Community Innovation Challenge Inspires Entrepreneurial Thinking

An interview with Peter Fenwick, Sessional Instructor at Ambrose University

1. Tell us how Ambrose University encourages its students to develop entrepreneurial thinking.

Calgary’s post secondary schools are working hard to make experience in entrepreneurial thinking mandatory for students. Ambrose requires that all students take a course called Business 390: New Ventures and Social Entrepreneurship as part of the business program. Ambrose focuses on encouraging students to build companies that can make a difference in the world by confronting local or global issues, creating social and economic impact - for profit, for purpose. In addition to teaching entrepreneurial thinking throughout the stages of commercialization this course discusses business model reinvention and models of intra-preneurial thinking within larger organizations.

Every post secondary has evolved their business program in a different way as they consider what they teach and how they teach it. Ambrose’s program emphasizes living and leading by your values. As an evangelical Christian university, we are more forward in the way we embrace this value set.

2. What is the Community Innovation Challenge?

The Community Innovation Challenge brings together people who are passionate about solving social issues. Students begin the course with minimal knowledge about fundraising, start-up culture or working in small teams that drive fast. Unless they have seen it in their family life, they typically don’t understand the realities of entrepreneurship.

The goal of the Community Innovation Challenge is for students to experience the emotions of discomfort that come with putting yourself out there, “on stage”, preparing for a public presentation, collecting information through interviews and working on something you care about.

3. How do students prepare for the Community Innovation Challenge?

Students get introduced to participating organizations, go through a matching process with those organizations, and then work within student teams of three to four. In the sessions leading up to the Soul Forum students get to meet the start-up at least twice and go through ideation to help them iterate on aspects of their business to increase its potential impact and feasibility of achieving that impact. We updated the format for this year so that it’s focused on allowing students to engage with community agencies and entrepreneurs in Calgary, rather than creating a one-time (often theoretical) student pitch. The goal is to leave the experience open ended and see how the student + community entrepreneur teams naturally evolve afterwards.

4. What is your ideal outcome for the students? How can students maximize the benefits from participating?

For the past two years, students were allowed to take turn their idea from the Soul Forum and turn it into their term project. This year is the same, but we are looking for opportunities to make it more of a cooperative learning experience if the social enterprises see value in the students’ participation. Students who then want to continue moving forward and build companies move on to Business 492 which is essentially our incubator program where they get access to me and anyone else they need help from so they are well prepared upon graduation to keep running with their own company.

5. Is there an outcome from previous a challenge that you are most proud of?

The People’s Choice Winner from two years ago was a group called Care Styling, run by students Nicholas Newnes and Lizzy Dornian. Their idea stemmed from their experience in the hair salon and aesthetics world and realization that a stylists’ chair is like a therapist’s chair that becomes a very intimate setting in an unassuming environment. After winning the People’s Choice Award, they decided to pursue the idea further and came up with the idea to develop a curriculum to coach stylists on mental health awareness. This led them to ATB Student Booster Stage where they successfully raised start-up capital. The Care Styling curriculum encourages stylists to be aware of the clients’ mental health by asking questions and also sharing information on the resources that are available in the community.

Want to participate in the Community Innovation Challenge? Buy tickets for the Soul of the Next Economy Forum.