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Awards and recognition

SFU’s leadership in impactful entrepreneurship recognized with international award

September 04, 2023
2023 Coast Capital Venture Prize awards ceremony. Credit Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University is being recognized with the 2023 Deshpande Symposium Award for The Entrepreneurial University, in recognition of its leadership in entrepreneurial programming and innovation support.

The award, accepted June 6 by Director of Entrepreneurship Sarah Lubik on behalf of SFU, is given to a university that demonstrates excellence in curriculum innovation and student engagement in entrepreneurship. The award is announced annually during the Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, held this year in Phoenix, Arizona.

SFU “truly exemplifies the award with a strong overall commitment to fostering entrepreneurship across the institution,” and plays a leading role nationally in “translating innovation from lab to implementation,” according to the awards committee.

The university has distinguished itself through its emphasis on building a comprehensive entrepreneurial curriculum, starting with partnerships at K-12 and spanning all disciplines, encouraging extra-curricular student engagement and building a comprehensive support system for innovators.

“We are grateful to the Deshpande Symposium for convening and celebrating individuals, initiatives and universities that champion academic entrepreneurship and innovation," says SFU President and Vice-Chancellor Joy Johnson. "Entrepreneurial spirit, mindset and action are deeply embedded at SFU, and we will continue to bring together diverse people, research and supports to address local and global challenges.”

SFU is also recognized as a global leader in high-impact innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in recent international rankings, including the 2023 World University Rankings on Innovation. According to the Times Higher Education, SFU was also recognized as the number one university globally for its innovative impact on sustainable cities and communities.

(left to right) Sarah Lubik, Director of Entrepreneurship, accepting the award on behalf of SFU and Dr. Steven Tello, Vice Provost for Graduate, Online and Professional Studies, University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Credit: Photography by Leanna

The university has long been a trailblazer in interdisciplinary entrepreneurship and meeting its community needs. More than two decades ago, SFU established a technology centre for community entrepreneurs, and in 2008 launched Venture Connection, the first student incubator in Western Canada to help students create their own opportunities and entrepreneurial careers (now Coast Capital Venture Connection and serving the entire SFU community, including faculty, staff and alumni).

Since then, and catalyzed by the SFU Innovates strategy, the university has built a collaborative, interdisciplinary continuum of entrepreneurial mindset support—reaching across faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as pre-university students—and supporting incubation, innovators in industry, and systems changemakers in community.

“Solving the world’s most pressing challenges will require everyone working together across disciplines and catalyzing the entrepreneurial mindset that everyone possesses,” explains Lubik, who also serves as executive and academic director of the Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship and the national academic director of the invention to Innovation (i2I) programs.

“About far more than starting ventures, entrepreneurial mindset is about resilience, seeing opportunities to make a difference, being able to imagine new solutions and systems, and having confidence in your ability to drive change. Along with our community and partners, we’re dedicated to creating the conditions for this mindset to thrive and reducing barriers so everyone can chase their entrepreneurial dreams.”

Sparking the entrepreneurial mindset

The Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship, created through a generous gift from SFU Beedie alumnus and entrepreneur Charles Chang, focuses on interdisciplinary experiential programming, uniquely focused on nurturing the entrepreneurial mindset and community from the earliest stages.

The institute has partnered with PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs to encourage entrepreneurial thinking among elementary and middle school students, and regularly engages with K-12 entrepreneurship programs for support and intergenerational mentoring.

At the undergraduate level, the Charles Chang Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship was one of the first of its kind in Canada and has now supported hundreds of students to take the first steps in their entrepreneurial journeys.

To ensure all students have opportunities to focus on their entrepreneurial dreams, a paid, team entrepreneurship co-op (eCo-op) was created to give students time to focus, pivot and gain momentum and has led to thriving ventures and serial entrepreneurs. A recent gift from alumnus John Gross is now expanding eCo-op to graduate internships.

The award-winning Invention to Innovation (i2I), graduate certificate was launched by the SFU Beedie School of Business in 2015 to address the significant need for Canada’s graduate STEM researchers (including masters and PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, industrial research scientists, and professors) to develop an entrepreneurial mindset while developing commercialization strategies for scientific inventions and science-enabled innovation ideas.

