Windsor Business Students Step In To Help Local Organizations Impacted By COVID-19

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First-of-its-Kind Program Helps Cover Cost to Bring on Business Student Interns

Windsor businesses grappling with the impact of COVID-19 are getting support from an unexpected resource: top local business students.

Thanks to a first-of-its-kind program launched by Vancouver-based Mitacs — a national innovation organization that helps solve business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions — students from University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business (OSB), and other universities and colleges across the province, are being matched to employers looking for help to manage and grow their operations in an environment disrupted by the pandemic.

What’s more, the program — called the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship (BSI) and offered to all businesses and not-for-profits — covers about half the cost to bring on a student, meaning employers pay $5,000 of a student’s $10,000 stipend for a four-month internship.

“This is welcome news for both organizations impacted by the pandemic as well as the students, many of whom lost job opportunities they had lined up when COVID-19 hit, and the majority of them facing an uncertain future in a deteriorating job market,” said Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director John Hepburn. He added that Canada’s economy stands to gain from the internship program.

Since launching in May 2020, the BSI program has placed about 1,000 interns in business positions across Canada, with about a quarter of those in Ontario. OSB is among the first schools to partner with the program.

“The Mitacs BSI program is a win for all partners involved,” said OSB Dean Mitchell Fields. “Our students obtain invaluable real-world experience, the businesses benefit from our expertise, and the university benefits from solidifying an important partnership in the community.”

Canadian SME challenges

According to Hepburn, top challenges facing Canadian SMEs and not-for-profit organizations include inability to scale and access new markets. Research suggests that compared to their U.S. counterparts, Canadian businesses undervalue the importance of marketing and sales, and struggle to commercialize their innovations. MBA students are uniquely positioned to bring valuable business knowledge to the table to help, he said.

“By providing students with work opportunities during the current economic downturn, we’re ensuring Canada’s homegrown talent continues to build the skills they need to contribute to our recovery in the longer term,” Hepburn explained. “At the same time, we’re giving Canada’s SME and not-for-profit sector valuable support required to modify or pivot their operations as they adapt to the new economic reality.”

Local project examples

Acrolab Ltd., a Windsor-based company (7475 Tranby Ave, Windsor) specializing in thermal engineering, turned to the BSI program for help to ramp up its processes after being approached with a lucrative space sector contract that involved building 400 units per month.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the aero side, but not on the space side,” says Acrolab CEO John Hodgins. “Because we are a small business, it takes a lot of focused work to formulate a deliberate approach to such a high-tech sector.”

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Katrina Manzocco

Mitacs intern and OSB student Katrina Manzocco — a full-time Masters in Business Administration student — was hired to come up with a plan to expand the company’s engineering, design and manufacturing capabilities, and devise a strategy to market to the space sector. Though the first few weeks were like “drinking from a firehose,” she learned to apply her MBA skills quickly.

A local non-profit organization is also benefiting from the business expertise of an OSB student. Women of Windsor Mentorship Collaborative, which helps women connect with mentors for career advice and inspiration, hired fourth year student and Mitacs intern Hivda Celik to help grow its online presence during the pandemic.

“We’re still in our infancy, but we’re growing, in part thanks to this internship,” states Kavaughn Boismier, who founded the Mentorship Collaborative in 2018.

As the organization’s only paid employee, Celik is in charge of social media channels and organizing online seminars, and serves as behind-the-scenes liaison with the board of directors. She is also organizing a University of Windsor chapter of the collaborative.

“It’s important, especially in these times, that women support each other in their careers and encourage one another to take on leadership roles in the community,” Celik said, adding that her internship “is a great way to network with local people.”

Other Ontario interns are lending their financial and operational skills to fast-paced startups, SMEs and not-for-profit organizations that are working to navigate economic challenges due to COVID-19, advance new ‘Digitization-as-a-Service’ offerings, reduce technology costs and capitalize on data insights.

Drawing upon Mitacs’ network of businesses, professors and students, the BSI program has attracted the participation of Canada’s top business schools, including Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, Ivey Business School at Western, Queen’s Smith School of Business and UBC Sauder School of Business.

Quick Facts:

Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Yukon.

• Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

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