Encouraging entrepreneurial thinking at every level

Spring 2016
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Innovative thinking is key to problem solving. Faculty of Engineering students learn that dictum early in their studies. Final year mechanical engineering students Da-Eun Kim, Christina Moro, Mathieu Leblanc and Catherine Trudeau display a titanium alloy fusion cage that they developed to minimize the risk of subsidence in treating degenerative disc disease. The cage is used to fuse two vertebrae and increase stability in the spine. The students’ project supervisor was professor Damiano Pasini, one of the winners of a 2014-2015 William and Rhea Seath Award in Engineering Innovation. Pasini and his team won the prize for their research on a fully porous hip replacement implant. See more about the implant in the Teaching & Research section of this newsletter. (Photo: Owen Egan)

Activities related to innovation and entrepreneurship are increasing exponentially at our Faculty, and much of the success is due to professors, students and alumni working more closely to bring innovative ideas to market.

To maintain the momentum, a major education initiative is underway that is helping budding entrepreneurs to access additional resources to meet their goals.

The multi-faceted program is anchored in an alumni-based Innovation Fund that supports a myriad of activities: a mentorship program; entrepreneurship and leadership training workshops and seminars; an inspirational speakers series; a student travel program; summer undergraduate entrepreneurship awards and student entrepreneurial start-up internships. The latter provide an opportunity for students to embed themselves in an entrepreneurial setting in the business world.

ad-alumni partnerThe Innovation Fund also provides students and professors with equipment, material and other resources to build prototypes or develop novel ideas and business ventures. The emphasis is placed on ideas that potentially have market traction or significant societal or environmental impact.

Equally important, the Innovation Fund supports increased numbers of innovation grants modelled on those provided annually through the Faculty of Engineering’s William and Rhea Seath Awards program.

These newest innovation grants support outstanding projects developed by graduate students, undergraduates and professors. The key proviso is that each project or area of research must show potential for commercialization.

One set of grants (TechAccel I) is for early stage customer discovery resulting in the generation of a business model. These are valued at $500 to $2,000 each.

quote1-encouragingThe other set of grants (TechAccel II) is to
 build prototypes and develop marketing initiatives that ensure customer validation. These are valued at $2,000 to $10,000 each.

Professor Jim Nicell, Dean of Engineering, says “the Innovation Fund lies at the heart of our Faculty’s mission of encouraging entrepreneurial thinking, at all levels, throughout our six Departments and two Schools. It supports team-based, innovative projects that spur inventiveness, promote technological innovation and help to train students to think entrepreneurially.”

Longer-term plans for the Faculty’s entrepreneurial initiative include one-or-two-years of post-doctoral support that would enable graduated PhD students to continue working with their supervisors, and a proposal for a new centre tentatively called the McGill Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (McGill EngInE for short). The multi-purpose centre would provide expertise, coaching, financial support and dedicated working space for students, professors and alumni who are spearheading start-ups and other creative ventures.

“Recent innovations at our Faculty—such as the less invasive mitral valve repair system described in this issue—have involved multi-disciplinary cooperation,” Nicell says, “and one of the main purposes of the McGill EngInE would be to provide physical and virtual space to encourage this type of open dialogue and exchange.”

For more details about the proposed McGill EngInE project, see  “The Faculty of Engineering Goes to Market”.

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