In an effort to fulfill one of their goals of becoming Lacombe’s university, Burman University is looking to start a business incubator which they believe will be a win for the institution, the business community and the small businesses it will serve.
“We want to give practical, real-world experience to students,” John McDowell, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Burman, said. “Combining academic expertise with an experienced business community and then providing a service to struggling business or startups in the community — that is a win for everyone.”
Business incubator concept
The idea behind the incubator is to help struggling small businesses find success using the expertise of the School of Business students and leaders within the Lacombe business community.
“Put in common language, it is a hospital for businesses. There are businesses that may be sick and the incubator takes them in and heals them as much as possible,” Louicius Michel,
Chair/Professor in the Burman School of Business, said.
Burman saw the need for this ‘business hospital’ after studying the role of small business in the Canadian economy.
“A fairly high percentage of small businesses fail within three years,” McDowell said. “Also, small businesses in Canada are one of the primary drivers of the economy. For a healthy economy, you need healthy small businesses.”
To create healthy small businesses, Michel said an incubator can provide three main aspects of help that often limits small business including marketing, finances and strategic management.
For marketing, Michel said it is important for businesses to think beyond the Internet.
“Marketing isn’t about bombarding people with messaging, it is knowing what people need and trying to close a gap by tailoring products,” he said.
For financing, Michel believes that an incubator can help secure finances which is often a struggle, particularly for startups.
“Getting financing is hard and some banks will not go there. Many banks will stay away from businesses that are needed in the community,” he said.
Lastly, Michel explained that the first five years of a small business are often turbulent and leaves little time for small business owners to plan for the future with strategic planning.
“They don’t have time to focus on the future while trying to fill the gaps in the present,” he said.
Partnerships within Lacombe
Forming partnerships is key to the success of this incubator, with one of the most important being the City of Lacombe — whom Michel, McDowell and former Counsellor Ian Foster presented to on Oct. 22nd.
“The presentation to the City was about making sure the temperature is the right the community and for Burman,” Foster said, adding a specific funding amount was not presented at this time.
“It is close and we need to have it done quickly, with City Council debating budgets. We don’t anticipate it will be a large dollar figure,” he said, adding a main component of the incubator would be establishing real estate downtown for struggling businesses and business leaders to go to.
“We need a whole bunch of partners and it is really important. Once they (the City) are comfortable, then we can go out to the business community,” Foster said.
Foster wanted to stress that the goal of the incubator isn’t solely to provide experience for Burman students.
“The biggest thing we need to ensure is that people know this is not about utilizing students and not involving the business community. The business community will be an extremely important part of this and it cannot succeed without both,” he said.
Question of faith
A question that was brought forward by Counsellor Jonathan Jacobson was regarding the faith-based nature of Burman University and whether that would play a role in who the incubator would help in the community. Jacobson used the growth of the cannabis industry to underscore his question.
McDowell explained that it is important in this case to consider what Christian teachings exemplify.
“It seems to me that Christ never decided who to help or who not help based on their particular profession or ideology,” he said. “If we are to be followers of Christ, we have to realize he was there to help regardless of the social standing of the individual. That will be our approach.”
McDowell clarified that this doesn’t mean that Burman endorses products or promotes certain businesses, but providing business research and advice for business success is not the same as an endorsement.
“Our focus is finding how to best serve the community we are in and that includes not telling the community what to do,” he said. “That also means listening to the needs out there, then we assess how we can work together.
Michel said they are eager to hit the ground running next calendar school year.
“We were working on the possibility of opening this September. We had to post-pone it to May and now we are looking at September again,” he said.
Foster added he hopes this will be a way to keep young people in the community due to the success of their small businesses.
“Our small communities need to keep young people in the community,” he said.