Opportunity Fest parlays Entrepreneurship & Innovation focus into student success

Apr 18, 2016

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One of the winners at Opportunity Fest 2016 was Brewstr, an automated craft beer home brewing platform developed by students from the Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU program.

One of the winners at Opportunity Fest 2016 was Brewstr, an automated craft beer home brewing platform developed by students from the Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU program.

At the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, a host of Entrepreneurship and Innovation programs are empowering students from a multitude of disciplines to harness their skills in order to create game-changing ventures.

In fall 2015 the Beedie School launched the Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), allowing any student from faculties across SFU to add innovation and entrepreneurship training to their degree. The CIE is just one component of the recently launched SFU Innovates strategy, a comprehensive range of programs, initiatives and partnerships to develop talent, technology, and ideas.

The strategy encompasses existing initiatives, such as SFU Venture Connection, Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU, and the plethora of undergraduate entrepreneurship and innovation classes on offer at the Beedie School of Business.

The results of this concerted effort to develop the next generation of BC’s business leaders and change makers were evident at Opportunity Fest 2016, the Beedie School’s annual marketplace style showcase of student innovation and creativity.

The event, held at the SFU Surrey campus on March 22, has for the past six years offered a platform for students to showcase the entrepreneurial skills they have acquired through their SFU education.

According to Sarah Lubik, Director of Entrepreneurship for SFU and organizer of Opportunity Fest, the benefits of SFU’s approach in nurturing student creativity were clearly illustrated at the competition.

“I never fail to be impressed by the ventures the students demonstrate at Opportunity Fest, and this year the standard was greater than ever,” she says. “The competition is a fantastic example of students from multiple disciplines combining their skills and utilizing the combination of different perspectives to make real ventures. When you bring that together you super charge these teams and they produce ventures of such high quality.”

More than 30 judges from academia and industry were on hand to provide feedback to the teams and rank the ventures in a variety of categories. Jill Earthy, Chief Growth Officer at FrontFundr, a financial services firm that connects investors with market ready businesses, was one of the judges at this year’s Opportunity Fest. She says that the level of expertise and research that goes into creating the student ventures on show is extremely high.

“It is really impressive to see the confidence and clear messaging from such young entrepreneurs – I was shocked to find out that one of them was only in his first year at university,” she said. “The focus on entrepreneurship and innovation at SFU is incredibly important, and by creating environments like Opportunity Fest it gives the students freedom to innovate, think differently, and learn from each other. Innovation is evolving every day, and we need to continuously provide opportunities like this for students to explore.”

Opportunity Fest 2016 featured a huge variety of student ventures, including drone photography technology for oil and gas pipelines, cannabis-infused chocolate, smart bands designed to encourage proper hydration, and a custom-fit hearing aid that allows for tuning and adjustments without the need of an audiologist.

The students behind Canada’s first automated craft beer home brewing platform, Brewstr, met through the Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU program. A combination of SFU Mechatronics and Beedie School of Business students, they leveraged the combination of skillsets within the team to place second in the Most Innovative Technological Opportunity category. Yet team member Ryan Lymburner insists that the advice they received from the Opportunity Fest judges alone made their entry worthwhile.

“The judges ask unique questions, things we would not think about ourselves, so even without taking any prizes into account the learning experience at Opportunity Fest is fantastic validation,” he says. “Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU is an invaluable learning experience for students looking to create a team capable of producing a venture. Learning the team dynamics in combining business and engineering is interesting – engineers like to build things but no one is going to buy it if it isn’t a viable business.”

The students behind another of the ventures to achieve success at the competition, VAMO Tech’s Game7, also met through the Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU program. Their product – a wristband that analyzes the shots of hockey players and provides detailed statistics in order to improve the power and accuracy of their shot – is the first wearable technology designed specifically for hockey players.

“Through Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU we were able to take our passion and combine it with our capstone project to produce a useful product,” says co-founder Ben Hwang, who took home the title of Mr. Opportunity Tech at the competition. “What we have learned in our entrepreneurship classes has taught us how to be a lean startup – how to take a problem, find out the root cause of it and develop a solution. The experience at Opportunity Fest was very positive, and the judges provided us with some great feedback we will integrate into the model.”

The top venture in each category at Opportunity Fest took home $500, with second and third place receiving $200 and $100 respectively. The Triple Bottom Line prize of $1,000, awarded to the venture that best demonstrates a dedication to economic, social, and environmental impact, went to EcoClean, which turns food waste into useful products.

The winners in each category at Opportunity Fest 2016 were:

Most Impactful Opportunity

1st: Orello – Custom fit hearing aids for the developing world

2nd: BCSeniorsHands – an internet platform where anyone can propose a paid at-home service which improves seniors’ lives

3rd: TIE: EcoClean (As above) and Healthy Trolley – mobile healthy food cart

Ms. Opportunity Impact: Veronica Minenko (of BC SeniorsHands)

Mr. Opportunity Impact: Gonzalo Nolasco (of Atzlan Artisans – garments embedded with handmade Mexican artwork)

Most Innovative Technological Opportunity

1st: VAMO Tech (Game 7, as above)

2nd: Brewstr (as above)

3rd: AVA Technologies – Drones and analytics for pipeline surveillance

Ms. Opportunity Tech: Jennifer Illner (of AVA Technologies)

Mr. Opportunity Tech: Ben Hwang (of VAMO Tech)

Most Investable Opportunity

1st: Stolz – Cannabis-infused fine chocolate

2nd: Taski – online platform catering to flexible employment

3rd: Smoothie Bar – Smoothie bars for Vancouver companies

Ms. Opportunity Investable: Jenna Earnshaw (of Taski)

Mr. Opportunity Investable: Jeff Salzsauler (of Stolz)

People’s Choice Winner: Stolz

For more information on Opportunity Fest 2016, including details on the student ventures, visit beedie.sfu.ca/oppfest/overview/ or view photos at the Beedie School of Business’ Flickr gallery.