View from the ‘Loo: Great news from that other Waterloo university Anthony Reinhart October 10, 2013 Communitech, View from the ‘Loo When you talk about tech companies all the time, it’s easy to focus on the tech and overlook the company. And when it comes to tech in this town, the talk often turns to the University of Waterloo, one of the world’s top institutions for math, computer science and engineering. That’s as it should be. You needn’t look too deeply to find UW’s intellectual DNA throughout much of this region’s technology ecosystem, from the largest companies to the freshest startups. Often overlooked, though, is the impact of that other Waterloo institution – Wilfrid Laurier University – whose excellence in business education underpins many of these same companies. Our friends at Laurier gave us a powerful reminder of their crucial role in the ecosystem this week, when they unveiled a bold and novel program that builds on the already strong startup momentum in this community. They announced the Laurier Startup Fund – launched with a $1-million gift from Michael and Hennie Stork, with a goal to build it to $5 million – to enable business students to invest real money in real startups as part of their education. Mike Stork, a Laurier grad and active angel investor, said he wants to “provide a living-lab environment at Laurier where qualified business students will learn to make investment recommendations on real, early-stage companies in Waterloo Region.” That includes learning how to perform due diligence and other forms of business analysis before recommending companies for investment. These days, those companies are increasingly likely to originate from a Laurier student or graduate, given the university’s own involvement in fostering startups through the Tannery-based Laurier Launchpad and other programs. It was telling that officials from UW as well as Laurier were in the room Tuesday at the Tannery when the new fund was announced. It hinted at the embedded culture of collaboration, rather than cut-throat competition, that distinguishes Waterloo Region as a healthy startup community. “At the end of the day, anything that helps the local entrepreneurial ecosystem is a great thing for the community,” said Tim Jackson, UW’s Vice-President, University Relations. “Congratulations to Laurier on what is a fantastic announcement today; I think it speaks to the strength of the local tech sector.” Steve Farlow, who oversees the Laurier Launchpad as Executive Director of the university’s Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship, said he’s excited at the prospect of collaborating with UW around the new startup fund. “It’s my hope that this fund will invest in some companies that emerge from the University of Waterloo” and not just Laurier, Farlow said. “It’s really targeted to the broader startup community here.” Waterloo’s collaborative culture is drawing increasing attention from communities around the world looking to seed their own startup soil, Farlow said, though he’s not sure others will be able to replicate our success “without years of work,” he said. “This all has to do with the heritage, that innovation entrepreneurship is valued, which it is here,” he said. Farlow is excited about building the new fund “right into the curriculum” at Laurier, allowing students to not only learn, but to become valued members of future successful technology companies because of that knowledge. “Many university venture funds are focused on the return, and that’s important,” Farlow said, “but this one’s focused on the educational value as much as the return.” The fact that this learning will be focused on small groups of students, working off-campus at the Launchpad , will make it all the more meaningful, he said. “This isn’t a classroom class,” Farlow said. “This will be done here.” With UW’s VeloCity Garage incubating early-stage companies in the same building, along with dozens of other startups from the Accelerator Program and Communitech’s HYPERDRIVE accelerator, Laurier’s budding fund managers should have no shortage of work to do, and collaborations to build. Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo is a weekly look at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.