April 2011

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Thomas Edison

Abstract

In this article, we describe the first application of the Keystone Off-The-Shelf (KOTS) platform. KOTS integrates software applications available under open source licenses with proprietary applications and services offered by small local technology companies, most of which are Carleton University spin-offs.

KOTS is the engine behind the website for the Carleton Entrepreneurs program. The goals of this unique program are to: i) strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit at Carleton University; ii) help graduate and senior undergraduate students transform their ideas into compelling opportunities and successful ventures; and iii) share the best opportunities with potential investors, alumni, and friends of Carleton University. KOTS will enable the Carleton Entrepreneurs collective to achieve significant system-level outcomes that are not attainable without the platform. This collective is comprised of students, mentors, internal and external reviewers, top managers of technology university spin-off companies, academics, and friends of Carleton.

Introduction

Faculty and graduate students in Carleton University’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program have developed the KOTS software platform to support collectives that harness diversity to deliver significant system-level outcomes. The first out-of-the-lab application of KOTS is the Carleton Entrepreneurs program. The objective of this article is to describe the program and how KOTS will help it achieve its objectives.

The Carleton Entrepreneurs program was launched by the university’s senior administrators in 2010. The program aims to provide mentorship and feedback to help student entrepreneurs who are working on innovative projects across all faculties. Experienced mentors and reviewers will help students transform their ideas into compelling business opportunities. The program will also provide students that present compelling opportunities a chance to connect with potential investors, Carleton University alumni, and friends of Carleton University.

A full-time student (or group) can submit an application to participate in this program at any time. The applicant who is selected will receive a number of benefits in addition to feedback from mentors and internal and external reviewers. Most importantly, the program will help a student establish a professional identity and demonstrate the opportunity’s attractiveness. The student will develop confidence in her or his business opportunity, which would increase the motivation to launch and grow a business. The program also expands the participant’s knowledge of how to launch and grow a business so that it is more likely to be successful. Through the review process, the student will improve her or his presentation skills as well as their capabilities to field tough questions. The size and diversity of the student’s network also will increase.

Carleton Entrepreneurs uses a funnel-like process to conduct careful analysis and assure continuous improvement of the opportunities submitted to the program. In 2010, a total of 63 applications to the program were received from faculty members and students from all of Carleton’s five faculties: Engineering and Design, Science, Sprott School of Business, Public Affairs, and Arts and Social Sciences. A four-person committee selected 16 of the 63 applications to be reviewed by three internal panels comprised of experienced Carleton faculty and staff. Internal reviewers examined the 16 opportunities presented by 23 faculty and students in early May, 2010. Two review panels comprised of external reviewers examined 11 of these opportunities at the end of May.

On October 5th, seven opportunities were presented at a special event hosted by Dr. Roseann Runte, Carleton University’s President and Vice Chancellor. Participants presented their opportunities to David Aronoff, General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, and Charles Chi, Venture Partner at Greylock Partners. Prior to the opportunity presentations, Aronoff and Chi gave presentations to the wider Carleton community titled “Raising Venture Capital for Technology Start-Ups”.

The outcomes of the 2010 program included opportunity proponents: i) establishing links with suppliers of risk capital, potential customers, and organizations that license technology intellectual property; ii) redefining the core of their opportunities; iii) deciding to grow organically versus accepting investment; iv) working with other entrepreneurial groups; and v) identifying suitable mentors and suppliers of complementary market offers.

In early January 2011, Carleton’s senior administrators reviewed the responses to a survey sent to the faculty and students who participated in Carleton Entrepreneurs in 2010 and decided to offer the program on an ongoing basis.

KOTS and Carleton Entrepreneurs

KOTS is the engine behind the website for the Carleton Entrepreneurs program and will help the program achieve its objectives by recruiting participants, managing processes and communication channels, and showcasing the program’s progress.

KOTS will help recruit entrepreneurially inclined students to the Carleton Entrepreneurs program and to Carleton University’s academic programs (e.g., Technology Innovation Management, B.Comm Entrepreneurship Concentration, and Entrepreneurship Minor). The program wishes to attract graduate and undergraduate students who are working on innovative projects. KOTS will also help recruit other types of participants, including mentors and reviewers, potential investors, donors, alumni and friends of Carleton, sponsors (i.e., senior administrators, Deans, Directors), and associates (i.e., individuals of organizations that provide material support).

