Edmonton—An entrepreneur-in-residence program is earning rave reviews from engineering students who won financial support from investors at the Faculty of Engineering’s second annual ‘Beaver’s Den’ event.
The faculty’s entrepreneur in residence program gives engineering students first-hand guidance on how to start up their own companies, then provides them with an opportunity to pitch their business plans to venture capitalists at the Beaver’s Den—a gentler version of CBC TV’s Dragons’ Den, where student entrepreneurs ask investors for mentorship, meetings or money.
Spearheaded by computer engineering alumnus Michael Sikorsky, a venture capitalist and founder of Calgary-Based Robots and Pencils, the program kicks off in the fall with an intense weekend-long Start-up School seminar. Sikorsky helps students build their business plans until the annual Beaver’s Den event, which was held March 24.
That’s where mechanical engineering students Kyle Neufeld and Nicholas Meier won $12,000 in financial support from investors on the Beaver’s Den panel.
Tentatively called GED Guarantee, the students company will provide math tutoring to adults who want to earn their high school equivalency degree.
“It kind of was amazing that we did impress them so much,” said Meier. “We were half-way through our presentation and Michael says ‘I’m in.’ And before we finished the rest of the presentation we had another panelist pipe up—it felt really good.
“We had done some market research and the big number that impressed them, I think was from a CBC story that in 2009 there were over 190,000 18 – 24-year old high school dropouts. So think of the market size of people just trying to get their GED. When I saw that figure it cemented for me that what we are planning might work.”
Meier says his family is entrepreneurial.
“I’ve always known I want to do something in business,” he said. “My brother is our third bus partner and I have always known I would do something with him. Our Dad is a construction business owner and he has taught us to think for ourselves and to think like businessmen.”
Besides Sikorsky, panelists included Leslie Roberts, president and founder of the GoForth Institute, Brian Prokop, president and CEO of Argent Energy Trust, Tyler Shandro, legal counsel at Robots and Pencils, Korey Hazelwood, a Canadian North Airlines pilot, angel investor and real estate investor, and Kelly Cherniwchan, co-founder and COO of Circle Cardiovascular Imaging Inc.
Both students were impressed by the process that led them to the Beaver’s Den.
“Startup School is completely different from anything else,” said Neufeld. “I’ve always wanted to start my own company but I thought I’d work as an engineer for 10 years and then start up an oil and gas company—but we formed a business right away,” said Neufeld.
Sikorsky’s Startup School, he said, “has literally changed the trajectory of my life.”
Both Neufeld and Meier have every intention of completing their engineering degrees—there is no doubt of that. And both hope to work in the profession too. But both say they will consider all of their options and opportunities after graduation. Meanwhile, they’re grateful for the opportunity to learn about setting up a company.
“What Michael is doing should be reproduced wherever it can be, although I seriously doubt many people can do it like he can do it,” said Neufeld. “He is a unique individual. He just wants to give.”