Director, Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
For more than a century, Mount Royal University students and graduates have been shaping the society we live in. Innovation is embedded in all faculties and across all programs, acting as a catalyst for students to reimagine, reveal and realize.
“The silver bullet to our future economic and social prosperity is not a thing,” says Ray DePaul, director of Mount Royal’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It’s an army of innovators.”
Since arriving in Calgary in 2012, DePaul has made a name for himself as one of the city’s most important mentors and advisers to young innovators. He came with a reputable background in computer science and history in technology startups. A key member of the team that brought BlackBerry to the world, DePaul also led RapidMind through venture capital funding, growth, and ultimately an acquisition by Intel.
“I’m often asked what went wrong at RIM/BlackBerry and my pat answer is that they created a company around an innovation, but they didn’t create an innovative company,” DePaul says. “It’s a lesson I try to apply to what we do at MRU. We are not trying to create that one invention or patent that ‘might’ make a difference. We are creating talent that can innovate over and over again regardless of the situation you put them in.”
This takes time and a lot of face-to-face work by committed faculty and staff. “You can’t foster an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset in a lecture hall. It happens one student at a time.”
The MRU Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosts several programs where students can begin to develop their leading-edge abilities. LaunchPad helps student founders turn their business idea into reality. The Innovation Sprint provides students with the experience of working with companies to help them innovate. Growth Catalyst accelerates companies in the community who need help in achieving their ambitions for growth.
MRU has a mandate to inspire and empower meaningful change across campus, solidifying the critical role universities play in ensuring the right talent is available to continue to solve problems both big and small. Additional university institutes further stimulate innovative mindsets in the areas of community prosperity and environmental sustainability. Spaces such as the Maker Studio provide the tools for creation. Numerous research opportunities immerse students in high-level inquiry where they analyze social, economic or environmental problems to understand the many contributing factors.
The point is to provide the foundation needed to implement transformative change. “The heart of innovation is being able to recognize that there are always ways to improve the things we use every day. An innovator sees the world as endless opportunities,” DePaul says.
Mount Royal students have manufactured first-of-their-kind products such as technology-enabled discs for the sport of disc golf and home climbing walls to give kids something healthy and constructive to do indoors. They have sent environmentally friendly stoves to Kenya to help improve indoor air quality, built an app providing resources to students struggling with depression and created local aquaponics companies to reduce food insecurity. The list goes on, but the success level is evident in Mount Royal students winning the Entrepreneurs Organization’s Calgary Student Entrepreneur of the Year award for six consecutive years.
The benefit is not in the result, however. It’s the personal growth for the student that matters.
“Don’t tell the students, but we know most of them will fail in their first attempt,” DePaul says. “As impressed as we are with everything they have accomplished, the odds are against them. This is why we are focused, first and foremost, on ensuring it is a transformative learning experience. Failure, and the resilience it develops, is invaluable.”
As DePaul has worked with students over the years, he says he has the pleasure of watching them develop the toolset, the skill set and the mindset for innovation. “Being able to play the long game on fostering an innovative mindset is what MRU does best,” he says.
Students are able to apply systems thinking to address issues, find the right people to help them move their ideas forward, and become driven by the need to change the status quo that is holding them back. This experience connects the dots of students’ education to allow them to truly understand and realize their potential, which in turn results in stronger, more equitable and more just societies.