Excerpts from Agawa’s Sumbission to Ontario’s MTCU

The following post includes highlights from Agawa’s recent submision as part of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Postsecondary Education Transformation review process.


Best-in-class Supportive Programs

There are a number of programs already being delivered in Ontario that can be considered best-in-class at promoting entrepreneurism as a viable career option and supporting new ventures. These programs include (but may not be limited to):

– MEDI’s Summer Company Program

– MEDI’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program

– OCE’s (MEDI funded) Experiential Learning Program

Without exception, each program delivers quality, value and impact. Without exception, each program lacks the required funding, capacity and scale to reach its full potential. While we look to discover initiatives and programs that will enhance the student experience and create valuable economic impact, we should not overlook those programs that are currently being successfully delivered already in Ontario.

Recommendation 1: Look to provide financial leverage, integrate more fully, and encourage the renewal of critical programs that are currently providing impact. These programs include: MEDI’s Summer Company; MEDI’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program; and, OCE’s Experiential Learning Program.


Entrepreneurship Continuum

Promoting entrepreneurship as a viable career option, teaching business skills as a lifetime asset and supporting entrepreneurial ventures does not have a start or end point. Entrepreneurship is a combination of skills, attitudes and abilities that needs to be encouraged and nurtured forever. Entrepreneurship education is not something to be “introduced” at some inflection point in a student’s academic career. While many are discussing, analyzing and debating “what” and “when”, others have put a stake in the ground and declared that teaching entrepreneurship as a viable career option, and the skills that go with it across the entire spectrum of grades, is an economic imperative and have simply begun somewhere. There are numerous example programs spanning the entire educational spectrum including:

– The government of China has recently ordered Universities “to start teaching basic courses on entrepreneurship to undergraduates to encourage students to start businesses and become self-employed after graduation.”
Similarly, the EU passed legislation years ago to ensure that entrepreneurship was being taught in schools – as young as primary schools. See: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sme/promoting-entrepreneurship/education-training-entrepreneurship/index_en.htm. Many other specific examples listed on a previous post at http://agawacorp.com/countriesembraceentrepreneurism/.

The promotion of entrepreneurism as a viable career option and the teaching of business skills as a workforce asset is not solely the responsibility of the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, nor should it reside in only one phase of an academic career. While there are already excellent individual programs and initiatives underway in Ontario (see previous recommendation), it appears as though little is being done to coordinate these programs with an eye to the learning experience and venture support available throughout the academic continuum (K-12-PS). Others, including the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation and the Ministry of Education must work in concert to create a fulsome and comprehensive strategy to build awareness and entrepreneurial skills throughout a students’ academic career – not simply at College or University.

Recommendation 2: Lead the creation of an inter-ministry working group to craft a best-in-class continuum of entrepreneurship awareness building, skills development and venture supportive programs and initiatives made available to students throughout their academic career.


Post-Secondary Landscape

Colleges and Universities in Ontario are well positioned to provide a training ground and launch point for the next generation of new ventures as well as an entrepreneurially-minded workforce for our many private enterprises and public organizations.

A recent Agawa review of entrepreneurship capacity at Canadian University campuses was undertaken to analyse capacity within three specific categories:

1. Education – scale and scope of entrepreneurship curriculum.

2. Experiential Learning – opportunities for students to participate in competitions and activities and learning opportunities outside of the classroom to build critical skills.

3. Support for Ventures – actual support for student ventures such as funding, incubation, mentoring etc.

Institutions were ranked on an 8-point scale according to their capacity within each of the three categories and a total score (out of 24) assigned to each institution. The following Ontario-only sample depicts the variance between the average of the top 3 scoring institutions and the average score of the remaining institutions. Our findings reveal that, while the “top 3” Universities in Ontario are well positioned to offer entrepreneurship support (though opportunities exist especially with respect to Venture Support), the majority of Ontario Universities are lagging drastically behind in all categories, especially Experiential Learning.

Entrepreneurship Support Capacity at Ontario Universities

While the Ontario College landscape has not yet been fully analysed, early indication is that the situation is even worst with respect to their entrepreneurship
capacity across all three categories. If future entrepreneurs are important to the economic success of Ontario, it appears as though the situation may be somewhat dire as it relates to entrepreneurial output from Colleges and Universities. Note: entrepreneurial output is not another phrase for “commercialization of research.” The two are very different with the later focusing on (and succeeding or failing with) a product or service, the former focusing on developing entrepreneurial talent that lives on beyond the success or failure of a first venture.

In discussions with Colleges and Universities, there appears to be a strong interest and willingness to build entrepreneurship programming. The consistent limiting factor is funding for capacity to develop and/or implement programs and initiatives. While there seems to exist a patchwork of funding programs available to support entrepreneurship, and specifically youth entrepreneurship programs, there are no scalable programs to help Colleges and Universities build their capacity to develop and deliver programming. The Universities most successful at building capacity and support for entrepreneurism (i.e. the Top 3) are able to do so as a result of successful targeted fundraising campaigns and specific donors, often in the form of a ‘named’ Centre for Entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, these channels may not be easily available to all institutions.

The most successful institutions all have dedicated entrepreneurship staff working to coordinate and implement entrepreneurship activities. These types of staff positions are, unfortunately, not naturally occurring in academic institutions, but are critical to the development and implementation of entrepreneurship support programs. With as little as one staff position and modest program funding, many low-cost, high-impact initiatives can be successfully implemented.

Recommendation 3: Create a funding vehicle for Colleges and Universities to access for the specific purpose of building on-campus capacity to support entrepreneurship activities.

Way Forward

While many best practises exist already within Ontario, both Ontario government-led initiatives and campus-based programming, the question remains: how can Ontario build on what is currently being done to encourage and nurture entrepreneurs? Where will Ontario be positioned economically 10 years from now when students from around the world graduate having spent their entire academic careers being encouraged into, and learning skills supporting, entrepreneurism? Ontario is clearly losing out to other Countries in scope, scale and the fulsome integration of entrepreneurship programming throughout the academic life cycle. The time for multi-ministerial coordinated action and commitment is now. The province of Ontario through the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities must ensure a commitment to entrepreneurship and the creation of new ventures by:

1. Leading and ensuring a coordinated and integrated approach to youth entrepreneurship;

2. Adding capacity to already existing best practise initiatives; and,

3. Creating opportunities for Colleges and Universities to initiate campus –specific entrepreneurship programming within their institutions.


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