If you’re going to train and inspire entrepreneurs, wouldn’t it make sense to do so in an educational environment that is entrepreneurial by design?
That’s exactly what the University of Waterloo did when it established its Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program at the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre.
“Where Conrad stands out is that it is actually entrepreneurial by design,” says centre director Mark Weber. “We are blessedly unburdened by the traditional MBA form. We have established a by-design, purpose-built, immersive educational experience for entrepreneurs at the graduate level, and that’s a huge advantage for accomplishing the kinds of outcomes we are looking for.”
The outcomes are nothing short of remarkable.
“We graduate students who know how to make things happen wherever they go, whether it be in new ventures or by taking formative ‘intrapreneurial’ roles inside established organizations,” he says. “In the centre’s history, students have achieved more than $30-million in commercialization activity. Alumni have launched, among other things, a leading robotics firm, niche consulting practices, medical and technology plays, a platform to support franchise-location decision-making, a fair-trade fashion marketplace, and software for language learning.”
"We have established a by-design, purpose-built, immersive educational experience for entrepreneurs at the graduate level, and that’s a huge advantage..."
- Mark Weber
is director of the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre
The program offers business basics like marketing fundamentals and accounting, but all of it geared to the fast-paced startup environment, says Howard Armitage, the centre’s founding director, who adds the program is designed for those who already see themselves as having an entrepreneurial instinct, but don’t yet know how to manifest this drive. “We take that raw material and transform it into something that will add value to them and the country,” he says.
In addition to the basics, there’s a good deal of emphasis on the kinds of soft skills entrepreneurs need to go with their burning desires and brilliant ideas: the confidence and ability to give effective presentations, to work in small teams, network, negotiate and make those all-important pitches to potential investors and supporters.
At the heart of the one-year program is an intense, eight-month practicum where students turn their business ideas into reality. One of those students who benefited from the opportunity was Camelia Nunez. While working on a research project, Ms. Nunez developed language-learning software that supercharges language acquisition by injecting an interactive component into the curriculum. But of course, it’s one thing to have a great idea or product, it’s another to take it to market.
It’s the goal of the University of Waterloo’s Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre to prepare students for the fast-paced startup environment, says founding director Howard Armitage (top left). And the endeavours of student Ali Esmail and graduate Camelia Nunez prove the program’s success.
“I needed business skills,” she says simply. But even more than that, she needed to get connected, and it was her practicum that facilitated that.
“The most essential component for me was the introduction it gave me to the business community in Waterloo. You can’t do anything without a network of people, and being a part of this program truly exposes you to everybody who can help.”
Another student, Dr. Ali Esmail, is a head-and-neck surgery resident who took a break from his residency at the University of Manitoba to pursue an MBET in order to develop a medical software startup called Koronis, a collaboration platform for hospitals that improves care and workflows while at the same time decreasing medical errors.
“The field of medicine is at the beginning of a technological renaissance, and as physicians, we need to be the leaders of this movement,” he says. “The MBET program was the perfect fit for me; the focus on practical experiences was perfect for someone who has spent enough time in a classroom.”
It seems to have helped; at the end of May, Koronis officially closed its first round of $100,000 in seed funding.
Not surprisingly, after blazing the trail in education for entrepreneurs, Conrad is attracting more and more students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The trick now, according to Dr. Weber, is maintaining Conrad’s unique immersive approach in the face of growth and demand. Future plans call for hiring more faculty, designing a part-time program to accommodate working professionals with entrepreneurial inclinations, and expanding undergraduate programming.
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