THE CULTIVATION OF INNOVATION
After careful thought, Dr Sarah Lubik summarises Simon Fraser University’s approach to innovation. “At SFU, high-impact entrepreneurship is for everyone, by everyone,” says SFU’s Director of Entrepreneurship, before explaining the Canadian institution’s “choose-your-own-adventure” approach to the subject.
“For us, entrepreneurship is about creating sustainable models that have social and economic value,” says Dr Lubik. “It’s more than just starting businesses. For many, it’s a mindset shift. Entrepreneurship is about developing the skills to drive change and encouraging ambitious ideas in areas that need their attention. To do this you need people who can talk across boundaries.
“As an example of how important entrepreneurship is to us, we have launched SFU Innovates. It provides a seamless continuum of support for every student and member of staff in every stage of the innovation process. The idea is to create an army of innovators to commercialise cutting-edge research, drive change in organisations and be ready to make a positive impact in the world.”
A CREATIVE BUSINESS
SFU’s approach to innovation straddles lines between business and creativity, between students and professors, and between the university and the outside world. For instance, a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship is jointly delivered by seven faculties rather than focused on business and engineering schools, while incubators such as Venture Connection allow innovators to cross- pollinate between sectors and create relationships with investors and mentors.
The university encourages interdisciplinary empathy, teaching engineers and innovators the mysteries of commercialisation. There are also programmes for innovation in the arts, big data, social change and healthcare, the latter aspects reflecting the university’s history as a campus with strong ideas about society.
“SFU has always been a place for change-makers,” says Dr Lubik. “Our RADIUS programme – an acronym for ‘RADical Ideas Useful to Society’ – is an innovation lab and incubator that focuses on social entrepreneurship. Driving positive social change is one of our core pillars, and most of our programmes are underpinned by community engagement, human needs and social service.”
As Dr Lubik lists the numerous exciting programmes that come under the SFU Innovates umbrella, it’s clear how much thought and planning has gone into the process of taking world-class research and learning facilities into the world beyond the classroom. As a result, SFU’s work is supported by government as well as local entrepreneurs, including a $10m donation from alumnus Charles Chang, founder of the plant-based supplements firm Vega.
There have already been several high-impact outcomes, such as Lungpacer, which creates technology to preserve the diaphragm muscles of patients on ventilators, and Orello, which creates custom-fit hearing aids with built-in tuning technology. Entrepreneurship is also welcomed in the creative arts faculties, with creative entrepreneurship courses to teach the skills needed for a successful artistic career, such as finances and intellectual property rights.
The plan is to equip students in every faculty with the skills needed to build careers outside of academia and to help change the world. “It’s an incredibly unpredictable world and students cannot count on getting a job that sounds like their degree title,” says Dr Lubik. “We need to teach them tolerance of ambiguity, opportunity recognition and creation, networking, project management and so on, because we can’t tell them what their job will look like.”