Got a business idea? Get the skills to launch it with this free series

A young woman with a phone and items from a small business in the background.
The Entrepreneurship Open Learning Series is a five-part course available to everyone (Photo from Shutterstock).

Alexa Battler

So, you’ve got a business idea and no clue what to do with it. U of T Scarborough’s free new learning series is here to change that. 

“This series is for anyone who has a business idea but not a business background,” says Sarah Shujah, liaison librarian and the series’ lead curator.

The Entrepreneurship Open Learning Series is a five-part course with interactive videos, worksheets, rubrics and other resources, hosted on the open-source education platform, eCampusOntario. Offered through U of T Scarborough’s The BRIDGE and U of T’s tri-campus entrepreneurship network, the resource is available to everyone within and beyond the university. 

“These modules will allow participants to gain basic business skills, build confidence in their idea, prepare for market entry and help them begin their journey in the business world,” says Professor Bill McConkey, lead content developer of the series and academic director of The BRIDGE’s New Venture Program (NVP).

The first module is a self-reflection exercise; participants learn what kind of entrepreneur they are and follow a guided reflection on their potential. In the second, they look at what consumers value in products and services and communicate their own business’ value. Final classes cover comparing competitors and evaluating new products and markets, along with leveraging market research and identifying industries.

This series is for anyone who has a business idea but not a business background.

The modules were designed to reach a wide audience, says David Fenton, one of the series' contributors. Content was determined based on who would be digesting the information, their familiarity with business terms and what examples and visuals would drive concepts home. This also meant addressing what Fenton calls a tendency to sensationalize entrepreneurship and associate it with Silicon Valley or shows such as Dragon’s Den.

“We wanted to cast a broader net to the reality of entrepreneurship, where it could be somebody providing a service or being an independent contractor,” says Fenton, industry partnerships, innovation, and work-integrated learning lead with the department of management. “Entrepreneurship is not necessarily those soon-to-be tech giant types of scenarios.”

The series was originally delivered in 2019 to participants of #TheBRIDGEHack, a sports data hackathon. But as Shujah spoke to students, she realized many had a business idea and little else. They weren’t sure how to target their research or communicate their idea’s value. In 2020, Shujah conducted research that found students in entrepreneurship initiatives came from 58 different programs across U of T. Those students and alum were leaning on library workshops to develop business and research skills.

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

Alongside McConkey and Fenton, Shujah brought in Al Hearn, educational developer for experiential learning at the centre for teaching and learning, to guide the reflection pieces and structure. Danielle Moed, student development coordinator in the arts and science co-op office, was key to polishing content into robust digital lessons. Tri-campus entrepreneurship librarian Carey Toane and Mariana Jardim, liaison librarian for management, entrepreneurship and co-op, helped develop the research-focused modules.

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

Faculty and librarians will use the series to teach business concepts, while community organizations can lean on it to support entrepreneurial initiatives. Other incubators, such as the award-winning African Impact Initiative, can use the modules to help launch start-ups, as can universities looking to build their own entrepreneurial programs.

“Clearly, many individuals in our learning community who lack a business background are looking for help starting a business,” Shujah explains. “It became apparent that open modules can fill this gap and support building an even more robust and equitable community of entrepreneurs.”

With files from Ali Rajabali.