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Budding student entrepreneurs explore business venture

The trio of Mack Borys, Justin Baldwin, and Francine Camia won the $5,000 first-place prize at the Virtual Hackathon for their academic software platform to improve online and remote learning.

Three University of Winnipeg business and administration students are exploring their business idea while earning credit hours through a new partnership with North Forge Technology Exchange.

Introduced this term, UWinnipeg students are now able to join the North Forge Founders Program for fourth-year credit towards their Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

Mack Borys, Francine Camia, and Justin Baldwin are the first three students to participate in this new program.

I’ve really enjoyed my experience at UWinnipeg — it was the best decision I made

Justin Baldwin

In November, they developed, pitched, and won $5,000 at North Forge’s Virtual Hackathon for their academic software platform WeLearn. The online platform is designed to help universities improve the remote learning experience for students and faculty.

“Through collaborative work-integrated learning opportunities like the one with North Forge, University of Winnipeg students are taking the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom and applying them in real-world situations,” said Dr. James Currie, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor. “The winning UWinnipeg Hackathon team of Justin Baldwin, Mack Borys, and Francine Camia are great examples of budding student entrepreneurs who are gaining important experience working with industry mentors as they bring their business idea to life.”

Program inspires entrepreneurial spirit

Thanks to the Founders Program, which is designed to inspire and facilitate innovative entrepreneurs across Manitoba, the trio is channeling their entrepreneurial spirit and working with industry professionals in hopes of one day launching their new business venture.  

“As entrepreneurs and students, we’re thankful The University of Winnipeg provides us with the opportunity to apply our knowledge to a real-world business opportunity through joint partnerships like the one with North Forge Technology Exchange,” said Baldwin. “Working with the experts at North Forge this term has furthered our understanding of the work that’s required to grow our start-up.”

Rosalie Harms, Chair of the Department of Business and Administration, is one of the program’s mentors. She’s been impressed with the quality of support in the program to assist entrepreneurs to be business ready.

“When the winning team from the fall Hackathon expressed an interest in pursuing their business idea, I saw this partnership with North Forge as a natural collaboration to provide students with a unique work-integrated learning opportunity taking lessons from the classroom and applying them to a real-world business opportunity,” she said.  “I am excited to be the academic supervisor for this project that allows students to gain academic credit and hands-on experience in launching a new business venture.”

Now a little more than a month into the program, Borys, Baldwin, and Camia all agree they’ve gained a new perspective on WeLearn and the steps they need to take to make it a viable business venture.

In particular, the team has been learning how to conduct proper customer research and how to appeal to their customer base.

“The professors have been in the industry a while and they know what works,” said Borys. “They’re definitely not afraid to tell you if what you’re doing is not going to work.”

Tight-knit community fosters success

The team’s journey to Faculty of Business and Economics has been filled with twists and turns. 

Both Borys and Baldwin started their studies at the University of Manitoba before transferring to UWinnipeg because of the tight-knit community and small class sizes.

“I’ve really enjoyed my experience at UWinnipeg — it was the best decision I made,” said Baldwin. 

Camia, meanwhile, started pharmacy studies at UWinnipeg in 2017 before moving to business. She just finished her three-year Bachelor of Business Administration in December. 

“I’ve truly enjoyed my experience as a University of Winnipeg student,” said Camia. “The smaller classroom sizes have allowed me to build lasting relationships with other students and professors. There’s also so much opportunity to get involved and stand out.”

When this program comes to an end in April, the trio hopes WeLearn will be ready to take to market. They look forward to getting in touch with other universities and making new partnerships.

“We have a goal to execute this project with certainty,” said Camia. “We’re dealing with the future of students and their learning experience”.

But no matter where WeLearn goes, all three say they’re ready to make an impact in the local business community thanks to their education at UWinnipeg.

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