How the new Werklund Institute will work

The plan includes a business incubator, ‘thought leader,’ mentorship program, and a new approach to teaching

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The Werklund Agriculture Institute is currently in its pilot stages and expected to start up in 2019. It will feature four key components:

  • Werklund Growth Centre: a hub for companies, entrepreneurs, investors and students to access college land and facilities for development, scaling, and demonstration of smart agriculture technologies, products, and services.

This is something Olds College is heavily involved in already.

“We have a small business incubator to help students develop their ideas,” said Debbie Thompson, vice-president academic and student experience. “We had one student — Alex Villeneuve — who has developed a new company here during his time at Olds College growing mushrooms out of spent brewing substrate out of our brewery and he’s been very successful. It all started with an idea and some incubator support.”

  • Thought leader: this soon-to-be-hired person will be a connector and adviser on smart agriculture technology, innovation, and business. The successful candidate will “certainly have” an agriculture background and worked at a level in industry that exposed him or her to both a national and international ag perspective, said Thompson.

“Although we don’t expect he or she to have all the answers, this thought leader would be able to anticipate that agriculture in the future will be different from what it is today,” she said. “We need them to be a big thinker and have connections to industry. They could come from any facet of the agriculture industry.”

  • Producer mentorship program: a year-long partnership between producers (or agriculture industry leaders) and students.

“We’re looking at an integrated program that involves students working directly with producers as mentors,” said Thompson.

A four-month pilot with one student is underway, and second pilot with more students will be run next year.

  • Olds College Agriculture and Food Enterprise: a vertically integrated “gate to plate” agriculture and food learning enterprise in which students engage in business decision-making and management.

“Our students who graduate from here say they’re not just the GPS guy, they’re not just the sales guy. They need to be able to do sales and IT and communications and negotiations — a broad range of skills,” said Tanya McDonald, vice-president research and external relations.

“We really feel this is going to be a highly unique learning experience and the model we’re going to want to aspire to with all our programs.”

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