Embedded Mentor Doug Fast with students in the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU class at SFU's Surrey campus.

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Mentors as classmates—entrepreneurial students reap benefits from new program

October 02, 2018
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Students taking entrepreneurship classes at SFU this fall don’t have far to look for some real-world guidance—industry advisors are embedded right in the classroom as part of a new program.

Delivered as part of the Discovery Foundation Tech4Impact program, the Embedded Mentors program is the latest initiative of SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection, which marks its 10th anniversary this fall

Venture Connection is the university’s flagship program and launchpad for early-stage entrepreneurs. It supports students, alumni, staff and faculty—from idea to incubation—by providing programs, services and mentorship. The initiative launched in 2008 as Western Canada’s first university business incubator and has many notable program graduates, including MetaOptima, Buyatab and MetroLyrics.

As part of SFU Innovates, Venture Connection supports the university’s entrepreneurial education goals and closely aligns with the interdisciplinary entrepreneurship certificates delivered through the Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship (CCIE).

“Embedding our mentors-in-residence into the CCIE certificates directly connects those wanting to grow their ‘bright ideas’ with players who can help guide their next steps, and enables these ideas to be unleashed beyond the classroom walls,” says Janice OBriain, director of Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection. “The Embedded Mentor program is the next crucial piece in the continuum of innovative talent and successful ventures we are building together at SFU.”

Not only do students gain from direct access to industry expertise through one-to-one support for their class project teams, it’s proving to be equally rewarding for the mentors.

“It’s a rare opportunity to experience the challenges and rewards of launching a new venture through someone else’s eyes,” says Lynn Warburton, managing partner at Emdoubleyu Communications + Design, whose clients include the City of Surrey. Warburton is embedded into SFU’s Business of Design (BoD) program, a partnership between the Beedie School of Business and the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT).

Meanwhile, mentor Doug Fast’s assignment is the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU program located at SFU’s Surrey campus, which includes students from the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering and the Beedie School, as well as other faculties. “Throughout my career, I’ve always made it a priority to guide, mentor, and inspire others on their journey through business and life,” says Fast, CEO at Dark Water Tek, and a sessional faculty member. “Being an embedded mentor gives me the opportunity to interact with students a little earlier on their journey.”

Other embedded mentors include Tim Ames, executive director of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network and an SFU visiting professor, who supports SFU’s Change Lab (Health Sciences + RADIUS Social Innovation Lab), and Udi Daon, a medical devices/augmented reality serial entrepreneur and Executive-in-Residence with Innovation Boulevard. He is working with SFU’s scientist entrepreneurs within Beedie’s graduate certificate in commercializing science and technology, Ideas to Innovation.

Students point to the value of rubbing shoulders with business professionals during classes. “The mentorship of Venture Connection mentors has been extremely valuable in providing us with help and feedback throughout our product development cycle,” says Jay Tseng, a SIAT BoD alumnus who participated in the embedded mentors pilot program. “With our mentor, we discussed and evaluated our business, product, and features in great detail. Through sharing his industry experience and outside perspective, our team was able to better align ourselves and focus our business.”

It’s a role that also has mentors like Ames doing his homework. “Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and there has to be contribution to and from both mentor and student,” he says. “That means I’m staying on top of the latest emerging trends, ideas and solutions so I can offer the best mentoring possible—and I gain all the knowledge that comes with doing the research as well.”

Warburton is enjoying the classroom’s vantage point. “It’s a perspective where you can draw on your own experience yet have enough distance to separate the trees from the forest. It’s so rewarding to contribute to someone else’s growth.”

Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection Mentors-In-Residence are an integral pillar of its incubation programs, offering valuable expertise and support to start-up clients. Undergraduates, graduates, staff, faculty and recent alumni can access these industry experts through one-on-one mentorship as Venture Connection incubator clients or through ‘Mentor Meet,’ an ongoing informal drop-in program at all three campuses.

The Embedded Mentor program and other key mentoring activities and speaker events, are delivered by Venture Connection as part of the Discovery Foundation Tech4Impact program.  Created to promote and support British Columbia’s high tech research and development industry, Discovery Foundation, a registered charity, facilitates innovation by delivering The Technology Education Program (TEP).  

Over the past decade more than 8,000 individual participants have engaged in SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection programs, with over 750 teams mentored and nearly 250 early-startups have used its business development services.

See more at www.sfu.ca/vc10

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