uOttawa gives students ‘a taste for entrepreneurship’ with new co-op program

Daniel Laframboise doesn’t hesitate when asked what excites him about the prospect of becoming an entrepreneur.

“What if you see someone walking down the street and they pull out your app?” the third-year University of Ottawa software engineering student asks. “It means (your work) is no longer theoretical or a school assignment.”

Starting in January, Mr. Laframboise will get his chance. He’ll be joining Ottawa-based Welbi, a startup developing an app that analyzes readings from smart wearable devices such as Fitbit watches and sends notifications to, say, family members of an older user when changes in health are detected.

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Related content: Hear an interview with Welbi’s co-founders following their pitch to investors at TiECon Canada

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The placement is part of a new entrepreneurship co-op program at the University of Ottawa aimed at helping individuals who may not be ready to start their own business gain experience working at a startup.

“We need to be more imaginative about developing students’ mindset towards entrepreneurship,” says Luc Lalande, executive director of the University of Ottawa’s Entrepreneurship Hub.

“There’s been lots of attention around incubators. But what about the students who don’t have an idea for a venture? This gives them a taste for entrepreneurship. We’re going to get some students saying, ‘This is for me.’”

Many students in traditional co-op programs complete work placements at medium- and large-sized organizations that have a large enough budget to pay students.

However, these students don’t always get to see the ups and downs that are a fact of life for many companies, or see up close how executives respond to business challenges.

The University of Ottawa believes it’s solved this problem through a partnership with RBC, which has pledged $450,000 over three years to pay for students to work at startups.

In a separate stream of the university’s entrepreneurship co-op program, students receive $10,000 over four months to launch their own business while receiving mentorship and other support, Mr. Lalande says.

The program is open to University of Ottawa students enrolled in a co-op program and will accept five students in 2017, rising to 15 in 2019.

In addition to giving students startup experience, the entrepreneurship program helps early stage companies expand.

Welbi co-founder Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau says the company only has one software engineer on staff. Bringing Mr. Laframboise on board for four months “will allow us to grow very quickly,” she says.

For its part, RBC says it’s important to be an active participant in Ottawa’s business ecosystem.

Branch manager Greg Matthews says the bank’s business clients stand to benefit if companies such as Welbi thrive and students such as Mr. Laframboise graduate with the skills they need to start their own companies.

This article has been corrected to accurately reflect the number of students who will participate in the program.