by Makena Kigunda
“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone,” you’ve likely heard from the mouths of successful business tycoons. It’s the startup archetype: high barrier to entry, low rate of success.This lofty, exclusive branding keeps post-secondary students at bay. While Edmonton has a strong startup culture, student exposure to this community is minimal. Whether it’s the fear of taking on a bulk of risk, or a factor of other reasons, few students on campus actively pursue entrepreneurship.
Enactus is an international organization that works to bridge this gap, and empower students to gain experience they wouldn’t normally within the classroom, internship, or research lab. With over sixty Enactus teams in Canada alone, students from the University of Alberta are making a local impact.
A contrast to your average student group, this interdisciplinary team launches businesses based in social entrepreneurship. For its exacting demands, Enactus offers back in spades, challenging students to think differently, work more efficiently, and build a differentiating skill-set that will help them navigate the entrepreneurial playing field.
One of these students, Makena Kigunda, joined the team as project manager for Level Up, a consulting group that serves social enterprises. The initiative wasn’t an immediate success. For the first month or so, the student team struggled to understand their value proposition and the impact they sought to impart within the Edmonton community.
Anthony at Your Service, a business founded by Deborah Barrett and her autistic son Anthony, changed that. Raising a child with disabilities, Deborah worried about the quality of Anthony’s adult life. So, she helped him start his own company. Providing opportunities to an often forgotten population, the social enterprise hires individuals with intellectual disabilities to serve the Edmonton market through door to door deliveries.
Starting a business is not an easy venture, especially when pursuing the triple bottom line. With a dual vision of maximizing profit while improving a community’s social or environmental landscape, many social entrepreneurs search for resources that integrate and understand the interdependence between both objectives. And while business owners have passion and vision, they at times lack the the full range of knowledge, skills, or experience to move their ideas forward.
Recognizing this need, Level Up partnered with Autism Nova Scotia and Ready, Willing & Able to launch Autism Works Entrepreneurship in January of 2017: a consulting line that brings current industry knowledge and advice to enterprises like Deborah and Anthony’s.
Kigunda and her team work to understand the pain points of each client they take on, and develop an up-to-date business plan. Utilizing the space offered at eHUB, the university’s start-up incubator, Level Up crafted strategic recommendations for Anthony at Your Service, and introduced channels for networking opportunities with other organizations. The support offered by the group goes beyond the table, as the students put in time and resources to help the entrepreneur bring recommendations into fruition. Most recently, the student team helped Anthony at Your Service’s human resource expansion, and today the discussion continues around new ways of structuring the business’ offerings towards sustainability and growth. Deborah’s confidence in the future of her business grew as Enactus helped guide her through unknown territory.
Kigunda recalls the initial intimidation of sitting down across from a startup CEO. While the group has found its grounding and received recognition at Enactus Canada’s National Exhibition, there was a learning curve to truly understanding how to bridge the gap between where an organization is, and where it seeks to grow. Inspired by Deborah’s drive as a social and female entrepreneur, Kigunda looks forward to see how she can contribute to the changing landscape of business: one that cares about its people as much as its profit.
Alongside consulting, Enactus University of Alberta has launched other student initiatives. Taking on the role of Vice President Projects this year, Kigunda oversees the development of three additional projects, one which repurposes food waste into everyday products. Recytrus, an all-purpose cleaner made from re-used citrus peels sourced out of juice bars and local restaurants, will be exhibited at Edmonton’s upcoming Innovation Garage hosted by the Canadian National Exhibition at K-Days. Brew Green, another side of the product line, collects used coffee grounds from Second Cup cafes on campus to create organic soap and beauty products, featuring an aromatic java scent.
The hours put into running student businesses has expanded Kigunda’s perspective further than she could have ever predicted. Gaining an understanding of what entrepreneurship is, what it takes, and what it brings back, she wants to help other students become involved, and ultimately empowered to shape the future for themselves and those around them. Together, Enactus University of Alberta students are proving through the businesses they build, the products they develop, and the causes they promote, that while entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, it’s truly in reach for anyone who pursues it.