Igniting the spirit of entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Mathematics

Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics is truly uncommon. At most universities, departmental branches of mathematics are typically housed within a faculty of science or a faculty of arts. But at Waterloo mathematics is a faculty. In fact, Waterloo is the only university in North America to have an entire faculty devoted to the study of mathematics and computer science.

The Faculty of Mathematics is also uncommon in that it’s the only faculty at Waterloo that has expanded the scope of a critically important leadership role.

Professor Anita Layton, Associate Dean Research and International, leads the Math Research Office. As the Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematical Biology and Medicine, she not only brings her expertise in mathematical and computational modelling of blood flow dynamics and kidney function to the Department of Applied Mathematics, but she also provides leadership to ensure successful governmental research funding and expanded international collaboration.

In January 2020, the Faculty of Mathematics expanded this office by creating a new position — Associate Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship — to augment the work Professor Layton oversees. Professor Jesse Hoey, the inaugural holder of this strategic position, leads the Math Innovation Office to support industrial collaboration and to encourage and sustain faculty and student entrepreneurship. This summer, Camelia Nunez joined the Math Innovation Office as Director of Innovation and Research Partnerships to work with Professor Hoey to help ignite a spirit of entrepreneurship among faculty and students.

“The Math Innovation Office is launching two exciting initiatives — the Ideas Hub and the Math Creators Fund — to encourage and support our faculty members and students who wish to turn their innovative ideas and discoveries into business opportunities,” says Camelia, who came to the Faculty of Mathematics from her previous position as Director of Concept, Velocity’s student entrepreneurship program.

“Through the Ideas Hub, we are building a community for self-starter students and faculty to exchange ideas with peers and to discover new opportunities to explore. And through the Math Creators Fund, we are providing resources to support a range of initiatives that foster entrepreneurial skills and fuel a start-up culture.”

In a world that’s increasingly complex and threatened by challenges posed by climate change and the COVID pandemic we face unprecedented health, environmental and economic crises. But to the prepared and entrepreneurial mind, these challenges also bring unprecedented opportunities.

“Maclean’s just ranked computer science and math at Waterloo as the best in Canada,” Camelia said. “We know we have the best faculty and students in the country and we want to encourage them to think entrepreneurially about their studies and research. The Coop Challenge, one of the initiatives within the Math Creators Fund, is designed to prepare students before they go on their work placements to look for important problems and to propose solutions.”

This is but one example of a suite of bold, uncommon initiatives to develop business skills and foster entrepreneurship.

“Our hope is that our alumni will explore these opportunities with us to inspire, mentor and mobilize this exceptional talent pool,” Camelia said. “With their expertise and experience, our entrepreneurial alumni can stand as inspiring role models and continue to motivate our current students in their quest to tackle the world’s biggest problems.”