim to support entrepreneurs and changemakers wherever they are – if they’re just curious to learn more or ready to grow an existing venture.
Creativity is generally perceived as endeavours involving artistry such as drawing, painting, and the like. For Jones, however, “entrepreneurship should equal creative. The creativity comes not only from the craft of building your product or service, but from the fact that you’re often working with limited resources and competing demands. You have to come up with creative ways to supply your customer with the best product to suit their needs – and think on your feet when you have to go back to the drawing board.”
In their time at Sheridan, both Motify and OddBird Studio have seen incredible success because of their hard work, ingenuity and engagement in an entrepreneurial community. Motify has been able to develop their platform this year and pitch their venture at the RISE Tech Conference in Asia, with plans to begin a research pilot in early 2019. OddBird Studio has launched five games, won major awards from various local, national, and international competitions, and continues their client work.
Supporting a culture of entrepreneurship throughout a post-secondary institution and in dedicated incubator spaces can ignite and promote the creativity inherent in start-ups – and that’s exactly what Sheridan’s doing to help students realize their entrepreneurial potential.
Learn more about EDGE’s entrepreneurship supports.