At the beginning of October, Platform Calgary kicked off its first Student Entrepreneurship Sprint — a five-week program with the goal of helping student entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. This fall’s cohort consisted of 33 students from eight post-secondary schools across Alberta, including the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Bow Valley College, Medicine Hat, University of Lethbridge, University of Alberta, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
For participating in the program, students received a $500 stipend each, thanks to the University of Calgary’s Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, who sponsored the program with a $15,000 donation. The program also ran in partnership with Mount Royal University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Through coursework, mentorship and networking sessions, students gained an understanding of the practical experiences that entrepreneurs go through. By the end of five weeks, students learned whether their venture was worth pursuing, how to validate a promising idea and how to effectively weave their entrepreneurial skills into future endeavors.
A place to learn
“Having an environment to share ideas and ask questions without judgment is invaluable,” says Susan Strem, an MBA student at the University of Calgary who participated in the Student Entrepreneurship Sprint’s fall cohort. She says the Sprint allowed her to openly discuss and get feedback about her idea without fear of judgment.
“I know I’m biased because of my background and what I’ve already encountered in my life. I have this idea for a product and I think it’s great, maybe it’s not, and to be in a safe place and actually find out, there’s a lot of value in that,” Susan says.
Additionally, hearing from entrepreneurs who have stories of both success and failure, provided students with tangible examples of what works and what doesn’t.
“If you are talking to people who have had similar entrepreneurial experiences and they’ve been successful, and maybe they’ve had some projects that didn’t work out, they can give you some practical, realistic advice that’s really valuable because you don’t have to learn all that information the hard way,” Susan says.
More so, Sam Ashoori, a PhD candidate in petroleum engineering from the University of Calgary, says the Sprint gave her the confidence to see herself as an entrepreneur for the first time.
“When I started, my mindset was ‘I’m a student, I’m here to learn,’ but after three weeks, ‘Oh maybe I’m going to have my own company, maybe someday I will do that.’ I take it more seriously now. Before it was just ‘Okay, it’s another subject I’ve got to learn and maybe one day I’ll use it.’”
For many students, the Sprint gave them the structure needed to take their idea to the next level — having tasks and actions to complete created a roadmap.
“They’ve helped me put the idea in order. I have a clear picture of where to start and where to end,” says Sampson Hussein, a finance student at the University of Lethbridge. “I was talking to clients and talking to other people, but I didn’t necessarily have a direction. They helped me organize the questions, how to know what to ask, how to get what I want and not expose the idea, and how to make sure people aren’t lying to me.”
Students said the assignments and deadlines forced them to invest time into their idea. With full course workloads at school, it would be easy to set their ideas aside for later, but the Sprint pushed them to take actionable steps towards realizing them.
Susan says the Sprint forced her to step out of her own head and gain clarity about her idea.
“If you think [that] you’re not sure if you have a good idea or not, or [whether] the problem you’re trying to solve exists or not, then you might be scared to go and look it in the face. You sign up for this program and you have to go and look.”
The Fall 2020 Student Entrepreneurship Sprint ran from October 5 to November 5, 2020. For more information about the Student Entrepreneurship Sprint, please visit this page.