It’s not unusual for students to come up with possible business ideas while still in university or shortly after graduating. However, going ahead with that idea is not an easy decision to make. Unlike being employed, running your own business is risky. It involves possibly high costs, depending on the business idea, and requires time and energy to set it up.
UVic’s Gustavson School of Business recently launched the Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs (ICE) to help current students and recent graduates (within three years of their graduation), as well as faculty and staff members from all disciplines, develop their business ideas.
“Whether you just want to throw an idea by and you’re from biology or you’re from chemistry and you have no idea how to structure a business plan, that’s completely okay with us. Or if you are an MBA student and you’ve already got a lot of it out and you’re just looking for advisers and help that way,” said Chris Forrest, program manager of the Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs, in an interview with the Martlet. “We really believe that we do play from the front end of the spectrum, so right from the birth of the idea.”
The centre sees itself as an innovation and entrepreneurial hub on campus that allows everyone to talk about possible business opportunities. According to Forrest, anybody affiliated with UVic can make use of ICE, and the centre is open for all sorts of business ideas, from brand-new products to innovative services.
“We heard about the ICE program through our faculty. They sent out an email about a $10,000 grant to all students who have graduated the entrepreneurship program in the past two years. In August/July, we heard that we won the grant and were accepted into the ICE program,” wrote Dylan Chernick, a recent UVic graduate and co-founder of Riipen Networks, an online service for organizations to find the right talent by setting up a profile and posting projects and challenges for students. He started Riipen with two of his former classmates. They have just set up a website and are still working with ICE on their idea.
ICE offers its clients a four-stage process: intake, business plan draft, business plan completion and preparing for investors. New clients with early business idea drafts have to go through a getting started phase before working on a concrete business plan. In this initial phase, they will be assigned to an entrepreneurship student who will help with research, finding markets and team building. The goal of this first phase is to structure and improve the business idea.
“So, first thing we do is just get a very general understanding. Once we decide that this client a.) is, yes, passionate about the idea, and [b.)] there is an opportunity here, then we do bring them into the program and we work again — using a bunch of different tools — to actually develop the plan,” explained Forrest.
If the business idea is already detailed, the future entrepreneur will work together with experienced advisers and will also focus on the financing part of the business plan. During the four stages, ICE tries to underline the strengths of an idea and to find all the weaknesses to improve and work out a mature business concept.
“They [ICE] help create milestones and timelines for us to achieve, help us to connect to professionals who can mentor us through their years of knowledge and experience, and finally help to refine out assumptions and models in our business plan,” wrote Chernick about the help he and his team receive from ICE.
The services at the centre are free and confidential, and ICE doesn’t take any direct ownership in the new businesses set-up.
“We’re building our own pool [of experts] right now. We’ve probably got 20 that are a variety of different CEOs and business development specialists in the community,” said Forrest. “The UVic business school has about 200 or 250 different mentors that they use. So, we tap that pool, when we need to.”
ICE sees its purpose in reducing the risk of setting up a business, increasing the quality of the ideas, giving the new entrepreneurs some time to develop and valuating the investment. It is currently in a partnership with the Vancouver Island Technology Park (VITP), where ICE clients have access to eight working spaces at VITP’s new Innov8 HUB.
ICE could be especially interesting for recent graduates, according to Forrest. “We’re starting to see that it’s … the graduates that are coming back are almost for us a sweet spot in customers, because they’ve got their education, they’ve gone into the real world and they’ve felt a pain or they’ve experienced how the system really works, and then they are almost reaching out to try to find a way to go and fix these problems.”