Leading Students Down the Path of Business Creation

Creating more opportunities within the entrepreneurial ecosystem and fostering the next generation of Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs

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The Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre (SMUEC) isn’t just a space where students can learn to launch a business; the entrepreneurial mindset that is forged within the centre can be applied in all facets of life.

“Launching a business is only one output of the centre,” director Michael Sanderson explains. “Students also learn to combine entrepreneurship with creativity, resiliency and problem solving. Students will take these and go off to become more valuable in the organizations they work with.”

SMUEC’s offered programs are based in its three pillars, the first being student engagement. Though programs are primarily geared toward SMU students, they also reach beyond to other institutions, high school students and multi-barriered youth. The centre engages students by linking their work with their passions to drive problem solving.

Sanderson elaborates on two of the centre’s major student-focused events this year, the “SMU Community Hackathon”, which uses technology to fight human trafficking, and the “March Madness Pitch Competition” for new business ideas: “One is about trying to mobilize youth to try and solve social issues that exist,” he explains, “and the other is about engaging students with their ideas that can change the world, and how we can go about supporting them.”

The second pillar focuses on business design and is all about breaking down the nuts and bolts of business for companies and individuals with an idea. “This pillar looks at where the businesses need to pivot in order to take their idea from point A to B and how they can scale up,” Sanderson says. This aspect of SMUEC is geared toward those wanting to launch a business and get their idea into the right hands.

The final pillar is work integrated learning, which is grounded in subsidizing work placements for students and youth working with entrepreneurial-led organizations. Some of the programs include co-operative education, a life accelerator for multi-barriered youth to give them the support they need for success, and an accessibility program for those who self-identify as a person with a disability and matching them with an entrepreneurial-minded organization.

“We’re fortunate to have these resources at our fingertips,” says Sanderson. There’s a variety of mentors, experts, community members and faculty for students to engage with and set up meetings. All students have to do is send an email inquiring about a program or easily register online.

“I’ve been in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlantic Canada working in this field for a long time, and right now is the most exciting time to be a part of it,” says Sanderson, describing the need for this type of network of organizations and spaces for likeminded folks to engage. “Once individuals see more examples of building a world-class business out of Atlantic Canada, they start to believe it’s possible, and know their idea can be brought to life.”

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