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Breakthru Finalist CeteX Credits UNB Entrepreneurial Programs

When Nathan Armstrong talks about becoming one of the finalists for the Breakthru business plan competition, he’s quick to give a lot of the credit to entrepreneurial programs at University of New Brunswick.

Armstrong and his brother Gregory are the Co-Founders of CeteX, which is devising a system to help companies treat wastewater, and in essence they represent two sides of the entrepreneurial education system at UNB.

Gregory is an engineering student in the engineering school’s highly regarded Technology Management & Entrepreneurship, or TME, program. Nathan is a graduate of the Faculty of Business Administration, where he worked with the International Business and Entrepreneurship Centre, or Ibec.

“They deserve all the credit they can get,” said Nathan Armstrong of the two entrepreneurial  programs. “They’re both the kind of entrepreneurial section of UNB, set up to help groom entrepreneurs. Greg and I wouldn’t be in the position we’re in without those programs.”

The contribution of UNB and its entrepreneurial community will very much be on display this week as the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation hosts its Breakthru dinner Wednesday night, which will announce the winner of the Breakthru competition for business plans. Three of the five finalists (CeteX, TotalPave and Black Magic) have founders that have gone through the MTE program, and a fourth, RTV Group, was founded by a graduate student at UNB Saint John.

That is a tremendous record, but these companies are simply the latest in a tradition of business formation through the UNB entrepreneurship courses. Such mainstays of the New Brunswick tech scene as SmartSkin, Know Charge, SceneSharp and CyberPsyc all emerged from the entrepreneurial skunkworks at the university.

“Between the two faculties, with TME and IBEC, there are entrepreneurial events going on all the time at the university,” said Rob Austin, dean of the faculty of business administration.

One interesting aspect of the UNB entrepreneurial endeavors is the key role that the engineering faculty plays. The TME program, first launched in 1988, applies lean startup principles developed by Steve Blank of University of California at Berkeley to entrepreneurial endeavors developed by engineering students. Dhirendra Shukla, Associate Professor and Chair of the TME program, has collaborated with Blank on the development of the program. But he added TME also emphasizes management in its curriculum, because it is essential to teach young entrepreneurs how to manage a full corporate entity if their startup is to blossom into a mature business.

“This has been a killer program for UNB because we can put together a lot of resources from across the faculties,” said Shukla.

Those resources include a faculty that has worked around the world, which means they can bring students an international perspective as they learn to create and grow businesses. Shukla studied at the University of London, while Austin previously taught at Harvard and business professor Martin Wielemaker graduated from the Rotterdam School of Business in the Netherlands.

The key is that the business and engineering faculties collaborate so closely on developing entrepreneurs, and also work closely with the computer science department to work on the development of tech companies. They also work with the Activator program, which groups interested students into four teams to launch companies throughout the school year.

Shukla said the next stage of development will be to offer a Masters of Technology Management & Entrepreneurship, which could begin as early as September. The idea is that a standard MBA is a one-year program, which doesn’t leave much time for teaching entrepreneurial skills; so the new program would be a graduate program focusing on the lean startup and managerial lessons needed to grow businesses.

“The research has shown you need to enhance these skills to improve a startup’s chance of success,” said Shukla. “The whole stream around engineering is quite progressive and evolving and it’s progressing all the time.”