Labour Disruption Information:
Close mobile menu

BEST summer co-op offers insights into entrepreneurship

This story originally appeared in the February 2024 Innovatus Issue of YFile. Written by Elaine Smith.

Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (BEST), a Lassonde School of Engineering entrepreneurship program, offers students the opportunity to pursue their own startup venture or to spend a summer co-op term working with startup companies, contributing their technical expertise while seeing an entrepreneurial venture from the inside out. It is York University’s first entrepreneurial co-op program, allowing students to gain the knowledge and confidence to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

This past summer, 12 co-op students worked alongside six startup founders and had the opportunity to learn about building and running a business in their field. It was a meaningful opportunity to experiment with new ideas, take calculated risks, and learn from both successes and failures while tackling real-world business challenges. 

“We’ve had this [co-op] opportunity since 2016,” said Maedeh Sedaghat, manager of the BEST program. “In summer 2023, we opened it up to students who were very keen in gaining entrepreneurial experience by working with one of the BEST startups but not sure if they wanted to complete the full 12-month work term requirement necessary for a Lassonde co-op program designation. This approach has expanded this learning opportunity to more students across Lassonde.”

Faiza Qaisar
Faiza Qaisar

Among those who spent the summer participating in the entrepreneurial co-op term was computer engineering student Faiza Qaisar, who worked with Pantheon Prototyping, a BEST startup that specializes in 3D modelling and additive manufacturing for technical applications like rapid prototyping. She helped to develop an automated quoting software that allows a customer to: upload a 3D printable file; specify various parameters like quantity and material; automatically evaluate the printability of the model and any issues that it may contain; and, finally, provide the prospective customer with a price for creating the item, whether it be a keychain or an automobile part.

“We had a four-person software team and we created a tool good enough to launch,” said Qaisar. “The company is building on it as their engineering capstone project, working to develop payment software.”

Since doing her co-op term, Qaisar has enrolled in some BEST entrepreneurship courses and has started her own entrepreneurial venture, producing recyclable stickers and merchandise for organizations and York Orientation, an idea prompted by her love of art, her engineering and programming skills, and her concern about the environment. Her first order, in fact, was from Pantheon Prototyping, the startup company where she did her summer co-op term.

“The BEST co-op kicked me onto my track and inspired me to be entrepreneurial,” said Qaisar. “It inspired me to keep doing my own project.”

Che Lorde
Che Lorde

Mechanical design engineering student Che Lorde has also begun taking entrepreneurship courses through BEST after his summer co-op experience with HandiFuel, which advances accessible automated fuelling for mobility-challenged drivers. Lorde, who has a passion for 3D modelling and inclusive design, was chosen to lead a three-person mechanical team designing a way for drivers with accessibility issues to refuel their vehicles without leaving the driver’s seat.

“We wanted to make gas stations more accessible and break down barriers,” Lorde said. “To refuel a vehicle, it takes someone who is wheelchair bound an average of 12 minutes; we sped up the process to six minutes without requiring them to leave the car.”

Using an open-source design for a robotic arm, the team designed a claw that could access the fuel tank, remove its cap and use the gas pump’s nozzle to fill the tank. They worked within required constraints, including the necessity to avoid sparks in an environment with flammable gasoline present. It also meant doing research with potential users before designing, creating and testing the prototype.

“It was quite intense,” said Lorde. “We had four months to create a working prototype. There were times when things didn’t work and we had to reorient.”

Lorde is proud of his work, and he has also had his eyes opened to entrepreneurship. He dreams of using his design talents to contribute to inclusivity and has acquired many of the skills he needs to pursue this dream.

“The biggest takeaway for me is the importance of entrepreneurship in terms of engineering,” he said. “This co-op reassured me that what I’m doing is right for me. I also improved my soft skills in terms of communications, leadership and organizing my time, and I learned that in business, you have to understand your target audience. It’s a great experience, and having a leadership role is really helpful.”

BEST co-op terms are among the many and varied co-op opportunities available at Lassonde. All Lassonde students who have completed two years of study are eligible to apply. BEST startup founders review the applications, conduct interviews with the applicants and select their candidates.

“When we set up the Lassonde School more than 10 years ago, co-ops and entrepreneurship were key priorities and we were intent on joining these two things together,” said Richard Hornsey, associate dean, academic and students at Lassonde. “These co-ops give students a cutting-edge experience where everyone does a bit of everything and they are a realization of the founding priorities of Lassonde.”

Sedaghat highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship experience, especially in light of York’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, noting, “Promoting entrepreneurship is seen as a catalyst for positive economic and social change, fostering a culture of innovation, job creation and sustainable development.

“Entrepreneurship often involves the development and application of new technologies contributing to positive social change by tackling problems such as poverty, health-care disparities and environmental sustainability,” she said. The entrepreneurial mindset contributes to a culture of continuous learning, adaptability and risk-taking, which is even more crucial in today’s rapidly changing global economy.”

Lassonde’s BEST co-op program is only one of the Faculty’s transformative and enriching experiences for undergraduate students. Other opportunities include the UNHack and the BEST Startup Experience.