Centres that catalyze student — and community — success

- November 8, 2017

All set out for the GCEC conference. (Launch Dal photo)
All set out for the GCEC conference. (Launch Dal photo)

Entrepreneurship centres, such as Launch Dal or the International Business & Entrepreneurship Centre at UNB, serve as a catalyst for change not only across campus but in the communities in which they are situated. How can educators support innovate students who will change the world? How can inclusive growth in our communities that foster gender diversity and income equality?

From October 12-14, entrepreneurial educators from around the world came together in Halifax to inspire each other and share best practices under the theme "making a dent in the universe together." The Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) conference, held for the first time in Canada, was hosted by Dalhousie, Saint Mary's University and UNB, in partnership with the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency and the Province of Nova Scotia.

Mary Kilfoil, interim director for the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship at Dal, was thrilled to help bring the event to Halifax. She says attending past GCEC conferences allowed her to learn about and bring back programs such as the University Innovation Fellows program, where students act as ambassadors for innovation and entrepreneurship across campus.

"You feel like you just came home because you're with your people," she says of the conference. "You come out inspired."

Informative insights

In his keynote address, Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, who has supported entrepreneurial centres from New Brunswick to India through the Despande Foundation, spoke about nurturing innovation on campus, and how important it is to teach students to be "co-creators": to work together with the communities that they want to help.

For example, in "developed economies" where people have disposable incomes, he said, "you have to come up with an idea that the world has never seen before." In developing economies, in contrast, the new idea is not necessarily the best one, and a simple solution might work better for the people living with the problem that needs to be solved.

A big factor in the success of the Deshpande Centre at MIT, he said, has been connecting student idea-generators with the communities who will benefit from their projects. At the centre, he gets them outside their peer groups, so that they can work with communities to understand which ideas have relevance and will create impact.

Kilfoil, who travels with her students every year to the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship in Hubli, India, says Dalhousie students want to change the world, and seeing the bottom up method first-hand can help them do it.

"Once they've seen what it looks like they know that they can't just parachute in with a quick fix," she says "They come back inspired." From there, students are able to go into one of Dal's entrepreneurial startup or accelerator programs with the right foundation.

Volunteer support

Thirty-five volunteers helped make the conference happen, including Dal students and alumni. For GuanQiang (Johnny) Song (BComm'16), volunteering was a chance to give back to Dal and connect with current students. Song is now the International Business Development Manager for the China-based virtual reality company OH! Doctor, which uses virtual reality to train medical students and professionals.

He fondly remembers Dalhousie and the Norman Newman Centre as his “home,” and was proud to help show them off to the entrepreneurial advisors in attendance, who came from over 100 schools in Canada, the US, Europe and China. “About one hundred universities applied to host the conference,” he says. “I think this means a lot for Dal.”

Having helped bring the conference to Halifax, Kilfoil is looking forward to reflecting on the conference learnings and putting them into action at Dal. She's also pleased that the event has helped strengthen ties, both within Halifax and beyond.

"This puts Dalhousie in the GCEC Leadership circle," she says, referring to the group of universities who provide leadership for the consortium. "It gives us, and the Atlantic region, a global profile."


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