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Springboard Board Member – A Mentor For Young Entrepreneurs


“I think Dalhousie is a great university,” says Brian Lowe, entrepreneur in residence at Dal’s Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship. “Our breadth is great, our students are great.”

Mr. Lowe’s enthusiasm comes from a 13-year history with Dal, dating back to 1999, when the then-Dean of Science Warwick Kimmins approached Mr. Lowe to ask for help in commercializing therapeutic cancer vaccines.

“So we incorporated a company called Immunovaccine Inc. in March of 2000. I went to work with Dr. Kimmins and his scientists and today that company is in clinical trials under the FDA.”

HIs work as an entrepreneur in residence operates on a slightly smaller scale. “It’s working around activities with the students, speaking to business classes both graduate and undergraduate, and spreading the word of entrepreneurship and how we can encourage youth to consider it as a career.”

Mr. Lowe came to Dal via the efforts of Ed Leach, director of the Norman Newman Centre and April MacLeod, former career coach and recruitment consultant at Dal. “April introduced me to Ed with the idea that it might be nice to have a seasoned entrepreneur come in and help mentor students.”
Pushing ideas forward

Though his time at Dal used to be casual, Mr. Lowe sees his commitment to students rapidly becoming a more involved process. “My role has always been part-time, but lately I’ve been coming in more frequently because of all the exciting initiatives we have underway.”

One of the initiatives Mr. Lowe helped establish at Dal was a local version of the Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based, worldwide program that sees professionals mentoring students over a 54-hour time period, helping them pitch ideas, develop business plans, and receive feedback from a panel of judges.

“They generate ideas that could be commercialized,” Mr. Lowe explains. “We’ve had some success stories. Companies have actually formed out of those weekends.”

One of those companies is Green With Energy, a project formed to redesign consumer energy bills in Summerside, P.E.I., helping residents assess whether or not they should switch from oil-based to wind-based electric heat. Green With Energy won Dal’s first Startup Weekend.

“I took Megan McCarthy, who is president and CEO of Green With Energy, and introduced her to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA),” says Mr. Lowe. “I introduce students to ACOA, network them, help them assemble an advisory board for their company. We look at funding and how they can get access to funding.”

Like Ms. McCarthy, many business students face challenges when joining the working world. The biggest, Mr. Lowe says, are “access to capital and a good management team.” Incidentally, these are two areas of Mr. Lowe’s expertise.

He is co-founder and director of Halifax’s First Angel Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing entrepreneurs the access and resources necessary to develop their companies and business ideas. He credits his work with Dalhousie and Immunovaccine Inc. for acting as the genesis for the First Angel’s launch.
Getting started

Mr. Lowe first became involved with startup companies in 1984, developing three environmental companies, one of which dealt with the cleanup of oil and chemical spills. “This was back before it was really fashionable to be in the environmental business. I started with a half-ton truck with myself and another guy and we built three big companies.”

The key to success, he says, is staying busy. A graduate of St. Mary’s University’s commerce program, he always “wanted to work and was anxious to work. When I was going to SMU, I had all my classes crammed into three days of the week and was doing construction the other four days of the week.”

The aspiring entrepreneurs Mr. Lowe meets at Dal are “very, very focused and energetic. We get great turnouts to many of our activities. Our students are very passionate and they want to learn more about entrepreneurship.”

There will be another Startup Weekend in fall of 2012 and in winter 2013, but Mr. Lowe says there’s more to a career in business than exercises and workshops. “You have to be very passionate and believe in what you’re doing, and that passion has to show. It’s not for the faint of heart. When you’re starting in business you have to live and breathe it almost 24 hours a day. You have to have a lot of drive and a good work ethic.”

But that’s not all, he says. “Timing and luck come into play, too. Being in the right place at the right time certainly doesn’t hurt.”