Students with an entrepreneurial spirit, innovative idea or side hustle might be enticed by Sheridan’s newest co-op option. It’s called Co-op on the EDGE and is hosted through the Entrepreneurship Discovery and Growth Engine (EDGE) at the Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga. Instead of heading out into the workforce to complete a placement at an existing business, students head to the EDGE hub to create their own.
EDGE’s headquarters reflect the creativity that is embedded in all aspects of Sheridan. Colourful furniture and various work stations fill the space that’s bordered with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, a luminescent brick wall and two lemon trees. It’s functional, dynamic and designed for collaboration. On any given day there’s clients in-house working on their ventures with the occasional curious student popping in to ask what the space is all about. Renee Devereaux, Director of Entrepreneurship and Changemaking, is EDGE’s visionary and eager to welcome anyone interested in this newest, vibrant campus spot.
Working alongside Devereaux with a focus on Co-op on the EDGE is its program coordinator Chris-Beth Cowie. She wears many hats for the hub as she’s also an EDGE client mentor and the business development lead for EDGE client Motify. Outside of EDGE she leads Empowered for Excellence – a company devoted to professional development with a focus on motivating people. “In the EDGE environment, businesses can thrive,” she says. “Statistics show that the majority of new businesses fail within the first five years but when clients are plugged in here they get a 360-degree perspective of all aspects of business development.”
“In the EDGE environment, businesses can thrive … when clients are plugged in here they get a 360-degree perspective of all aspects of business development.” – Chris-Beth Cowie
Six students began their Co-op on the EDGE placements in January 2019. They applied with a statement of interest letter and were selected based on the viability of their ideas and demonstration of flexibility. “We don’t want students to feel that they’ve failed when we encourage them to pivot in their trajectory,” says Cowie. They’re required to dedicate 35 hours a week to their ventures, attend Leap Lab sessions and participate in consultations with Cowie and fellow EDGE mentor Garrett Hall, who is a professor in the Pilon School of Business and former business owner. Leap Labs cover topics like understanding customers, mapping out business components, market research and finessing a sales pitch.
The co-op students have diverse ventures and entrepreneurial experience. They include five Bachelor of Computer Systems Technology – Software Development and Network Engineering students – Aswad Mirza with his web design company for small- and medium-sized businesses, Mohammed Patla’s website called Servill that aims to connect customers to service providers, Igbinosa (Iggy) Idahosa’s role-playing gaming company called CheakitzArena , Julien (Garret) Arpin’s SMS-based service called Aurora Microsystems, Khalifa Salisu’s music application called MUSE2IT– and Honours Bachelor of Business Administration – Marketing Management student Gursimar Anand’s retail clothing store in Brampton called Celebration Season.
With Sheridan’s three-decades-long history of offering industry co-op experiences, why might a student decide to divert from this traditional path and join EDGE? “The job market doesn’t look the way it did for our parents,” says Cowie. “Entrepreneurship is a way to establish something for yourself in light of economic challenges and the changing landscape of work. With automation and AI, we need to be strategic and cultivate future-proof skills.”
“Experiential learning in non-traditional settings is something we’re exploring at Sheridan in order to embrace the shifts we’re seeing in the workforce and economy.” – Cory Latimer
Cooperative Education Manager at Sheridan, Cory Latimer, helped bring the Coop on the EDGE opportunity to fruition with funding in part by the Government of Ontario. He agrees with Cowie’s assessment. “Experiential learning in non-traditional settings is something we’re exploring at Sheridan in order to embrace the shifts we’re seeing in the workforce and economy,” he says. “EDGE co-op students receive a structured work-integrated learning experience in a collaborative and supportive environment but are able to choose the project on which they focus their time.”
Collaborative opportunities that come from being plugged in at EDGE are advantageous to the co-op students. Collectively, they’re going through the motions of designing and developing a business and get to see and learn from the obstacles and successes of their peers. They’re also surrounded by other early-stage business owners who are EDGE clients and can attend workshops and events to learn tricks of the trade. “It’s really motivating to be around other like-minded people,” says Mirza. Patla adds: “I’m gaining connections here, meeting industry contacts and getting a lot of advice from my mentors on how to move my business forward.”
Social innovation is what sets EDGE apart from other entrepreneurship hubs in Ontario. Ten of the 14 clients currently plugged in at EDGE are social enterprises. These include Motify, the Afro-Caribbean Business Network and LinkMentalHealth. The nature of these enterprises aligns with Sheridan’s institutional culture. “Traditionally in business, it’s all about the money and corporate social responsibility comes second,” explains Cowie. “But if you start with a social lens, it helps set your business apart. There’s a triple bottom line: social, financial and environmental.”
“Traditionally in business, it’s all about the money and corporate social responsibility comes second. But if you start with a social lens, it helps set your business apart.” – Chris-Beth Cowie
The Co-op on the EDGE placement will culminate in a pitch event at which the six students present their ventures to EDGE mentors, staff and industry partners. Success isn’t measured by the student’s readiness to launch their business, but how they and their ventures have developed throughout the experience. EDGE summer students are now waiting in the wings for their chance to explore a new path for co-operative education at Sheridan.
Pictured at top of page (from left to right, back row first): Director of Entrepreneurship and Changemaking Renee Devereaux, Aswad Mirza, Mohammed Patla, Professor Garrett Hall, Julien (Garret) Arpin, Learning and Development Intern Aaron Badgerow, Co-op on the EDGE program coordinator and EDGE mentor Chris-Beth Cowie, Gursimar Anand and Igbinosa (Iggy) Idahosa. Not pictured: Khalifa Salisu. Photo by Keiko Kataoka.
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.