As an entrepreneur, Ahren Brunow wishes he had the opportunity to take part in a new incubator program at U of G that helps students and alumni launch their business ideas. Known as the Hub, the program is open to all U of G students and graduates. Those who are accepted into the program will receive $8,000 in start-up funding, office space and mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs.
“I’m an entrepreneur myself and I would have loved this,” says Brunow, B.Comm. ’10. He’s assistant manager at Guelph’s Co-operators Centre for Business and Social Entrepreneurship (CBaSE), which includes the Hub and other components. “They get mentorship, guidance and funding to launch their business, which is an incredible opportunity for students with limited resources and networks.”
As a commerce and economics student at Guelph, he says, most of his entrepreneurial education came from textbooks. Having a mentor could have helped him avoid the common pitfalls of entrepreneurship. “I think the biggest thing for me is mentorship,” he says. “I have made lots of mistakes myself because I’ve gone at it alone.” But those mistakes have proven to be valuable learning experiences. He now owns two businesses: Art From Concentrate sells limited-edition prints by independent artists, and Bedroomer helps musicians produce and distribute their music.
The incubator program is designed to help students transform their ideas into a concrete business plan, which they can then pitch to an external accelerator centre for additional support and funding. “They’re here to be creative, and we give them the guidance and support to channel that into forward movement,” says Brunow.
The Hub aims to create start-ups that will eventually support entrepreneurial careers. “We want to see them succeed,” says Melanie Lang, CBaSE director and a professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies. “We want there to be successful start-ups coming out of the University of Guelph.”
Start-ups go through four stages. The first two involve developing an idea and determining its demand and marketability, which will be the focus of the Hub. Successful teams move on to the next two stages — refining the business model and driving growth — at Innovation Guelph downtown. “We approach entrepreneurship not as a discipline but as a daily practice,” says Lang. Students are assigned to meet certain milestones based on the type of business they’re trying to start.
The Hub also offers workshops led by business professionals on topics such as financial literacy, marketing, sales and negotiation, intellectual property rights and legal matters. Students can use these transferable skills to develop their business plan and work with off-campus partners.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely endeavour without the support of a mentor. Entrepreneurs-in-residence from Innovation Guelph will meet with students regularly, providing advice and support. Instead of competing against each other – as in the real world – students will benefit from working together, learning from each other and sharing ideas. “This is a very safe place to do that,” says Brunow.
The Hub’s entrepreneurial spirit extends beyond campus to support local start-ups. The unit’s walls, for example, are decorated with artwork by local artists, including Guelph graduates. “We wanted the space to feel fun and engaging,” says Lang. If students are feeling extra creative, they’re allowed to write on the walls and windows.
The program, which received funding from the O’Born family, starts this summer. Students and alumni from all disciplines are encouraged to apply by March 23. All you need is an idea.
“With the launch of the Hub, we had immediate interest in applications,” says Lang. Applications can be submitted online and will be evaluated by a panel of entrepreneurs-in-residence. Those selected for an interview will have 15 minutes to pitch their idea.
“Everyone has to start somewhere, and we have the resources here to support you,” says Lang. “We’re trying to embody entrepreneurship at Guelph.”