Reporter: Venera Nikolaeva
Students with keen interest in entrepreneurship activities had an opportunity to spend a day exchanging ideas, chatting with fellow-minded peers and experts in the field and drawing inspiration from a variety of creative projects presented by young entrepreneurs. In addition to the unusually warm weather, this past Saturday marked the second edition of the annual Embark Student Entrepreneurship Conference. An event designed and organized by students for students, the conference is the brainchild of the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship Student Ambassadors’ Team – a group of passionate young people on a mission of spreading the entrepreneurship spirit among the student body and helping budding entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality.
The event kicked off accordingly with а student pitch competition where five student businesses presented their companies to the audience with the top three walking away with a cash prize. The audience was entrusted with the responsible and quite difficult task of evaluating them and casting its vote. All five projects presented ingenious solutions to pressing social and environmental challenges – ranging from a smart diabetic scale capable of detecting infections at early stage (InfraSense-Health) and technology aiming to revolutionize the global health alert system (Immune Check) to an innovative solution to pharmaceutical waste (Bound Pharmaceuticals); a community-based commerce app that allows consumers to share grocery prices in real time and get information about the best deals (Shawper) and last but not least, a student-run social enterprise seeking to increase the accessibility and lower the cost of fresh food in Newfoundland & Labrador (Greenspace Urban Farms). After a careful deliberation the audience’s top choice fell on Greenspace Urban Farms social enterprise, with Immune Check and InfraSense-Health taking second and third place respectively.
A session was devoted to conversation with student entrepreneurs who shared their success stories and how and why they went along the entrepreneurship path. Meanwhile, braking the trend of prioritizing innovative undertakings associated with technology, medical breakthroughs and solving social problems, entrepreneurship in arts received special attention during this conference. As Dave Sullivan, an actor, writer and ad creative, put it “”art is one of the purest forms of entrepreneurship – you are putting yourself out there for everyone to judge and evaluate you and your story.” St. John’s musician and photographer Chris LeDrew added that arts entrepreneurs actually help the industry move forward and open up new opportunities for the rest of the guild.
The pinnacle of the event was the Embryo Grant pitch competition. The grant supports the development of health-related innovation that demonstrates potential to grow into a sustainable enterprise and is comprised of three competitive phases. The startups – BreatheSuite (featuring an inhaler add-on device) and VitalMIST (offering non-invasive nasal atomization solution) – made it to the third and final stage and competed for $15,000 in funding to develop their product. Much to the delight of the audience, both contestants offered well-prepared pitches, passion and commitment as well as viable products solving pressing problems, which made it extremely difficult for the judging panel to choose one over the other. After a careful deliberation, BreatheSuite was given the chance to try to improve health care for people on a global scale.
The conference plays an important role in supporting the efforts of the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship of offering a welcoming and easily accessible environment, guidance and inspiration to those interested in learning more about entrepreneurship. According to Student Ambassador Rowan Meaney, it provides the student entrepreneurs-to-be with the necessary stimulus to start pursuing their ideas and take the entrepreneurial leap. It helps them throw off the shackles of insecurity and embrace the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge that will undoubtedly be beneficial regardless of their chosen field of development.