From mathematicians to musicians, students of all stripes are signing up for Entrepreneurship 101, a popular new class offered by the Sauder School of Business that offers a step-by-step introduction to turning ideas into enterprises.
The course, the first at UBC to make entrepreneurship training available to students from all faculties, was launched last September and is expanding this September to meet the needs of a growing number of students keen to explore how they can harness the tools of business to profit from their passions.
Taught by Elizabeth Newton, an entrepreneur herself, the lecturer’s approach is a mix of consulting and teaching, she says. Students in her class complete an entrepreneurship boot camp over the length of the course, which she says is very practical, and often guides fledgling start-ups in real time.
“It’s not an old-school business plan that no one will read,” Newton says. “It’s more about the entrepreneurial lifestyle — from the moment of motivation, to prototyping and pitching, all the way through founding partners, legal issues, and beyond.”
The lectures are bolstered by visits from successful entrepreneurs, many of whom become mentors for the students. Newton says the guest speakers are very generous with their time, which she finds is typical in Vancouver’s entrepreneurial community: “They’ve been through the ups and downs. They know what it’s like to go out on your own, so they really encourage the young entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneurship 101 has only existed for a year, but its alumni are already making an impact in fields such as biomedicine, fashion and filmmaking.
The career entrepreneur
Kinsey Powell entered Newton’s classroom at the start of January filled with ambition and a jumble of ideas of how she could fulfill her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Eight days later, she officially launched her first business.
“The thing is, I have this entrepreneurial mind, with ten things firing at once,” Powell says. “So it was really great to have my plans broken down with Elizabeth, who would say ‘Okay, put it on paper, fill in the blanks; what’s step one? Here’s the big dream, but where do we start?’ She makes it formulaic – that’s really powerful.”
By the time the course wrapped up in April, Powell had already been featured on CBC’s The National for her clothing venture, rebelleution. Business is now booming for what she styles as an “avant-garde apparel company.” Rebelleution makes T-shirts inspired by fine art and philosophy, while striving to use ethically sourced materials from environmentally responsible suppliers.
The Bachelor of Commerce student says the class was a “massive motivation” to start her business, providing accountability, which she says can be elusive when you don’t have a boss watching over you. But really, the best thing about the class was the people she met, she says, both for the mentorship connections and for meeting other passionate young entrepreneurs.
“I’d leave each class ready to take on the world,” she says. “It was the most fun I’ve had in any course I’ve ever taken.”
Last summer, while working in a biomedical lab in New York, Mardonn Chua came up with an innovative way to mass-produce adult stem cells, and he quickly realized it could accelerate research into cancer and blood-disease treatments. All he needed was a way to bring his product to market.
The Bachelor of Science student got in touch with Newton as classes began in September, and started to see himself as an entrepreneur. He got down to work right away, learning how set up a business while he put it all into practice.
Chua says he really benefited from being surrounded by budding entrepreneurs who came from all across UBC’s campus, and found it eye opening to witness different approaches to problem-solving from students in arts, engineering or commerce.
After taking part in entrepreneurship@ubc’s Lean Launch Pad Accelerator Program this spring, Chua’s business, Extem, started to take off as he fielded calls from investors, venture capitalists, legal teams and others wanting to help make his vision a reality.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is just to put myself out there,” he says. “As an entrepreneur, you have to get used to taking big risks. Sometimes you’ll lose, but when you win, you win big.”
Leo Zuckerman had already won multiple awards for his videos, so all the film student needed as he began developing his personal film-production business was some business smarts. When he came across Entrepreneurship 101, he saw he could immediately apply what he learned to his own business.
“I’m used to doing the filmmaking work itself, so it was so important to focus my thinking about how to build the business side of things, like branding,” Zuckerman says.
While taking the class, he completed his biggest job yet: a video for the Canadian Tourism Commission, which was released this April. This summer, he was sub-contracting for a large film company, helping produce a documentary in Whistler, B.C.
He’s been keeping in close contact with Newton, as he’s also producing videos for her to use as online teaching tools for the class — and of course she can’t help but drop hints every so often to help him propel his business. “She’s so passionate as a teacher and a mentor — in her whole personality, really,” Zuckerman says.
“To me, entrepreneurship is a mindset,” he says. “It’s about taking initiative and making things happen. Whether it’s business related or not, entrepreneurship is a mindset that will yield productivity in all areas of your life.”
Growing an entrepreneurial connected community at UBC
Businesses that have found success after emerging from entreprepreneurship@ubc (153 so far), and those now in different stages of funding and commercialization, speak to a core philosophy nurtured at the campus-based incubator — entrepreneurship can be taught.
“We’re showing that entrepreneurs aren’t just born like that,” says lecturer Paul Cubbon, who oversees the development of entrepreneurship programming at Sauder and beyond at entrepreneurship@ubc. “Just like anything else, it’s a skill you can learn, practise, and then do yourself. Students need systems, support and training to test drive their ideas and to be able to fail in the short-term so they can learn and succeed beyond the classroom.”
You could say that UBC has always been entrepreneurial, from its beginnings as a young west coast university whose students took it upon themselves to claim their campus in 1923, to the staff, faculty and leadership who have now established it as a leading global university in 2014. With resources such as the Mentor Network, Startup Space, Open Office and the Accelerator Program, entrepreneurship@ubc’s vision of ‘inspiring entrepreneurial thinking to create innovative ventures’ has never been more possible for all.