Skip to main content

Andrey Khramtsov, left, Alan Kalbfleisch and Kai Chen come from different faculties at Western but teamed to create Pascal Press, a portable coffee press and mug.

Some of today's business students don't want to just learn how to manage existing companies. They want to create their own.

Business schools are responding to the growing demand, especially from millennials, for training in entrepreneurship, creating not only new courses but also an environment for innovation and collaboration.

The trend is bearing fruit. Students are coming up with business ideas, often as class projects, and taking them from paper into the real world.

Here are four examples of ventures that had their beginnings at business school and now are flourishing beyond the campus:

Brewing better coffee

Pascal Press

Alan Kalbfleisch, Kai Chen, Andrey Khramtsov

University of Western Ontario

Alan Kalbfleisch is a thermal fluids engineering student at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., and he loves coffee.

Uniting his two passions, he began experimenting at home with brewing methods to solve one of his great coffee conundrums – how to make a great cup on the go.

He came up with Pascal Press, a stylish cylindrical container that serves as both a coffee brewer and a travel mug. But his invention didn't really start percolating until he combined forces with a couple of other Western students in other faculties.

While a member of Engineers Without Borders at Western, Mr. Kalbfleisch connected with Kai Chen (who is finishing his master of science in management degree at Western's Ivey Business School) and Andrey Khramtsov (a chemical engineering student who plans to go to Ivey in January for a master of science in management in international business). Although Mr. Kalbfleisch had the engineering know-how behind the product, he needed help from a business perspective.

Mr. Chen provided a business plan, and Mr. Khramtsov took on branding and website design.

The Pascal Press started as an in-class assignment for Mr. Kalbfleisch who was tasked with developing a product prototype for just $20.

Now, after a $60,000 Kickstarter campaign, and provincial seed funding, the triumvirate has begun manufacturing the product for the masses.

"I'm not pulling any profit at this point, but I'm able to focus on this without worrying too much," says Mr. Kalbfleisch.

"If Pascal Press is my career or not, it's totally fine. It's allowed me to apply what I learned as an engineer in a different industry I didn't expect."

Headfirst into concussion care

HeadCheck Health

Kerry Costello, Harrison Brown

University of British Columbia

Although Kerry Costello isn't an athlete herself, she has great admiration for them. So much so, she started a mobile application while an MBA student at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business to help athletes and athletic departments analyze head traumas.

Ms. Costello and her co-founder, Harrison Brown (a kinesiology graduate and PhD candidate at UBC), launched HeadCheck Health, an app that identifies concussions and provides athletes with brain analysis before and after concussions. Among their clients is UBC, which uses the app for its varsity sports teams.

After graduating, Ms. Costello began working full-time at the British Columbia Automobile Association while Mr. Brown continued with his PhD, but they kept in touch, meeting at coffee shops and e-mailing each other ideas. Ms. Costello ended up quitting her job and focused on HeadCheck Health full-time about a year ago.

The app is free to download, and free to run a baseline test. But when an athlete or organization wants to do a postinjury assessment, they need to sign up for a subscription. "This is where we can make a difference. We're trying to redraw the standard [of care]," explains Ms. Costello.

She says without Sauder, HeadCheck Health wouldn't exist. During her MBA, she took a course that allowed science students, including Mr. Brown, to join in. "I get goosebumps thinking about how we may have never met. It's crazy," she says. "Using the resources [UBC] has in place has been completely integral with our business, and we are forever grateful."

Spotlight on small business

Fresh Angles

Josh Malate, Audra Stevenson

University of Calgary

Josh Malate and Audra Stevenson are more than just classmates at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business – they're business partners.

Both beginning their MBAs in September of 2015, and set to finish in April of 2017, they've turned a class assignment into a business, creating a boutique management consulting firm called Fresh Angles.

Ms. Stevenson was producing small theatre shows and had a background in technical theatre prior to attending the University of Calgary, while Mr. Malate was involved in real estate and had raised about $2-million after starting a small real-estate investment company. He also performs in the university's wind ensemble, which he says helps stimulate his creativity.

Mr. Malate and Ms. Stevenson had a class together this spring, where the objective was to solve a business problem for a real company. They had the choice of five companies, but they didn't want to pick just one. Instead, they pitched their professor on starting a consulting business that could help each of the five. The pitch was approved, and they continue to work with each of those five companies today.

"We would be nowhere near where we are today without the university," says Mr. Malate. "When you're in the working world, you have to fight for everything you want. At the university, the number of resources available to you [and] the doors that can open when you're a student are amazing. The MBA program has been the single biggest catalyst for our business."

Keeping campuses safe


David Sinkinson, Chris Sinkinson

Queen's University

David and Chris Sinkinson are brothers who both graduated from the Smith School of Business's MBA program at Queen's University in Kingston within two years of one another. But that's not all they have in common. They share the entrepreneurial spirit.

In 2012, the brothers developed AppArmor, a mobile application that connects students to a university campus's security team, while David, the youngest, was still at Queen's. Their invention brought them a Dare to Dream grant, a $15,000 prize offered by the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith.

The award not only allowed David to attend trade shows across the United States and Canada and build the business, but it also let Chris hire a student developer to help with some of the app's coding. Both brothers work on AppArmor full-time from a Toronto office.

Now used by nearly 60 schools across the United States, Canada and Australia, the app is customized for each postsecondary institution. Among its functions, the app allows users to call campus security in emergencies, relay their location or report suspicious activity.

Queen's was not only the brothers' first customer, but it also gave them invaluable resources to build their business while in school, they say.

"I can't stress enough how hugely helpful my MBA was. It was helpful working in teams, especially tight-knit teams, especially when they involve your brother," David says with a laugh. "We had the same training, and without the MBA, we wouldn't be as successful as we are."