Free online course offered by the University of Scarborough to help aspiring entrepreneurs

At a sports data hackathon a few years ago, Sarah Shujaa liaison librarian from the University of Toronto at Scarborough, met many students with business ideas, but no plans to make those ideas a reality.

“The resources available for entrepreneurship education outside of university courses were limited,” says Shujah. “That’s where we identified the need for open learning.”

Shujah is among the creators of the open learning series on entrepreneurship, a new, free, publicly available course designed to help anyone looking to start a business bring their idea to life. Hosted by U of T Scarborough The bridge and U of T Tri-Campus Entrepreneurship Networkthe five-part series includes interactive videos, worksheets, rubrics and other resources, hosted on the open education platform eCampusOntario.

“This series is for anyone who has a business idea but doesn’t have a background in business,” says Shujah.

Lessons cover explaining value propositions, defining target markets, and assessing the value of a product based on market research, among other topics.

“These modules will equip participants with basic business skills, build confidence in their idea, prepare for market entry and help them begin their journey in the business world,” says Bill McConkeyassistant professor of management at the U of T Scarborough, lead content developer of the series and academic director of BRIDGE’s New Venture program.

The first module is a self-reflection exercise: participants learn what type of entrepreneur they are and follow a guided reflection on their potential. In the second, they examine what consumers value in products and services and communicate the value of their own business. Final courses cover comparing competitors and evaluating new products and markets, as well as exploiting market research and identifying industries.

The modules were designed for a wide audience – not just those already familiar with business terms, says David Fentonwho is one of the series’ contributors and is responsible for industry partnerships, innovation and work-integrated learning in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Fenton says the course also addresses the tendency to sensationalise entrepreneurship by associating it with Silicon Valley or shows like The dragon’s lair.

“We wanted to cast a wider net on the reality of entrepreneurship, where it could be someone providing a service or being an independent contractor,” Fenton said. “Entrepreneurship is not necessarily those types of scenarios that will soon be tech giants.”

(Left to right) Sarah Shujah, Bill McConkey, David Fenton, Al Hearn, Danielle Moed, Carey Toane and Mariana Jardim.

The series was originally delivered in 2019 to attendees of #TheBRIDGEHack, the sports data hackathon where Shujah met college students who lacked the resources to launch their businesses.

She found that students who participated in entrepreneurship initiatives at U of T spanned 58 programs and that students and alumni relied on library workshops to develop business and research skills.

Alongside McConkey and Fenton, Shujah brought in Al Hearninstructional developer for experiential learning at the Center for Teaching and Learning, to guide reflections and structure. Danielle MoedStudent Development Coordinator at the Office of Arts and Science Cooperation, has been instrumental in transforming content into digital courses. Carey Toanetri-campus entrepreneurship librarian, and Mariana Jardimliaison librarian for management, entrepreneurship and the co-op, participated in the development of the research-oriented modules.

Professors and librarians will use the series to teach business concepts, while community organizations can rely on it to support entrepreneurial initiatives. Other incubators, like the award-winning incubator African Impact Initiativecan use the modules to help launch start-ups, as can universities looking to create their own entrepreneurial programs.

“Obviously a lot of people in our learning community who don’t have a business background are looking for help starting a business,” says Shujah. “It has become clear that open modules can fill this gap and help create an even stronger and more equitable community of entrepreneurs.”