Nicol rewards students for ideas and potential

Entrepreneurs are a fearless lot. They see opportunity where most see nothing. They take risks when most do nothing.

By Karen Secord
From SCAN's Print Edition

Wes Nicol with the team from Carleton.
Six teams of up and coming business visionaries ─ whittled down from the student population at 15 of Canada’s best post-secondary schools ─ shared an Ottawa platform May 6 at the 4th national Wes Nicol Entrepreneurial Awards ( The brainchild of Wes Nicol, founder of Tartan Homes and the legal firm Nicol and Lazier, the awards are designed to encourage entrepreneurial spirit among students from all disciplines. “I wanted to do something for the vast majority ─ the silent majority at university ─ the students who don’t get the credit or the awards like the athletes do, for example. I wanted to give everybody the opportunity to get into business for themselves and to have a way to do it,” says Mr. Nicol.

After presentations by all six teams, Wilfred Laurier’s business and economics student Christopher Carmichael won the national entrepreneurial award and $5,000. His company, Campus Ink, provides competitively priced ink cartridge refills. A portion of the proceeds ($1 per refill) is invested in businesses in developing countries. Currently Campus Ink offers fast cartridge refills at seven Canadian colleges. It is an eco-friendly alternative that keeps the cartridges out of landfills where it is believed they can take 450 years to decompose.

Business ideas ran the gamut from an upscale ski lodge featuring organic food offerings in Revelstoke, British Columbia, to a wearable vital signs monitoring patch (see sidebar).

Keynote speaker for the 2008 Award Ceremony was Frank McKenna, deputy chairman of the TD Bank and former premier of New Brunswick and ambassador to the United States. “Entrepreneurs are a fearless lot. They see opportunity where most see nothing. They take risks when most do nothing,” said McKenna prior to the event. “Through their character and conviction, our nation has grown and prospered. This entrepreneurial spirit is now on display with a new generation of Canadians. We must encourage their ambitions and recognize their success. That is a key aim of the Nicol Award and one reason I’m so pleased to support [it].”

Entering the final round of a the competition were teams from Acadia, Carleton, the University of Guelph, uOttawa, Wilfred Laurier and Waterloo.

New this year was a regional competition, established in response to the growth in the number of participating universities and colleges. Seven schools from Southwestern Ontario competed for cash and prizes in the Nicol LaunchPad $50K Venture Creation Competition. The LaunchPad competition assisted with narrowing down the growing number of teams vying to attend the national event in Ottawa.

Launched in 1997 at Carleton, where Mr. Nicol served on the board of governors for nine years, the premise behind the awards was to create a culture where students with ideas, drive and determination are mentored by experienced business professionals.

“It’s very enjoyable to see these bright young students when they come to Ottawa,” says Mr. Nicol. “We show them that the business community cares. We let them know that we want them to succeed.”
According to Mr. Nicol, his award program is unique among others because it is true-to-life. The process, which began in the fall 2007, mirrors the real-world pressures and conditions that an entrepreneur faces in attracting financial backing and support. Participants not only test their ideas but build networks and establish mentors.
Mr. Nicol’s advice to budding young entrepreneurs? “Stick with it. If you’ve got the drive, make it work.”

Mr. Nicol graduated with a general arts degree from Carleton in 1954, which awarded him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa in November 2006. In 2001 he received the Carleton Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Known as an angel investor, Mr. Nicol is an Ottawa-based philanthropist with a penchant for supporting young start-ups with a good business plan. His charitable foundation and the entrepreneurial awards are funded by his family’s business success.

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