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New centre looks to stem exodus of Quebec entrepreneurs

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Taking aim at Quebec's historically weak entrepreneurial culture, the National Bank has teamed up with three Montreal post-secondary institutions to encourage more start-ups and family businesses in the province.

In an announcement today, the Montreal-based bank pledged its largest gift ever – $10-million over 10 years – for a new entrepreneurship centre for students at the University of Montreal and its affiliated schools of business (HEC Montréal) and engineering (École Polytechnique de Montréal).

"Quebec has a deficit of entrepreneurship," says Michel Patry, director of HEC Montréal. "We need more new businesses and we need to encourage people to get involved in start-ups."

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The centre, to be located at HEC, will gather data on trends and best practices in entrepreneurship and serve as an "idea accelerator" for students to start their own business, buy an existing operation or spin off a new enterprise from a family-owned activity. The centre will also deliver professional training courses for existing businesses and offer a networking space for public activities.

Along with the new institute, HEC has revamped its undergraduate commerce program for this fall to include a specific track for a certificate in entrepreneurship, with mentoring and other networking opportunities for students. A similar specialty is expected to be introduced for the revised MBA program in 2014.

The business school already has two chairs in entrepreneurship and 15 professors doing research on the topic. But Dr. Patry said the "visibility of what we are doing is much less than what it should be."

He hopes that increased collaboration among the three Montreal institutions will nurture the environment for young entrepreneurs in the province.

For example, students at the University of Montreal and Polytechnique Montréal pursuing professional careers in medicine, pharmacy and engineering will be able to take entrepreneurship courses at HEC that will count toward their ultimate degree. The intent is to create more synergy among the three institutions that could yield more Quebec-based firms.

In 2011, the Fondation de l'entrepreneurship in Quebec raised alarm bells over an exodus of entrepreneurial talent in the province. A study by the organization found that 10 per cent of native-born Quebecers aged 35 or older who still live in Quebec are business owners, compared with 21.6 per cent of the same cohort who live elsewhere in Canada.

In a statement announcing the new centre, Polytechnique Montréal chief executive Christophe Guy cited the importance of engineering in fostering innovation. "We have students who see potential in their ideas and discoveries and want to create new businesses in budding, often unknown, sectors," he said. "The new centre will give them leverage they need to pursue their visions and, in turn, they will help Quebec make even greater strides."

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The National Bank donation is part of a joint fundraising drive by the three institutions, which have come together for the first time under one banner of "Campus Montreal" to raise $500-million for research and student scholarships and to increase their international profile. So far, the campaign has raised $200-million.

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