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James Osualdini, founder of Adsum Audio, won seed funding for his business at NAIT’s Hatch business plan competition.

If your dream is to build state-of-the-art speakers and sell them around the world, you need more than a theoretical education. You need hands-on experience working with the kinds of materials upon which you hope to build your dreams. That's exactly what happened to James Osualdini when he attended the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton.

"I'd always had a passion for electronics, but NAIT gave me a better understanding of what I wanted to do and the confidence to take it forward and go into business," says Mr. Osualdini, who built his first speaker in a shop class in high school. "At NAIT I was working in labs all the time, designing, testing and analyzing circuits, not just doing it on a piece of paper." Mr. Osualdini went on to win $20,000 in seed funding in the 2013 round of a NAIT business plan competition, and the result was Adsum Audio, purveyors of high-end speaker products. "We're expanding sales across Canada and soon around the world," says Mr. Osualdini.

NAIT helps students transform personal ambitions into action; to both acquire skills and become entrepreneurs, says Dr. Geoff Gregson, NAIT's applied research chair in new venture and entrepreneurship. "Entrepreneurs contribute new ideas to existing businesses, lead family businesses, stimulate social innovation and act as change agents within the public sector," says Dr. Gregson. "Positioning our students to succeed in their first career after graduation is an important starting point to building the confidence that may eventually see them forge their own entrepreneurial pathways."

NAIT provides different types of support for students hoping to develop their own business ideas. "Although we offer pitching and business plan competitions that showcase chosen ideas, the emphasis is on practical guidance in new venturing that combine learning and doing for all student participants," says Dr. Gregson.

An important element in the strategy is strong partnership connections with business and industry, says NAIT's president and CEO Dr. Glenn Feltham. As a polytechnic, NAIT provides hands-on, competency-based technology education, but it's the institution's strong relationships with business and industry that drives the model. "Industry is a partner in everything we do," says Dr. Feltham. "Research here moves at the speed of industry, solving today's problems today."

The impact on the economies of both the province and the nation is profound, he adds. "The entire model is driven by a desire to meet emerging technological needs and prepare students not just to get started, but to advance."

BY THE NUMBERS

In 2013-14, colleges and institutes had:

5,633

partnerships with companies

693

social innovation research partners

670

research centres

2,491

faculty engaged in applied research

32,093

students participating in applied research

1,083

areas of specialization

89

partnerships with universities

Source: Colleges and Institutes Canada


This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.