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Keri Damen

Keri Damen

Executive Director, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking

The University of Calgary’s Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking connects students to local innovation ecosystems and startups to gain valuable future-ready skills. 

To think like an entrepreneur is to see things differently from the rest of the world and to come up with innovative solutions to problems. While an inherent trait in some people, entrepreneurial thinking is a skill that most people can acquire.

“Traditionally people have seen entrepreneurship as something that is ingrained,” says Keri Damen, Executive Director of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary. “But by understanding the process of finding and validating an opportunity and having the right education, resources, and mentors, entrepreneurial thinking can be learned. We can guide students on how to identify opportunities, marshal resources to capitalize on them, and glean insights from customers and setbacks to move a solution forward”.

That is the focus of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking. Through academic, co-curricular, and talent programs, along with immersive challenges, competitions, hackathons, and hands-on workshops, the Hunter Hub helps students to develop their entrepreneurial capabilities and enhance their career prospects in a safe, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary environment.

Students of Hunter Hub working on a project

Fewer paid employment opportunities for students during pandemic

With the current COVID-19 crisis, entrepreneurial thinking has never been more important. “I think the pandemic has underscored the extreme need for adaptive capabilities and entrepreneurial thinking skills, such as resilience, problem solving, innovating under constraints, and working across disciplines,” says Damen.

The pandemic also radically altered the world of work and how Canadian post-secondary students obtain employment opportunities where they could learn these vital skills. “Students are really struggling to get job experience, especially paid job experiences, because there are fewer opportunities now,” says Damen.

Similarly, many startups that need young talent have been challenged by less access to traditional recruitment avenues like in-person job fairs and cash flow constraints that affect their ability to hire. “On the positive side, the pandemic has opened up the talent field globally and made it more competitive, but to capitalize on this benefit, we need to make sure that our students can get hired easily by startups and be part of that global talent stream,” says Damen. 

This is where Experience Ventures comes in. A newly launched national work placement pilot program powered by The Hunter Hub, Experience Ventures is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Initiative. Its aim is to support both students and startups by creating a talent funnel from the university to the local innovation ecosystem.

Creating talent funnel from university to local innovation ecosystem

Through Experience Ventures paid placements, students can hone the entrepreneurial thinking and digital skills they need to be future ready. The fast-paced nature of the work enables them to learn many different functions more quickly than they would in a traditional, structured environment. At the same time, participating companies benefit from fresh perspectives and insights, at no cost to them. 

As a national, integrated effort, joining together schools, companies and social ventures, Experience Ventures is helping to build multi-disciplinary innovation networks and a diverse talent pool. Startups gain easier access to talent, while students gain easier access to innovation networks that can use their skills and form the connections they’ll need to find future work opportunities. 

The ability to make an impact – for both students and startups – is another key program feature. “Today’s students are very interested in creating an impact, especially related to sustainable development, diversity, and social justice goals,” says Damen. “They have a chance to do that with Experience Ventures since many of the placements involve working with real-world innovators in solving real-world problems,” says Damen. For the hiring companies, it’s an opportunity to amplify the impact of their innovations and be energized with the next generation of talent. 

As the Experience Ventures program evolves, the Hunter Hub is finding ways to innovate around the format, time frame and types of work opportunities to increase accessibility for both parties. “We’re trying to make the placements shorter and more flexible, given that students interested in doing some work integrated learning may not have a full free semester, or the startup may not have a perfect four-month project,” says Damen. 

Students of all disciplines, including the arts, are encouraged to participate. “We need to include students and professionals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to create the transdisciplinary innovation economy of the future. Being able to identify a potential viable and exciting career option after getting some experience with a social or tech venture can be very empowering to a student,” she says. 

Group of students researching

Relentless innovation needed to assure continued wealth and prosperity is open to all students

To ensure our continued wealth and prosperity, Canada needs to be innovating constantly. Attracting early talent to growing innovation communities ensures that steady pipeline of innovation talent, and Experience Ventures is bridging students and schools with opportunities in the new world of work. 

Experience Ventures will run from summer 2021 to winter 2022 in collaboration with 10 post-secondary school partnerships across Canada and is available to students from all levels and disciplines. It’s open to all students attending the University of Calgary, the partner participating post-secondary institutions, and to students outside of these institutions. Students interested in learning more are encouraged to visit our website.

To learn more, please visit Experience Ventures or The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.

Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Initiative. The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

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