Entrepreneurial Culture Thrives at College of the Rockies

When Dr. Paul Tiege joined College of the Rockies (COTR) to launch its Applied Research Office (ARO) in 2021, it was a formidable challenge but one he embraced. Tiege, a research scientist, had previously set up a crops research group at a small agriculture college. He knew how entrepreneurial students flourish when given the chance to put their research skills to work in businesses and industry.

The ARO was established to provide applied research support to COTR faculty members, with administration support, assistance in sourcing and writing grants, and outreach to local businesses. As the ARO matures, new programming has been added, to develop entrepreneurship and innovation capacity, and to keep both COTR students and faculty competitive in an evolving economy. The COTR serves a regional population of close to 83,000 people through its campuses in Cranbrook, Creston, Golden, Invermere, Kimberley and Fernie.

Applied research is the application of science and research to real-world problems, resulting in improvements to products, technologies, and processes. “The Kootenays have a strong entrepreneurial spirit but many of the companies here are too small to conduct applied research on their own,” points out Tiege. “Students with applied research skills can fill that void.”

Start-Up! Launch Provides Entrepreneurial Focus

In January 2022, with $12,500 funding from ETSI-BC, the ARO launched ‘Start-Up!’ — a program aimed at helping students develop their entrepreneurial skills and find the resources they need to start their own businesses. Partners in the Start-Up! initiative include Community Futures East Kootenay and the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST), whose programs to support innovation are shared through the College.

The initial goal was for a minimum of 10 students to acquire new entrepreneurial skills through the resources of the ARO within two years. By the end of 2021, over a dozen students were impacting business innovation or embarking on their own entrepreneurial ventures.

A broad range of resources is now available to the College’s research students from specialized research information and mentoring from faculty, to entrepreneurial bootcamps. “Start-up Saturdays” explore such topics as principles of entrepreneurship, idea generation, business planning models, and understanding customer needs.

Students Support Local Business Innovation

While some students work on projects when a business approaches the ARO for help, others identify a need in a local company or organization and work on solutions under the guidance of instructors with specialized research expertise. For example, the ARO cultivated a relationship with the Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprise (KORE), a local industry group whose members make outdoor adventure gear. This led to a student research opportunity sponsored by Mitacs, a not-for-profit that provides research and training programs throughout Canada. Working with KORE, the student researchers have gained valuable experience studying local businesses and economic development initiatives, interviewing companies and organizations, and compiling and analyzing data before making recommendations.

As the ARO continues to expand, plans include an open working space at the main Cranbrook campus where student entrepreneurs “collide” and work together. A farmer’s market type of co-working space is also being considered, where students can showcase and sell their products, and sponsored pitch competitions are also in the works. An Entrepreneurship and Innovation Coordinator position will be created by mid-2022 to ensure students have the best tools to succeed in the current economic environment and effective partner relationships are maintained.

“With the funding support of ETSI-BC and the resources of our community partners, the ARO is driving a culture of entrepreneurship in the Kootenay region,” says Tiege. “It will create jobs and inspire new ventures that will have long-lasting and measurable economic benefits.”

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