Think Like Entrepreneurs, Students Urged

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Windsor Star/E. VanWageningen

Many of today's post-secondary students aren't going to walk into a job when they graduate, so the University of Windsor is trying to prepare more of them to create their own.

Even those who don't successfully start their own companies will be better prepared to catch the attention of employers who are hiring, said Roy Verstraete, executive director of the university's new Entrepreneurship Practice and Innovation Centre.

The recently retired CEO of die, mould and heavy equipment parts maker Anchor Danly has seen the job climate shift significantly during his 40 years in the private sector.

"There's a real movement to independent workers. We're each responsible for our own careers. There's no more going out and being employed by one company until you retire," he said.

It is an environment that requires creativity, flexibility and the ability to take advantage of global trends, Verstraete said.

So the university is building on its classes and initiatives that encourage students to think like entrepreneurs.

The apt acronym for the new hub is the EPICentre. It is located in the space previously occupied by the university bookstore and includes a meeting area for students, offices and a reception area for more formal events.

The operations manager is Nicole Sleiman, who was administering the university's eight-year-old Centre for Enterprise and Law, which is now morphing into the larger endeavour.

While the EPICentre wants to cultivate connections with the community and local companies, it doesn't want to replicate what is already being done to support new businesses by other agencies, said Sleiman. "The No. 1 focus is the students."

The goal is to help students figure out if their innovations and ideas could feasibly be turned into businesses, as well as to encourage entrepreneurial thinking, she said.

Once a student or group of students have a feasible business plan they will be put in touch with other local agencies that can help them, such as the Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator and the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation. The long-term dream is that some of these students will go on to build local businesses that create new jobs and bolster the local economy, Verstraete said.

There are already some 20 classes at the university that focus on entrepreneurship.

Most are at the Odette School of Business, but they can also be found in the departments of English, music, computer science and engineering.

The university is now piloting joint classes of second-and fourth-year business and engineering students in which they help each other figure out how to successfully market an innovation or turn it into an enterprise.

The EPICentre is also taking under its wing the school's 80-member chapter of Enactus, a student group that takes on activities and projects to encourage entrepreneurship in the community.

There are plans to bring in speakers and hold events that get more students from all disciplines involved in entrepreneurial activities, Sleiman said.

The guest of honour at the EPICentre's launch reception on Wednesday will be Leland Boren, the 90-year-old CEO of Avis Industrial Corporation. His U.S.-based investment corporation owns 11 manufacturing firms, including Sellick Equipment Ltd. - a Harrow forklift-making company started by the Sellick family in 1969.

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