Time for entrepreneurship to take a look in the mirror

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A university isn’t Dragons’ Den. So why are we trying to act like it? 

In 2014, Queen’s received $900,000 through the provincial government’s $20-million program to bolster entrepreneurship. According to the Honourable Reza Moridi, Minister of Research and Innovation at the time, youths’ “innovative spirit will build Ontario’s future,” and the government’s investment will allow that to happen. 

A recent investigation by the Globe and Mail, however, highlighted the difficulty that universities experience in designing and delivering effective entrepreneurship programs. For instance, there was disagreement over the criteria for funding, which meant some universities’ proposals received drastically different scores from reviewers.

Beyond vague and optimistic statements about the power of innovation, there doesn’t appear to be a clear and consistent understanding of what the objective of this funding is.

And without clear guidelines, there’s a risk of money not going where it’s needed. For instance, with the Queen’s program, reviewers disagreed over how much of the grant should be allocated to students’ living costs. 

Investing in entrepreneurship at the university level is a good idea on paper. For students facing an increasingly competitive job market, the possibility of making a job for yourself out of your passion is immensely attractive. And many of the groups that receive funding have legitimately good ideas that create jobs and opportunities. 

But post-secondary programs shouldn’t focus on funding one-off start-ups, but instead on how to teach students the technical skills to succeed. In other words, educating them. 

The reality is that for students just starting out, working in start-ups is very unstable. Eventually, when government support dies out, students who haven’t learned how to do business independently will be left hanging. 

Undoubtedly, innovation is vital. But, because of the way the government allocates funds, opportunities for entrepreneurship programs only arise in selective areas. For instance, the Queen’s Innovation Connector runs programs that are open to all students, but those outside of programs that aleady teach entrepreneurial skills, such as Engineering and Commerce, are rarely encouraged to apply. 

This is unfortunate when we consider how one of the most important criteria of a publicly-funded educational program should be inclusivity. 

Queen’s already has an option for students to pursue a business certificate along with their degree. If expanded, this program could benefit many more students per amount invested than a highly-selective and exclusive entrepreneurship program. 

Journal Editorial Board 

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