Incubating business

Electrical engineering graduates Michael O'Brien and Eddie Sheppard are the type of young, bright minds that Newfoundland's economy thrives on. They are enthusiastic and innovative and they want to stay in their home province. So, they've decided to start their own business. They don't yet have a name, or even a specific product but they have a lot of ideas and now, thanks to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial, they have a place to start.

Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Sheppard just moved into Enthuzium, a business incubation centre, which is very much like an incubator. It is located in the centre of the 4th floor of the S.J. Carew Building and consists of several small, adjoining rooms, including fabrication space, has no windows and is surrounded, or enveloped, by offices and classrooms. It has room for up to 20 people or two businesses.

Dr. Claude Daley is the acting manager of Industrial Outreach, which includes Enthuzium. He explains that with this transitional space, the faculty is not just providing business support to these new companies but raw technology support; equipment support; and advice. He adds that this is part of a trend happening around the world.

“Universities are realizing that they're part of society and part of the economy. It's a crossroads for all kinds of interaction. Universities have always been natural incubation-type places for ideas. This is taking that a logical step forward.”

Dr. Daley goes on to explain that seeing businesses thrive here is very encouraging for other students.

“It's one thing for someone to stand up in front of a classroom and tell students that they can be an entrepreneur, but having slightly older students just down the hall making a go of it, that's when it becomes real for many students; it becomes tangible and they can see themselves doing it too.”

Michael O’Brien (L) and Eddie Sheppard.

Mr. O'Brien agrees.

“We're very optimistic that we can make this work. We've seen other students in the past make a go of it and they also started in this space, which really inspired us,” he said. “Without this space to get started, we'd be working out of our homes. This way, I can walk down the hall and talk to one of my professors and get their feedback.” Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Sheppard hope to have several products developed within months.

Enthuzium was the first home of Cathexis Innovations starting in 2001, then Blue Line Innovations Inc., and most recently Oryx; all started by engineering students. “Cathexis, the first business, created a real buzz in the faculty. Students are always looking for work term positions and there was something about a work term position with this student-started company that was really exciting. So, they were able to attract some of the top students; with top marks and who were really enthusiastic. In no time, Cathexis quickly had more full time employees than students,” says Dr. Daley. “This kind of activity is absolutely essential to the economy and the province. It's essential to how the world economy is developing because there's no doubt the world is moving towards a knowledge economy.” He would like to renovate Enthuzium to develop a shared boardroom, at least two major shared office spaces and improvement on the appearance. “It could be expensive to renovate but what's the value of a company that's growing up towards 20 people in this economy that could eventually employ hundreds of people? What's that worth?”