New chair to redefine university's role in entrepreneurship

By Adela Talbot
September 04, 2014

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THOMPSON_meisterAdela Talbot // Western News
Ivey Business School professor Darren Meister is the inaugural holder of the John M. Thompson Chair in Engineering Leadership and Innovation. He plans to combine his business and engineering expertise to help forge new opportunities for Western students, faculty and industry partners.

When opportunity came knocking on Darren Meister’s door, he knew it came with a perfect-fit venture.

“When the chair position came up, it was the perfect job. Being able to marry my engineering and business backgrounds isn’t something you get to do very often. I’m a mid-career guy, and this is a pretty fun thing to do,” said the Ivey Business School professor.

Meister, who holds a PhD in Engineering from the University of Waterloo, has taught at Ivey for more than a decade. The school’s former faculty director of the HBA and MSc programs, Meister teaches Information Systems and General Management (Entrepreneurship). And now, he is the inaugural holder of the John M. Thompson Chair in Engineering Leadership and Innovation for a five-year term, which started July 1.

In this new role, Meister will work to develop case-based courses to foster students’ leadership and innovation skills through the Certificate in Engineering Leadership and Innovation and the Integrated Engineering program within the Faculty of Engineering.

“The (chair) is an important project for both Ivey and Engineering,” Meister said.

“Right now, I’m learning about Engineering, but I’ve also started talking to a lot of people in industry, trying to bridge the industry-university and student opportunity gaps,” he continued.

“While this is new at Western, there are a lot of schools in the world that do things in this area and I really don’t believe we will make an international mark by just doing what other people do. We have to do something unique. What does Western have that is different? The relationship between Engineering and Ivey could be something we do a lot with.”

There is a healthy appetite on campus for collaboration, Meister explained, even if it appears most researchers are content to work in silos. Taking advantage of cutting-edge research across campus while focusing on areas of strength, especially in Engineering and Ivey, could just be the leg up Western and the regional economy need to put London on the map.

“London’s going to succeed, and I think this chair succeeds if it helps the greater economic area around here by connecting business to (the university),” Meister said.

“We have an ever-increasing number of students who want to be entrepreneurs. And London is a good place for people to start a business in that it’s not too expensive. But we have to do a better job of making the university an asset that entrepreneurs can leverage and we have to work to make London attractive to people who don’t have ties to (the city).”

It’s too early to define measures of success, Meister noted. His primary focus is launching the certificate program and he plans to roll with the punches as they come, he explained.

“A key element in entrepreneurship is pivoting. Right now, one of the mistakes I could make is saying, ‘Here’s my five-year plan.’ I think bringing this certificate in, guest speakers, a culture shift – I think if we do all of that, it will change the type of student we have here. We have to be ready to take advantage of that, instead of designing today what we think we might have. The students we will have (in five years) are actually in Grades 10 and 11 now. Everything is about being more flexible.”

It’s the work Western researchers have to offer that excites Meister most going forward. Therein lie huge opportunities.

“There’s a lot of very good original research being created here – a lot more than most people would think there is. We’re doing some really cool stuff here,” he said.

“I do think there are some other big opportunities between Western and Fanshawe that, as part of this chair, I want to take advantage of. There are a lot of skills that people coming out of Fanshawe have that any firm needs really early and I’m really excited that the new student entrepreneurship centre is a partnership with Fanshawe,” he added.

“Once you start showing people that you can start something with a good idea and can make the sacrifices, once you get it started, then you can keep it rolling.”


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