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Selling solutions

Entrepreneurial work terms go beyond solving problems

Research

By Susan Flanagan

Three students. Three ideas. One company.

Imagine if you were an engineering co-op student embarking on your third or fourth work term. Imagine now that you didn’t have to apply for jobs and do interviews. No prep. No nerves. No uncertainty.

Now imagine that you could take your own idea, start a company and not have to worry about the money to do it.

Paid work terms

That’s what happened to engineering students John Ennis (civil), Luke Tremblett (mechanical) and Nick Warren (computer and electrical) when they received funding from a joint pilot project supported by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) and the Office of the Vice-President (Research) to create BlueBrick Design & Development.

Left to right, John Ennis, Luke Tremblett, Nick Warren
From left are John Ennis, Luke Tremblett and Nick Warren.
Photo: Susan Flanagan

The students are among several who are receiving $4,500 each for their internships with the MCE, allowing them to pursue their business ideas this summer.

“It was life changing. We saw people chasing their dreams and making it happen.” — Luke Tremblett

Mr. Ennis says it all started when they acted as ambassadors for MCE and travelled to California’s Silicon Valley with nine other students. They visited tech companies, venture capitalists and the innovation lab at Ericsson, as well as some accelerators and incubators.

“It was life changing,” said Mr. Tremblett. “We saw people chasing their dreams and making it happen. That trip taught us that we could do anything.”

“The trip to Silicon Valley with the MCE taught us the importance of innovation in work. School taught us how to solve problems, but not how to sell solutions,” Mr. Ennis said. “Between the trip and this entrepreneurial work term, we can do both.”

Entrepreneurial ecosystem

Officially launched in March 2017, the MCE is a campus-wide partnership between Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

It was created to promote entrepreneurship and to support students, faculty and staff who are developing startup business ideas, and to contribute to developing an attractive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thanks to the support the budding entrepreneurs are receiving from Memorial, the trio — due to graduate in 2019 — formed BlueBrick, an umbrella group for three separate business ideas: Fitsu, Watermark and Grassroots Supply.

From left are John Ennis, Nick Warren and Luke Tremblett.
From left are John Ennis, Nick Warren and Luke Tremblett.
Photo: Susan Flanagan

Fitsu

Fitsu, a 3D clothing modelling company, aims to help online shoppers fit clothes to their specific body, so they can see how the clothes fit before purchasing.

The team is currently finishing the physical prototype and will then establish clothing suppliers as clients.

Watermark

For Watermark, the students have partnered with Anna Gosine, a fourth-year Memorial engineering student, to work on improving the institutional systems in Malawi and East Africa’s water sector.

The team will develop a software package that allows residents of Malawi to mark water boreholes. This will help residents by alerting them if a borehole is not operational, saving them time and energy before travelling for water. It will also help residents by enabling mechanics to service the boreholes faster.

“Anna is currently on the ground in Malawi, and working with non-governmental organizations,” said Mr. Ennis. “They are really excited about the benevolent innovation, and it’s currently being reviewed by decision-makers in those organizations.”

Grassroots Supply

BlueBrick’s third entity is proactively preparing for when the federal government legalizes marijuana, slated for 2018.

“Grassroots Supply will connect a legal marijuana purchaser to the cultivator,” said Mr. Warren, explaining that the software they develop will generate codes for packages shipped in Canada.

“When a consumer scans the code, they will be able to access information about the grower, the batch, strain attributes, batch reviews and an introduction to other products.”

Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship

For its part, Memorial is proud to foster early-stage entrepreneurship.

“The MCE is the starting point for any Memorial student, faculty or staff member interested in entrepreneurship,” said Florian Villaumé, director, MCE.

“I believe that entrepreneurial work terms will be one of the most powerful tools at Memorial to inspire and prepare undergraduate students for entrepreneurship. The support of the Office of the Vice-President (Research) will increase the impact of the program and we are very appreciative of that.”

‘Viable career path’

“Through this unique partnership, Memorial is aiming to establish a university where entrepreneurship is seen as a viable career path,” said Tim Avis, director, Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, at Memorial.

“As a champion of entrepreneurship, and a strategic unit within the Office of the Vice-President (Research), we are proud to partner with the MCE for this work-term pilot project.”

Deadline for applications

This fall the MCE will take up to 10 students for paid placements.

If you are a student doing a Memorial-recognized co-op placement, you can apply for an MCE entrepreneurial work term by applying before Monday, July 24. For more details on applications or to book a meeting, visit the MCE website.

This story also appeared in the July 8, 2017, edition of The Telegram as part of a regular summer series on research at Memorial University.


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