Canada’s entrepreneurial campuses

Six programs for ambitious undergrads

From the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings—on sale now. Story by Sandy Farran.

It’s the stuff of dreams: in early 2009, University of Waterloo engineering student Ted Livingston set out to design an instant messaging app while taking part in Waterloo’s VeloCity Residence program, an intense four-month incubator for student start-ups. The program provided Livingston with regular access to an entrepreneur-in-residence, use of the latest technology, a collaborative work space, exposure to community mentors and the support of like-minded peers.

The entrepreneurial skills that Livingston acquired while in the VeloCity program propelled his instant-messaging app from the idea phase, in early 2009, to a downloadable app in the fall of 2010. Since then, four million users have downloaded the free technology (called Kik Messenger), investors have come knocking, and Livingston has donated $1 million to his alma mater to help other student entrepreneurs.

VeloCity is just one of several start-up incubators to bloom on the university landscape in recent years, but they’re extremely competitive to get into, due in large part to the high cost. Luckily, other initiatives are popping up like daisies, and why not? It makes economic sense: studies show that countries with high levels of entrepreneurial activity tend to be better off economically, which, in turn, spurs innovation, productivity and jobs for everyone.

Here are a few highlights of entrepreneurial initiatives at Canadian universities:

Simon Fraser Business Concept Competition

This annual competition—hosted by Venture Connection, a training and support centre for SFU entrepreneurs—is open to students from all faculties to develop a venture idea. Students must create a one-minute video pitch and one-page summary of their idea. Finalists are selected to present their idea to a panel of judges.


Budding entrepreneurs at the University of British Columbia have a wide variety of services available to them through Entrepreneurship@UBC. The Voucher Services program, for one, provides $5,000 worth (40 hours) of business services that can include: assistance with incorporation and corporate structuring; business planning; market research; intellectual property strategy; and grant writing. Thirty-four companies have been accepted into the program since it launched in spring 2011.

University of Manitoba

Manitoba offers an undergraduate product-development course in food science that requires students to develop a new food product, then market and promote it to industry experts; and a new practice management program that requires dentistry students to develop a start-up business proposal, which is then judged in competition.

Ottawa’s Young Entrepreneurs (OYE)

This new joint initiative is open to students and recent grads from Carleton, Ottawa, Algonquin College, and La Cité collégiale. The regional centre provides students with financial and mentor support to help develop their business plans and work toward their first sale. The program is open to students from all areas of study.

Ryerson Digital Media Zone (DMZ)

DMZ helps alleviate the difficulties of starting a business by providing young entrepreneurs with a work space, equipment, mentorships, business plan consultation, workshops, funding opportunities and industry connections. Since opening in April 2010 in downtown Toronto, DMZ has incubated 34 digital start-ups, including Soapbox, an online platform for community-based change, and TeamSave, a group buying site.

Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE)

ACE is a national not-for-profit organization that has been helping students develop their business concepts and get real-world experience for 25 years. ACE’s flagship program, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), encourages students to work in teams or as individuals to develop outreach projects that improve the quality of life for people in need. In 2011, almost 2,000 students at 61 Canadian universities and colleges developed 497 community-based projects, 181 student businesses, and clocked 287,427 volunteer hours.