Educating the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Founded in 2002 by Dr. Howard Armitage, the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre is where entrepreneurial students come to hone their business skills. The centre builds on all that makes University of Waterloo wonderful and world renowned, offering students at the undergraduate and graduate level connectivity to the outside world, access to research on advanced technologies at the university, a strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship and a reputation for producing tomorrow's technology leaders. Fuelled by a significant naming gift from Waterloo Region entrepreneur Manfred Conrad and his family, and an expansion of its unique academic programming at the undergraduate level, the Conrad Centre has experienced dramatic growth over the last few years, effectively doubling its faculty and its capacity to serve.

"We are the academic engine for entrepreneurship," says Mark Weber, Director of the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre. "Just as other parts of the ecosystem -- Velocity, the Accelerator Centre, St. Paul's Greenhouse - incubate businesses, the Conrad Centre incubates entrepreneurs. Our academic program is about enabling, encouraging, educating people who are entrepreneurially minded to think more clearly about business opportunities and markets, to be better at identifying and evaluating ideas and pursuing business solutions to worthy problems."

In this story, Watch explores the various programming building blocks that come together to form the Conrad Centre's exceptional offerings.

The undergrad path to entrepreneurship

For University of Waterloo undergraduates seeking to put an entrepreneurial spin on their degree, the Conrad Centre offers specialized programs and courses focused on many of the key aspects of entrepreneurship from venture creation, commercialization and social entrepreneurship, through to an Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) where students can nurture or build their own ventures. The undergrad program, which began initially as an option within the engineering degree, is now exposing a wide variety of students from across all programs at University of Waterloo to entrepreneurship.

"We provide the academic learning in a highly focused way that students need to tackle a venture. Within the commercialization ecosystem, there are a variety of moving parts that come together to help build business success. Velocity gives them the place to create and funders, of course, offer the access to capital. And we provide that critical academic learning," says Marc Hurwitz, Associate Director, Undergraduate Programs, Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre.

Exposure to the learning and problem-identification skills that come hand in hand with entrepreneurship, help students shape the critical understanding required to build a business. Says Hurwitz, "A lot of students come here with the idea they would like to do 'something' related to entrepreneurship, but aren't quite sure yet on what that ultimately will be. Part of the process is in figuring out what to do and how to do it, and we provide the ideal learning environment to guide them."

  • 44% of students entering their first year of University of Waterloo expect to pursue entrepreneurship post graduation

  • 57% of Velocity Fund Finals funding awarded to Conrad students

  • 67% of teams awarded the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Award for the Faculty of Engineering's Fourth-Year Capstone Design Project had members in Conrad Centre undergrad programs

  • Pursuing an entrepreneurial dream early through E Co-op

    Home to the largest post-secondary co-operative education program of its kind in the world, co-op education is a hallmark of the University of Waterloo. Through the Conrad Centre's undergraduate program, students bitten by the entrepreneurial bug now have the opportunity to use their co-op work term(s) to turn ideas into real business, supported by the program's entrepreneurial ecosystem of faculty members, mentors and program graduates -- many themselves highly successful business founders.

    The co-founders of Nerv, an engineering nanotechnology startup out of the University of Waterloo were able to fully leverage the Conrad Centre's E Co-op program to build and hone their complex technology, a biodegradable chip to help surgeons detect postoperative complications. Between the two founders, they were able to stitch an entire year of coop together to build their hardware start-up, and supported by Conrad Centre faculty, develop the deep skills and business knowledge necessary to navigate the complexity of creating a medical device. One of the founders entered the Conrad Centre's MBET program in the fall of 2017, while the other plans to pursue a Masters in Engineering.

    Wayne Chang, PhD, Lecturer and Enterprise Co-op Program Coordinator oversees students in the E Co-op program, bringing to them decades of his own business and engineering experience honed in start-up hotspots such as Silicon Valley.

    "In a way, we try to unschool our students. Most of the students who come to us have high IQs, high aptitude. But this is not about pulling an all nighter to meet a deadline, as some might do when presented with a project in school. You need to be more business process-driven to succeed as a business. I come from Silicon Valley, where the problems that arise require a more disciplined approach in order to be solved. So through our program we provide our students with mentorship; give them something to aspire to by connecting them to successful MBET graduates such as Matt Rendall, CEO of Clearpath Robotics; and work to instill in them a process-driven business mentality."

    Mastering Entrepreneurship

    The Conrad Centre's Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology is a 1-year graduate program that combines nine interdisciplinary courses with a corporate commercialization practicum. Unlike the traditional classroom learning provided by most business schools and MBA programs, the MBET is more 'start-up' in style, relying on workshops rather than lectures, and providing a conversational rather than passive learning format, with students coached by industry leaders and other successful business founders.

    David Rose oversees the Conrad Centre's graduate programs including the MBET and the Graduate Diploma in Business and Entrepreneurship.

    "We are most definitely not a traditional MBA. We teach business to entrepreneurs. They have a reason they are here, and we provide them with the practical business skills they need to succeed, and to take ideas through the commercialization process and transform them into successful businesses."

    Rose goes on to say that Conrad Centre graduates are trained first and foremost to be problem solvers, using technology in innovative ways to solve real business challenges. "We are attracting people from all over the world, from undergrad programs, from industry who are coming here because they want to do something different. Everyone who comes here has a career path of his/her own. We aren't about mass producing graduates for specific corporate roles like brand managers and financial analysts. We're about educating innovative thinkers who will disrupt industries, innovate within them, or create new ventures."

    The Conrad Centre is proving that its "start-up style" of learning is indeed a very attractive option. MBET graduates boast a 97% employment rate within three months of graduation from the program.

  • 35-50 students per year

  • 25% University of Waterloo graduates

  • 60% domestic, 40% international

  • 97% employment rate within three months