The KOTS engine also manages the steps to transform students’ ideas into compelling business opportunities. The use of the KOTS engine allows the program to continuously improve process effectiveness and efficiency, while operating a dynamic, elegant, simple-to-use, and state-of-the-art website. The engine manages the program’s workflows and enables communications among participants (e.g., email, voice and Web conferencing, blogs and forums, social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and RSS feeds). KOTS includes tools to survey participants and analyze their responses. It also supports content creation and links to educational resources (e.g., opportunity profile template, excellent content) and relevant information (e.g., sources of government funding, events).

As a showcase for the program, the website will display the program’s progress towards target outcomes, such as yearly statistics on the number of applications, admissions, and opportunity presentations. It will also display the mean of experience items rated by participating students and dollars attracted. Finally, it serves as a showcase to display the products and services used in the website that were developed by innovative companies and open source projects.

Faculty and students in the TIM program will work with their community partners, including Carleton spin-off companies, technology companies in the Lead to Win program, and new immigrants. These partners will help evolve KOTS to benefit the Carleton Entrepreneurs program.

Harnessing Diversity

KOTS supports diverse companies and organizations working together to achieve system-level outcomes that could not be achieved by any organization working on its own. The collectives supported by KOTS operate initiatives in three different time horizons: today's business (Horizon 1), the next generation of emerging businesses (Horizon 2), and the longer-term options out of which the next generation of businesses will arise (Horizon 3). Collectives that support activities in these three horizons are expected to grow faster than collectives that only support activities in one horizon (Baghai, Coley, and White, 2000).

For the Carleton Entrepreneurs program, KOTS will focus on supporting participants across the time horizons marked with an X in Table 1. (However, note that KOTS is flexible enough that it can support the other combinations if required for other applications.) Below, for each participant type, we provide a profile and an overview of responsibilities and benefits expected to be derived from participating in the program.

Table 1. Time Horizons Supported for Each Type of Carleton Entrepreneurs Participant

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1. Students

The Carleton Entrepreneurs program targets graduate and senior undergraduate students developing technologies, products, services, and processes that are new and different, in an interesting, unusual, or inventive way. The opportunities should offer to deliver major increases in performance to solutions of known problems or solve important problems others have overlooked.

Students expect to monetize their innovations. Most students who participate will be carrying out Horizon 3 activities; a few students will be carrying out Horizon 2 activities with external partners.

Responsibilities of students

The Carleton Entrepreneurs program expects students to incorporate a mentor’s advice and reviewers’ feedback into their plans to launch and grow successful businesses. Students are expected to work systematically and within agreed timelines to meet mentors’ and reviewers’ deadlines. The program expects students to be well prepared for meetings with mentors as well as internal and external reviewers. Finally, the program expects students to increase their performance as entrepreneurs.

Benefits to students

  1. Efficient access to sources of specialized expertise

  2. Reduction of the time, cost, and risk of transforming ideas into compelling business opportunities and successful ventures

  3. Expansion of knowledge around launching and growing a business

  4. Acquisition of presentation skills and capabilities to field tough questions

  5. Strengthening of confidence in a business opportunity and increase in motivation to launch and grow a business

  6. Increase of size and diversity of student’s network

  7. Establishment of a professional identity through demonstration of opportunity’s value

  8. Development of a stronger brand for their company and potential market offers

  9. Increasing the likelihood their company will be successful

2. Mentors and Reviewers

Mentor and reviewers include: i) experienced individuals with diverse entrepreneurial, business, scientific, and engineering backgrounds; ii) effective communicators and advisors; and iii) those who are willing and able help students advance and assess their business opportunities.

Responsibilities of mentors and reviewers

A mentor is expected to spend four hours per month advising and counselling a student and reporting on the student’s progress. Internal reviewers are expected to spend four hours per month providing online feedback to various students. External reviewers are expected to spend four hours twice a year, providing feedback to students who deliver face-to-face presentations to external reviewer panels.

