Dan Ferguson, Faculty of Graduate Studies
March 13, 2019
Grad student entrepreneurs: Summer Inc. is calling your name
What’s the formula for the success of a new business? If there was a simple answer, we would all be self-made millionaires. One thing you can bank on: It takes a lot of hard work, a willingness to learn, and time and space to grow your business idea.
That’s where Platform Calgary’s (formerly Calgary Technologies Inc.) Summer Incubator program comes in. Summer Inc. supports graduate student entrepreneurs who are ready to take their business idea to the next level. Students are provided with co-working desk space, mentorship and special programming to support the development of new business ventures. Scholarships of up to $8,000 are provided by the Faculty of Graduate Studies to eligible graduate students.
Summer Inc. helps student entrepreneurs move their business concept toward commercialization, and helps them prepare to succeed when the right opportunities arise.
David Yiptong, a business adviser with Platform Calgary, has been with Summer Inc. since its inception in 2015. He knows how much work it takes to launch a viable business.
“Students have to look at this as a job. It’s your own business; no one can make it happen for you. Staff are here to support and guide you, but students have to show initiative to succeed,” says Yiptong. “They have to come in saying, ‘It’s my business, and I need to run it.’ A successful team who were in the program had this to say afterwards: ‘I wish I would have worked harder during my time.’”
Students entering Summer Inc. should have a clear business concept and some groundwork already done, along with an open mind and appetite for new ideas. From there, Summer Inc. can match services to the state of each project.
“Some businesses need more work on discovery; others might need specific support with things like incorporation,” says Yiptong. “Summer Inc. is very responsive to the needs of student entrepreneurs. However, it’s important for students to remember that we’re not here for research support — our focus is on commercialization.”
Moving from discovery to market
One of the first steps Summer Inc. typically helps with is customer validation — the groundwork required to ensure there is a viable market for a business idea.
“We’ve had students do things like broker a deal for a product or service as a way of discovering if there is market demand,” says Yiptong. “It’s a great way to learn about real-world business issues, like bottlenecks and critical pathways that might not always be apparent while the business is still just a concept.”
Students contemplating Summer Inc. need to be flexible and responsive to new information and changing conditions. Sometimes the discovery phase of market research is enough to prove that a business idea is not viable. Yiptong points out that when this happens, it isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a useful outcome because it lets the entrepreneur pivot to an idea with a better chance of success, rather than risk starting a business doomed to failure.
Unique opportunity for grad students
It’s a rare chance to be given funding, work space and access to mentorship, and expertise to pursue an entrepreneurial idea. “It’s extremely fortunate to be given this opportunity as a graduate student,” says Dr. Robin Yates, interim vice-provost and dean, graduate studies. “Summer Inc. is a real gift of time for students. It’s a great way to put their expertise to work finding innovative, practical solutions to real-world problems while creating opportunities for themselves.”
The 2019 Summer Inc. program is moving to an inspiring location in the East Village’s historic Hillier Block, next door to the new Central Library and the National Music Centre at Studio Bell. The three-storey brick building, constructed in 1910, was recently restored and provides stunning character space for Summer Inc’s co-working office.
An information session for graduate students interested in Summer Inc. will be held on Wednesday, March 20 at noon in Earth Sciences 1010C. Interested students can RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is supported by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, Platform Calgary, and the Faculty of Graduate Studies.