National Post profiles QCED
May 02, 2000
Queen's launches centre to advise tech start-ups. Takes on private sector: Focus on helping firms set up management team.
2000-05-02 - by Kim Hanson
Queen's University, based in Kingston, Ont., is set to take on venture capital and consulting firms by launching a centre that will offer business advisory services to technology start-ups across Canada.
Offered through the university's business school, the Queen's Centre for Enterprise Development will provide management services to companies that have just put their products on the market and are not quite ready to go public.
In exchange, the centre will charge a fee on a case-by-case basis and in some circumstances take equity stakes in the start-up.
The centre, which will be formally launched in the fall, is an unusual move for a university, since most are focused on providing consultancy services to small firms across all sectors.
Niraj Bhargava, head of the centre, said the university has a strong knowledge base to service a growing list of small technology-oriented firms.
Mr. Bhargava said he also saw a need to give advice to the pool of entrepreneurs faced with the unique challenges of growing from a two person, founder-led firm to one that is professionally managed and employs 200 people.
"Other universities may focus on entrepreneurship broadly but we will be very tactical in the kinds of services we provide."
"If a company needs a problem solved by the end of the week we will help them do that," Mr. Bhargava explained.
About a dozen professors, along with a team of business advisors whose backgrounds include experience as a chief executive or chief financial officer, among other leadership roles will participate in the program.
The effort is in part a way to raise the profile of the university as an innovator in the technology sector.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't be in this area," Mr. Bhargava explained, pointing to students and faculty members who stand to benefit from the program.
Mr. Bhargava is well suited to lead the program. An entrepreneur at heart and an engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, he got an early start at Nortel Networks Corp. before he started three companies, including GE Energy Management, a division of General Electric Canada Inc.
His experience will bring the hands-on flavour to the centre, which will primarily focus on helping start-ups build a management team and make its first pitch for financing.
Already the centre is servicing 14 companies, primarily based in Ottawa and Toronto.
While Queen's University may be one of the first in Kingston to offer local support, several other cities across Canada, including Ottawa and the Kitchener-Waterloo region in Ontario, have similar government funded programs in place.
Greg Barratt, president of Communitech Inc., an industry non-profit company, representing technology firms in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, said there is a need for such programs regardless that they're coming out of a university, government office or a large consulting firm.
However, he suggested Queen's may only be able to attract those companies the bigger consulting firms don't have an interest in working with.
"If someone is willing to take the time to go on that journey and do it at a price point that's attractive to these new firms then they'll probably do well."