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The future of entrepreneurship at Queen’s

Greg Bavington (Sc’85), Executive Director of the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre. (Supplied Photo)

Greg Bavington (Sci’85) has signed on for a second five-year term as Executive Director of the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC), overseeing student and community entrepreneurship initiatives at Queen’s. The Gazette sat down with Mr. Bavington to learn more about him, and talk about plans for the term ahead.

 

Tell us how you came to be at Queen’s, and why you decided to renew for a second term.

“One of the first things I tell people is I am a bit of a misfit at a university. My background is very different from that of most people who work and teach at Queen’s. But one of the things I have noted in my career, and something which we teach our students in the DDQIC, is the importance and power of diversity on a team.

I spent 28 years in the private sector and I still have a foot in the private sector. The last 20 years of my career were spent in entrepreneurial roles, which requires a very different mindset than being an employee. When I exited my last company in 2012, I had planned to do a lot more cycling and sailing. But it happened to be just a couple of months before the first version of what is now called the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative program was launching, and I was member of University Council at the time.

Then-Dean Woodhouse [of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science] asked if I could spend some time that summer helping out. I knew I wanted to do something very different. By the end of the summer, I saw that nothing could be more different. All that change was great…and it also happened to be an institution that I had a lot of room for in my heart. I am a proud alumnus and I could see, as the summer went on, how somebody who is a bit of a misfit could be welcomed and supported and could help a lot by adding on to what Queen’s was already doing in terms of supporting entrepreneurs and innovators.”

 

Paint a picture for us of how far things have come in the last five years for Queen’s innovation and entrepreneurial efforts.

“The overarching feeling that first summer, in 2012, was that this was going to be the start of something big.

We realized our program and our goals had significant alignment with Queen’s overall strategy and priorities. One priority the university recognized was that it had to elevate its international importance. Another is that it had to elevate its research prominence – the visibility of the impact it makes on society through the research it does. The third theme was that it had to do a better job of supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly but not exclusively student led. I suppose the fourth would be how Queen’s serves the community in which it sits – a social and economic development mandate.

We hit one of those themes in a very small way that first year in supporting student entrepreneurship. The last few years have been spent really building out those other themes. On the international side, we have launched our Global Network, incubated companies that have had an international impact or won international recognition, and we have just started turning our minds more seriously to social enterprise, [creating businesses which both make money and improve the community around them], both internationally and regionally.

 

What do you see in the coming five years? How will the DDQIC grow and change?

“The pillars I talked about are pretty durable. Sometimes a gigantic success creates a centre of excellence that is difficult to anticipate – like having a Research in Motion [now] Blackberry fall into the lap of your region which could completely shake up the innovation ecosystem. I predict it could happen in Kingston. I don’t dare predict which industry it would be in, but if it happened that would be something we would have to acknowledge and support. It could even start in our centre – there’s every chance it could.

Being adaptable is important because our centre has grown significantly. It becomes more of a challenge to remain adaptable as you grow. We have to embrace the growth while trying to stay nimble.

We also need to build out the social enterprise side of our offering. We do some of this already within our existing programs, but to do it really well, we need some dedicated or specialized effort. One of our team members is going to the Deshpande Foundation in India for three months this winter. That’s an institution that has knocked it out of the park in terms of scaling and making real economic and social impact with the projects they have executed on. We want to see how they have done it, learn about their successes and failures, and give some very careful thought about what is translatable to the Canadian situation. We know there are significant portions of Canadian society that have not fully participated in the success we call Canadian society. We have a lot to learn from places like India.

Our connection with scholarly research is a big theme going forward. We have to knit our various disciplines, connections, and research together more energetically and thoughtfully, ensuring that every piece of intellectual property that is generated at this place gets a serious looking-at by the people who can determine whether it is something that should be brought out into the light of day and tested by the market.”

 

It sounds like you enjoy change. Was there any hesitation in signing up for another term?

“There was no hesitation. If I reflect on my career, if I have switched seats or switched places it was probably because there was a lack of an ability or will to effect change. I am very excited by the will that the leadership at Queen’s and the broader community have demonstrated to enact change. After all, an old boss on mine used to say ‘Change is all that stands between us and perfection’.”

 

Anything you’re most proud of among the DDQIC’s achievements?

“I am most proud of Queen’s for recognizing that it needs to do this. Queen’s is a place that could coast on its reputation for a long time, and I am proud of Queen’s for not doing that. It has constantly pivoted and morphed and adapted to what society needed of it.

I am proud of the people I work with here. They will defy every unfortunate stereotype you hear about academia and universities. I am proud to be able to work with them and to work here.

There are people in every corner of this campus who have rolled up their sleeves and helped us out. That’s amazing. The success stories are great for teasing those people out of the woodwork, but you want those people there to support you when you have your failures too! The more those people come on board, the more this thing is just going to snowball into something big and great. We just need to be very careful not to lose our vision and our agility, and not lose our peripheral vision.”