Mount Royal Students Start the School Year as Social Entrepreneurs


After five weeks of an intensive summer program, 20 MRU students are returning to school after a transformational work-integrated learning experience and with a newfound appreciation for what it takes to be a social entrepreneur. 

By Emily Knight


Over the month of August, 20 Mount Royal students from across 15 unique programs on campus took part in the inaugural Social Entrepreneurship Sprint hosted by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Sprint, generously supported by the Trico Charitable Foundation, was designed to tackle two challenges. 


Firstly, although the Institute has successfully been developing entrepreneurs for eight years through its flagship LaunchPad program, they found that many students keen to be social entrepreneurs struggle to land on an idea robust enough to take full advantage of their program. Without structured ideation support, students can easily get lost in the complexity of local and global problems. 


The Institute’s Entrepreneur Development Officer Emily Knight has witnessed this challenge first hand. Knight is also an alumna from MRU with a business degree and a double minor in social innovation and entrepreneurship and is passionate about weaving intersections between the powerful mindsets gained in both ecosystems. “Students who are able to leverage resources to make their ideas come to life and who are also equipped with the rigour to identify a problem worth solving in the world will be unstoppable changemakers.” says Knight. 


Additionally, one of the many impacts of the pandemic was that many students who were expecting to have meaningful employment in the summer found themselves unemployed. While the federal government’s support through the Canada Emergency Student Benefit provided some much-needed funding, students will still be financially challenged when they return to school. Critically, they will have also missed out on a meaningful work-integrated learning experience that has traditionally complemented their formal curriculum. 

"The Institute is thrilled to be able to provide another community-engaged transformative experience to so many students across campus, especially when so many work experiences disappeared this summer" - Ray DePaul, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The Social Entrepreneurship Sprint was designed to tackle these two challenges of catalyzing social entrepreneurs and providing meaningful, paid, work-integrated learning experiences. The Institute's tested Sprinternship model matched local problems identified by community leaders with teams of multidisciplinary MRU students eager to tackle social and environmental challenges with an entrepreneurial mindset. 

Theses problem statements included: 

How might we get more households and businesses to make the shift to renewable energies?
How might we reimagine how we care for seniors to avoid and mitigate vulnerabilities?
How might we incentivize and prepare millennial and gen z’s to see the value in and be ready to take on Board roles?
How might content creators be empowered and remunerated to represent BIPOC / how can businesses represent diversity in their content in a meaningful way?
How might an inclusive solution to childcare support families safely?


The program was facilitated by the Institute, Daniel Overall, Executive Director of the Trico Charitable Foundation, and Kerry Harmer of the MRU Maker Studio who respectfully brought lean methodology, social entrepreneurship, and design thinking expertise. The program was co-designed to empower students with the foundational skills required to brainstorm, validate, and launch a social enterprise.

Each student team was matched with a Problem Mentor who has experience working in the specific problem space. These generous volunteers provided insights, resources, connections and other valuable tidbits that will help the team through the Sprint process. The Institute is thankful to Ron Jaicarran, Navjot Virk, David Mitchell, Marquis Murray, Heather Pollard, and Lisa-Mae Hodges for volunteering their time as Problem Mentors.

The five teams ended the five-week Sprint with interesting social enterprise ideas that can be launched through the Institute’s LaunchPad program. One team in particular, who tackled the lack of accurate stock images featuring BIPOC peoples, received a multitude of positive feedback in the final presentation and are excited about launching their social enterprise concept this fall. 

Seeing the entrepreneurial spark come alive as my group talked through their problems and how they planned on solving them. These are all real-world problems that still need solving and students that I worked with have started to scratch the surface of how to solve them. It was amazing to see firsthand.” - Problem Mentor, Marquis Murray, President and Co-Founder of Ditto & Founder of Media Crate

This was my first experience with social entrepreneurship and I think it was an excellent, hands-on way to learn more. I was also offered some freelance work after making connections through the Sprint which was an added bonus!” - Leah Pottinger, Public Relations Student, MRU

The Institute is excited to have two future Sprinternships confirmed for the 2020/2021 academic year, generously supported by the RBC Foundation.