Shelley Hessian: Finding connections between universities and entrepreneurship

Shelley, Hessian, alumni, profile pictureA quick look at Shelley Hessian’s resume BComm’84, MBA’07 instantly tells you she is passionate about entrepreneurs. Whether it’s administering loan programs for entrepreneurial youth, providing customized training programs for entrepreneurs, or managing huge technology start-up competitions, Shelley’s career has been clearly defined by a desire to support Nova Scotia entrepreneurs. She’s even co-authored a major research publication. The topic? Entrepreneurship in Atlantic Canadian University environments.

It’s these two topics that are married in her current work at Innovacorp, our province’s early-stage venture capital organization. As manager of incubation and entrepreneur programs, Shelley is connected to research teams in every university in Nova Scotia, and daily helps post-secondary researchers commercialize their technology.

A natural partnership In Shelley’s mind, education and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. “Education is vitally important because it sets people up for career success,” she says. “It can open your mind to possibilities and incite the kind of new ideas and new technology that are behind all innovation.”

Constant innovation is at the heart of what she does every day at Innovacorp, which provides early-stage, knowledge-based Nova Scotia companies with expert advice, business incubation support, and financial aid in the form of investment. As part of Innovacorp’s mission to assist the academic community in the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities, Shelley manages the Early Stage Commercialization Fund, awarding post-secondary researchers up to $50,000 to move their research to market. In 2012, a SMU researcher, Dawn Julta, received an award for her project entitled Privacy Services and APIs for Software Engineers and Users.

In addition, Shelley also heads up the I-3 Technology Start-Up Competition, launching this September. It encourages the creation and development of new knowledge-based companies in Nova Scotia, and gives out $800,000 in awards across the province every two years. Winners use the awards to establish or further propel their start-up ventures.

For Shelley, start-ups are not only inspiring to be a part of, but also essential to the health of our region. “Entrepreneurial ventures drive growth and are a huge benefit to our economy and to the communities of our province.”

An early interest in entrepreneurship This interest is business started early for Shelley, who is originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, and was encouraged by attaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Saint Mary’s University in 1984. She went on to work at SMU in the Business Development Centre, while studying for an MBA at the same time. The university has

become a second home to her over the years and her contributions continue with a presence on the Board of Governors, the Alumni Council, and the Sobey School Strategic Plan Development Committee.

“I have had nothing but wonderful experiences at SMU over the years,” says Shelley. “I have always been impressed by the quality of the teachers, the opportunities presented for discussion, and the fact that the faculty know students by name.” Of particular importance were the connections she forged to the local business community while at school. “SMU’s Business School prepared me for the workforce.”

An added bonus for Shelley was that she met her husband David, while at SMU, and today, one of their two daughters attends as well. Shelley’s commitment to education extends right down to the level of the student, where she is still actively involved in supervising student projects at the Business Development Centre. “I love making connections with students – they have such vibrant energy and insights,” she says. “And I continue to enjoy giving back to the educational institution where I got my start.”