The spirit of entrepreneurship at Queen's

Determination, teamwork, and integrity

Staff and students reflect on their experiences in entrepreneurship.
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Many successful businesses have started out of Queen’s. From Iris Technologies creating an LCD computer for people suffering from concussions to Red Gold of Afghanistan selling saffron to help women in Afghanistan, Queen’s has created and supported many student entrepreneurs.

The Journal spoke with students and staff about their entrepreneurship journeys and lessons learned.

“Taking more control of our destiny is a really important part of an entrepreneurial mindset,” Greg Bavington, executive director of the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC), said in an interview with The Journal.

“It encourages you to accomplish what you can with what you have and what you can readily get your hands on.”

Entrepreneurs need to be resourceful and start by using what’s available to them to create the change they want to see in the world.

“I didn’t have to put up with what was or tolerate what I was born into,” Bavington said. “I could change circumstances around me to the benefit of myself and to the benefit of others.”

Wealthy entrepreneurs tend to be motivated by trying to make the world a better place rather than trying to create something that will make them rich.

“You have to have a passion beyond just trying to accumulate wealth for yourself,” Bavington said.

The rewards of entrepreneurship can be enormous, but it’s almost impossible to know whether a business will boom or fail when it’s just starting out. For this reason, entrepreneurs have to get very comfortable with uncertainty. This uncertainty is in stark contrast to university programs that can promise students a more stable and secure life after they finish their education.

“That mess of uncertainty is quite different from what we spend most of our time grappling with at school,” Bavington said.

“If you think of STEM disciplines in academia, usually there’s an exam assessment. There’s exactly the right amount of data given to be manipulated to produce the one correct answer, all other answers being completely wrong.”

“That’s not the way entrepreneurship works or the way the world works,” he said.

“There’s all kinds of decisions that have varying degrees of rightness and wrongness […] you have to be comfortable with uncertainty.”

Being comfortable with uncertainty helps students perform better at their job once they graduate, whether they end up pursuing entrepreneurship or not.

“I got all that technical knowledge through my degree, but the practical application of being handed a problem and then trying to figure out the best fit solution was something that I definitely gained from the [Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI)] entrepreneurship program,” Jessica Dassanayake, PME ’23, said in an interview with The Journal.

“I currently work in the government at national defense and I do a lot of work with military, so the solutions I have to build are fast-paced. If something’s coming up for the military […] I get a really vague problem and I have to go out and fetch those requirements.”

In addition, being part of an innovation program helped Dassanayake come up with new ways of doing things that brought a fresh perspective to her workplace.

“I’ve been able to bring in a fresh perspective of ‘maybe we should take a step back and write out the requirements or have another conversation with the customer and fully understand what’s going on,’” she said.

“Bringing up those fresh perspectives and offering up my opinion—also a diverse opinion—at the table, is something that entrepreneurship really prepared me for because I’m comfortable having those conversations rather than sitting back and letting the status quo happen.”

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Media may portray most ultra-successful entrepreneurs as lone-wolf types who build their business on their own. The reality is that most successful businesses are backed by extraordinary teams.

“There isn’t a company in the world that wouldn’t admit that […] if they didn’t have good people who worked well together, they’d be in big trouble,” Bavington said.

One of the top skills employers look for in job applicants is teamwork. However, since semesters at university are only 12 weeks long, students don’t get the experience of working in teams long-term.

“Within academia, until you move to graduate studies, everything’s so short term in regards to teams,” Henry Lee, M.Sc. Computing ’22, said in an interview with The Journal.

“It takes time to get really good teamwork in place.”

Lee worked alongside two co-founders throughout QICSI on a company called Viriene. Viriene aims to help women find properly-fitted bras.

“It took us a month or two of small disagreements here and there and understanding each other’s workflows,” he said. “Then adjusting to get the team set right where everything’s running smoothly.”

Working with and having relationships with people long-term means that a team is bound to experience disappointments. It’s important for entrepreneurs to have empathy for their teammates through ups and downs.

“Life happens—especially when you’re starting out a venture,” Dassanayake said. “People are sometimes not always available to do things they may have promised to […] always be empathetic for everyone around you.”

Despite its elusiveness to those watching from afar, the experience of being a successful entrepreneur requires humility and cooperation.

“Often people who are very good at something derive a certain amount of their pride in that accomplishment from it being exclusive,” Bavington said. “A lot of the pride in having an Olympic medal comes from the fact that very few people have an Olympic medal and you beat a lot of people in a competition who wanted the same medal.”

“Entrepreneurship is not like that,” he said. “It’s a team sport.”

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“Regardless of the outcome of your first venture, or your second or third or fourth, if you gain the [entrepreneurial] mindset and the skill set, it will serve you regardless of the outcome of your venture,” Bavington said.

From working with many students since co-founding the DDQIC in 2012, Bavington noted that the most successful students were committed, coachable, and curious.

“Commitment because it’s hard, […] coachability because you’re not an expert in much or even anything. Curiosity breeds this broader understanding of what problems is society experiencing,” he said. “There’s nothing that [entrepreneurs] see that doesn’t just fascinate them.”

Bavington believes that “[entrepreneurship] is attainable for everyone.”

Entrepreneurship requires integrity and doing your best every single day.

“When you’re in entrepreneurship, the market doesn’t give a shit. You either succeed and get your act together or you disappear,” Lee said.

Entrepreneurship pushes students to their limits and motivates them to do what they can today to make the world a better place tomorrow.

“Time is limited,” Lee said. “When you really do understand that, you become so hungry for something tomorrow, as opposed to ‘well, I can put that off.’”

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