Innovation thrives with experience as the teacher

Experiential learning at VeloCity helps students put theory into practice, giving their education another dimension while discovering the world of entrepreneurship through trial and error.

By Jodi Szimanski

Student Success Office

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Student entrepreuneurs at University of Waterloo's VeloCityUniversity of Waterloo pioneered experiential learning with its co-operative program. The introduction of VeloCity in 2008 took this form of learning to new heights. VeloCity gives students the opportunity to test ideas quickly, and respond even more quickly, based on real-time results – it allows for learning from mistakes in a safe environment. The result: innovation.

This is incredibly important for entrepreneurs. By allowing students to learn via hands-on, tactile approaches, they experience real-world feedback that they can’t attain in traditional academic settings. “It’s where students put theory into practice. A group of students may have an idea that they all think sounds really good, and it often ends up being very different when they try to build it,” said Brett Shellhammer, VeloCity entrepreneur-in-residence. “So understanding those patterns, both positive and negative, is really valuable for someone wanting to be entrepreneurial.”

The availability of insight and quick feedback helps students adapt quickly and evolve with a constantly changing environment. VeloCity is building stronger critical thinkers and action-takers. The learning in this environment is in the process.

Very few university programs encourage entrepreneurship and provide a place for students to live the startup life and give them the resources, tools and mentorship to help them grow their ideas in a real-world application. VeloCity Residence was built for self-driven individuals who have a business idea they want to grow. By providing a space for a grassroots community, these motivated individuals can collaborate and share resources to focus their passion for solving problems. With the addition of the VeloCity Garage, and most recently the VeloCity Campus, students across campus and even recent grads can take advantage of the experiential learning opportunities.

Students feel they will be in a better position to succeed as an entrepreneur after VeloCity. “School and co-op can definitely teach you a lot, but VeloCity was a huge motivating factor in getting me to take charge and do something, which in turn has taught me more,” said Alexandru Blidaru, a former VeloCity resident and currently a co-op student for Thalmic Labs in the VeloCity Garage. “For me, being an entrepreneur has always been the end goal. I love working on my own project and working with other students just as interested in technology and making a difference as I am. It’s a golden opportunity.”