Propel Students Image

Second-year software engineering student Amy Li, front, and Justin Lam of Qeue Games, back, spend time in the Propel Entrepreneurship Centre on September 20, 2017. Students like Li and Lam use the facility to meet, plan and pursue various entrepreneurship initiatives.

University of Waterloo graduates created billion-dollar names like BlackBerry and Wish, helping the region earn the moniker: "Canada's Sillicon Valley." Now Western University is looking to get in on the action.

Western's entrepreneurial culture is young. Western's campus business accelerator, Propel, is only three and a half years old after all. It came into the world after Western converted a business club called BizInk into a well-funded resource centre for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Braden Ream-Neal is a first-year honours business administration student and co-founder of popular tech startup Flare. Flare is a social media app that allows students to see nearby events that are happening in real-time, unlike Facebook or Instagram. Flare went through Propel's accelerator program and now has over 3,500 Western students on the app, along with students from other universities.

"Western has a young ecosystem," he said. "Over the past couple of years, there's been more budding tech startups."

Propel coordinator Michelle Stanescu says that, unlike other schools, Propel has a business analyst available from Monday to Friday to talk to students about their business ideas, regardless of what stage the business is at. She also mentions that Propel can provide funding for certain student businesses as part of Propel's accelerator program which was something Ream-Neal was able to take advantage of.

Western's expanding start-up culture can also be seen through its programs, like the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities. English professor and former entrepreneur Joel Faflak created the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities in 2012, hoping it would prompt students to think entrepreneurially about their education. To this end, SASAH combines interdisciplinary study with experiential learning, and students get to take on creative projects as part of this program. For example, last year for a project, Haley Everitt, a fifth-year SASAH student, created Reuseology, a sustainability initiative that reduced household waste.

Increasingly, Faflak has seen more students combine their arts degree with the science and technical field. It's a combination that's proven to work. McMaster University just created a program combining business with the humanities. In the business world, employers are looking for leaders with skills like critical thinking, communication and cultural perspective. That's where the humanities comes in.

Faflak says that bringing together people who have diverse ways of thinking allows a business to thrive.

“In a business, it’s not just you alone — you'll have a team of people. Although there needs to be people who are more technical, there also needs to be someone who is visionary to think up an entity and make it happen."

Ultimately, Western may not have a co-op structure or tech-focused education like Waterloo, but Western’s entrepreneurship spirit is perking up. In recent years, a growing number of entrepreneurship clubs have sprung up on campus, like W5 and Western Founders Network, bringing the total to 14 official and unofficial entrepreneur-focused clubs. With the unique initiatives that Western has started and the focus on interdisciplinary learning, Western’s culture may give us an edge in years to come.

“Whereas Waterloo was established as an engineering and technical school to fill that gap in the Canadian market, Western is kind of a more broad-based intellectual environment," said Nick Elder, a first-year HBA student. "I think our advantage is bringing people together from different backgrounds.”

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Vivian Cheng is a third year medical sciences student and Culture Editor for Volume 111. When she's not writing or editing, you can find her curating another playlist or thinking about puppies. You can contact her at vivian.cheng@westerngazette.ca.

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