Slate launches new innovation lab

It’s a true test of entrepreneurial vision: making a 60-second pitch to a panel of experts who have $1,000 to invest in an awesome idea.

That was the challenge six students accepted on Nov. 14 as Mount Royal University’sInstitute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship officially opened Slate.

Located on the third floor of the Bissett School of Business, RBC Slate is an innovation lab that the Institute’s Director, Ray DePaul, describes as “a place where students gather and brainstorm — literally a blank slate for them to fill with ideas and opportunities.”

As part of the opening, DePaul created a competition that asked students how they would spend $1,000 to make Slate “even more awesome.”

And, in a surprise finish, two pitches were chosen by competition judges. The first was from Jadel Baldrey and Daniel Gyorffy who, between them, have already received $15,000 in grants from the Institute’s JMH Venture LaunchPad program.

Creating a legacy

Jadel Baldrey and Daniel Gyorffy show off their idea for a metal wall made of brand bricks.
Baldrey and Gyorffy teamed up to suggest spending the $1,000 on an installation that would give Slate a distinctive look.

“We want to introduce a creative art piece — something that reflects the entrepreneurial spirit we have on campus,” says Baldrey, who is in the final year of her Bachelor of Business Administration with minors in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

Gyorffy describes their vision for the art piece as an interactive metal wall with rows and rows of magnetic “bricks” featuring major brands. And, he says, just like the innovation lab itself, the bricks are intended to be re-arranged — and to generate discussion among students who are coming together to grow their entrepreneurial ideas.

“We all know that business and life are ever-changing and we want to promote change, so that’s why these bricks move from side to side,” explains Gyorffy, who is in his final year of the Bachelor of Applied Business and Entrepreneurship — Sport and Recreation program.

“More importantly, we want to establish a legacy, so eventually these bricks will be replaced with bricks showing the brands that were actually established in this room,” he says. “It’s going to foster a creative experience.”

Baldrey confesses she’s envious of the opportunities RBC Slate will bring.

“Oh, I’m jealous of the students coming into it now, because this is my last year and I won’t be able to experience this collaborative space,” she says.

“I think the Entrepreneurship program is helping create a more vibrant Mount Royal, and Slate will help build campus pride.”

Building community

The second pitch chosen by the judges was made by Gagan Sidhu, who also has a strong vision for RBC Slate.

“It’s going to be a space where people can host events and collaborate and work and have the resources they need,” Sidhu says.

Now in her final year of the Bachelor of Business Administration — Marketing, Sidhu is also part of Design4Change, a boutique agency where Mount Royal Marketing students and alumni work with startup tech companies to build their brands.

“I worked on campus all summer while Slate was being built, and Design4Change actually did the branding for it,” says Sidhu. She captured the imagination of the four judges with her idea of turning one whole side of the lab into a pitch wall.

“We’ve got a lot of great teachers and mentors here who guide us with our ideas; we have this great space to collaborate and develop those ideas,” Sidhu says. “But what do we do when we are ready to pitch our ideas?

“My idea is a pitch wall with a projector and a screen so we have a professional setting where we can pitch our ideas and collaborate with professionals, mentors and other groups we want to work with.”

Open to all students

That’s a scenario Institute Director DePaul wants to see — having Slate packed with students from every program, all brainstorming ideas and working on projects.

“This is designed to be a noisy place where the focus is on collaboration and teamwork,” DePaul says.

“If you’re a student in arts or science or business or communications, and if you take Entrepreneurship courses, you become more innovative. So where do you go to find people just like you? You go to Slate,” he says.

“It’s a place where ideas can collide off each other. We’re providing the resources and then getting out of the way so students can go from having a blank slate to having something real.”

DePaul says funding for the innovation lab is part of the multi-year, $1.1 million corporate donation that RBC made to Mount Royal in 2011 in support of the Institute’s mission to graduate the most entrepreneurial minds in Canada.

Institute Director Ray DePaul opens the lab with RBC’s Regional President, Alberta and the Territories, Bruce MacKenzie.

Investing in education

RBC’s Regional President, Alberta and the Territories, Bruce MacKenzie, saw RBC Slate for the first time when he attended the official opening.

“I was talking with some of the students and I am just blown away by the enthusiasm in the room,” MacKenzie said during his remarks at the event.

“Slate is all about innovation; it’s all about youth; it’s all about corporate responsibility to help out with the next generation,” he said.  “As Canada continues to grow, innovation and entrepreneurship will continue to play a bigger role. RBC recognizes that and we want to be part of that.”

MacKenzie concluded his remarks with a personal insight for students.

“Learning never ends when you join a company like RBC. I’ve been with RBC for almost 37 years and I still learn something almost every day,” MacKenzie said.

“So make sure you keep in the mindset of lifelong learning — that’s what innovation and entrepreneurship are all about.”

A thrilling conclusion to the Slate unveiling

MacKenzie then went on to demonstrate innovation and entrepreneurship in action. When the pitch competition’s panel announced that it had selected two winning pitches, but had only one investment of $1,000 to make, MacKenzie stepped forward with a solution — a spur-of-the-moment donation from RBC of an additional $1,000.

As a result, both the interactive brand wall and the pitch wall can be added to Slate.

To loud applause, Mount Royal President, David Docherty — who was announcing the winning pitches on behalf of the pitch competition judging panel — thanked RBC.

“That’s what entrepreneurship is all about — a way of thinking, a way of problem solving and a way of giving back,” Docherty said. 

Nancy Cope — Dec. 5, 2013