Velocity is launching its campus program Concept, that will exclusively support students and the University of Waterloo community. While imagined and supported by Velocity, Concept will have its own identity and will replace all existing Velocity-branded offerings on campus. Concept will have a dedicated team, new initiatives, and supports that will better prepare the community for an increasingly competitive and entrepreneurial world.
Velocity was conceived over a decade ago as an on-campus experiment—Velocity Residence—which took a bet on students’ capacity to innovate.
Since then, Velocity has grown and evolved into a portfolio of programs that move the needle for entrepreneurship on campus, in the Region of Waterloo, and across Canada. It has evolved from an organization that focused exclusively on supporting students with entrepreneurial curiosities on campus, to one that also helps hundreds of startups in our incubator in downtown Kitchener—to discover, build, and grow.
As with anything that grows, one of the biggest challenges is to maintain the original focus without compromising the quality and impact of work. Last month, we announced that our team structure was changing in order to better support our two areas of focus: UWaterloo students/campus and startups. We’re now ready to announce another change (it’s been a busy summer!). Our initiatives supporting the UWaterloo student/campus focus will now be housed within the Velocity organization under a new brand and its own dedicated team.
What is Concept?
Concept is our pre-incubator program that inspires, guides, and supports University of Waterloo students and faculty with entrepreneurial aspirations. While not every student who engages with Concept will start a company, we will help develop students’ entrepreneurial skills, which are valuable, no matter what happens after graduation. For those students with entrepreneurial ambitions and early-stage ideas, Concept will be a key support in preparing them for entry into a top-ranked incubator, be it Velocity or others around the world.
You might ask: why are we drawing such sharp distinction with our offerings, especially with respect to identities? For that, we’ll need to dig into what’s been happening over the last decade. Both Velocity and the entire entrepreneurship landscape at the University of Waterloo has changed significantly since Velocity was conceived in 2008. With this in mind, we’ve taken a step back to look closer at the entirety of our activities. It has become increasingly evident that we serve two different audiences: students and startups.
While the two segments fit squarely into Velocity’s overall mission to ignite and fuel the entrepreneurial spirit at UWaterloo, in the Waterloo Region, and in Canada, they each require different kinds of supports and interactions. Students require a nurturing and flexible support system; one that can meet them where they are in their entrepreneurial exploration and blends well with the intensity of pursuing their degree. Startups require disciplined focus, accountability and an unparalleled level of grit. Students desire connections to other people that are exploring and testing. Startups desire connections to early adopter customers, investors and talent to build their team. We could go on with the various differences; the point is that what we offer needs to be tailored to two different audiences we serve, which is exactly what Concept enables us to do.
We’ve talked to students, faculty, staff and external partners and learned that the set of activities that Velocity represents are muddled. There was little clarity around Velocity’s activities on campus versus the incubator, located in downtown Kitchener. Perhaps most worrisome, some students saw engaging Velocity as intimidating because they perceived Velocity as the place where startups build products and raise millions of dollars to scale, and while that’s true it is also true that we provide student supports for a much earlier stage of engagement. Conversely, venture capital investors looking to invest millions of dollars weren’t sure if Velocity, the place that also hosts introductory workshops was the right place to look.
Segmenting our programs into Velocity and Concept will create internal and external clarity and allow for the highest quality support to be offered to each audience. This is the foundation on which Velocity’s entire spectrum of entrepreneurship support at the University of Waterloo levels up.
What does Concept offer on campus?
Concept offers a variety of resources (funding, knowledge, and coaching) that support both aspiring entrepreneurs and those who want to enhance their entrepreneurial skills. The entrepreneurship support that Concept offers on campus are new (either brand new or redesigned) and are informed by research and hands-on experience from Velocity’s efforts to help founders and startups grow and succeed over the past decade. Concept will work with and complement existing entrepreneurship resources on campus (Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, St. Paul’s GreenHouse, Problem Lab and others) to ensure that students have high quality supports across various stages and needs.
Concept is improving student support based on years of past experience, primarily by taking an increasingly focused and customized approach to the resources we deploy on campus. For example:
- The Capstone Stream is a new program where we will be working closely with students completing their Capstone projects from even before the projects have started.
- We will be launching the Graduate Student Stream soon which will be honed to support graduate students who wish to commercialize their research via a startup.
- The Concept $5K Grant is the successor to Velocity Fund $5K. We will continue to award four $5K grants each term to students who pitch at the Concept $5K Finals. The new name highlights the grant funding vs. the newly formed Velocity Investment Fund that invests exclusively in pre-seed startups.
- Velocity Science has evolved into a new collaboration between Concept and the Faculty of Science, whereby we will be fueling the translation of science ideas and research toward commercialization via a startup. Concept will provide the business coaching and resources to student teams of undergraduate/graduate students and faculty members who have a product concept enabled by an element of biology, chemistry, or physics.
- Our early, introductory programming will take place in the Waterloo Residences. This program includes intro sessions, as well as peer coaching and events led by upper-year students.
Leadership and Team
Camelia Nunez will lead our campus focus as Director of Concept and Jay Shah will lead our startup focus as Director of Startups. We see these roles as vehicles for us to maximize our respective impact. There are a lot of cross-over areas where we support each other, but in an 80/20 sense, this segmentation drives focus in the face of breadth and scale. Moreover, we have created an Executive Director role, as a strategic leadership position to bind these areas of focus together, promote the overall mission, and ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Concept’s full-time operational team will be located in SCH 2nd floor at UWaterloo and will be responsible for the successful implementation of our programming, communication, and marketing on campus. Additionally, we have developed a fantastic network of coaches (twelve so far, still growing!), who have gone through the entrepreneurial journey, themselves and are now available to dedicate time to coaching students via 1:1 sessions, specialized working sessions, and in-class workshops.
We’re excited by the ways this new structure allow us to best serve students and startups. Join us on Thursday, October 10 at a fun event to mark the launch of Concept. Held in the Student Life Centre (SLC) from 1-3pm, we will have one-on-one coaching available, interactive activities, plus contests, games, and tons of swag to give out. Register to attend.
– Camelia Nunez (Director of Concept, Velocity) & Jay Shah (Director of Startups, Velocity)