Feature

UNB Summer Institute Brings Together Diverse Group of Entrepreneurs

This year's Summer Institute participants and staff (Image: submitted)

FREDERICTON – Now in its fourth year, the J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship’s (TME) Summer Institute program at University of New Brunswick brings together young entrepreneurs for three months of turning their vision into a livelihood.

Now midway through the program, this year’s participants include eight businesses and 10 participants. Program manager Melissa Erin O’Rourke says 113 businesses from 14 different countries applied for the program this year, the most applications they’ve ever had.

“One of the reasons I think this group is so unique is that there is such a mix of folks participating,” O’Rourke says. “Each entrepreneur has a very different background, passion and direction they want to take their business. It makes for an exciting and incredibly creative environment.”

O’Rourke says 60 per cent of their participants this year are female, an increase from the program’s track record of 40 per cent female participation, a number she says this is double the industry average for accelerators.

Estelle Doiron is a former auto salesperson creating her own brand of bath products using coffee as the main ingredient. Koffee Skrub is available at Sequoia stores and Kini Wellness in Moncton.

Doiron says the Summer Institute has helped her scale every aspect of her business from packaging and design to business model and website.

“[It’s] so helpful. The information we receive is such [good] quality. Sometimes I’m wondering if it’s even true because the quality is crazy … I’m a new entrepreneur and all this information I’m getting, I’m grateful for.”

“They give me the information to make sure that if I grow, I grow sustainably.”

After the program, Doiron plans on taking her product nationally, targeting larger retail outlets like Shoppers Drug Market, Jean Coutu and Lawton’s.

Curtis Kennedy has had a knack for inventing for as long as he can remember, something that’s followed him into the Summer Institute. Kennedy came into the program with the idea for a muscle relief product that makes it easier to target specific areas.

“I’d always been tinkering around with things and trying to make these new inventions and it had always been on my mind that I wanted to go to school but I knew that I wanted to have a business running by the time I left,” he says.

“I didn’t want to have to graduate and go hand my resume into a pile of resumes and all the different workplaces. I didn’t feel like I wanted to compete for a job where I could be expendable. I wanted to pave my own path.”

Kennedy says he’s most appreciative of the people he’s been able to meet and the knowledge base he’s been able to benefit from in the program. He says without the access to lifetimes of experiences he gets at the Summer Institute, he wouldn’t have been able to get as far as he has.

After the program, Kennedy plans to continue school part-time, finishing his engineering degree, and be selling his product by late fall.

Kate Hunter has already had some success selling her hand-crochet items in her Etsy shop. She sells locally and around the world to countries like the UK, England, Ireland, China, Germany and Australia.

“My brother did [the Summer Institute] last year and he loved it so he was the one who encouraged towards it and thought it would help me grow my business and learn how to manage my business. It’s really intense but it’s really good,” Hunter says.

“[I’m learning] how to grow my business, how to have the confidence to grow my business. When I came into the program, I just thought ‘hey, I’m Kate and I crochet.’ There’s so much more to it than the actual product. [It’s] learning the ins and outs of the day-to-day stuff more so than the product.”

Hunter is now working on scaling her business while maintaining the integrity of a handmade product. She says she’ll continue selling on Etsy as well as get her own website up and running and start selling in local stores.

After the program wraps up, the final demo day and celebration evening will be held on July 21.

“It’s been incredible to watch how quickly these businesses have developed in a few short weeks,” O’Rourke said. “This cohort has been super diligent about reaching and surpassing their major milestones. I’m excited to see how far they can stretch their limits and what they can accomplish before our final celebration.”

Other Huddle Stories You Might Like: