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New institute to help startups go big and go global

Wilfrid Laurier University, whose Waterloo, Ont., campus is graced by a statue of Sir Wilfred Laurier, received its first gift from BlackBerry Ltd. co-founder and former co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis for $20-million toward the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

A conversation two years ago laid the groundwork for the establishment of a new tech sector management institute, announced last month, at an Ontario business school.

That discussion between BlackBerry Ltd. co-founder and former co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis and Wilfrid Laurier University school of business and economics dean Micheál Kelly identified managerial gaps in startup companies as a key challenge for Waterloo Region's fast-growing technology sector.

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"We have gotten very good at building startups and we have gotten very good at being entrepreneurial," says Mr. Lazaridis, of the Southwestern Ontario region's entrepreneurial strength. "It is a whole different skill set to be able to take that initial concept, that initial company and the culture of the company, and build it into a medium- to large-scale business and take it global."

Adds Dr. Kelly: "We do a great job with startups and everyone is involved on the startup side, but we are not growing these companies."

Through the Lazaridis Family Foundation, Mr. Lazaridis and his wife have been major donors over the past decade to science and engineering initiatives at nearby University of Waterloo.

Their first gift to Laurier is a donation of $20-million (with another $15-million from the Ontario government) for the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises. A request for matching funds from the federal government is still pending.

The combined funds – the equivalent of $3.5-million a year for 10 years – will go to establish several chairs and professorships, graduate student fellowships, executive fellowships for those already working in the tech sector and to develop curriculum for undergraduate and graduate business courses.

Mr. Lazaridis applauds the institute's two-track focus on those eyeing tech careers and those already running startups. "You really want to have a great business school being in the entrepreneurial economic activity in the economic region you are trying to support," he says. "It becomes a two-way street."

The new institute will be housed in the Global Innovation Exchange, a new $103-million building slated to open early next year as the home of the business school and Laurier's mathematics department.

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Further collaborations between Waterloo and Laurier, located a few blocks from each other in Waterloo, Ont., and known respectively for their strengths in engineering and business, are likely, Dr. Kelly says.

"We have the University of Waterloo, which is extremely good on the tech side, engineering, computer science and math," he says. "We have a really good business school and if you look at the [local tech] industry, of the companies here there is a marriage of U of W technology and WLU business.

"This is a way we can really expand that and make sure we have the talent in place to keep the companies here, grow them and allow them to create economic benefit here."

'Pre-experience' business programs on the rise

European business schools pioneered the introduction of master-level specialty degrees for undergraduates with little or no professional work experience.

Increasingly, these "pre-experience" programs are catching on in North America.

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Analysis by the Graduate Management Admissions Council shows steady global growth in non-MBA specialty degrees, with 2,472 programs receiving admission test scores in 2014, up from 1,561 in 2007.

The University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School first offered a master of science in management in 2010 and is the only North American school that is a member of an alliance of European business schools offering the specialty program. Students are expected to be fluent in two languages and spend study time abroad at member schools.

In January of 2016, Ivey plans to add two more 16-month master of science degrees – data analytics, and entrepreneurship and innovation.

"In Europe, these pre-experience master programs are much, much more dominant and popular than they used to be in North America," says Andreas Schotter, academic director of Ivey's master of science programs. "There is a stronger demand out there for deeper skill building at an earlier stage and students come out with additional applied skills."

The data analytics program targets undergraduate degree holders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with at most two years of job experience, who learn the fundamentals of business and receive placements with prospective employers. Students from a variety of academic backgrounds are being recruited for the entrepreneurship and innovation degree.

Matt Symonds, a Paris-based commentator on global business education trends and co-director of Fortuna Admissions, a business education advisory service, says pre-experience master degrees appeal to students early in their careers.

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"For a growing number of individuals in an uncertain job market, the idea of beefing up their skills before they embark on their career is proving to be very attractive," he says. Not insignificant, he adds, pre-experience programs are cheaper than two-year MBA degrees that may charge up to $100,000 and require up to seven years of employment. The new Ivey master programs cost $36,750 for domestic students and $52,500 for international students.

Mr. Symonds adds that employers are keen on the graduates.

"The employers I have been speaking to have been waxing lyrical about the pre-experience masters," says Mr. Symonds, with graduates seen as open, flexible, adaptable and possessing core business skills that can be developed further by the company.

His view is shared by Ivey's Prof. Schotter. "When we talk to employers they are desperately looking for these specializations," he says, while students "are much more aware that they need more skills to stand out."

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Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net

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