Ontario Centres of Excellence Celebrates the Success of the Experiential Learning Program
Max Bailey and Myron Gomes love food. Not in that can't-get-enough-of-it way that many young men do, though. Each of them boasts a longstanding relationship with food. Bailey, the son of an Ottawa-area farmer grew up around food in its most basic form, while Gomes, the son of a restaurateur grew up around prepared food. But food wasn't the only thing they learned from their parents — they also picked up the desire and drive to work for themselves.
These two recent university graduates possess a strong entrepreneurial spirit, engrained in them from a young age. What they needed from school was a supportive environment, mentorship and the applied skills they would need to succeed. When they came up with their business concept for a restaurant loyalty program called Spoonity
, they found that support through the University of Ottawa at the Ottawa Young Entrepreneurs
’ (OYE’s) Startup Garage. A joint program between the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cité Collégiale, OYE is funded through Ontario Centres of Excellence's (OCE's) Experiential Learning Program
, which funds eight similar programs at eight other Ontario postsecondary institutions.
Both Bailey and Gomes recently travelled to Toronto to showcase their business, along with 31 other companies by young entrepreneurs, at an OCE-hosted event to celebrate the success of the two-year Experiential Learning Program (ELP). The companies lined the halls of the University of Toronto's historic Hart House building, leading to a grand ballroom that saw 150 guests attend a 90-minute presentation about the impact of the program.
Various stakeholders involved in the ELP program spoke, including the heads of four young companies (Kinetica Dynamics
and CASAGEM); OCE’s President and CEO, Dr. Tom Corr; the Director of the University of Toronto’s ELP centre, the Institute of Optical Sciences (IOS)
, Dr. Cynthia Goh; and Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, Brad Duguid.
“Thank you to the Ontario Centres of Excellence for your leadership, thank you to all our academic partners and most of all, thank you to all the young entrepreneurs who have participated in this program,” said Duguid. “These young entrepreneurs are critical to our efforts to be global economic leaders. Ontario’s young entrepreneurs are now seen as among the best in the world. Our job is to unleash this courage, this talent, this next generation of innovation leaders and let them work. To them I say, thank you on behalf of all of us. Our economic future is very much in your hands and I couldn’t be more inspired, nor could I be more confident in our future, than I am here today with all of you.”
In the past fifteen months more than 1,700 students have participated in the ELP program with 386 projects being funded and 479 start-ups being created or engaged with. Additionally, well over $10 million in follow-on investment has already been secured.
For its part, Spoonity has attracted its own follow-on investment – a $30,000 grant from Coral CEA – and has its own statistics to boast: more than 100 merchants confirmed for 2013 and more than 6,000 people currently using the product around Eastern Canada.
“The funding that we received through OCE’s ELP program helped us accelerate our growth and acquire the talent and expertise that we needed as we were growing the business,” said Bailey, a mechanical engineering grad from Queen’s University who has been running businesses since he was eight. “But more than that, the incubator space through the program was really beneficial. There are a lot of challenges that entrepreneurs face and being able to have other entrepreneurs around to communicate with and bounce ideas off and really get support from people when you’re facing those challenges can be a huge benefit. That motivational aspect is more important than I think people credit it for.”