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See a problem? Consider Enterprise Co-op

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Jackson Mills saw a problem with student feedback. Originally, he thought that students were falling behind in some classes because of a translation error due to the use of jargon. He and another classmate thought that if they translated lectures into more visual metaphors it would eliminate the use of jargon. Although that’s no longer the problem he’s working on, he’s had the chance to explore what it’s like to be an entrepreneur during his Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term.

If you have an idea that you think you could take to market, and passion to build your venture, you could start an E Co-op. At the beginning of Mills’ 3B term in computer science, and after three work terms, he was ready for the challenge of starting a business. He realized quite quickly that it was up to him to make progress happen.

Jackson Mills“I think this is actually the case with most jobs, but it’s an unwritten rule,” said Mills.

eLuminate is in the early stages – Mills is still working on the problem/solution and market fit after a few pivots. This was one of the biggest challenges of his E Co-op term.

“Every pivot comes with a crisis of faith,” explained Mills. “Another challenge was the way my co-founder Tony Wang (Geomatics) and I split the roles. I handled the strategy and a lot of the people stuff and Tony did the programming and built a website. I felt like I didn’t contribute much because none of my deliverables were visible.”

Without Mills’ work, the team would still be working on a student feedback problem instead of realizing that student feedback was an example of a more general problem of getting customer feedback. He discovered that after interviewing 30 people in 30 different professions in 32 days. The interviews led to research into interviews and how to pull reliable insight about the problems that someone’s facing.

Take this example: Someone makes the general statement that they usually go to work by bus. That’s not actually data. When you ask about the last time they didn’t take the bus, you discover that it was yesterday. When you delve deeper to ask why they didn’t take the bus yesterday, you discover that it was because it was raining. Going deeper still, you realize that it rains most days, so in fact the person only takes the bus a couple of days a month. Mills realized that if they took the general rules of digging to find the specifics and tried listening to an interview, they could prompt the interviewer to ask a follow-up question.

At first, Mills believed that that product managers would be a target market for their interview assistant, but the least stressful pivot has been to target hiring managers. He and Wang haven’t built the bot yet. With COVID-19 it’s been hard to move forward as there few people are hiring and that makes it more difficult to come across data. They’re pressing pause on the project for the moment.

Mills starts back to school for the Spring term, but that’s not going to stop him from being entrepreneurial. In addition to a full course load, Mills is heading into the E Co-op Stream 2: Solve Billion-Dollar problems.

The E Co-op experience has led to a lot of learning time, the autonomy to work on what is most important, and connecting to the entrepreneurial community and meeting other entrepreneurs with similar problems.

“Whenever I ran into a problem or considered a new idea, I already knew people I could talk to for help on that,” said Mills. “I think it’s really important to have the entrepreneurship community who understands that it’s about giving, not, that’s not my job.”


Resources at Waterloo that Mills used:

  • BET 300 Foundations of Venture Creation – Introduces students to the processes involved in moving an idea for a new venture from concept through to launch. Mills took this course and started building connections in the entrepreneurial community.
  • Concept events – From Concept workshops to pitch competitions, Mills would see many fellow E Co-op students at the various Concept events.
  • Problem Lab – Helps students examine a problem from many different perspectives. Mills attended pitch competitions and events.

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