Pressures on universities worldwide to become more entrepreneurial and business-oriented have resulted in the development of diverse student entrepreneurship programs and campus incubators. Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) is building entrepreneurship capacity by funding post-secondary institutions like the University of Windsor, which has a demonstrated commitment to helping students start and build companies. Entrepreneurial activities are crucial to cities like Windsor that are experiencing the effects of reduced human resources capacity in the manufacturing sector.

Talk to chemistry graduate Stan Amyotte, founder of Substrata Thin Film Solutions (2012) and Shine 5 (2016) about locating in the University of Windsor’s Entrepreneurship, Practice, and Innovation Centre (EPICentre). “The EPICentre has provided me with all of the space, support, and financing that I needed to successfully launch my businesses. I am forever grateful,” says the serial entrepreneur.

His success story shows the versatility and determination of young Canadian graduates as they apply what they’ve learned at school in the creation of their own ventures, with continuing support from campus-linked accelerators funded by OCE.

Campus engagement is critical to Ontario’s innovation agenda

The extent of the province’s investment in youth entrepreneurship is evidence of its strategic importance to Ontario’s innovation agenda. The province has funded a cohesive strategy that encourages collaboration between academic institutions within the same community, and even greater integration of universities and colleges within their regional entrepreneurship ecosystem.

EPICentre has become a hub of youth entrepreneurship, with three physical locations at the University of Windsor and St. Clair College. Over a short period,

EPICentre has developed stronger ties with alumni and potential investors, building community networks that greatly benefit student-led ventures.

The University of Windsor’s EPICentre is distinct from other institutional entrepreneurship programs by actively involving faculty members across all disciplines.

Faculty enthusiasm provides more entrepreneurial and work-integrated learning opportunities for students.

Experiential entrepreneurial learning enhances campus education and research

Our emphasis on “practice” has been a strong motivator for EPICentre to build collaborative relationships with local entrepreneurship ecosystems. This is done through assuming leadership positions in existing regional support network and cross-pollinating advisory boards for local innovation, workforce, and industry-related organizations.

Our vision is to support the transformation of people into entrepreneurial “doers” and innovative ideas into successful economic and social enterprises through training, mentorship, and networking.

In pursuit of this mission, EPICentre hosts more than 80 programs and activities each year, impacting approximately 2,000 students. It also provides incubation space, co-working space, and makerspace at both the University of Windsor and St. Clair College campuses. Over the past year, 235 part-time, temporary, and full-time jobs were created by EPICentre activities. A strong local network of 60 industry mentors provide support and advice to young entrepreneurs.

“Coming from the tech world, I was foreign to the principles of starting a functional business,” says Connor Holowachuk, founder of Eigen Ads (2016). “The EPICentre provided me with the resources and mentorship I needed to make real money from my ideas.”

Ontario campus entrepreneurship programs such as EPICentre, exemplify how targeted government policy can develop and connect a treasure trove of highly innovative youth to scalable economic enterprise development. The programs in place in Ontario are working and are taking us in the right direction. With continued efforts, they will move Canada closer to the research and development success of other industrialized nations.