From cupcakes and eavestroughs to clothing lines and wash-and-fold laundry service, if students have business ideas, John Pollack wants to hear about them.
Initiated by the University Students’ Council (USC) in 2010, the Business Incubator (BizInc) supports and promotes the entrepreneurial spirit of Western students by turning ideas into workable plans and, finally, successful business ventures.
A $285,000 grant from the Ministry of Development and Trade this past summer, along with the support of the London Economic Development Corporation, keeps the company moving forward as they continue working toward permanent budget line support from Western, the City of London and Fanshawe College.
Along with the grant, funding comes from a number of areas: USC provides office space and support, around $40,000 annually; Western and WORLDiscoveries each gave $10,000 earlier this year; and Royal Bank of Canada is considering a grant of approximately $50,000 to be used to establish a micro-lending facility.
All together, the funds are used to bring student business ventures to life.
Pollack, BizInc director, says when students arrive at the organization’s office, located in Room 258 of the University Community Centre, one question is on the table: “Is this idea a business?”
“Students come in with an idea and we have a conversation about potential customers, the product and the sort of questions that would form a business plan,” he says. “If you have a business plan in hand, we work on who you need to talk to to make it work. There is a lot of networking support we wrap around them; mentors who might walk them through the process a little more formally.”
Partnered with Fanshawe College, the Small Business Centre, Western’s Research Park, TechAlliance, the Stiller Centre and a growing number of businesses and mentors, Pollack adds BizInc has solid contacts within the local community.
“We will play a central role in an evolving city strategy designed to promote youth entrepreneurship, drive youth employment and contribute to a reinvigorated culture of invention, excitement and resiliency in the local community,” Pollack says.
And the excitement and ideas from the students are plentiful.
Pollack notes more than 25 projects have been launched with more than 40 student entrepreneurs. Of those, four have generated profits; two will incorporate over the next few months; and many have created their own websites.
One such business is eProf, an online education tool matching up students and teachers around the world.
Started by Richard Ivey School of Business students Trevor Koverko and Adrian Murray, the company reflects the pair’s belief that education “needs to be disrupted.”
“We started refining the idea for eProf and, after many long nights, we had the blueprints for the entire site,” says Koverko, who just returned from Dalian, China, following a four-month incubation program with the business. “It was an amazing experience. We got another seed investment, access to hundreds of investors and a world-class mentorship network.”
The pair is currently putting their education on hold to continue developing eProf, aiming for 100 world-class eProfs by early 2012.
“We reached out to BizInc early on in the process and John mentored us, connected us with local entrepreneurs and gave us a small seed investment. The financial support was timely and crucial for us,” Koverko says.
Michael Hofweller, a BizInc associate and Western Entrepreneurial Society founder, says this is just one of many potential success stories.
“The kind of volume we have had in the short amount of time has been great,” he says. “Any student with a business idea, no matter how small or how big, we can help foster it and that’s the important thing.”
And Pollack adds there is never a ‘dumb idea’ when it comes to starting a business venture.
“Some of the ideas are so obvious that you think, ‘Oh my gosh, where was I on that one,’” Pollack says. “I’m old enough to remember Pet Rocks and Beanie Babies, so there are no stupid ideas. It’s all about whether you have to chutzpa to market it and do something about it.”
“Don’t let the idea die. Go out there and find the people who you need to help you take your idea to the next level; let them help you turn your idea into a business.”
Got an idea? Western Entrepreneur Clubs meets at 5 p.m. every Tuesday in University Community Centre, Room 258. Students will learn how to generate a cool idea, and follow through and follow up on that idea.