Students voting in the upcoming University Students' Council election will face another decision at the ballot box. Propel, Western’s entrepreneurship centre, has put forward a referendum asking for $4.89 in undergraduate student fees.
The service’s current funding structure does not use student fees and instead relies heavily on government grants, a structure that Ian Haase, director of entrepreneurship at Western, says is unsustainable.
“Our government grant right now is a matching-related grant, which means any money we get from the government we need to match 2:1 with other sources of funding,” he said.
He explained that, "it may be better to try and become a permanent part of the fee through this referendum so we can have some long-term stability in terms of knowing some of our funding is secure.”
Should Propel win the referendum vote, they intend to use the funding to create a full-time staff position, purchase additional software and equipment to improve their space and help the seed funding offered to startup businesses pitched by students.
“Another key piece of that funding is really making sure we can identify the high-potential student entrepreneurs on-campus and give them some investment to make their business come to life,” Haase explained.
Propel offers services to both aspiring startups and interested students without a business idea, offering funding to student entrepreneurs over summer and full-year programs and coaching on business skills.
“Every student entrepreneur accepted into our space gets $7,500 for the summer to grow their business,” Haase said. “We also have a smaller seed funding throughout the year of grants up to $1,500, which we give out to a number of student entrepreneurs as well.”
Along with startup funding, Propel helps coach students who are interested in entrepreneurship but may not have developed their own idea for a business.
Eaton Asher, a fourth-year Western student in psychology and medical sciences, works as a brand ambassador within Propel and explains the organization's value to students.
"Each and every student that has attended, currently attends or will attend this incredible place we call Western is an entrepreneur in one shape or form," Asher said.
Propel has worked with between 2,000 and 3,000 students by their own estimation since September 2014, through initiatives and other outreach programs, with 400 of them involved in active startups.
Propel works with both undergraduate and graduate students across all faculties, with 21 per cent of the students involved coming from social science, 14 per cent in science, 14 per cent in engineering, 13 per cent from Ivey and six per cent affiliate students.
Last year, undergraduate students voted in favour of a referendum that awarded the Western Marching Band 50 cents in student fees. Currently, the ancillary fee paid by undergraduate students for the 2015-16 academic year totals $1,372.74. In order to receive funding, the referendum requires over half of a minimum of 20 per cent of eligible undergraduate voters to cast their ballot in favour of the fee increase during the USC elections on Feb. 8-9.