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Ideas with purpose

Students developing business ideas that meet community needs

special feature: Innovation

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial’s innovation ecosystem, a pan-university effort focused on supporting the development and success of innovators across Newfoundland and Labrador.  

By Susan White

The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) is helping students, staff and faculty at Memorial develop business ideas with a purpose.

And that purpose is to solve existing problems and challenges in our communities, businesses and industries.

Anne Gosine, left, business lead for BlueBrick Learning, and Florian Villaumé, director, Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship.
From left are Anna Gosine, business lead for BlueBrick Learning, and Florian Villaumé, director, Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Photo: Submitted

Florian Villaumé, director of MCE, says one of the centre’s key roles is to help entrepreneurial students, faculty and staff at the “ideation” phase of business development by helping to focus their ideas on the real world.

“Ideation is the process of actively looking for problems that someone or an organization in the world is interested in paying for,” he said.

“It could be a new process, service, product or adding value to something. There are problems and challenges all around us — at work, at home, at our supermarket, in nature, everywhere. We just need to become more aware of them and listen to what people say about them.”

Inspiration at home

One student who has done just that is Kyle Goulding, a fifth-year business student from Paradise, N.L.

Business student Kyle Goulding has started SafeAlert with the help of MCE.
Business student Kyle Goulding has started SafeAlert with the help of MCE.
Photo: Submitted

Mr. Goulding’s business, SafeAlert, addresses a challenge for businesses whose employees work alone in the field.

Existing laws in Canada, the United States and some countries in Europe require those employees to check in with employers regularly while on the job.

SafeAlert provides both web and mobile applications that prompts employees to do so while also notifying employers if an employee has failed to check in.

“The idea came from my father, who has worked in air conditioning and HVAC for more than 25 years,” said Mr. Goulding.

“He and his employees work alone every day. They tried other solutions out there, but never quite found something that worked for them. So, I decided to build something myself. MCE had a huge impact on the ideation stage of my business. Daan Goossens, programs catalyst at MCE, helped me figure out what the real problem my customers were having and why other solutions were not working for them.”

To date, Mr. Goulding has sold SafeAlert to one of the largest construction companies in the province and has sales in the U.S. and the U.K.

He’s now a junior entrepreneur-in-residence with MCE, helping other students avail of MCE’s services and develop their business ideas. He is also a graduate of the Genesis Centre’s Evolution program and is currently involved in its Enterprise program.

Mr. Goulding has also been accepted to the current cohort of Propel ICT, a startup accelerator for businesses in Atlantic Canada.

Addressing challenges in the classroom

BlueBrick Learning is another student-run business that is meeting a community need by providing teachers with the means to control what students are accessing online.

The business offers an educational technology solution that creates a safe and secure network environment, which allows teachers to filter and monitor what the students are accessing on the Internet, on any device.

“This means that teachers can tell their students to bring their own devices to class without the fear of students becoming distracted,” said Anna Gosine, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and business lead with BlueBrick.

While most schools use firewalls that limit which websites students can use, BlueBrick allows teachers to do so on a per-classroom basis.

“We want to empower teachers with the ability to take back control of the technology in their classrooms.” — Anna Gosine

It also notifies them should a student switch from Wi-Fi to data, which would let them access unrestricted websites.

“We want to empower teachers with the ability to take back control of the technology in their classrooms,” Ms. Gosine said.

“Teachers are able to feel more comfortable with their students using their own devices in class, knowing they are able to control what their students are accessing.”

Allowing students to use their own devices also eliminates the need for schools to provide devices, thereby offering a cost-savings solution.

Eighteen schools in the province have agreed to participate in a pilot project to test the software. BlueBrick Learning is also involved in Propel ICT’s accelerator program.

‘Pursue every idea’

Ms. Gosine says MCE’s funding and mentoring allowed the BlueBrick team to develop a prototype that they otherwise may have struggled to create.

“Because of MCE, we were also able to take part in the Evolution program through the Genesis Centre, which was another program that helped us to better understand our market, develop an effective pitch and brought us into an environment where we got to work with other entrepreneurs, which is always motivating and inspiring,” Ms. Gosine said.

“MCE promotes pursuing every idea, no matter how crazy they may seem. When we first came together as a group of students, we were trying to develop an expandable mannequin that would improve online shoppers’ experiences. MCE encouraged us to fail fast, take what we learned and move forward.”

Vital connections

MCE is currently developing other programs that will help students to explore business ideas that address existing problems.

The centre is partnering with the Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization to identify technologies developed by researchers at Memorial and connect them with entrepreneurial students to help sell them.

“If you have an idea and nobody wants to use or buy it, then you missed an opportunity to make it exist in our society.” — Florian Villaumé

It’s consulting with the private sector to discover business problems that need solutions, and it’s developing entrepreneurial work terms, in collaboration with Eastern Health, to identify challenges in the health-care sector that students can help address through their business ideas.

It’s all part of MCE’s mandate to provide students, staff and faculty with the opportunity to contribute to bettering society through business.

Building a better society

“If you have an idea and nobody wants to use or buy it, then you missed an opportunity to make it exist in our society,” said Mr. Villaumé.

“We want to help all creative minds to maximize their contribution to society. Students get a great education at Memorial. We are here to inspire and help entrepreneurial students to apply what they have learned at university to a real-world problem that can lead to the creation of a viable and hopefully successful company.”

The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship is a campus-wide centre led by a partnership between the Faculty of Business Administration and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. It was created to promote entrepreneurship, support students, faculty and staff in developing their startup business ideas, and contribute to developing an attractive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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