New Propel director casts entrepreneurship vision

Adela Talbot // Western News

Deniz Edwards is the new Director of Western’s Propel Entrepreneurship Centre, having stepped into the role in October, 2018

Deniz Edwards is here to take Western’s entrepreneurship experience to the next level. And she couldn’t be more excited to embark on the journey.

Propel is still in its infancy, in a way. It’s been around for a few years and I think it’s done an amazing job of gaining momentum, growth and exposure and working with some awesome start-ups and students along the way. Everything has been running smoothly and there’s a good base,” said Edwards, who stepped into the role of director of Western’s Propel Entrepreneurship Centre last month.

“Now, I think we are in Phase 2; everything is set up and operational, so now (we can) build upon what’s already been done.”

Edwards, MBA’12, follows Propel’s inaugural director, Ian Haase, who recently co-founded Motif Cannabis, a cannabis and hemp oil distillation company.

A biomedical engineer who gained industry experience by working as an R&D engineer at Toronto’s Baylis Medical, Edwards holds an MBA from Ivey Business School. Since her graduation, she has worked within the entrepreneurship ecosystem in London, with four years at TechAlliance as she mentored entrepreneurs and startups across all industries.

Most recently, she was director of  technology development at CIMTEC where she worked with early stage startups and led the development of novel medical technologies. Edwards is an entrepreneur herself and is the President of CryoCaddy Inc., a medical device startup.

“Combining my tech background and tech aspects of engineering with a business focus has been really valuable for me. There’s a difference between talking about entrepreneurship and design and actually doing it. That has been a huge learning opportunity for me,” she said.

At Propel, Edwards will provide leadership, management and coordination of services and initiatives to encourage, develop, enable and promote the entrepreneurial and innovative talents at Western, augmenting the university’s contribution to London’s economy and fostering partnerships with corporate, commercial, government, non-profit and academic organizations.

“Coming into this role, I am pulling together my experience working with entrepreneurs, some of that high-level operational thinking and my understanding of the ecosystem, having worked in the city,” Edwards noted.

“The main thing with this role, we are very student-facing; it’s about the students, meeting with them, hearing how excited they are about these ideas and just the amount of work and effort and passion they put into these projects. It’s really cool to see and it’s really motivating.”

Every day, you never know who you are going to meet with, what type of start-up is going to come into the space. Seeing what the students are able to accomplish over a short period of time – it’s really cool.” ~ Deniz Edwards, new director of Propel

As for her vision of moving Propel into Phase 2, Edwards has been consulting with campus partners to determine common goals and outcomes. She hopes, along with Western Entrepreneurship, the university can take a more holistic approach to generating ideas and entrepreneurial thinking. She really hopes to expand the definition of entrepreneurship.

“Right now, we are kind of focused on someone with an idea and how we help them through the process, but can we expand that definition to think, even before that process, before a student even comes up with an idea, how do we foster entrepreneurial thinking and culture, design thinking, innovative thinking, problem solving? That doesn’t necessarily lead to a start-up but these could be skills that employers find valuable,” Edwards said.

In order to determine how to do this, she is working with colleagues within the Student Experience portfolio, Experiential Learning, Career Services, The Student Success Centre and other existing supports for students that could help infuse the campus community with entrepreneurial thinking.

“I think we can also do more to engage different faculties and programs across campus that maybe don’t necessarily have an entrepreneurial bent to them, but maybe we can find some alumni that are doing some cool things and bring them back and show the students what they can do,” Edwards added.

“We want to make sure we are fully inclusive and increase diversity and want to use the right messaging to make sure we are welcoming and accessible.”