Centre to facilitate student entrepreneurship

While some details have yet to be hammered out, one thing’s for sure – the entrepreneurial climate on Western’s campus is going to look a lot different going forward. With new funding from the Ministry of Research and Innovation, the university has revamped and, this month, re-launched its student business incubator, tentatively called the Student Entrepreneurship Centre.

The funding, some $20 million announced by the province earlier this year for Campus Linked Accelerator (CLA) programs at postsecondary institutions, was set aside to help students develop entrepreneurial skills and transfer academic knowledge to the marketplace.

The new Student Entrepreneurship Centre at Western will be in partnership with Fanshawe College, bridging the city’s two postsecondary institutions and allowing them to work together to help student ventures get off the ground.

“This is going to be the continuation of the previous program (BizInc), but also pulling in a lot of different pieces at Western,” said Ian Haase, the centre’s newly chosen director.

Prior to this new position, Haase was vice-president of TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario. He holds two degrees from Western – a BA in Geography (2003) and an MBA from the Ivey Business School (2010), in addition to an MSc from McGill University.

“What the ministry is looking for out of CLA programs across the province are three major things,” Haase said.

“One is exposure to entrepreneurship in that while students are in school, exposing as many of them as possible to entrepreneurship as a potential career path; two, experiential learning, giving them ability and opportunity – even to those who don’t have their own ideas – to work for startups and work for other entrepreneurs; and three, with public finding, they’re looking for public impact, to create revenue generating companies to create jobs,” he continued.

“These (opportunities) can certainly give students skills that will last a lifetime whether you’re an entrepreneur or in the corporate world.”

One of Haase’s main goals will be working to burst ‘the Western bubble’ and build bridges with students, researchers, industry and businesses in the city, with a goal of helping London retain some of its youth post graduation.

“Certainly in London, one of my main points of focus will be to keep students here when they’re done – making a lot of ties to the community while they are in school, increasing the chance that they’re going to start companies with people who aren’t from Western, and maybe then, they’re going to stick around,” Haase explained.

“It’s a challenge – a lot of students aren’t from here. I’ll probably develop more of a concrete vision as we move forward – but the first key is just tapping into what’s already in the community – there’s a lot of grassroots stuff happening and we’re just going to ensure there are events and programs available in the community, not just at Western, and getting Western and Fanshawe students together in the community.”

A few things remain up in the air, but should be announced shortly, Haase added. For one, a new name for the centre might be coming. The centre will be located on the second floor of the Student Services Building, though its particular space has yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more details coming shortly.

“Having something like this on campus, which is going to serve as not only a gathering place, but also a place where all of these grassroots and related organizations can come and gather and meet, is kind of a win-win because it will expose students to things they may not see otherwise and allow (organizations and businesses) to have a presence on campus as well.”