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A lesson in entrepreneurship

Red River College students devise business plans for real-life ideas

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With any luck, the number of doggie daycare business plans produced by students in Red River College's entrepreneurship program will be down substantially this year.

For the last 40 years, about 400 students have taken RRC's entrepreneurship practicum ever year. It's a major group project where the students develop a feasibility study and business plan for an enterprise that, ideally, would make it to market.

But most young college students don't have the life experience to come up with more creative ideas than doggie daycare mobile salons.

Enter RampUp Manitoba and AssentWorks.

Wednesday night, the students heard business pitches from entrepreneurs who have real-life business ideas who need low-cost business plan advice.

Among the 50 or so would-be entrepreneurs who made pitches to the students was Akilan Tiburtius, a veteran information-technology professional who's working on a business idea that could drastically cut down on the cost of patent searches. There was also Dustin Refvik, who pitched a couple of ideas including an app to help service providers such as doctors or hair stylists recover cancelled or lost appointments.

The inventors, software developers, mobile app developers and mad scientists who made 60-second pitches to the students are part of a surge of young entrepreneurs who've started to congregate around street-level, independent groups such as RampUp Manitoba and AssentWorks.

Scott MacAulay, the entrepreneurship practicum course instructor at RRC, has caught the fever that's been stoked by the groundbreaking activities at AssentWorks and the recent flurry of activities that RampUp Manitoba has been generating with its own brand of homemade business-incubator events.

"I've never seen such a cluster of innovative people," MacAulay said.

The prospects of inviting a bunch of potentially disruptive entrepreneur types into the course structure at RRC provoked some push-back from college faculty.

But there is clearly momentum.

While their members were blowing the minds of RRC students, Michael Legary and the co-founders of AssentWorks and Chris Johnson and his partners at RampUp Manitoba put the final touches on a merger of their two organizations.

Both have built momentum using their own resources (there has been virtually no public money yet in either organization) and are doing their bit to create a culture of innovation in Winnipeg.

Details on how it will play out are still be worked out, but an innovation hub seems to be in the works.

MacAulay can barely contain himself.

"We (at RRC) do not have a great track record of producing real innovative companies for Manitoba," he said.

"We're trying to build a better student, one who is tech-savvy, who can deal with ambiguities and move quickly."

The movement, if that's what it can be called, is all about getting things built before worrying about protecting the intellectual property or writing up shareholder agreements.

"A pound of execution is worth an infinite amount of planning," said the high-energy Johnson.

"There is a thing called prior work (which can be used to grandfather some legal protection). Prove that your invention works, then worry about spending the money."

To that point, Legary said some folks came into AssentWorks to work on a project a year ago with no concept of patent protection.

"Now some are at the point where they do need to start thinking about that," Legary said.

Ironically, the business Tiburtius is working on is a way to go through the patent process in a more focused, less expensive way.

Tiburtius, who has worked all over the world, is keen on developing his business and through his association with RampUp has had enough feedback and encouragement such that he is no longer employed and is looking to get something to market.

And the Red River students might be able to help.

Johnson figures even if they end up as spectacular flame-outs, at least five of the 30 student projects ought to make it to the market.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2012 B5

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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