Mentor and reviewers are expected to provide honest and informal advice, counsel, or feedback that helps Carleton students transform ideas into compelling opportunities and successful ventures. They will help students overcome anxieties and barriers when defining their compelling opportunities and launching new businesses. They will also respond to online surveys designed to improve the Carleton Entrepreneurs program.

Mentors and reviewers must agree not to disclose confidential information about students’ business or personal affairs without consent. They also cannot hold financial interests in the ventures of the students they mentor and must immediately report any real, potential, or perceived conflict of interest.

Benefits to mentors and reviewers

  1. Personal satisfaction from being a very important student resource, giving back to others, and motivating and helping students achieve their goals

  2. Enhancement of their people, coaching, communication, relationship-building, and leadership skills

  3. Acquisition of new knowledge from exchanging ideas and perspectives with talented students

  4. Expansion of their network through relationships with talented students and other mentors and reviewers

3. Top Managers

Top managers include founders and senior managers of innovative companies who provide tangible support to the students or the program. For example, they may contribute software to operate the program or products that complement student entrepreneurs’ market offers. Top managers must be willing and able to collaborate with student entrepreneurs.

Responsibilities of top managers

Top managers are expected to pull and complement early market offers of students’ companies, and to enhance students’ capabilities to work with top management teams. They will help student entrepreneurs overcome barriers to venture success by providing the appropriate assets, technology, processes, relationships, and culture. They will also share the risks with student entrepreneurs.

Benefits to top managers

  1. Opportunity to brand their company and showcase their companies’ products

  2. Enhancement of their people, coaching, communication, relationship-building, and leadership skills

  3. Opportunity to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace by collaborating with student entrepreneurs

  4. Acquisition of new information through exchanging ideas and perspectives with talented students

  5. Expansion of networks by developing relationships with talented students and other top management teams

4. Academics

Academics include faculty members and lecturers who are: i) contributing to programs in innovation and entrepreneurship; ii) credible with the business community; and iii) able and willing to operate and evolve the infrastructure required to operate the program.

Responsibilities of academics

The program expects academics to champion entrepreneurship at Carleton University by establishing and growing a healthy collective comprised of student entrepreneurs. Academics will recruit students working on innovative projects across all faculties and help develop their entrepreneurial skills. They will also attract experienced mentors and reviewers who are willing to help students transform their ideas into compelling business opportunities. Academics will help students, mentors, reviewers, friends of Carleton, and top management teams achieve their goals and objectives.

In addition to their direct involvement recruiting and working with participants, academics will match the needs of entrepreneurial students with best of class academic programs. Some will also operate and improve the software and hardware system required to deliver the Carleton Entrepreneurs program.

Benefits to academics

  1. Opportunity to ensure currency of teaching and research

  2. External affirmation of expertise and relevance

  3. Greater peer recognition

  4. More external funding

5. Friends of Carleton

Friends of Carleton include individuals and organizations who wish to donate money to Carleton University or invest in student opportunities. They will foster a collegial, entrepreneurial culture on the Carleton campus.

Responsibilities of friends of Carleton

Friends of Carleton make a one-time or annual donations and pledges up to five years, fund student scholarships, sponsor and host events, invite potential investors, mentors, and alumni to support student entrepreneurs, and provide corporate matching gifts.

Benefits to friends of Carleton

  1. Effective match of their philanthropic goals with Carleton’s needs

  2. Invitations to President’s events for student entrepreneurs

  3. Year-round recognition on the Carleton Entrepreneurs’ website

Conclusion

The KOTS project promises to change the way student entrepreneurs worldwide develop and commercialize their products, services, and solutions and shorten their “time to cash”. The KOTS project offers to become a powerful agent for economic development.

 

We wish to acknowledge the cash contribution of the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) and the in-kind contributions of the individuals and organizations involved in the development of the KOTS platform. We also wish to acknowledge the many contributions to the Carleton Entrepreneurs program made by Carleton’s senior administrators, faculty, staff and students as well as members of the business community and economic development agencies.

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