Canadian Universities Receive Near-Failing Grade for Campus Entrepreneurship Support

It’s no surprise that global leaders are increasingly looking at entrepreneurship as a way to grow jobs and stimulate economies. In Canada, approximately 68% of net new jobs are created by small and medium sized enterprises (Statistics Canada) and from 1980 to 2008 all net new job growth in the USA came from firms five years or younger (Kauffman). The reality is that large firms shed jobs and new firms (young firms run by entrepreneurs) drive job growth. Complimenting this is the growing interest in entrepreneurship as a career choice. A Kauffman-funded study of youth aged 8-21 cites 40% of respondents interested in entrepreneurship as a career option. The question becomes: What are we doing to stimulate interest in entrepreneurship and provide support to young entrepreneurs? Some would see this as an opportunity not to be missed.

The message is clear: entrepreneurs create jobs and stimulate economies. Students’ interests are driving growth in the area of entrepreneurship education and this growth is providing strategic advantage for recruitment efforts and fund-raising activities. What better place to apply this important economic lever than in supporting start-up activity on campus, during a student’s academic career?

The Current Landscape

Few universities or colleges are truly embracing this important economic driver. While there are pockets of very good activity, the vast majority of institutions do not have the programing that is required to promote entrepreneurism, attract entrepreneurial students and support early student ventures. A recent review conducted by Agawa Entrepreneurship Development Corporation of University entrepreneurship capacity points to a failing grade for most institutions and poor results for Canadian Universities on aggregate.

The review looked at three major categories of entrepreneurship promotion and support on University campuses: entrepreneurship courses; experiential learning opportunities; and, support for student ventures. The top 24 Universities (by size) were analyzed along these three categories. The results, while impressive for some individual institutions, were not encouraging en mass.

1. Just half of the 24 Universities offered more than 4 undergraduate courses dedicated to entrepreneurship.

2. Only 11 of the 24 had a passing grade related to experiential learning opportunities for students – things such as: entrepreneurship internships and co-ops and non-credit learning.

3. While 13 Universities received a passing grade for the support available for student ventures such as incubators, accelerators and mentorship programs, most passed with a mere 50% in this category and many received no marks in this category.

*Information based on a review of publicized programs and courses at the top 20 Universities (by enrollment) in Canada.

While the College landscape has not yet been fully analyzed, early indication is that the situation is even worst with respect to their entrepreneurship support across all three categories. If future entrepreneurs are important to the economic success of Canada – and it seems as though they are – it appears as though the situation may be somewhat dire as it relates to entrepreneurial output from Colleges and Universities.

Good Signs

While challenges exist and much work is needed, some in Canada are leading the pack and many institutions have a strong base to build on. Some examples of very good, if not best, practices that currently exist include entrepreneurship internship and co-op programs, student venture funds, incubators and accelerators, curriculum, competitions and entrepreneur-focused experiential programs.

In addition to some best practises already in place, there is a growing interest and conversation around youth entrepreneurism. Published late in 2012, Startup Canada’s “BluePrints” points directly to the provision of entrepreneurship support on Canadian campuses as a necessary step in building an entrepreneurial Canada. Most recently, The Federal Government has committed $18 Million over two years to the Canada Youth Business Foundation to support youth businesses and most Provincial governments are trying their hand at stimulating entrepreneurship programming and interest. These are all good indicators that should lead to future impact, but is it enough?

Work to Be Done

While the conversation is growing and many best practises exist, the question remains: how can we build on what is currently being done to encourage and nurture entrepreneurs? Where will Canada be positioned economically 10 years from now if we don’t actively nurture this very important economic demographic? While a single review and corresponding poor grade doesn’t mean ultimate failure, it should be a wake-up call for everyone involved.

Grades are merely a snapshot in time of what happened in the past; we learn from them, grow and move forward. Moving forward is what will make a difference in the lives of graduates: our future entrepreneurial leaders and in the economy of tomorrow.

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