Dr. Elizabeth Cannon passionately believes that the power of entrepreneurial thinking is the key to a flourishing society and robust economy and, has worked to make that concept part of the everyday vernacular of business and education. As a cornerstone of that commitment, in her recently completed eight-and-a-half-year term as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calgary, Dr. Cannon oversaw the establishment of the groundbreaking Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.
“The Hunter Hub is a physical location, but it’s real strength is the kind of thinking and learning that goes on there,” says Dr. Cannon of the seven-day-a-week programming that encourages and develops entrepreneurial thinking.
The Hunter family - Diane Hunter, University of Calgary alumna and trustee of the Hunter Family Foundation, along with husband Doug and son Derrick - invested $40 million dollars into the Hunter Hub – the largest private gift in Canada for entrepreneurial thinking.
“That financial commitment was a very strong statement to our students and to our professors about the value and importance of entrepreneurial thinking as the new norm in business and education” says Dr. Cannon. “It said: We want you to engage and we’re creating opportunity and spaces for you to come and experience what this is all about and put it to work.”
Dr. Cannon believes entrepreneurial thinking can happen anywhere, whether it’s in the private or public sector. It doesn’t have to mean starting or creating something from scratch.
“A lot of this is mindset. It’s taking charge. It’s the attitude you bring, it’s the initiative you are driving. That kind of thinking is what society needs and it’s what Canada needs,” says Dr. Cannon.
“It’s really about creating an environment where it’s okay to talk about entrepreneurial thinking. In fact, it’s expected as part of the culture of a successful organization and it’s understood and accepted that some level of entrepreneurial risk taking is valued,”.
Creating safe spaces for people to innovate – and fail
Nurturing entrepreneurial thinking means allowing people to move out of their comfort zone and feel empowered to take some level of risk.
“You’re won’t have success every time. You need to be able to push the boundaries. You’re always going to learn – even from failure, you’re going to have experiences that you can build on and move to other opportunities that will exist down the road,” she says.
“It’s creating those safe spaces for people to experiment, to innovate, and on occasion to fail. To have people say, ‘Okay, that didn’t work but what did we learn? Now, let’s move on.’”
Solving big issues
Dr. Cannon sees the big issues facing society - social responsibility and robust economic development – as challenges and opportunities across all industries and fields.
“Entrepreneurial thinking really is about working across disciplinary boundaries, learning from experience and from others to make an impact.”
An Alberta tradition of entrepreneurial thinking
Frontier Alberta is a perfect case study. In its early history people drawn by opportunity took a risk, in literally uncharted territory, rolled up their sleeves and created an economy and a community. Agriculture and energy underpinned that entrepreneurial spirit –land was cleared and tilled, industries were created and flourished. That spirit carries on to this day.
“That was the foundation of Alberta’s entrepreneurial spirit. It drew a lot of people here and we pride ourselves on that. It started with virtually nothing, but through hard work and fortitude they made something and helped build this community,” says Dr. Cannon.
“What you’ve seen over the last four to five years, as the energy sector has been challenged, is that we can’t rely on that sector always supporting the province - in terms of quality of life and economic clout. There’s been huge interest in taking that foundation of entrepreneurial thinking and applying it more broadly to other opportunities and other sectors.”
A new model for success
Rapidly evolving global economic drivers are accelerating the need for diversification and entrepreneurial leadership - and the need for a new model of entrepreneurial education. Dr. Cannon sees young people today who want to create a future for themselves of self-sufficiency and resilience.
“The old model was: ‘I’m going to get my education and work for a big company downtown Calgary and life is going to be good.’ That model will no longer exist for many people and they know that,” she says.
“That’s what driving a lot of young people. When we opened up the Hunter Hub, students just naturally gravitated to it. Many who hadn’t even thought about being entrepreneurial started to see what it’s all about. They see the support systems are there and their individual creativity just takes over.”
Dr. Cannon recalls a group of computer science students who came to see her in their last year. They’d taken a course in the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking in which they had to work in teams and develop an idea for an app to help people navigate the campus.
“They had never seen themselves as entrepreneurial. They’d never thought about developing an idea or maybe even developing a company. They were so pumped because they saw what they could do, their own power and the support systems that were there, and they just were totally turned on,” says Dr. Cannon.
“That is what I get excited about, when I see young people, with all of their passion and energy and with a little bit of support, really move from an idea into dreaming and doing something big.”
Dr. Elizabeth Cannon's 3 big reasons to adopt entrepreneurial thinking
- Unleash your creative energy. Everybody’s got ideas, but sometimes people need permission to unleash that creative spirit and to move an idea from a concept to something concrete and real.
- Create your own destiny. Build your resiliency and feel personally empowered.
- Make an impact on your community. If you’re entrepreneurial, you’re thinking about how you can build something, or make something, or develop something that has not been done before that will provide a service or a product that could be useful for people -and that makes a difference.