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Entrepreneurs give nod to UNB program

Author: Communications

Posted on Oct 17, 2013

Category: UNB Fredericton

The J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of New Brunswick is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and its Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) program is garnering more attention than ever.

Several prominent business leaders and UNB alumni returned to the TME 25th anniversary celebration last month, providing mentorship to up-and-coming entrepreneurs and budding leaders, and celebrating the centre’s success in not only kick-starting careers, but also creating new jobs and businesses.

The winner of Fredericton's first start-up weekend, Phillip Curley, is a TME diploma student; he also made waves in the start-up world this year with the launch of Hot Spot Parking, an innovative pay-by-phone parking service.

Four of the five finalists in the 2013 New Brunswick Innovation Fund Breakthru competition, where entrepreneurs compete for over $400,000 in start-up funds were UNB students, adding weight to UNB’s reputation as the start-up hub of the Atlantic provinces.

Rivers Corbett, the TME's newest entrepreneur-in-residence, called the program a “gold nugget” in his interview with Quentin Casey for the Telegraph Journal. Read the full article below.  

UNB program a 'gold nugget' - entrepreneur
The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Tue Oct 15 2013
Byline: QUENTIN CASEY for The Telegraph-Journal

Rivers Corbett lives in Fredericton and is a University of New Brunswick graduate. He's also an entrepreneur with a growing line of gourmet burger restaurants.

Yet up until late last year, Corbett had never heard of his alma mater's Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program.

That, he says, is a problem.

"The university's got to get off its butt and start to brag about these great programs," said the co-founder of the Relish Gourmet Burgers chain.

"It's got to get on top of the mountain and scream out loud, 'Look at what we got here.' It doesn't brag enough about the success of that program."

The Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program, which Corbett calls "a gold nugget," is part of the university's J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship.

As the university's entrepreneur-in-residence, Corbett says he is "making noise" about the benefits and appeal of entrepreneurship. That includes spending most Mondays with students at the university helping budding entrepreneurs craft their business plans.

"It's about celebrating the entrepreneurship journey," he said.

But more must be done, he argues. And it starts with boosting the profile of the J. Herbert Smith Centre and its Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program.

"The university, in my opinion, needs to embrace the centre as much as it embraces the departments of engineering, computer science and business," said the UNB MBA grad. "The university really needs to focus more on enhancing the brand equity of the program. And not because they should, but because it's a great program."

On Sept. 28, Corbett, along with UNB's current president (Eddy Campbell), two former UNB presidents, tech sector leader Gerry Pond and family of the centre's deceased founder, J. Herbert Smith, a UNB graduate who eventually helmed General Electric, attended the centre's 25th anniversary celebrations.

Corbett describes the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program as the underappreciated "baby" in a 12-child family. In others words, the centre is overshadowed by UNB's other programs, notably law and engineering.

Perhaps that's not surprising.

At one point, in its early days, the program was almost shut down due to low enrolment. The J. Herbert Smith Centre would have followed closely behind.

According to Dhirendra Shukla, the current chair of the centre, entrepreneurship - particularly technology entrepreneurship - was not a well-understood concept back then.

"Who was talking about entrepreneurship at that time? It wasn't a buzzword. People didn't understand it," said Shukla, who was born in India, raised in Africa and educated in Britain before working at Nortel Networks in Ottawa.

Smith's namesake centre started off with fewer than a half dozen students. In 2012, the program boasted an enrolment of 310 students. And Shukla predicts that figure will jump by 30 per cent this year.

At its core, the diploma program offers management courses and entrepreneurship training. Participants typically enrol in the program during their final years at university, or shortly after graduation; courses run at night and on weekends.

The goal is to give students with technical training, such an engineers, an introduction to business concepts and entrepreneurship.

"We try to blend academia and industry together," Shukla said in an interview. "We equip them for the future." And many graduates, he added, are now doing "phenomenal things."

Shukla points to Blair Lock.

Lock started at UNB in 1997 and eventually earned undergraduate and master's degrees in electrical engineering. He completed the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program during the final two years of his undergraduate study.

Today, Lock is the director of research operations at the Center for Bionic Medicine.

The centre is part of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, a world-renowned hospital that recently developed the world's first thought-controlled bionic leg.

Part of Lock's job involves commercializing research that emerges at the institute. He says the program was "absolutely" helpful in linking his engineering background with some basics of business and entrepreneurship.

"I can look back now and see great value in taking that program," said Lock, who was honoured with an achievement award at the centre's 25th anniversary event. "It was a great opportunity."

Shukla is hoping to produce more graduates like Lock, in part by taking the J. Herbert Smith Centre to the "next level."

By next September, he hopes to be offering a 12-student master's program in technology management and entrepreneurship.

There are also plans to launch a start-up accelerator next summer. The accelerator would be open to applicants both inside and outside the university, though its primary focus would be "student start-ups."

"We want students to build their own futures," said Shukla, who holds two engineering degrees, an MBA and a PhD in entrepreneurship. "We want to make entrepreneurship easy."

Corbett said he decided to tread the entrepreneurial path after working for a boss who was a "bit of a jerk."

"I wanted to be in control of my own journey in life," he said.

He started out by buying his father's business holdings, which consisted of commercial real estate, health care and marine ventures but quickly decided he preferred starting businesses, not running them. His current focus is Relish Gourmet Burgers, a restaurant chain he co-founded three years ago.

The chain started in Fredericton and now boasts locations in Saint John, Moncton, St. John's and Halifax.

A second Fredericton location is slated to open in late November.

The 50-year-old entrepreneur says he is now in talks with a Dubai-based investment group. The two sides are discussing a funding plan that would fuel a major Relish expansion.

According to Corbett, the deal - if completed - would lead to the building of roughly 180 Relish locations across Canada in just two years. A similar expansion is being discussed for the Middle East.

Overall, Corbett would like to see 500 Relish locations within five years - a mix of corporately-owned and franchised stores.

"It's a dialogue at this point," he said of the potential financing deal. "My dad says, 'It ain't done until the money is in the bank.'"

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