Several Ontario universities' entrepreneurship programs, including Western, have come under scrutiny from government reviewers, who have questioned the value of the programs.
Western and nine other schools have been a part of the Campus-Linked Accelerator program, launched in 2013, in an effort to foster entrepreneurship. Western has received a 1.4 million dollar grant from the Campus-Linked Accelerator program, which is to be split with Fanshawe College in the hopes of building strong entrepreneurship programs.
A report in The Globe and Mail said Ontario universities have "struggled to design effective entrepreneurship programs” under the CLA program, with reviewers of proposals from the $20-million fund questioning the goals of the program, where the money was going and even if it was necessary.
“Not even sure that the demand warrants this magnitude of investment but recommend support,” the Globe reported one reviewer saying of a proposal from the University of Western Ontario, who added: “This gives the government what it needs in this community, a very big win here.”
Ian Haase, director of entrepreneurship at Western, said these types of programs require a long time to develop and shouldn't be judged until they've been well established.
“It takes a long time to build these ecosystems in the university. It requires a cultural change across campus and these are not necessarily changes that happen over night,” said Haase. “For the article to say that [the program] is struggling when it’s in launch mode is unfair and misleading.”
Haase, who also manages Propel, Western’s on-campus business accelerator, said when looking at similar programs across North America, the common finding is that some of the best programs have taken decades or more to gain traction and get up and running.
Dominic Lim, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Richard Ivey School of Business, reiterated Haase’s assessment, stating entrepreneurship programs have been on the rise in Ontario universities.
Lim points to the increasing interest in entrepreneurship courses, university-led entrepreneurship initiatives and the number of student-led entrepreneurship clubs and initiatives as a relevant trend to explain the growth of entrepreneurship programs.
“We see increasingly more students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship careers each year,” said Lim in an email. “This says a lot, in a business school like Ivey where students traditionally came to pursue a career in consulting, finance and general management.”
Lim added programs such as CLA are imperative in fostering an entrepreneurial system across campuses.
It is not that universities are struggling to develop strong entrepreneurship programs; the problem is with promoting a culture of entrepreneurship and providing funding that will sustain said programs, according to Lim and Haase.
While Haase believes that it is not a particular problem for Western, Lim states that compared to their American counterparts — Silicon Valley, Stanford and UC Berkley — Canadian universities have not traditionally excelled in creating a university-wide entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Based on his own experience in entrepreneurship, fifth-year finance student and founder of his own startup company, Kishwar Hashemee notes while London’s entrepreneurial scene has grown over the years, the few students who do attempt to pursue entrepreneurship, tend to flock to larger cites such as Waterloo, Toronto and Montreal.
“From my experience, from working in London, a more rigorous mentorship program [is needed], where you are accountable to someone who keeps an eye, watches over your start-up and guides you on a weekly basis," said Hashemee. "A lot of times, startups fail because they are moving too slow."
Propel uses such grants, as well as additional funding from Western and the University Students’ Council, to provide opportunities for emerging start-ups through their summer incubator programs, start-ups with legal, financial assistance and other professional services to move their ideas along.
As an entrepreneur and an individual that has benefited from spaces such as Propel, Hashemee notes that students with ideas now have a place to go that allows them to pursue their ideas.
Highlighting the changing nature of the employment sector, Haase stresses entrepreneurial skills are essential for the next generation of workers in order to succeed as they are pivotal skills that most companies are seeking.
“The potential downside of not [supporting] startups and commercialization efforts on campus is a greater risk,” said Haase. “[And] the danger of not trying to focus on them at all versus trying to get things going even if it might take a while is not even a comparison.”