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After 21 years in temporary locations, the economic development agency for the Windsor, Ont. region recently decided to look for a permanent home. Ambitious to diversify a region once so dependent on the auto industry, the agency sifted through 33 possible proposals before selecting a site on the campus of the University of Windsor.

Last week, the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation moved into a wing of the university's new Centre for Engineering Innovation as the only outside tenant in the 300,000 square foot facility that opens for classes this fall. As important, the agency and its small business centre now are kitty-corner from the university's Odette School of Business.

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"This is much more than a physical move," says Ron Gaudet, chief executive of the agency. "It is a message to the internal [local]and external community that we are serious about partnerships and serious about taking this region to another level."

For its part, the university is keen to forge deeper ties with local entrepreneurs and start-up companies, seen as key to redefining the future of the Windsor region. The schools of business and engineering are key players in this unfolding relationship, through industry-focused research by professors and for-credit work experience for students.

With unemployment at 10.5 per cent, the highest rate in Canada, Windsor residents are starting to embrace a philosophy of self-reliance, says former business owner Jim Marsh, a special assistant to Odette's dean of business.

"The attitude in Windsor now is 'if anyone is going to get us out of the hole we are in, it is going to be us," says Prof. Marsh, who teaches and mentors third and fourth year undergraduate business students.

Ticking off a list of Windsor's advantages, including its location as a key trade route to the United States, Prof. Marsh is optimistic about the region's potential. "We are going to dig ourselves out," he declares. "That should mean more jobs and jobs that won't leave [the region]"

Through its small business centre, the economic development agency already had ties to the business school. Some of Prof. Marsh's students assist the centre in developing marketing plans and other advice for local start-up companies.

For example, a local software company recently received help from the small business centre and Odette students to devise a financial restructuring strategy. A successful turnaround eventually led to the company hiring several Windsor graduates.

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Undergraduate students who work with the small business centre receive course credits and mentoring from Prof. Marsh and other faculty members.

By moving his agency on campus, Mr. Gaudet envisions wider opportunities for collaboration among the region's new and emerging industries, academic researchers and students from the university and local community college.

"There is nothing quite like the synergy of being able to walk next door and have MBA [and other]students come to our facility," says Mr. Gaudet. "It will elevate the whole relationship."

In turn, Mr. Marsh views the relocation of the agency to the campus as a "real win" for the university.

"We have resources at the university and expertise that we can call on that these [emerging]companies would not have access to," he observes. "It will push them along faster and it will allow the [agency's]small business centre to handle a greater volume of clients."

Student winners

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At the Queen's Entrepreneurs' Competition, held last weekend in Toronto, a team from the Institute of Business Administration at the University of Dhaka (including a member from Queen's University) won $15,000 for its proposal to provide hygienic, disaster-resistant toilets to the rural poor in Bangladesh. The Toilet + proposal also won a sustainability prize worth $1,000.

Second place went to a three-member team from the universities of Guelph, Waterloo and Western Ontario for a peer-to-peer education marketplace for the purchase and sale of study guides and other content generated by students. The student co-founders of Electric Courage, a mobile application that allows users to flirt with others in a low-risk environment, won third prize of $2,000 and an innovation award of $1,000.

The competition is billed as the largest undergraduate business plan competition in Canada.

Dean honoured

Ryerson University has award its 2012 Outstanding Academic Leadership award to Ken Jones, dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management.

Dean of the downtown Toronto school since 2005, and reappointed in 2010, Prof. Jones has overseen growth in the number of research centres at the school and its accreditation last fall by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

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