Canadian Universities – How Can We Support Campus Entrepreneurs?
May 23rd, 2013
It’s no surprise that global leaders are increasingly looking at entrepreneurship as a way to grow jobs and stimulate economies.
In Canada, approximately 68 percent of net new jobs are created by small- and medium-sized enterprises (Statistics Canada), and from 1980 to 2008 all net new job growth in the U.S. came from firms five years or younger (Kauffman Foundation). The reality is that large firms shed jobs and new firms (young firms run by entrepreneurs) drive job growth. Complementing this is the growing interest in entrepreneurship as a career choice. A Kauffman-funded study of youth aged eight to 21 cites 40 percent of respondents interested in entrepreneurship as a career option.
The question is: What are we doing to stimulate interest in entrepreneurship and provide support to young entrepreneurs? Some would see this as an opportunity not to be missed.
The message is clear: entrepreneurs create jobs and stimulate economies. Students’ interests are driving growth in the area of entrepreneurship education and this growth is providing strategic advantage for recruitment efforts and fund-raising activities. What better place to apply this important economic lever than in supporting start-up activity on campus, during a student’s academic career?
Few universities or colleges are truly embracing this important economic driver. While there are pockets of very good activity, the vast majority of institutions do not have the programming that is required to promote entrepreneurism, attract entrepreneurial students and support early student ventures. A recent review conducted by a company I founded, Agawa Entrepreneurship Development Corporation, of university entrepreneurship capacity points to a failing grade for most institutions and poor results for Canadian universities on aggregate.
The review looked at three major categories of entrepreneurship promotion and support on university campuses: entrepreneurship courses; experiential learning opportunities; and, support for student ventures. The 24 largest universities were analyzed along these three categories. The results, while impressive for some individual institutions, were not encouraging en masse:
- Just half of the 24 universities offered more than four undergraduate courses dedicated to entrepreneurship.
- Only 11 of the 24 had a passing grade related to experiential learning opportunities for students – things such as: entrepreneurship internships and co-ops and non-credit learning.
- While 13 universities received a passing grade for support available for student ventures such as incubators, accelerators and mentorship programs, most passed with a mere 50 per cent in this category and many received no marks in this category.
While the college landscape has not yet been fully analyzed, early indication is that the situation is even worse with respect to their entrepreneurship support across all three categories.
If future entrepreneurs are important to the economic success of Canada – and it seems that they are – then the situation may be somewhat dire as it relates to entrepreneurial output from colleges and universities.
While challenges exist and much work is needed, many institutions have a strong base to build on. Some examples of very good, if not best, practices that exist include entrepreneurship internship and co-op programs, student venture funds, incubators and accelerators, curriculum, competitions and entrepreneur-focused experiential programs.
In addition to some good practices already in place, there is growing interest and conversation around youth entrepreneurism. Published late in 2012, Startup Canada’s “BluePrints” says providing entrepreneurship support on Canadian campuses is a necessary step in building an entrepreneurial Canada. More recently, the federal government committed $18 million over two years to the Canada Youth Business Foundation to support youth businesses, and most provincial governments are trying their hand at stimulating entrepreneurship programming and interest. These are all good indicators that should lead to future impact, but is it enough?
Work to be done
Despite these promising signs, there are more questions: how can we build on what is currently being done to encourage and nurture entrepreneurs? Where will Canada be positioned economically 10 years from now if we don’t actively nurture this very important economic demographic? While a single review and corresponding poor grade doesn’t mean ultimate failure, it should be a wake-up call for everyone involved.
Grades are merely a snapshot in time of what happened in the past; we learn from them, grow and move forward. Moving forward is what will make a difference in the lives of graduates – our future entrepreneurial leaders – and in the economy of tomorrow.
Stephen Daze is founder of Agawa Entrepreneurship Development Corporation and is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management.