Uniquely Entrepreneurial 2013-2018 Strategic Plan Mini Town Hall Questions

Held March 6, 2014 | 2 to 3 p.m.

How is the entrepreneurship culture at UWaterloo unique from other Canadian Universities?

One of the reasons was best expressed by our past president when he shared his reflection on ‘What’s in the water at Waterloo?  While a culture that promotes innovation, collaboration and activities is important, an important distinction is the strong work ethic at the University and throughout our region. Dating back to the pioneers that settled the area, the principles of hard work has never left our collective DNA.

Another ‘unique’ reason is the opportunity for our youth to benefit from experiential learning.  Discovery labs, incubators, startup programs and co-op work placements compel a ‘maturing’ effect on students.  Immersion in the workplace awakens the ‘enterprising mind.’

What could the University do better to improve entrepreneurial culture at Waterloo?

One thing we can do is to expand the knowledge of just what is available in entrepreneurship at UW. One of our initiatives is to create an easy to access “entrepreneurship central” portal on the main UW website. From here, viewers will be able to see what courses and programs are available, what clubs focus on different e-ship themes, what speakers are coming, where the opportunities are for discovery and incubation and what financial and mentor support is possible. 

What does the future of entrepreneurship look like in 2014 and beyond?

Firstly, I would suggest that the improvements have been identified and important programs are in development. Our President, Feridun Hamdullahpur, has identified entrepreneurship as a key strategic focus.

The University could identify and promote the people, and key assets that contribute to the spirit of entrepreneurship. I have always believed that a way to internally promote this innovative attitude is to recognize those that are applying innovation in what they do. From research and labs to classrooms to student entrepreneurship groups to experiential; all would share a common brand. This brand presence would become the beacon for innovation at UWaterloo.

The second observation is to create, bridge and promote the ideation to innovation to entrepreneurship continuum.  Contrary to conventional thinking, entrepreneurship is the last stage of the process.  An inventory of activities on campus would reveal that UW is rich in opportunity for aspiring stakeholders.  If these separate activities were commonly branded and promoted, the sum would be substantially more significant than the individual parts. 

How is experiential learning (co-op) linked to our institutional success in the field of entrepreneurship?

UWaterloo is a leader in co-op education and it is no accident that it also has a strong entrepreneurial culture. The exposure to ‘real world’ problems through co-op allows our students to identify opportunities which drive innovation and ultimately become entrepreneurial ventures. 

Do you feel entrepreneurship is owned by specific faculties or is it part of the University-wide DNA?

Clearly, faculties that have a technology component have been the main players so far. Interestingly, many of the startups are not tech-based ideas but students with tech backgrounds tend to pursue them. Conversely, there are some tech areas that do not have a strong entrepreneurship culture. So that speaks to the fact that there is a culture that drives entrepreneurship even though it may appear that technology is the main driver. So the task is to foster this culture more broadly by advancing the notion that such a culture knows no disciplinary bounds

Questions for the Panel

Is there a plan on how Velocity, Conrad and GreenHouse can work together more strategically?

Yes!  One of the key outcomes for the Strategic Plan is to ensure tighter coordination and cohesiveness between the various entrepreneurial programs at the University of Waterloo.  All three programs have overlapping areas where staff are already working together.  

For example, students from GreenHouse participate in the Velocity Pitch Night Socials and students participating in Conrad’s e co-op program routinely work and live in Velocity programs.  Through increased integration of the programs, we expect to see even better results as each program shares what they can offer to students.

Engineering and business seem to be the focus of entrepreneurship at UWaterloo, how can we ensure it is part of our campus wide culture?

The enterprise co-op program is open to all faculties, with a significant proportion of its participants coming from outside engineering.  In addition, the Conrad Centre’s BET 300 and 400 courses, which complement enterprise co-op, are available to students from all faculties. Beginning in Fall 2014, Conrad will be offering an Option in Entrepreneurship for students within the Faculty of Engineering, and there are plans to expand that program to a Minor in Entrepreneurship in other faculties in 2015.  

Within the option and minor, students will be able to pursue venture creation through enterprise co-op, or ‘intrapreneurship’ through their program capstone projects. This will significantly broaden the opportunities for UWaterloo students to engage in entrepreneurship, providing paths for venture creation, intrapreneurship and social entrepreneurship.

What role do international students play in the UWaterloo Strategic Plan on Entrepreneurship?

For the last century or two, immigration has fostered much of the entrepreneurship in North America. There is a culture amongst those who seek opportunity beyond their known environment. There is a risk in that too. International students seek such opportunity and take some risk in doing so. Seeking opportunity and comfort with risk are two elements of an entrepreneurship culture. Though international students at UWaterloo are involved in a similar manner to domestic students, there is much potential to be tapped as we promote the global vs local nature of entrepreneurship.

How can we provide more female entrepreneur role models for our students?

There are multiple methods to improve the number of female entrepreneur role models for students and each of these are being attempted in parallel.  First, increase the number of female entrepreneurs. If we can increase the overall number of female entrepreneurs then it ensures that future generations of entrepreneurs will have a larger pool of female role models.  

Second, recruit strong female role models as speakers for events at the University of Waterloo.  For example, at Velocity and Conrad, the event teams will recruit at least 1-2 female entrepreneurs to speak each term and are always looking for great speakers.  

Third, we try to ensure that female entrepreneur role models engage across different sectors and industries.  As the entrepreneurial programs at the University of Waterloo continue to support more types of entrepreneurs (tech, social, life sciences,  etc) they create more organic opportunities for peer mentorship inside and across those programs

Additional questions

What initiatives are underway at the university to promote entrepreneurship in other fields where the university already has strong students (e.g. Accounting)?

There are several but let me point out two. These relate to courses and programs whose intention is to attract students from all faculties.  First, this September will see the inaugural offering of a cross campus on-line, for credit course on entrepreneurship. Second, by September 2015, we hope to have a cross campus “Minor in Entrepreneurship” in place. The minor will allow entrepreneurial focused students to choose their particular paths – venture creation, entrepreneurial employee or social entrepreneurship and to tailor their own programs through the choice of electives they take.   

What role will the Research and Technology Park play in the UWaterloo entrepreneurial ecosystem?

The R&T Park needs to be the home for UWaterloo startups. Startups want to stay connected to the place that fostered and supported their growth. They want to keep in touch with the culture that spawned them. They want to capitalize on synergies with the latest new startups. They want to be where the talent is, and they want to give back and prosper from the startup ecosystem. A dynamic, contemporary startup community in the R&T Park could provide all of this.

In terms of communication and marketing, why is there not a magazine run by the University to celebrate entrepreneurship?

We actually have done this in the past. Some years ago a biannual magazine was produced that focused on e-ship. But the reality is that it is difficult to get adequate financial sponsorship or readership fees for either a print or on line magazine.

The coverage of significant entrepreneurship events (academic, support and research) has increased in the last several years. Larger initiatives are covered in such places as the Alumni magazine or on the Daily Bulletin. Other events are covered by UWaterloo’s news media and by the faculties or departments where the initiatives originate.

What resources will the university make available for entrepreneurial students to manage business and schoolwork?

This is an ongoing problem. Through expansion of the enterprise co-op program, academic programs such as the planned option and minor in entrepreneurship and mentoring we are constantly looking for ways to address this issue. While we seek to facilitate new innovations and successful ventures, we also see it as a failure if a student feels they must leave school to be successful.