“We’re a great university. We’re also a great place to do stuff,” said Alex Gill, director of the Social Ventures Zone, to simply sum up the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives at Ryerson University.
There’s a reason hundreds of successful startups have been launched at Ryerson. Nurturing entrepreneurial ideas is a priority for staff and faculty alike, starting at the very top.
“At Ryerson, entrepreneurship is in our DNA,” said President Mohamed Lachemi. “It’s embedded into many of our courses and extracurricular activities, and our multidisciplinary zones, incubators and innovative programs. We pride ourselves on creating an environment where ventures from all disciplines are given the resources and guidance they need to foster their best chance for success.”
Here are some of the key factors that contribute to Ryerson’s entrepreneurial edge.
Range of resources
From courses in one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurship and strategy programs and start-up financing opportunities, external link to hands-on experience and 10 incubator zones, Ryerson offers a wide array of entrepreneurial resources, all grounded in the real-world.
The DMZ alone, a top-ranked tech startup incubator, has grown more than 380 companies over eight years, raising $563 million in funding and creating more than 3,600 jobs.
These resources have helped Ryerson widen the definition of entrepreneurial success beyond mere profit margins.
“What we’ve really done well here at Ryerson,” said Phil Walsh, interim associate dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), “is to set up the ability for more social enterprises to take off and be successful.”
The entrepreneurial pathways that wind throughout Ryerson have helped create a community of innovators who can rely on one another for support and inspiration.
“The community aspect is essentially the secret sauce,” said Alex Gill. “When you walk into one of the zones, there’s a culture there, it’s about mutual support, it’s about ‘I’ve got your back,’ and more importantly, ‘You’re trying something audacious? That’s great, we’re going to go with that’.”
Phil Walsh agrees: “Within that community they feed off each other in terms of creativity and ideas. As with most innovations, there are numerous pivot points in the development of a product. And those pivot points are influenced by talking to other people in the community.”
A key differentiator for entrepreneurship at Ryerson is the way that many of the resources available – particularly the zones – aren’t tied to any one particular department.
“This avoids the silo effect and allows for more cross-disciplinary work,” said Walsh. “I believe that is a unique and distinct competency that Ryerson possesses.”
This cross-pollination happens across zones and faculties within the university, but also extends into the wider business community.
Gill estimates that, at the Social Ventures Zone, 40 per cent of the ventures are student-led, 20 per cent are alumni, and 40 per cent have never had a connection with Ryerson before.
“If you’re a student and you have people from the community who are 15 years ahead of you in their career, and they’re looking at you as a peer, and trying to help you and you’re trying to help them, that’s a really dynamic learning environment,” said Gill. “We don’t understand how rare that is.”
Location, location, location
Ryerson is located in one of the most diverse, dynamic downtown cores in North America – a uniquely advantageous location for any budding entrepreneur.
“We’re not isolated and surrounded by trees and ivy, we’re confronted with the social realities of city building every day on this campus,” said Gill. “So whether you’re developing an app that’s going to help people take transit, improve accessibility, or help marginalized persons get better employment opportunities, we see those conditions every day we walk out of the university, so that interjects a certain note of realism and empathy and community solidarity into what Ryerson does.”
This article is the first in a series on entrepreneurship. Watch for upcoming stories on Ryerson entrepreneurial success stories and how to get started if you have an idea.