Supporting and guiding Ontario’s campus entrepreneurs

January 28, 2015

Exploring different models for delivering entrepreneurship training skills and examining market research strategies for start-ups at different stages were among topics addressed at a recent meeting of campus advisors from across the province.

The Jan. 23 event, which drew more than 120 participants, marked the first time that representatives from all 30 of Ontario’s Campus Linked Accelerators (CLAs) and On-Campus Entrepreneurship Activities (OCEAs) have been able to come together.

“The enthusiasm and commitment expressed by this group of campus advisors was very impressive,’’ says Martin Croteau, OCE’s Director of Academic Entrepreneurship. “This was an excellent opportunity for them to get to know one another and to share ideas about how best to engage and support entrepreneurism at their institutions.”    

Over the past few months, entrepreneurship activities on Ontario campuses have been highly visible with the official launches of CLAs and OCEAs at universities and colleges across the province. Most recently, the Cube was announced last week at Lambton College in Sarnia as part of Ontario’s OCEA program and the Entrepreneurial Practice and Innovation Centre (EPICentre) formally opened its new accelerator as part of the province’s CLA program.

As manager of Ontario’s CLA and OCEA programs as well as the SmartStart Seed Fund program, OCE has been busy helping to get these initiatives underway and developing the administrative and communication tools that will support your work.

The level of activity to date across various regions has been remarkable, OCE’s President Dr. Tom Corr told participants. “After just six months of the programs being established, more than 1,200 companies and entrepreneurs received support from one of your campus-led programs. And that was with only the first 10 of the 30 programs reporting.”

Held at the University of Toronto’s Woodsworth College, the CLA/OCEA meeting included a lively panel discussion about how to help young entrepreneurs gain access to global markets. The panel (Lisa Cashmore, Manager of the Canadian Digital Media Network’s Soft Landing Program; Matt Saunders, President and Managing Director of Ryerson’s Digital Media; Tony Bailetti, Director of Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management group and Marat Ressin, President of the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute) stressed the importance of encouraging local start-ups to think globally and providing them with resources that will help them  connect to global partners.

Martin Croteau also gave participants an update on the SmartStart Seed Fund.  More entrepreneurs in southern Ontario will benefit from support through Ontario Centres of Excellence’s (OCE's) SmartStart Seed Fund thanks to an investment of up to $9 million announced earlier this month by the federal government.

Business Development Manager Shantanu Mittal presented the results of three focus groups with companies in Ottawa, Waterloo and Toronto aimed at identifying how OCE can further support young entrepreneurs. He noted the strong interest in opportunities for peer group collaboration online and in person, information on best practices, and the ability to access sector specific customer groups.

Afternoon breakout groups focused on accelerator models; the importance of identifying and achieving milestones; an exploration of how to teach entrepreneurship skills with a focus on popular frameworks such as lean start-up, sector specific programs and training targeted to youth and administrative tools for collecting client information and accurately reporting outcomes.

CLA/OCEA advisors will continue to meet quarterly.

“All of us must work to ensure that Ontario youth are aware of all the opportunities and career options available to them as they begin looking for ways to fulfil their professional goals and aspirations,” said Mr. Croteau.   

Dr. Corr stressed the importance that this group remain connected and continue to identify opportunities to exchange ideas, identify best practices, and build relationships as an integral part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE). To this end, OCE plans to soon launch an online collaboration space for CLA/OCEA advisors.

“This is a great initiative and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves based on the creative ideas and guidance that this advisor group provides,” he told participants.