When Eric Morse first arrived at Western nearly 20 years ago, former Ivey Business School dean Larry Tapp looked to him to help create “an entrepreneurship institute of note.”
“They were looking for someone to come in and really champion entrepreneurship at Ivey,” Morse said. “I was fortunate enough to be hired to do that as the first full-time professor of entrepreneurship.”
Morse feels even more fortunate, as executive director of the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Powered by Ivey, to now help more students, as well as alumni, staff and faculty, pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. The institute was established thanks to a visionary $5.5 million gift from the Pierre L. Morrissette Family Foundation earlier this year.
Purpose and passion
Through the years, Morse has seen a “huge transformation in entrepreneurial programming” at Western, that now includes new courses, online webinars, a podcast, virtual incubator, and an accelerator program.
“A lot of that is driven by student demand,” he said. “More of our students are coming in wanting an entrepreneurial career path – not necessarily as their first option out of school, but certainly as something that they are looking to down the road.” According to Morse, the reasons for this rising interest range from students witnessing their parents’ lack of fulfillment in their careers to a genuine desire to address societal problems and create a better world.
“We are definitely seeing more of a trend toward social enterprise than we have in the past, and more of a focus on purpose and passion,” Morse said.
Such is the case for Kenisha and Alisha Arora, founders of The HopeSisters project, social entrepreneurs making life brighter for seniors and children in foster care. Kenisha, a second-year medical sciences student, is part of the Institute’s Founders Program, where she receives mentorship, financial support and entrepreneurial training.
The Morrisette gift, plus a $2.5-million investment from Western, brought the capacity required to offer an entrepreneurial experience for any student who desires one, regardless of their faculty.
“It’s always been the case that entrepreneurship lived everywhere on campus and was not something isolated in the business school,” Morse said. “Yet, we really didn’t have things in place to help students, alumni, or even the community. This latest chapter has been about making those same opportunities and resources we have built over the years at the business school available to all students, alumni and even the community in a major way.”
“Bringing the business students and students from across campus together has been a wonderful outcome. We’re seeing even better ideas we can support and help execute from a business standpoint.” – Eric Morse
From discovery to demo day
Morrissette Entrepreneurship offers Western entrepreneurs support at every stage of their journey.
For students in the discovery stage, there are ideation workshops to “stress-test” ideas; an online masterclass that introduces the tools and mindset required to succeed; one-on-one coaching from business advisors; and a variety of pitch competitions to secure seed and substantial funding, from the World’s Challenge Challenge to Western Angels Demo Day.
Some students first explore entrepreneurship through competitions in their faculties, or through one of 12 campus entrepreneurship clubs, including Enactus Western.
It was an Enactus Facebook post advertising an innovation bootcamp that first caught the eye of Faculty of Information and Media Studies student Rubaina Singla. She never imagined enrolling in the bootcamp would be the first step toward being accepted into Morrissette Entrepreneurship’s summer accelerator and Founders Program, or launching her business Singla Intimates next spring.
“What attracted me to the Enactus bootcamp was their use of the word ‘innovation,’ and not seeing the word ‘entrepreneurship,’ and all the pressures I imagined around that word,” Singla said.
That reaction is not surprising to Morse.
“On some parts of campus, if we use the word ‘entrepreneurship,’ students pull back sometimes, thinking they aren’t about ‘business.’ It has been an interesting journey for me, learning to get the wording right. When I talk with them about their career objectives and how we can help, it’s more about creating value, and helping them do what they love to do.”
Unlike many university-based entrepreneurial programs, which focus on one particular field, such as technology, Morrissette Entrepreneurship supports entrepreneurs of every discipline.
“That’s the real differentiator for us,” Morse said. “The issues you face as you grow your business are pretty common, no matter what the industry.”
What matters more, Morse said, is connecting students with the right mentors who can help them make connections within their context to be successful.
“We’re really lucky we have such an impressive alumni base we can call on for that,” he said. “We like seeing them work with the students, and they love doing it.” Alumni also give back by judging pitch competitions, investing in Western-founded ventures, or by sharing their own experience through a webinar, like David Patchell-Evans, BA’77, LLD’12, founder of GoodLife Fitness, who will host a fireside chat November 9.
As Morse looks to the future, he hopes to see a certificate in entrepreneurship made available across campus, offering students a suite of courses and experiences that provide a foundation for entrepreneurial skills and knowledge.
He also looks forward to the construction of the Western Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre. The new space will be the university’s first net-zero energy building, housing maker spaces and co-working areas designed to inspire students across disciplines to collaborate on entrepreneurial ventures.
“We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years, thanks to the vision of our leaders, faculty, alumni and donors, who will continue to help advance entrepreneurship at Western and beyond.”
Western is celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week November 8 to 12 with a series of virtual and in-person events hosted by Morrissette Entrepreneurship. Make connections, learn more about resources and be inspired by entrepreneurs by visiting Beyond the Start: Global Entrepreneurship Week at Western