University of Waterloo, Canada

The University of Waterloo is giving over one of its residence halls to Velocity, a new incubator where students can collaborate on Web, mobile, and digital media applications with their fellow budding tech entrepreneurs and perhaps help breathe some life back into the incubator model.

Velocity will be housed in the 72-bed Minota Hagey dormitory on campus and will house 70 upper-level students per term who will work together on creating viable products and brushing up on their business skills, according to project leader, Sean Van Koughnett, who manages the university’s Media & Mobility Network Project.

While working on more long-term implementations like a campus-wide IP telephony system, Van Koughnett wanted a project that would further digital media on campus but with more immediate results. He figured that many students were already working on mobile and Web applications on their own time, so why not bring them together? Said Van Koughnett: “We don’t know if something will come out of one of these teams, but having a place where everyone can help work on it might help it to happen.”

The residence will undergo a US$400,000 overhaul this summer to prep it for its first round of students this fall. The renovations will include Wi-Fi access, server space, increased bandwidth, and a 12-foot projection screen. Each of the three common areas will be transformed into a necessary space for the beginner businesspeople, including a mobile device lab and a corporate-style boardroom for product presentations.

This will come in handy during the symposiums planned for the students. Not content to just bring the students together and then leave them be, Van Koughnett has arranged for a boot camp at the beginning of term where the students can meet with corporate and consulting entities, checking out recruitment possibilities and getting real-world feedback on their ideas. An end-of-the-term symposium allows the residents to present their offerings. During the term, there will be additional one-day training sessions with role model types as well.

Said Vincent Guyaux, chairman of the Montreal-based start-up and business consultancy Embrase: “Bringing in these speakers is very important. (Learning about speaking about and selling your idea or product) is usually the most important part, but that’s usually where start-ups are the weakest.”

Info-Tech Research Group lead analyst Andy Woyzbun said that it will be imperative for industry partners to come and remain on board for the program to be really successful. “It really needs a level of involvement by industry that is serious, not just some executive from RIM to come in and talk once in a while. It will require significant time and money from companies.”

To get into the Velocity project, students need to answer several in-depth questions about their technical and entrepreneurial savvy, and undergo a lengthy interview. The program has already received around 75 applications, with 55 offers extended and 40 accepted so far. Van Koughnett anticipates that the program will be full for its very first term starting in September. (The university has received applications from as far away as Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Toronto, but the program is only open to University of Waterloo students.)

The house is open, technically, to all students, but it will most likely be filled mostly with upper-level undergrad and graduate students with the requisite skills and experience and drive.


Via PC World