Giving school kids $100 and a few lessons on entrepreneurship might seem like a risky business venture at best. Two University of Victoria commerce grads are proving it’s a concept that works – their $5,000 investment in 50 schools in B.C. has returned $55,000 in fundraising for Free the Children charity.
“Now that’s being used to build six schools in Kenya,” said Rebecca Koch who co-founded Early Entrepreneurs with Kim Cope. “It’s schools helping build schools.”
Koch and Cope have integrated age-appropriate lessons on financial literacy, business savvy and global awareness into classrooms, and those classrooms have used $100 seed money to launch fundraisers. To make it a viable business, they’re seeking to partner with companies willing to donate expertise in exchange for better exposure in the community.
“Kids have no fear, kids will go where ever they want with an idea,” Cope said. “If we can teach kids how to start their own businesses, it will build skills and confidence for their future.”
Cope and Koch developed Early Entrepreneurs with UVic’s Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs (ICE), which matches bright ideas with an advisory team to help shape a business strategy. Previously open only to business students, UVic has expanded the free resource to any student, recent graduates, staff and faculty for non-profit and for-profit ventures.
“There’s no shortage of excellent ideas at UVic,” said Reeta Tremblay, UVic vice-president, academic. “UVic is expanding the program across all disciplines for students, staff and faculty to develop good ideas with business leaders.”
People with an idea that could be the next Facebook or iPad need to prove to ICE advisors their business concept is sound and well researched. Once past those hurdles, they’ll be assigned a three-person advisory board that will help shepherd the concept to a point it can be presented to investors.
“The idea is to help take a business plan from an idea to investor-ready in a 40 week period,” said Bill Anderson, a founding advisor. “We want them to be able to walk into a room with bankers, angel investors or even the Dragons’ Den.”
“We look to see if they are passionate and committed to take their idea forward, or if it’s just the next bright idea of the week,” said Dale Wershler, the other founding advisor of ICE. “If they are accepted as a client, it’s a big commitment of resources by the ICE team.”
There are probably more novel ideas on campus than advisor capacity, and Anderson and Wershler expect ICE to manage about 15 clients in various stages of concept development, with 30 to 40 volunteer advisors.
In the past two years, ICE has helped mold a dozen startup companies, which have raised $300,000 in investment capital. An economics major is creating a service to help students find off-campus housing. Two graduate students in biology are developing a product to eliminate invasive plant species. LimeSpot Solutions, a social media platform for retailers to gauge customer interests, emerged from the ICE program.
Carolyn Brandly is launching a pilot test of a dementia patient care centre at Goward House in October, as part of her company New Hope.
It’s been two years of planning and pitching to investors under the guidance of her ICE advisors. She plans to open six private centres across B.C. with day programs and services for people with dementia, and programs for their caregivers.
“It’s about engaging people with dementia to reduce apathy and boredom. The vision is a country club for people with dementia,” said Brandly, a UVic MBA grad who worked in health care in the Lower Mainland. “I saw lots of holes in the system. I wanted to create the opportunity to look after people with dementia.”
For more on ICE, see iceuvic.ca.