Nov. 17, 2020

Students sprint toward their next great idea

Five-week intensive course offers hands-on entrepreneurial work-integrated learning

In July 2020, a unique partnership between Platform Calgary and 11 post-secondary bodies across the province, including UCalgary's Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, formed to increase student participation in the Alberta entrepreneurship community.

The inaugural Platform Calgary Student Entrepreneurship Sprint launched in October 2020, and ran for five intensive weeks. The sprint is an entrepreneurial work-integrated learning (EWIL) experience where early-stage student entrepreneurs gain the knowledge and mindset required to pursue and validate an idea. This experience allows the student to apply their skills, while being exposed to all aspects of the business. The skills developed while pursuing the validation of their idea will be valuable whether they start their own business or join a pre-existing one.

“Entrepreneurial thinking is critical for students to survive and thrive in the new economy, which is marked by rapid change and unprecedented economic circumstances,” says Keri Damen, executive director of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.

“Entrepreneurial thinking involves finding problems worth solving and leveraging often limited resources to make a positive impact. EWIL opportunities enable students to develop those skills to ensure that they can contribute to any work environment and help to transform society and economies both locally and globally.”

Thirty-three undergraduate and graduate students participated, representing a diverse range of academic areas, including fine arts, agriculture, engineering, business, science, and more. Each week, the students met with a mentor and a small group of their peers to discuss the application of that week’s lessons. After four weeks of intensive research and ideation, the teams presented their solutions and their decision to pause, pivot or persist.

The program acts as a bridge between idea and validation, equipping them with knowledge, mentorship and funding. To support the students' entrepreneurial efforts, each participant received a $500 grant sponsored by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking. The $15,000 sponsorship was made possible by the Alberta Innovates Institutional Support of Entrepreneurship Education.

“The sprint program gave me the opportunity to flex my entrepreneurial endeavours in a short period of time, systematically,” says Sebastian Alvarez, a fourth-year Schulich School of Engineering student. “I learned how to make logical decisions regarding the development of my idea, in response to customer interviews. My biggest gain, though, was learning a methodology for doing this in a consistent and repeatable manner, rather than trying random things and seeing what sticks.”

EWIL programs engage students with real problems and ideas that they identify, making their learning experience applicable and meaningful. They also have the chance to start building a network as they interact with the Alberta entrepreneurship community.

“The highlight of the program for me was learning how to ask the right questions to potential customers and listening to what they really wanted solved," says Ainslie Velthoen, a fourth-year Faculty of Science student. “This helped me to not only redesign my solution but also to make valuable connections.”

Platform Calgary, UCalgary and the 10 other partner institutions hope to scale the program’s impact by hosting it twice annually. Velthoen encourages others to apply for the program: “Even if you think your idea isn't that great you should still apply," she says. "You never know what you will learn, who you will meet, or what can come from just putting in some effort and taking a chance.”

The Student Entrepreneurship Sprint is a partnership between Platform Calgary and 11 post-secondary institutions: UCalgary, Mount Royal University, Olds College, NAIT, Medicine Hat College, the University of Lethbridge, Bow Valley College, Lakeland College, Northern Lakes College, Portage College, SAIT, The King’s University, and the University of Alberta. For more information, visit their website.