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UCalgary completes first-ever global entrepreneurship study on campus

Findings show University of Calgary entrepreneurial activities among the highest in the developed world
March 27, 2017

Lead by The Centre for Innovation Studies (THECIS) and authored by University of Calgary professors Cooper Langford and Chad Saunders, this is the first time the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) methodology has been used to assess a post-secondary institution – finding a high level of innovation across campus. 

The world’s foremost entrepreneurship study has been used to look at entrepreneurship at the University of Calgary. Led by The Centre for Innovation Studies (THECIS) and authored by University of Calgary professors Cooper Langford and Chad Saunders, this is the first time the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) methodology has been used to assess a post-secondary institution — finding a high level of innovation across campus.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are fundamental to the University of Calgary, and the GEM report captures what we’ve achieved so far,” notes Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “In undertaking the first-ever GEM study on a university campus, we have gained vital insight into how our campus community can be better served to translate discoveries and technological advances into solutions and economic opportunities — and we’re already applying what we’ve learned.”

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor is the largest study of entrepreneurship in the world, covering 70 countries in 2016.

“The GEM is done annually in over 100 countries, so we wanted to be able to bring that bench strength to evaluating the entrepreneurial activity at the University of Calgary, using a proven approach that allows for global benchmarking and insights,” said Chad Saunders, assistant professor in the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.

GEM is unique in that it examines entrepreneurship from the perspective of the individual rather than the company, and seeks to understand the attitudes of the public towards entrepreneurship, the activity at the University of Calgary and the aspirations of entrepreneurs.

“There is a high level of entrepreneurial activity happening at the University of Calgary and this activity is spread almost equally across health, science and engineering, and social science and humanities disciplines,” explains Saunders. “The ‘surprising’ finding here for us was the high level of entrepreneurial activity in the social sciences and humanities since these disciplines are not typically associated with such work.”

The next steps for the Calgary-based Canada GEM team include disseminating the findings and applying what they’ve learned to guide and benchmark the university’s ongoing efforts to close the gap on some of the opportunities for improvement.  

“A lot has happened since this data was collected, so putting these findings in that context, and also planning another data collection cycle in the future to see how far our collective efforts have moved us from this baseline, would also be high on our agenda,” says Saunders.

One of the key strengths of the University of Calgary’s current entrepreneurial strategy is the university’s partnership with Innovate Calgary, which provides full-service training, technology transfer and business incubation support for researchers, students and entrepreneurs in the campus community. The university recognizes the successes of their innovative leaders at an annual celebration of entrepreneurship, innovation and knowledge engagement as part of the Peak Scholar Celebration.

UCalgary GEM report summary:

What is GEM and what’s unique about it?

  • GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) is the largest study of entrepreneurship in the world, covering 70 countries in 2016. It started in 1999.
  • GEM is unique in that it examines entrepreneurship from the perspective of the individual, rather than the company, which is what official statistics do.
  • GEM seeks to understand the attitudes of the public towards entrepreneurship, the activity in each country and the aspirations of entrepreneurs.
  • The University of Calgary report describes a world first in use of the GEM methodology to assess a university population.

What did the report find?

  • Levels of entrepreneurial activity at the university are similar to the Alberta population and among the highest in the developed world.
  • Interestingly, fewer members of the university community were confident of their skills or the opportunities. “Don’t know” was a common response. This may only mean they were more realistic than the general population.
  • Levels of “intrapreneurship” are quite high among students and faculty, There is a great deal of innovative activity going on with community partners. The GEM survey offers a systematic measure of this.
  • All parts of the university were almost equally involved in entrepreneurial activity — health sciences, science and engineering, and social sciences and humanities.
  • More than 50 per cent of entrepreneurial activity was directed at serving businesses, rather than consumers.
  • Approximately 30 per cent of initiatives aimed to have 20 or more employees in five years, higher than the rates for Alberta or Canada.
  • More than 40 per cent of initiatives expected significant export revenues.
  • Far more initiatives at the university used recent technology than in Alberta as a whole or the rest of Canada.
  • Initiatives at the U of C are much more innovative than initiatives from Alberta as a whole.
  • Women participation in entrepreneurship was somewhat less than in the Alberta population, particularly among faculty.

What were the recommendations?

  1. University policy should support education for entrepreneurial thinking across the campus, reflecting the wide distribution of entrepreneurial activity across the institution.
  2. Steps are needed to ensure that women have as much access to information and educational about entrepreneurship and the opportunities as men.
  3. Ensure that students planning entrepreneurial activity can readily access community support organizations, especially on graduation.
  4. The modality of entrepreneurship at the university is better captured in EEA (Intrapreneurship) than TEA (early stage firm formation). The accomplishments of faculty in this sphere should be recognized. 

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