A new beginning for the Launch Zone

When it shed “polytechnical institute” from its title in 1993, Ryerson University struggled for years to carve out an identity for itself.

Decades later, Ryerson has developed an intricate network of entrepreneurial learning zones that have helped define the university as an innovation haven.

With excitement around Ryerson’s most well-known zone, the DMZ, running so high, one zone seems to have forgotten its own identity.

This is why the Launch Zone, the oldest of Ryerson’s nine learning zones, is launching its own rebrand.

Nimra Akhtar, a fourth year business management student at Ryerson who began working at the Launch Zone during the summer of 2016, found herself in the midst of these plans.

“Ever since I got here, I knew about the DMZ. I said, ‘I have to work here. I need to be part of the DMZ community,’” she exclaimed.

While the rebrand team began by refreshing the physical space — adding the sitting space known as ‘the mountain’, the discussion area known as ‘the valley’ and a classroom area — their plans went much further than that.

After applying to the DMZ, Akhtar was assigned to the Launch Zone. When she got there, however, she realized that she wasn’t the only student who didn’t really understand the Launch Zone’s role.

While the zone started its life as Ryerson’s first student-only incubator, the development of sector specific zones such as the Fashion Zone and the iBoost Zone pushed students to skip the Launch Zone altogether.

“Initially, this place was the heart of zone learning, but it got kind of confusing because all the other zones were incubators as well,” said Nimra, who now acts as the Events and Operations Ambassador to the DMZ.

Today, students enter the Launch Zone looking for either the DMZ or one of the other zones, which forces Launch Zone employees to consistently send students elsewhere.

They observed however, that while students were producing startup ideas in spades, they lacked the skills they needed to start and actually run a business.

As of this past summer, the Launch Zone has been developing courses, led by ZerotoStartup co-founder David Kwok, in order to evolve into a startup resource.

Furthermore, the Launch Zone has invited several institutions to use the space once or twice per week to host workshops designed to help students launch businesses, including the RED Academy and the Ted Rogers School of Management’s own Startup School.

Jordan MacDonald, who helps to run these workshops, is an entrepreneurship student at Ryerson as well as the founder of Start Me Up, the Food Innovation Hub, the project manager for the Centre of Urban Energy Zone, and an affiliate of TRSM’s Startup School.

As someone deeply entrenched in Ryerson’s entrepreneurial ecosystem he relents that, at the end of the day, entrepreneurship at Ryerson is an experiment that stuck.

“The DMZ brand has really helped Ryerson kick up a lot of dust in terms of entrepreneurship,” he explains.

The goal of the Launch Zone’s rebrand is to provide students with the foundation to support the innovative brand the university is trying to build. It’s been successful thus far, but there’s still work to be done.

MacDonald concludes however that the real value of the new and impvoved Launch Zone lies teaching students that starting a busienss is no small feat.

“At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is hard. There’s no student or organization that’s going to make it easy,”

By: Jessica Vomiero