Course readies thousands of entrepreneurs for future

Special to Western NewsMore than 2,000 Western community members from around the world have registered for Master the Entrepreneur Skillset, a six-week virtual masterclass taught by Ash Singh, HBA’04, above. The course was made available for free by Western Entrepreneurship and Ivey Business School.

The economy may be partially sidelined, but not everyone is sitting idly by waiting for the world to reopen. More than 2,000 Western community members from around the world have registered for a six-week virtual masterclass made available for free by Western Entrepreneurship and Ivey Business School.

It is a success story, organizers say, that stands as a tribute to the campus’ entrepreneurial spirit – even in the most difficult of times.

“This feels like a launch of a new business,” said Eric Morse, Special Advisor to the President and Director of Entrepreneurship at Western. “It is an entrepreneurial response to the challenges we are all facing. It was a tight window in which to make this happen. This has been an exciting response by the university.”

The Master the Entrepreneur Skillset course is designed to introduce its students to the tools and mindset required to succeed as an entrepreneur. Material is delivered via video lecture, as well as through a range of online tools, including ‘ask an expert’-style webinars with Western faculty and alumni entrepreneurs.

The six-week course was made freely available (all tuition and fees waived) to the Western community.

It was the right tool at the right time, stressed Ash Singh, HBA’04, Master the Entrepreneur Skillset course instructor.

“Western cares about Canada. We care about economic recovery. But not all of us are nurses or doctors or grocery store cashiers – all those amazing people on the front lines,” he said.

“But there are things entrepreneurs can do to be ready. We do not have to wait around. We recognize that once things settle down, there is going to be a need for us. So, instead of watching Tiger King, we are taking time now to upskill ourselves and think about our responsibilities as job-creators in Canada.”

The first course cohort of 430 students launched on April 23 with a workshop that generated 280 potential startups. On May 5, a second cohort launched – only with five times as many people.

Morse called the numbers “incredible” – 1,033 alumni, 575 students and 126 faculty and staff, from 36 countries, with business partners and friends also welcome to join. All told, 2,430 people signed up for the course – a number that topped the maximum Zoom limit allowed by an already upgraded license with the popular video-conferencing software.

“We broke Zoom,” Morse laughed. “It’s one of those things where you’re so excited about it and you start getting notes from the president, your board chair, your dean, your alumni all saying they are excited – then you start to think, ‘OK, this better work now.’”

But it has worked – and well – because the campus had invested time and energy in the project for years.

Since 2015, the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship at Ivey has partnered with Singh to give would-be Western entrepreneurs an experience of building a venture within a weekend, turning raw ideas into viable ventures within 48 hours.

Singh’s curriculum was developed during his time at the INSEAD Business School in Singapore, where he had relocated after selling his first startup at age 22. Today, the course has been taught in 18 countries, with more than 200 sessions.

At Ivey, the course has only ever been offered in person. But Morse saw opportunity in taking it virtual.

For three years, Western has been investing in an online platform to deliver the course online. That platform was completed six months ago – just in time for its first test during a global pandemic.

So when the world’s businesses shut down due to COVID-19, Morse knew entrepreneurs would be key to reopening the economy – and this course would be key to getting them ready.

Singh has been excited to be part of this real-time response to a global challenge.

“I have never seen a response quite like this. We have more than 2,000 people getting together to increase their entrepreneurial confidence in hopes they can be job creators for Canada. It’s a very powerful thing,” he said. “This shows me there is a beautiful conversation to be had about Western caring about Canada’s prosperity.

“We are in some interesting times right now. The way everything came together for this course is a true sign of the spirit of Western and Western Entrepreneurship.”

The success will lead to future cohorts, Morse said, perhaps two or three more, including one focused on incoming students.