Entrepreneurship at Huron
LONDON, ONT - A new program with a unique multidisciplinary approach gets off to a fast start.
Allison Nyanjogu Karabu, a Global Studies student at Huron, has always been concerned about issues like poverty and environmental degradation. “I felt there must be something I could do to help,” she says. “Then I got the idea of using my own interest in arts and crafts to support individuals directly.”
Nyanjogu Karabu hatched the idea of creating and selling sustainably sourced canvas bags printed with her own artwork, to raise money in support of African non-profits. She spoke to Matt Bazely, Director of Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation, who encouraged her to pursue the idea, and helped her secure seed money for the supplies she needed. Her business, Angaza Taa – which means “shine a light” – was born. Now as her bags sell, she is able to support organizations like Uganda Rocha, which is working to protect a natural forest in Uganda.
Under Bazely’s leadership, Huron’s new Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation program has created vibrant and unique opportunities that are inspiring students like Nyanjogu Karabu to pursue their ideas and build their futures.
Michael Medline, CEO of Empire Company Ltd., and Sobeys Inc. made a generous donation to support the creation of the new programing. In making the announcement last fall at the inaugural Social Innovation Summit, Medline said, “This investment reflects the need to equip our students with an understanding of the complex social, environmental and financial considerations facing today’s leaders and entrepreneurs. Sobeys Inc. and I are proud to be working alongside Huron to shape the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.” The Summit will continue to be part of Huron’s Careers Week, featuring guest speakers sharing how social innovation happens and what students can do to move their own ideas forward.
Bazely is aware that entrepreneurship programming is offered at other schools but says the Huron approach is unique. “Entrepreneurship education is not necessarily business education,” he says. “We recognize that ideas can come from students in any program. Entrepreneurship is really about a mindset of leadership and growth. Successful entrepreneurs are creative problem-solvers. They see opportunities, pivot fast, and are endlessly curious. They have faith in themselves.” Huron teaches students how to develop and implement their ideas and provides tools to help them plan for and measure success. Bazely says these are all valuable skills, whether graduates choose to become ‘intrapreneurs’ – innovators in the context of an existing organization – or to start their own businesses.
Several innovative new programs have been introduced over the past year.
The University now offers an interdisciplinary minor in entrepreneurship. Open to all Huron students, the academic program will introduce participants to design thinking, business planning, prototyping, the launch process, and much more. In 2023-24, students will be able to select courses in Indigenous Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Thinking, along with courses in business and management and any other academic area.
The Huron University U Pitch contest launched in early 2023 – a Dragon’s Den-style showcase for both for-profit and non-profit innovation. Student participants pitched their business and social innovation ideas to a panel of expert judges, and the winners received funding to help them move their ideas forward. Student Emilie Duggal won the top prize for social innovation for The Bridge, a community-based approach to supporting Indigenous students to find employment in Canadian corporations. Ben Levy and William Chapman-Black won in the entrepreneurship category for Buddy Bedding, a company planning to produce removable covers for dog beds.
Another key element of the new program is one-on-one coaching. Thomas Zadorsky was one of many students who benefited from Bazely’s advice and encouragement.
Zadorsky has been passionate about baseball since he was a boy and reached the AAA elite level as a player. This summer he launched Coach Z, a coaching and mentorship business. “I’m offering something for people who want to take their skills to the next level -- a space and environment where they can come together and learn.” The business was successful, with full clinics and many students eager and excited to come back. Zadorsky had bi-weekly meetings with Bazely throughout the summer. “The meetings were so helpful, one of the best resources I had,” he says. “Matt helped me realize that I had the ability to go out there and be an entrepreneur. He has given me so much confidence going forward into the future, whether I keep doing this business or something else.”
Throughout the year, Bazely conducted more than 200 one-on-one meetings with students like Zadorsky. “I work with them to uncover that piece of their idea that enables them to keep moving forward, even on those days when they’re getting rejected -- because there will be those days,” says Bazely. “This is about discovering the skills, the confidence, the sheer commitment to be able to follow through, wherever they end up.”
He also led student workshops around the design thinking process and exercises to help them align their business ideas with their personal values. Working in partnership with Career Services, Bazely created a self-directed module for students interested in exploring entrepreneurship as a career.
“Ask Me Anything” is another innovation -- a webinar in which a panel of entrepreneurs responds to questions from students. Last year the panel included Trevor Sookraj, Founder and CEO of Divisional, Tracey Luel, Founder X Women + Her Golf Mentor, and Luke Bazely, President and Co-founder of DriversSeat. Some 45 students attended the lively session.
On an informal basis, Bazely has also arranged for select students -- those with relatively mature ideas -- to meet with entrepreneurs, discuss their ideas, and plug into entrepreneurship circles to network.
Huron has taken entrepreneurship on the road, hosting a week-long “Innovation Academy” for high school students in India that included an opportunity for Huron internships. The students worked with non-governmental organizations to generate solutions to challenges, gaining real-life entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skills.
Among other plans for the coming school year: the second annual Social Innovation Summit, a study trip to the American University of Dubai, the development of a formalized alumni mentor and entrepreneur-in-residence program, and the creation of more self-directed online resources.
Bazely says entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone but adds that the mindset can be helpful in many contexts. “Entrepreneurship is simply about behaving entrepreneurially,” he says. “Whether a student wants to start their own business or solve challenges at an existing company as intrapreneurs, they will be well equipped. Just because you do this program, you don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs!”