Photo by Kyle West
By Elliot Fung
This year, the faculty of engineering and the DeGroote School of Business partnered up to introduce a newly-minted innovation minor for McMaster students from all faculties. The minor offers a diversity of courses for students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, with syllabus titles like “From Founder to CEO” and “Persuasion, Pitching Skills and Marketing.”
With enrollment far exceeding expectation, the brand-new innovation minor has started out on the right foot at the beginning of its inaugural year.
“The innovation minor is a nexus where academics meet startup culture,” says Monika Yazdanian, director of The Forge, a Hamilton-based startup incubator.
The Forge helps local startups to grow from an idea to a company. The Forge worked closely with the school of business and faculty of engineering to develop a unique curriculum and program structure.
The uniqueness and strength of the program can be attributed to the way the courses are taught. Classes are informed directly by successful local startups. In addition, chief executive officers and founders, such as Morgan Wyatt of Greenlid Envirosciences, are brought in to guest lecture about their experiences building companies from the ground up. Networking sessions allow students to talk directly with speakers and ask questions about startups.
The program becomes increasingly hands-on and experiential in the third and fourth year. For instance, students who pursue the minor have the opportunity to work directly with The Forge to develop and create their own startup.
Program enrollment far exceeded expectations, with the seventy five spots allocated for the first year course “The World of Entrepreneurship 1X03” filling within 48 hours of the open enrollment date. In light of the minor’s soaring demand, 1X03 will open up spots to 130 students in the winter term.
Nevertheless, as of yet, the program has not solidified any further plans to expand. Cameron Churchill, one of the directors of the minor and assistant professor of civil engineering, brings up the concern that larger classes might stymie intimate class conversation.
Although still early in the year, students seem to be engaging well with the courses. Students can be seen staying back after class to have conversations with instructors.
“Enthusiasm of students is high. They are insatiable for tips and love to chat,” said Churchill.
Third-year commerce student Darren Zhang, who is taking the first year 1X03 course, has been satisfied with the class so far as it provides him with the opportunity to learn about startups, something lacking from commerce and McMaster in general.
Although there have not been any major issues as of yet, Darren Zhang says that assignments and presentations could be a bit clearer. Another 1X03 student wishes there was a wider variety of startup case studies in more industries. The student also expected more hands-on experience in innovating products, delivering pitches and learning about tools to start businesses.
Because the innovation minor is new, it is reasonable to expect some confusion from students as to what is taught in these courses and how they are evaluated. Courses will be refined with future iterations of the curriculum. Nevertheless, as of now, Churchill says the focus is on promoting the innovation minor to first and second year students before looking at any curriculum change.
The minor is open to all undergraduate students and includes specific innovation courses such as Innovate 1X03 and Innovate 2X03. Five second, third and fourth-year courses are going to be available within the next two years.