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Skyline Farms owners Jake Harding (left) and Gustavo Macias say the company would not exist without Humber College’s entrepreneurship program.

Humber College

Spurred by a rapidly changing economic landscape and a future built on innovation, Ontario's largest college has a new five-year strategic plan focused on leadership in multidisciplinary polytechnic education.

To position its graduates for success, Toronto's Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning created the plan in 2013 after an extensive collaboration process with students, staff, faculty and partners. The college will strengthen its polytechnic identity, its outside partnerships and its commitment to teaching and learning excellence in order to help graduates succeed in an evolving labour market. Industry involvement runs throughout the plan, preparing Humber's 27,000 students to be job-ready when they graduate.

"We offer more options and pathways than any other college in Ontario, allowing our students to expand their learning experience from a diploma-level program right up to a bachelor's degree or postgraduate certificate," says Dr. Patricia Morgan, the dean of research at Humber.

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Humber also offers its students opportunities to develop entrepreneurial skills. Students and recent graduates with startup plans can compete for up to $10,000 through Humber's New Venture Seed Fund. "We see an increasing drive among students to explore entrepreneurship," says Dr. Morgan.

Under another competition, the LaunchPad, offered by the HumberLaunch incubator, students and alumni can compete in a Dragons' Den-style contest to win a share of up to $40,000. Every Humber student and graduate is eligible to join the incubator and receive coaching and networking opportunities, along with the use of office space and equipment. To enter, students submit a 500-word application, produce a promotional video and deliver a live pitch to a judging committee consisting of business professionals and industry experts within the community.

"More than 40 students are showing an interest this semester, and we expect our existing LaunchPad membership to double," says Cheryl Mitchell, LaunchPad's program manager.

A stunning early success is Skyline Farms, a company that uses vertical hydroponic growing towers to grow and sell fresh produce. With a mandate to revitalize and rehabilitate underused urban spaces for food production, it is co-owned by Humber Sustainable Energy and Building Technology graduates Gustavo Macias and Jake Harding.

Skyline Farms would not exist without the college's entrepreneurship program, says Mr. Macias. They won funding through the New Venture Seed Fund and the LaunchPad competition. "We submitted a pitch video – the judges liked it and could not stop laughing – and we did a live pitch," says Mr. Macias. That $5,000 win also gave the two partners access to the full slate of HumberLaunch services.

Skyline has already generated income from the company's pilot tower project at Thistletown Collegiate Institute, a high school in Toronto. The pair is turning the money back into the company for expansion, says Mr. Macias.

"Humber supported us right from the beginning," he notes. "We got funding and then feedback as we revised our business plan. Representatives and experts from banks, and technology and social media startups come to talk to us. It's amazing."

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Algonquin College in Ottawa is also stressing entrepreneurship to its students in innovative ways.

At Incubatorfest in January, six business accelerators that support startups, including Invest Ottawa, visited the college to pitch to students. "Normally the students do the pitching, but we wanted them to see what a good pitch looks like and learn first-hand from entrepreneurs about resources available to launch companies," says Andrew Foti, Algonquin's executive-in-residence.

The program was oversubscribed, Mr. Foti reports. "The room was too small."

The college has had a number of successes helping companies develop prototypes and scale up through its Office of Applied Research and Innovation, which functions as a virtual incubator at the college, he adds. "We're continuing to build interest and capacity for entrepreneurship as part of a college-wide initiative to develop a cohesive entrepreneurship ecosystem."


ACCC is the national and international voice of Canada's publicly funded colleges, institutes and polytechnics, working with industry and social sectors to train 1.5 million learners of all ages and backgrounds at campuses serving over 3,000 urban, rural and remote communities across the country and in 29 countries around the world.

BY THE NUMBERS

821

social innovation partnerships between community organizations and companies and ACCC members in 2012-13, more than double the previous year.

20%

of Canadian college students have previous university experience or a degree

40%

increase in the number of university graduates applying to college in Ontario in the last five years  

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