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February 2021

Pivoting from bones to bread during COVID-19

At a glance
The team

Students and academic supervisors of top business schools across Canada working with businesses, not-for-profit groups, and municipalities.

The challenge

Helping local organizations restore or modify business operations in the new economic environment.

The solution

Readily available business-savvy talent to support operational needs during the pandemic.

The outcome

Career experience for students and supporting local needs during COVID-19.

As businesses, municipalities, and not-for-profit organizations face unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitacs’s new offering of Business Strategy Internships serves to support local operations.

Across Canada, businesses and organizations grappling with the impact of COVID-19 are getting support from an unexpected resource: top local business students.

Thanks to the recently launched Business Strategy Internship (BSI) program, Mitacs helps match students from top schools with employers looking for support to manage and grow their operations in an environment disrupted by the pandemic.

Since launching in May 2020, the BSI program has placed about 1,000 interns across Canada.

From the West

As Mitacs’s initial partner in the program, the UBC Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia placed more than 260 students.

Mitacs intern and UBC Sauder student Amogh Rao — who completed his Master of Management in 2020 and is now pursuing a Master of Business Analytics — considers himself lucky. After lining up a summer job with Vancouver-based consulting firm Veza Global, Rao was disappointed to learn that the position could no longer be funded due to COVID-19. But the newly launched BSI program came as a win-win, giving Veza Global the financial support it needed to benefit from Rao’s expertise, while providing him with an opportunity to test his newly acquired knowledge.

“The position with Veza was a perfect fit,” says Rao, who was tasked with helping to launch the company’s go-to-market strategy for an online equity, diversity, and inclusion assessment tool designed to help corporations identify and close gaps in their practices, strategies, governance, and policies.

“I had the business expertise to help with pricing, identify target markets, and create the brand, and at the same time I had the technical skills to fix backend analytical challenges in the tool itself,” Rao explains.

“As a small company, Veza Global wouldn’t have been able to afford that level of expertise during the pandemic without the support of the Mitacs program,” said CEO and founder Manpreet Dhillon.

Other UBC Sauder interns are lending their financial and operational skills to advance innovations such as high-tech edible gardens, sustainable baking, artificial intelligence-powered real estate tools, and cassava-based food products.

On to Ontario

Bosco and Roxy’s, a gourmet bakery for dogs based in London, Ontario, approached the BSI program for help reducing technology costs during a period of transition. The company decided to quickly pivot during the pandemic, expanding from solely producing dog cookies to also making bread and other baked goods for human consumption. From Western University’s Ivey School of Business, Master of Science in Management student intern Calvin Ncube stepped in to automate their production planning process.

“In a pandemic, most businesses resort to planning, rather than pivoting immediately and taking action, but Bosco and Roxy’s actively anticipates challenges and adapts at a rapid pace to new realities,” says Ncube, who welcomed the opportunity to test his own agility as Analytics and Strategy Consultant.

“When you’re at the forefront of developing models to support core business operations, you wear many hats, and it really broadens your perspective on how analytics can be utilized with purpose,” he adds.

And la Belle Province

Montréal-based start-up Calixa Technologies Inc. approached the BSI program to support a pivot of their business model triggered by changes in market dynamics. Just months after launching in 2020, the company decided to switch its focus from helping large retail corporations to giving a leg-up to small businesses instead. Mitacs intern Marie Fuchet, a Master of Business Analytics and Information Technology student at HEC Montréal, is helping with the transition.

“Prior to COVID, Calixa’s visual discovery engine was designed to help large retail companies make sense of customer behaviours in real time and provide enhanced personalized recommendations. When the lockdown came, they saw the opportunity of leveraging on this technology to help small businesses stay top-of-mind even as foot traffic dropped or completely halted due to the public health measures,” explains Fuchet, who is working as the right hand of Calixa CEO and founder Sokmean Nou, managing sales, marketing, and partnerships.

The company’s first-of-its-kind discovery platform matches shoppers to curated local brands and products in fashion and beauty, elevating small brands and growing their organic reach beyond their niche followers. Consumers peruse their matches on Calixa and, when they find a product they’re interested in, are redirected to that store’s e-commerce platform to make a transaction.

“The average consumer understands that buying from a small business is inherently more sustainable and contributes directly to the local economy but is often discouraged by the effort needed to get to know small brands and find the right products,” says Nou. “Calixa aims to eliminate this pain point using artificial intelligence. We are grateful for programs like the BSI which allowed us to add valuable resources to growing this project.”

For Fuchet, the internship is providing valuable, professional experience at a time when job prospects remain uncertain for many students. “As students, most of our learning is based on theory and it’s important to have an opportunity to put that learning into practice,” she says. “I’m gaining firsthand experience about how a start-up operates — valuable exposure I’m confident will serve me well as I advance my career.”


Read the original version of some of these testimonials and more BSI stories at:

*Featured photo supplied and used with permission by UBC Sauder.


 

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from multiple partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca