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New graduate student award aspires to energize local economy by fostering emerging businesses

Innovation Development Award will provide entrepreneurial resources to successful applicants
January 13, 2017
UToday

With the downturn in the economy and the need for economic diversification, an initiative to foster emerging businesses in Calgary developed by the University of Calgary’s own students could not come soon enough.

The Graduate Students' Association (GSA) launched the Innovation Development Award Dec. 10. It will support graduate students who are developing an innovative product or service — whether or not it stems out of their research activities — and are looking to launch a startup.

Khobaib Zaamout, GSA awards chair and a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, spearheaded the creation and development of the award, supported by Abubaker Abdelhafiz, GSA vice-president (academic) and Jason Unsworth, executive director.

The concept of the award emerged from Zaamout’s own frustration with the lack of entrepreneurial resources for graduate students. “As graduate students we carry out cutting-edge research, and the need to productize our research is valid,” says Zaamout.

Inspired by initiatives like Y Combinator, founded in California and helping to fund startups, and incubator programs such as the initiative run by Innovate Calgary, the award intends to not only help student startups financially but also to provide the student entrepreneurs with guidance in the process.

Zaamout and the GSA partnered with the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Innovate Calgary to create the award program. Volunteers from the University of Calgary and the Hunter Centre will evaluate the applications, and members of Innovate Calgary will mentor the successful teams with their startups. 

Award will help successful applicants financially and with guidance and mentorship

“This is not just an award. It is going to be a program where successful teams are going to be assigned a mentor. It will be fairly hands off — the mentor will meet with them a number of times throughout the year, track their progress, and provide guidance,” says Zaamout.

Steven McIlvenna, director of entrepreneur development at Innovate Calgary, believes this award will benefit graduate students who are vying to become entrepreneurs.

“We hope this award will promote the notion for students considering their career path to entertain the idea of pursuing entrepreneurship as a strong potential,” he says. “Even in the attempt of this opportunity we know they will have valuable learning experiences that will benefit any endeavour they pursue in the future.”

There will be three winners of the award. First place will take home $10,000, second place will receive $7,000, and third will receive $4,000. All three teams will have the opportunity to receive an additional $2,000 for the “fan favourite” in a pitch contest scheduled for April.

Deadline to apply for 2017 awards is Feb. 10

Elizabeth Allen, associate director at the Hunter Centre, is optimistic about what the award will mean to UCalgary graduate students and the Calgary community. “This is an excellent opportunity to create community connections to support the innovative work of graduate students happening across the University of Calgary,” she says.

The GSA received a generous donation of $10,000 for the new award from the Office of the Vice-President (Research).

“The common refrain we hear from our partners and stakeholders is that it is about time an initiative like this is launched, and they are glad the GSA is taking it on,” says Abdelhafiz. The award is open to any student or team of students in any discipline.

“It is for every graduate student that wants to transform their innovative ideas to market,” says Abdelhafiz.

Application deadline for the Innovation Development Awards is Feb. 10. For more information or to apply for the award, click here.

Graduate Students' Association's Abubaker Abdelhafiz, left, and Khobaib Zaamout say the new Innovation Development Award will help graduate students become successful entrepreneurs.
Photo Credit: Katherine Lidgren