Students as entrepreneurs of learning experiences

Venture Connection
Student participants of the SFU Venture Connection program and the winners of the 2014 Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize, an annual competition that recognizes entrepreneurial excellence at Simon Fraser University.

By Candy Ho

Can learning entrepreneurial skills be considered a form of flexible education? If you ask Dr. Michelle Unrau, Program Manager for SFU’s Venture Connection (VC) program, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Similar to the Co-operative Education program, VC serves as a co-curricular element that students can apply to, and complete in addition to their regular studies. However, its uniqueness is embedded in its sole focus on entrepreneurial development.
Its non-traditional learning model includes a mentorship approach that utilizes multiple industry experts to provide tailored, just-in-time advice to student entrepreneurs. Going beyond the bricks and mortar of the institution, its notion of learning space is also non-traditional, as the “classroom” is typically a coffee shop or a student’s place of work.

Students learn and apply entrepreneurial theories by going through steps of creating, testing, launching, and growing a business. They receive ongoing support to engage and network with business people in their area, and to even talk to potential customers. They find themselves faced with answering questions like: Should they conduct market research to determine the feasibility of their business idea? What about mastering their five-minute business pitch in front of potential investors? Lead generation? Business model canvas? All of these activities require students to actively conduct research, and interpret data to inform their business decisions.

Like most educational settings, VC is not aiming to only develop successful outcomes; instead, learning through challenges or unexpected situations that may at first appear as setbacks or even failures are also highly valued. “VC has truly become the place where students can gain skills and confidence to apply theoretical learning – in a safe environment – and actually ‘do’ entrepreneurship,” says Unrau.

For more information on SFU’s Venture Connection program: click here