In 2019, SFU and Mitacs launched the national Mitacs i2I Skills Training across Canada, which continues to grow through partnerships with other leading entrepreneurship and innovation universities, including Queen’s, Memorial and Dalhousie. A French cohort will be launched later in 2023.

Since its launch more than 300 university researchers have participated in i2I programs. SFU Professor Elicia Maine, the program’s founder, received the 2022 Canadian Science Policy Centre Innovation Policy Trail Blazer award for i2I’s contribution to the Canadian innovation ecosystem.

“STEM researchers with entrepreneurial capabilities are a critical enabler of knowledge mobilization, from scientific entrepreneurship to industrial innovation,” says Maine, associate vice-president of Knowledge Mobilization & Innovation and the W.J. VanDusen Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Beedie School of Business.

Maine believes that university research commercialization challenges can be greatly alleviated with innovation and entrepreneurship training. “There is an opportunity within the research enterprise to develop entrepreneurial capabilities and innovation skills at the early stage of a researcher’s career, and this can be of enormous benefit to innovation ecosystems.”

Moment Energy, founded by alumni from SFU Mechatronics, Teche@SFU, eCo-op, Sumreen Rattan, Gurmesh Sidhu, Gabriel Soares, and Edward Chiang, repurposes used electric vehicle batteries.

Wealth of support for entrepreneurship

SFU is also home to a wealth of incubators and accessible core facilities. SFU’s Coast Capital Venture Connection is the university’s longest running entrepreneurship program. The early-stage startup incubator supports “food trucks to advanced materials” through dedicated mentorship, support, workshops, industry connections and the annual Coast Capital Venture Prize competition. To date, more than 20,000 participants have been engaged in programs and 280+ early-stage startups have used its business development services.

Serving later stage science and technology entrepreneurs as well as growth and scale-stage technology entrepreneurs, SFU VentureLabs offers specialized accelerator programs, market validation and marketing training programs with access to office space, expert mentorship and advising support, and has supported more than 1,100 ventures in the last five years.

The RADIUS (RADical Ideas Useful to Society) social innovation incubator supports innovation labs to address social challenges and has launched an Equity-Centred Accelerator portfolio to support equity-deserving innovators and teams.

One of several SFU core facilities4D LABS, an advanced materials science and engineering research institute, provides ongoing additional support for SFU students and researchers to design and test prototypes, collaborates with global companies on materials characterization and fabrication R&D and has created a nanotech badge for local girl guides.

High Impact Entrepreneurs

SFU entrepreneurs are already having real-world impact and finding success with the launch of innovative companies addressing local and global challenges. Founders of these ventures have all been named to the Globe & Mail Top 50 Changemakers:

Employ to Empower, founded by SFU psychology, Coast Capital Venture Connection and Venture Prize alumnus Christina Wong, is a registered charity that provides advocacy and access to entrepreneurial resources and training to help Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents build on their unique talents and create their own opportunities.

Moment Energy, founded by alumni from SFU Mechatronics, Teche@SFU, eCo-op, Sumreen Rattan, Gurmesh Sidhu, Gabriel Soares, and Edward Chiang, repurposes used electric vehicle batteries. Supported through its early years by Coast Capital Venture Connection, Moment has partnerships with such global companies as Nissan and Mercedes Benz, secured $3.5 million in seed funding, opened a Coquitlam-based facility, won many competitions, including the 2021 National Impact Investor Challenge and is recognized as a 2023 Global Cleantech 100 venture.

Ionomr Innovations, co-founded by Ben Britton as a chemistry PhD candidate researching ion exchange membranes and polymers, was launched with support from the SFU Innovates ecosystem. Britton co-founded the venture while in the i2I program, entered the Venture Connection incubator and was matched with the mentor who would later chair the company.

Ionomr won the 2016 Coast Capital Venture Prize Top Prize and the 2018 international Start Up Energy Transition Award, a prestigious global energy competition. The start-up graduated to VentureLabs, was awarded a $2.3 million clean tech grant from the Canadian federal government, and raised $USD 15 million in Series A.

Over the past two years, Ionomr has been recognized as a top 100 Technology Pioneer in the World Economic Forum list and twice as a Global Cleantech 100 venture.