Developing an entrepreneurial mindset

An interdisciplinary approach to collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation on campus.

The world of entrepreneurship can seem murky and ambiguous, but a program at the University of Alberta is providing opportunities for students to gain invaluable skills and experience applicable to their future career paths.  

An initiative in partnership with the Alberta School of Business, eHUB is an interdisciplinary, research-inspired ideas lab that integrates teaching, research and co-curricular outreach with innovation and entrepreneurship that impacts all students — from undergraduates to graduates and postdoctoral fellows — and connects to faculty across the U of A campus.  

“When eHUB launched in 2013, the University of Alberta lacked a strong culture of entrepreneurship,” said Tony Briggs, executive professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Alberta School of Business and the executive director and co-founder of eHUB.

“We had to design a service to match our environment in our ecosystem that was going to highlight the importance of entrepreneurial thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration and give students some experiences where they could explore that.”

With a broad view of entrepreneurship, starting a company isn’t a prerequisite for involvement with eHUB. Instead, the initiative is about creating a space to foster an entrepreneurial mindset and develop skills useful for any career path.

“Entrepreneurship is a set of capacities, critical thinking and research skills general for all students that can be useful in anything they want to do — from starting a company to transforming a corporation, from solving big social innovation problems to creating non-profits and reinventing public service,” said Michael Lounsbury, professor and Canada Research Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and co-founder of eHUB.  

Some students approach eHUB already in the thick of building a company; more commonly are students with a nascent idea or a desire to pursue something entrepreneurial. Others have no desire to start a company; rather, they’re interested in collaborating with and learning from peers from various faculties and backgrounds and developing critical-thinking skills valuable to them throughout their education and future careers. 

“Nobody comes in with a perfect idea, perfectly executes that idea and ends up with a company that's precisely delivering on that idea,” said Briggs.

But he said that’s kind of the point.

“People know some things, explore some ideas, they get engaged and it opens up new networks and possibilities — fundamentally, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so exciting to get involved.”

Heba Iftikhar portrait image
Fifth-year University of Alberta student Heba Iftikhar is the incoming president of eCLUB, one of two student clubs operated in association with eHUB.


Student club opportunities 

One of the easiest points of entry for students to get involved is through the two entrepreneurship student clubs operated in association with eHUB: eCLUB and Enactus UAB.

An interdisciplinary student club, eCLUB promotes entrepreneurship and innovation on campus by providing students with opportunities to collaborate with and learn from peers through various events, webinars and workshops. 

“The club is a great way to build interdisciplinary connections and provide resources and collaborative support for students interested in addressing issues and solving problems anyone could be facing,” said Heba Iftikhar, fifth-year student and president of eCLUB.

This year, eCLUB is partnering with the League of Innovators — a national charity that provides youth with experiences to develop entrepreneurial skills — to host the Foundations Program, a six-week cohort program this fall for students on campus. At the end of the program, eCLUB will present eTank, a riff off the popular television show Shark Tank where students will have the opportunity to pitch the ideas they developed throughout the program. 

“I love the idea that as an interdisciplinary, inclusive club, students — no matter their experience, faculty and program — can learn and practice skills that will be relevant no matter their future career paths,” said Iftikhar. 

In addition to eCLUB, Enactus UAB is an interdisciplinary social entrepreneurship club on campus for students wanting to create a better world through entrepreneurial action. Participants can work with peers and teammates to develop not-for-profit and for-profit social enterprises that focus on the triple bottom line — people, planet and profit. Some past Enactus UAB ventures include Ruth (formally Hempact), Bio6 and TalkMaze

"Joining a club is one of the best decisions you can make as an undergraduate student," said Kanika Vashist, a fourth-year bachelor of commerce student and co-president of Enactus UAB.

Whether students excel in research, public speaking or graphic design, Vashist said there is a way for students to leverage their skill set and create social change. 

"It completely transforms your experience and allows you to grow beyond the classroom."

Inclusive entrepreneurship

Increasingly, there is an Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) component at eHUB to enhance opportunities for women and Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

Lounsbury recently partnered with Ross Sheppard High School to pilot an entrepreneurship program aimed at introducing youth — particularly Indigenous youth — to the entrepreneurial environment at the U of A. He’s also collaborating with the Faculty of Native Studies on new initiatives and working with the Faculty of Engineering on the Experiential Learning in Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (ELITE) Program for Black Youth, a program where participants can participate in hands-on learning and work-integrated training in science, engineering, and technology fields and in entrepreneurship.

“We are focusing on creating a general architecture for innovation and entrepreneurship that’s going to be good for everyone, but that can also address systemic issues and barriers that might hinder students from embarking on their own entrepreneurial journey,” said Lounsbury. 

“These are intractable issues, and you can’t do everything at once, but certainly, I think our aim and effort with eHUB is to make it as inclusive as possible and to be able to touch everybody.” 

Experiential extension of the classroom

Navigating entrepreneurship can be overwhelming for anyone, regardless of work experience and education, but Briggs said it’s important to recognize that a key component of an entrepreneurial mindset is about embracing the journey.

“We wanted to give people a head start on having and learning how to build a network, developing leadership skills and working with people and on projects — all life skills valid for any path,” said Briggs.

eHUB’s mentoring program is lightweight (students still have to do the work, said Briggs) but provides a check-in opportunity for students to meet with a mentor over a 30, 60 and 90 day period to talk goal setting and accountability. 

The eHUB Primer is for students looking for front-end support, such as determining the who and the what of the company, developing concrete ideas and building a pitch deck. Once students move through this stage of the entrepreneurship journey, there are other organizations (like ThresholdImpact University of Alberta Venture Mentoring Service, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs or Startup Edmonton, for example) that can support more of the backend needs to build a company. 

eHUB also recently launched its own Slack channel for students and recent graduates to connect with other entrepreneurs, access funding and job opportunities as well as different entrepreneurial networks. 

Briggs and Lounsbury are also working to develop an undergraduate certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship that’s cross-campus. 

“eHUB is truly a hub and at the heart of it is connecting people that want to or have some sort of interest in entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Lounsbury.  

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