With apologies to psychics and fortune tellers, no one can tell what the future holds. That fact has interesting implications for the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary: How can you produce future-ready students when the future is unknown?
Keri Damen, executive director of the Hunter Hub has a simple answer. “It’s all about empowering yourself through the skills that let you be agile,” she says. “It’s about creating the future rather than being disrupted by it.” These skills are all part of entrepreneurial thinking, which is the focus of the Hunter Hub. Among other things, entrepreneurial thinking helps students develop resilience, the ability to recognize opportunities and manage risks.
The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking was created with a $40-million transformational gift from the Hunter Family Foundation in support of the University of Calgary’s goal of being the most entrepreneurial university in Canada. Experience Ventures is the latest avenue the Hunter Hub uses to teach entrepreneurial thinking. The program was created to give students across Canada paid work experience with startups and social ventures. The University of Calgary (U of C) joined with nine other universities in Experience Ventures. The available work experiences differ, but they’re all designed to help students hone their entrepreneurial-thinking skills.
Startups and social ventures have no shortage of challenges, meaning students are kept busy. “Working at a startup, you learn faster than an established company,” Damen says. “I always tell students, ‘If you want to progress really quickly in your career, get on a rocket ship.’” Along with entrepreneurial thinking, students working at a startup learn the wisdom of another one of Experience Venture’s main tenets: there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. “More challenges are thrown at you than at a big company, but the rewards are huge,” Damen says.
Those rewards also include making valuable contacts and building professional networks, which will help aspiring entrepreneurs after graduation. Perhaps more importantly, students also get an unvarnished look at what it takes to succeed when starting a business or social venture. “Part of it is countering the idea that entrepreneurs are myth-making geniuses,” Damen says. “Students realize that they’re people with a vision who have found a solution that they believe in very strongly.”
Many of the companies participating in Experience Ventures are led by young entrepreneurs. Students working with these companies are inspired by seeing someone who is just a few years older than themselves hustling and following their passion. “Students see it’s possible,” Damen says. “It needs to look real to them.” With a clear-eyed view of how entrepreneurs operate, students also gain other insights. According to Damen, students soon realize that entrepreneurial success is a combination of vision and a lot of hard work. They also learn that no one can do it alone; the team around an entrepreneur is crucial.
The first-hand exposure Experience Ventures provides is invaluable. In fact, it might just mean that there is a way to tell the future. After all, students who take part in Experience Ventures do get a kind of crystal ball. They can be reasonably certain that an exciting, challenging and rewarding career is within their grasp.