Entrepreneurial skills key to navigating economy: report

Vancouver, BC — How can Canadian universities prepare students for the rapidly changing economy of the future? A new report by Mitacs seeks to better understand how universities are answering this question by encouraging the development of entrepreneurial skills among students across all disciplines.

Based on discussions with universities, incubators, and policy organizations, Entrepreneurs on Campus: University-based support for start-ups offers a first-of-its-kind roadmap to understanding Canadian universities’ approaches to developing entrepreneurial skills among students — and highlights the opportunities and challenges to ensuring Canadians have the right skills to compete in the economy of tomorrow.

In support of these opportunities, Mitacs has developed partnerships with campus-based incubators and accelerators to deploy students to commercialize their research into viable businesses. Mitacs’s research internship program seeks to address the gap between Canada’s world-renowned research, with the pressing need to commercialize technologies and grow successful start-up companies.

Two key themes, as well as four recommendations, emerged from the round table discussions and are examined in Entrepreneurs on Campus: University-based support for start-ups.

Themes of campus-based entrepreneurship initiatives:

  1. There is a diversity of approaches to support and promote entrepreneurship across universities, as well as variations in the extent to which these efforts engage with broader communities. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to campus-based entrepreneurship, and finding one is neither desirable nor practical.
  2. Universities, by their very nature, may not necessarily be aligned with a culture of entrepreneurship. Developing an “entrepreneurial mindset” among administrators and faculty while incentivizing entrepreneurship activities is an ongoing challenge for universities.

Recommendations for campus-based entrepreneurship initiatives:

  1. Let experimentation of approaches flourish
  2. Develop a clear set of metrics appropriate to the goals of the initiative
  3. Maintain close collaboration with the local ecosystem
  4. Promote collaboration between and among disciplines and interest groups


Alejandro Adem, CEO and Scientific Director, Mitacs
“Canadian universities have the right ingredients to support and encourage the entrepreneurs on our campuses. By leveraging and building on our strengths, and through supportive initiatives like Mitacs programs, we can prepare students to become agile and adaptable business leaders of tomorrow’s economy.”

Gail Bowkett, Director, Innovation Policy, Mitacs
“Our discussions highlighted the importance of entrepreneurial skills for all post-secondary graduates to achieve success — whether as entrepreneurs themselves or as contributors within Canadian businesses. It’s clear that Canadian universities are stepping up to include entrepreneurship as a key indicator of a well-rounded university experience, and as a complement to work-integrated learning.”

Quick facts:

  • Mitacs is a national not-for-profit organization, led by Canadian universities, that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for more than 19 years.
  • Mitacs’s programs help businesses and start-ups to address their unique challenges through research in partnership with post-secondary students and fellows.
  • Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and federal and provincial governments, Mitacs builds partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.
  • Mitacs acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada, along with Alberta Innovates, 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, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan.
  • Mitacs would like to acknowledge the Public Policy Forum as a partner and co-host of the round table discussions. We are also grateful for the insights and contributions of the paper’s advisory committee, including The Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Conference Board of Canada, Startup Canada, Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, and TEC Edmonton; as well as the individuals who participated in the round table discussions.

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