An innovative social enterprise aiming to provide people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with meaningful employment opportunities was the big winner at a Beedie School of Business entrepreneurship competition held at SFU’s Surrey campus.
The business model was put forth by Team “Aspire” – consisting of Beedie School undergraduate students Alice Chen, Matt Armstrong, Joanne Chen, Robbie Hsieh, Justin Findlay. Their idea leverages the characteristics of autism as a competitive advantage in the software testing industry, while creating a suitable and nurturing work environment for the unique differences of those with ASD.
SFU student entrepreneurs showcased their class-produced ventures to the wider business community as part of Opportunity Fest on April 7. (See pictures of the event here).
Meanwhile, students Terrence Lee and Louise Khanjian were honoured as Mr. and Ms. Opportunity. The award recognized a male and female exhibitor who respectively best engaged the event judges from industry and academia in presenting their team’s opportunity.
“This is like a Capstone experience for these undergraduate students,” said Eric Gedajlovic, a professor at SFU’s Beedie School of Business. “In today’s inter-connected world, where things are happening so rapidly and your plans are outdated as soon as they are established, success and growth depends on your ability to continuously identify and pursue opportunities.”
Among other student-generated business ideas: a blue-tooth embedded ski helmet, a bus-tracking GPS device, inflatable skates, and smart exercise machines that upload workout data to the Internet.
“This event is a bit of Dragon’s Den and a bit of Apprentice,” Gedajlovic said. “The teams take this opportunity to develop a full-blown project. These are ideas and new ventures that come from dissatisfaction with the way things are done currently – and now represent viable business concepts.”
Student exhibits came with product prototypes, videos, graphical display boards and more. Judges from the wider business community informally met with participants to evaluate the products, and express their financial interest or commitment through investment of emulated venture capital dollars.
More than 50 students participated in the marketplace-style exhibition, which was open to the public. The event included themes of sustainability and social innovation along with traditional entrepreneurship and business strategy.
Gedajlovic says the event attracted students and entrepreneurs from a variety of fields who often identify opportunities in areas they feel passionate about — whether they are not-for-profit initiatives, environmental causes or cultural activities.
“It’s part experiential, but is also theory and problem driven,” added Gedajlovic. “The opportunities that people discover can be highly idiosyncratic and are typically derived from their own background or experiences or network – something that they will really care about.”
The full results are as follows:
First Place: Aspire
Team Members: Alice Chen, Matt Armstrong, Joanne Chen, Robbie Hsieh, Justin Findlay
Summary: “The social enterprise aims to provide people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) a meaningful employment opportunity that utilizes their autistic characteristics as a competitive advantage in the software testing industry, while creating a suitable and nurturing work environment for their unique differences.”
Second Place: Rate My Lot
Team Members: Stewart Wilkinson, Jessie Mann, Carrie Tsang, Ken Forsyth, Aman Deol, Jenny Wu.
Summary: “Parking lots! The dismal grey of a concrete tomb where you leave the second most expensive purchase you’re likely to make in the hands of potential vandals, thieves, and underpaid, under-motivated, parking lot attendants – if any are provided. It’s a risky business, but Ratemylot.com was developed to help you find safe, convenient, and clean parking lots by drawing on statistics from parking lot locations, prices, break-ins, and consumer feedback to empower you with the knowledge of where you’re actually leaving your car.”
Third Place: Bloogle
Team Members: Camy Wong, Mandeep Barn, Maggie Lo, Victor He, Will Wu.
Summary: “Bloogle is a dual-pane ski/snowboarding goggle specially designed to provide users with a unique ski/snowboarding experience. Bloogle is a combination between traditional goggles and a Bluetooth headset, which enables users to answer and end phone calls, voice dial, and listen to music freely while having a blast on the mountain.”