$1 milllion donation kick-starts new start-up fund

WLU announced a $1 million donation for its SBE Start-up Fund on Tuesday. (photo by Will Huang)
WLU announced a $1 million donation for its SBE Start-up Fund on Tuesday. (photo by Will Huang)

The Wilfrid Laurier University School of Business and Economics got a $1 million boost on Tuesday to help fund student entrepreneurship.

The donation, made by Laurier alumni Mike and Hennie Stork, marks the beginning of the $5 million Laurier Start-up Fund.

“The purpose of this investment is to create a living lab environment at Laurier to qualify business students … for making investment recommendations on early stage companies,” explained Mike Stork, who has been involved in Waterloo Region’s start-up community for the past decade.

The funding will be administered through a practicum course for business students that is set to begin as a pilot program next semester.  In the course, students will have the opportunity to examine and negotiate business deals in real-world situations under the management of an Investment Advisory Board. Investments from the fund, between $50,000 and $100,000, will likely be made in conjunction with other investors.

Money made through the ventures will be reinvested into the program.

“A gift like this is an evergreen gift. We hope, we expect that the investments made … will in fact gain returns and be reinvested, perpetually reinvested, into ongoing opportunity for students to learn about a part of the technology start-up environment that is really tough to learn about,” said WLU president Max Blouw, who spoke at the event.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the university, for our students, but much more for the community.”

Speaking to The Cord, Micheál Kelly, the dean of the School of Business and Economics, explained that he has had the idea for quite some time and felt that the start-up atmosphere in the Region made it an ideal location for the initiative. He anticipates that at the beginning there will be three to four investments per year.

“We have really focused on using it as a training ground for students, as well as making real investments,” he said.

“The fund will have a professional investment board of people who have been successful investors and successful entrepreneurs who will help guide students through the investment process and who will help make the investment decision.”

In a follow-up interview, Stork discussed why he chose to direct the investment toward students.

“One of the gaps that exists in the investor system here is the ability to do proper due diligence around investment opportunities. And what better opportunity is there than Laurier’s business school to take on that challenge?”

Stork sits on the boards of many local start-ups and is Chairman at the Accelerator Centre.

Laurier Chancellor Michael Lee-Chin was the keynote speaker for the event, which took place at technology start-up hub The Tannery, in Kitchener. Lee-Chin has an extensive business background and is a widely-recognized entrepreneur.

He described the Start-up Fund as a “framework that will teach the tenants of entrepreneurship.”

Speaking to some of the previous positions he has held, he said, “I wasn’t qualified. Being an entrepreneur gave me those opportunities. I didn’t have to qualify. I just went in and I realized that it’s a learning curve, but I have the confidence to learn.”

Lee-Chin expressed that the pursuit of passion, the ability to give back and having control over your life all make entrepreneurship a fulfilling way to make a career.

The donation is expected to be the first in a series of funding contributions that will help the university to build up the $5 million fund.

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