Arash Seyed, who has suffered on-the-job wrist and hand injuries, is keen to develop new exercise therapy products to help others like him.
Unlike many would-be entrepreneurs forced to fly solo, he is getting plenty of help to take his idea to market.
In September, he enrolled in a new 12-month master of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Smith School of Business that gives him everyday access to engineers, lawyers and a network of venture capitalists.
"If I were not in this program, I would have to try and get help with everything," says Mr. Seyed, a 35-year-old police investigator on an education leave from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. To go it alone, he adds, "I would have to have a lot of money and it would have to be a sure thing."
Like other business schools, Smith at Queen's University in Kingston is tapping into a growing demand by those who are eager to start their own enterprise.
"All of a sudden, it is not only cool to be an entrepreneur, it is actually critical that we have more and more people who can create new businesses and employ people," says Elspeth Murray, associate dean of MBA and master programs at Queen's and the director of the university's Centre for Business Venturing.
Still, budding entrepreneurs like Mr. Seyed often lack the expertise, capital and contacts to sustain a startup, given that almost 50 per cent fail within three years.
With a proliferation of startup boot camps, incubators and networking support initiatives in recent years, Queen's and other universities now are going a step further with intensive programs that foster collaboration across campus – and beyond – for students to apply the principles of innovation and entrepreneurship to real-life ventures, either within an organization or as a stand-alone startup.
"You come to us for a year, we educate you, we improve your chances of success and we help you build your business," Dr. Murray says of the promise of her school's new graduate program. "We wrap the resources of the university around you."
The same strategy underpins a new interdisciplinary certificate offered this fall through Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business, in collaboration with five faculties and a campus-based student incubator. Starting in second semester, undergraduate students from across campus can earn the seven-course certificate while completing their bachelor degree.
As at Smith, the Beedie certificate gives students exposure to experienced entrepreneurs and other experts who provide advice and guidance on building a sustainable startup.
"This [certificate] allows students from every faculty access to a rigorous entrepreneurship and innovation education," says Sarah Lubik, director of entrepreneurship at SFU and a Beedie lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation. By design, students from varied disciplines collaborate on a real-life project, either in the for-profit or not-for-profit sphere, as a final component of the certificate.
"It gives you the opportunity to work with people who don't think like you, [like] when you get out into the real world and find out that few people think like you," says Ms. Lubik, who in her non-university life is marketing director for Lungfish Dive Systems, a British-based high-tech startup that has developed a rebreathing system for divers.
Beedie's certificate is part of a broader strategy by SFU to position itself as a postsecondary leader in innovation initiatives.
In October, the Burnaby, B.C., university opened Venture Labs in downtown Vancouver as the West Coast hub for a new pan-Canadian business accelerator network operated in partnership with Toronto's Ryerson University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ont., to promote the development of digital technologies. The 24,000-square-foot facility, now the largest business accelerator in British Columbia, received $10.7-million from the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program to encourage collaborations between scientists and engineers as well as co-operation among those pursuing community-based social innovations.
That focus on collaboration appealed to Mark Wijaya, an international student from Indonesia who is pursuing the Beedie certificate while he works on two startups. One of them is Avian Robotics, which applies drone technology to provide live-streaming aerial photography for security uses such as search and rescue efforts and postaccident site inspections.
"Before taking the certificate I never understood what entrepreneurship and innovation really were," says Mr. Wijaya, an arts major. "I thought it was all about making money, but it is really about looking at things differently and saying, there is a problem – how can I solve it?"
The move to teach entrepreneurship and innovation through real-life ventures that bring together students from a variety of disciplines appeals to employers.
"You are not talking business student to business student; all of a sudden you are talking business student to engineering student and that is a totally different conversation," says Michael Shields, Vancouver-based tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. An ability to work in teams with co-workers from different backgrounds, he adds, is as essential for a startup as for a big company.
"Right now, there is so much change in business that you need to be able to amass support for what you are doing and deal with the bumps in the road," says Mr. Shields. "This is the start of students being aware of that."
Do any of these programs guarantee success for would-be entrepreneurs?
Not at all, says Matthew Reesor, director of the Queen's graduate program, which this fall enrolled an initial class of 14 students, including Mr. Seyed, that is expected to grow to about 40 aspiring entrepreneurs in several years.
"We see the program as a bit of a hedge against failure," says Mr. Reesor. "Students see this program providing them with some of the inputs they would need in terms of finance, how to hire well and how to do better pitches. It's about de-risking."
Reducing risk appealed to Mr. Seyed, who says what he is learning applies as much to his startup venture as to his career when he returns to the RCMP.
"I have the confidence I will do it now," he says. "I can't procrastinate."