Queen's University

Boot camp for student innovators

[photo of Steven Turliuk]Stephen Turliuk, Sc’13, works with an Arduino microcontroller at a QIC student-led
“makerspace” cross-faculty workshop.

This summer, 15 Commerce students, 15 Engineering and Applied Science students, and – for the first time – 10 Arts and Sciences students, put their heads ­together during 16-week, paid full-time innovation internships.

“We aim to give undergrad students the background to pursue innovation and corporate or social entrepreneurship,” says Greg Bavington, Sc’85, executive director of the Queen’s Innovation Connector (QIC).

Launched jointly in May 2012 by the School of Business and the Faculty of ­Engineering and Applied Science, the QIC cultivates innovative ideas of students, ­corporate and social entrepreneurs, and Canadian organizations. “The underlying idea of our summer program is to take distinctive ideas that have value and put them into practice,” says QIC academic ­director Jim McLellan, Sc’81, PhD’90.

Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative (QSII), which has run for the past two summers, was QIC’s inaugural program. ­Activities began with a two-week boot camp for young entrepreneurs. “It’s a start-up 101 toolkit,” says Bavington. “It covers everything from dressing for success to finance to working in teams,” adds McLellan.

For the rest of the summer, teams tackled “hands-on” projects, interspersed with talks from Queen’s alumni and other mentors. QSII has already yielded successful initiatives: a student-created company, Listn, that developed an iPhone app that lets people share and connect through music, and Moja Labs, a Kingston-based company focused on designing leisure and travel apps. An engineering consulting firm, impressed by results of a corporate innovation project, hired half the members of its student team.

In June, a visit to young entrepreneur headquarters in Beamish-Munro Hall revealed a group of ­innovators eager to create their own opportunities. It’s likely that some of these students came away with ideas for a new company or initiative.

“It was a steep learning curve for me,” says Sarah Witiuk, Artsci’13, who had one start-up under her belt already, the queensevents.ca website. Her team’s project, for Chapters/Indigo, considered how people decide on the next book they’re going to buy. “At first I was asking, ‘Sorry, what’s a SWOT analysis? A Gantt chart?’” she says.

At a nearby table, Mitchell Purcell, Sc’13, and the Northwoods company team, which will make wood products, examined their first prototype. “We’re starting with sunglass frames made out of hardwood,” he says. “We’ve moved already from something we’ve designed to actually making it. We’ve been trained to use a laser cutter in this building, and now we can hold the frames in our hands.”

At a desk covered in colourful beads, Naomi Ng, Com’15, and another member of her team worked to craft jewellry “with stories attached,” to give the pieces more meaning. “QSII is amazing – we’ve been learning so much. We have guest speakers coming in to give us tips, skills, advising on things to think about,” she says. “We also have a lot of freedom to get our ideas out, and to try them, with the possibility of failure. It’s not about doing things right the first time, and I appreciate that.”

QSII was a pilot program. While this summer program for undergrad entrepreneurs will continue, lessons learned will also inform planning for a 12-month experiential component of a new Master’s degree in Innovation. Pending approvals, this new degree, offered jointly by the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Queen’s School of Business, is targeted to be launched by 2014.

QIC has also initiated a speaker series, organizes a series of weekend entrepreneur boot camps, and is building SparQ labs – “makerspaces” with resources such as 3D printers where students can go to tinker in their spare time.

What does the future hold for QSII? “We aim to provide opportunities across campus for all students,” says Bavington. “We see the value in diversifying the gene pool. Commerce and engineering students often have similar viewpoints. If your only tool is a hammer, as the old adage goes, everything starts looking like a nail. Innovation thrives on diverse perspectives.”

For more information about Queen’s ­Innovation Connector, please visit www.queensinnovation.ca.

Update: Read about the first recipients of QSII funding.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2013 Issue #3Queen's Alumni Review
2013 Issue #3
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