St. Clair College to nurture future entrepreneurs with new program

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell

Having overseen the transformation and expansion of St. Clair College during his 15 years as president, John Strasser sees the creation of the Genesis Entrepreneurship Centre as the final piece of the puzzle the college requires to fully serve students.

The college announced Friday the hiring of Chris Ryan, a well-known local businessman and former CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, as the centre’s director.

“We think we provide our students with great skills,” said Strasser, who will retire at the end of August as the longest serving president in St. Clair’s history.

“What we need now is a place that gives them enough skills to be entrepreneurs on their own. This final phase is the connection of post-secondary education to jobs.”

What is the Genesis Entrepreneurship Centre?

The centre, which could be open before the end of the current school year but no later than next September, will be located on the ground floor of the main building at the college’s South Windsor campus.

It will open to any student in any program who expresses an interest in starting their own business. The college plans to use its extensive resources to provide mentors, contacts, lecturers and other help.

 Why is it necessary?

“We need to be relevant and provide the programs our students need,” Strasser said.

“There’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in this area. Much of the way the Windsor economy was created was by people who never went to college or university who created manufacturing centres for the auto industry.

“If we don’t do it, if we rely on others to supply leadership, than this region is headed for trouble.”

 How much will it cost?

Strasser said the college can create the centre without the need for outside funding.

“I don’t think it’ll be expensive,” Strasser said.

“Doing the renovations needed, using the staff we have now and allocating them to the centre, we can get it going for under $1 million.”

 Who will be involved?

Strasser said Ryan was a natural choice to head the program based on his extensive background in business ranging from tourism to brewing to the hospitality industry. His extensive list of contacts will complement the college’s own resources along with accessing expertise among 85,000 alumni.

College faculty will also help identify students who they feel are potential candidates for the program.

 How will it be different than other business incubators?

Strasser feels the college can take the concept of incubators and create a multiplier effect to create something beyond anything that exists currently.

“From my point of view, all of that (incubators) should be done within a post-secondary institution,” Strasser said.

“We have too many smaller incubators. That fractiousness is actually hurting us rather than helping us.”

 Is it a diploma or certificate program?

There won’t be any certificates or diplomas awarded for participating in the program to start.

“Not initially, because that would only complicate things,” Strasser said. “Eventually yes, we’d like that to happen.”

 How does it compliment what the college is already doing?

Having established a vision built on engineering and technology, hospitality and culinary, health sciences and business and IT, Strasser said the college has defined what it is and built the infrastructure to support it.

“Now the end point has to be in sight,” Strasser said.

“You’re in post-secondary education for a reason. That reason for me has always been at the end of it you wind up with a job.

“Providing the ability to be self-made is another way we can help students make their own way in life. It’s the final piece.”

 How do you measure the success of the program?

The college will measure success by the traffic generated at the office, the buy-in from the way programs access it and ultimately by how many people go on to start successful businesses.

“We want this to be used by a wide array of programs, not driven just by one,” Strasser said. “That’s why it’s not focused on particular areas.”