Student Success

Saint Mary’s students make their first venture capital investment in international travel start-up

Saint Mary’s University’s Venture Grade Fund, a student-raised and led venture capital fund, is making its first investment, $15,000 to travel start-up Trip Ninja.

Trip Ninja is a travel-planning software for use by online travel retailers such as Expedia or Priceline. When retail customers are booking plane trips to several different places, Trip Ninja helps online travel retailers find the best price. This multi-destination platform finds the best way to book the trip, whether travellers are flexible in their route or if they need to visit destinations in a particular order.

“It has been great working with Saint Mary’s University’s Venture Grade Fund, and seeing the confidence they have in our product,” said Trip Ninja Co-Founder, Andres Collart. “Saint Mary’s has helped us through reviewing aspects of our business with their MBA students who have a firm grasp on entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s been great working with an organization who is committed to helping start-ups and entrepreneurs have success.” 

The Saint Mary’s University Venture Grade Fund is a student-raised and run venture capital fund and the first student-raised venture capital investment fund in Canada in which the students raise the capital. Their fund is operating at about $200,000 currently.

The team seems to have chosen well as the fledgling travel tech company has attracted notable local, national and international investors, including East Valley Ventures, Innovacorp and other investors experienced in the travel industry. Innovacorp is also a supporter of Saint Mary’s University’s Venture Grade Fund’s assessment of Trip Ninja, and provided Venture Grade with half the capital required for their investment.

The team’s faculty advisor and mentor is venture capital expert and SMU professor, Dr. Ellen Farrell.

“This is a win-win-win situation,” said Farrell. “Venture Grade’s donors and partners like Innovacorp get to offer students an unparalleled experiential education experience, the students get the benefit of raising the capital and conducting due diligence, and the start-up spends the investment thus supporting their business.”

Should the company experience a successful exit, meaning if they are purchased for a large sum, the investors, including Venture Grade, will receive a payout scaled to the purchase. Any returns made on Venture Grade’s investments are returned to Venture Grade, the student fund.

The fund was started by students of Dr. Ellen Farrell at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in fall 2016, with a connection to Silicon Valley’s C100 group, Boston’s Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England, and initial support from Innovacorp. It has expanded to include members at other Atlantic universities including Acadia University, Dalhousie University, and Memorial University.

“Sobey School of Business and Saint Mary’s University are proud to offer students the opportunity to experience the risks and rewards of investing,” said Dr. Harjeet Bhabra, dean of the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University.

“With the School’s strengths in finance and entrepreneurship, the Venture Grade Fund could only have been created here. We’re proud to continue making an impact on our region and on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Premier Stephen McNeil on campus to congratulate Enactus team on the success of the Square Roots food token program3

Premier Stephen McNeil came to Saint Mary’s recently to congratulate Enactus team members on the success of the Square Roots food token program, as they prepare for a national competition. Enactus is a global student organization focused on addressing social issues through entrepreneurship. A total of 38 students are heading to Toronto next week to compete in the Enactus Canada National Exposition.

The Province of Nova Scotia recently supported Saint Mary’s work in entrepreneurship when it announced an $11 million investment for the creation of the Entrepreneurship, Discovery and Innovation (EDI) Hub on campus.

Graduate student team recognized for creativity at international competition

 The Saint Mary's team

The Saint Mary's team

A group of four Saint Mary’s University students from the MBA, Master of Finance and Master of Applied Health Science Research programs have received a specially created prize for best creative AI idea at the International Graduate Competition this week in Montreal.

Students Stuart Clow, Soheil Ahmadi, Felix Han and Maxwell Poole travelled to HEC with coach, Dr. Chantal Hervieux, to take part in the International Graduate Competition. Competing teams included the National Chenochi University, Queen’s University, Universidad de Deusto, and RMIT University (Australia).

Although the Saint Mary’s team did not move on to the finals, they received very positive feedback from the AI industry professionals in attendance, who instigated the creation of a special prize for the top AI idea specifically for the Saint Mary’s University team. The proposed solution takes aim at Montreal’s complex pothole problem through a unique coupling of AI construction planning and novel private financing. The students may be asked to keep working on their proposed solution with the City of Montreal.

As well, Stuart was recognized as Best Team Player, for outstanding collaboration.

To register, the IGC requires a cross-disciplinary team (no more than two students from an MBA program). The Saint Mary’s team featured a skill portfolio in international business, strategy, finance and IT.

Collaboration is a key to this competition: for part of the week, students were grouped into their skill vertical to learn from each other. They then regrouped as a team to incorporate what they learned.

Saint Mary's team wins ‘Distinguished Delegation’ award for their work at Model United Nations


On March 29, the Saint Mary's delegation to the National Model United Nations (NMUN) in New York City, won a ‘Distinguished Delegation’ award for their work representing Bulgaria.

NMUN is the world’s largest Model UN, and can trace its founding back to the League of Nations. It is the only Model UN that takes place in the actual UN headquarters in New York, and sees 5,500 students from more than 130 UN member countries.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for students,” says Political Science chairperson Dr. Marc Doucet, “to get this kind of real-world experience, and interact with students from around the world.” Since Saint Mary’s first delegation in 2003, more than 200 students have attended, making the conference an opportunity to build international connections and gain a greater global perspective. This year was the most international Saint Mary’s delegation yet, with 21 students attending, from Canada, India, the Bahamas, Saint Kitts, Japan, and the UK attending. They represented fields of study including Political Science, International Development Studies, Economics, Sociology, and Business.

“It really strengthens our delegation because the UN is not solely political,” says Abby Dooks, a Political Science and International Development Studies student. “It deals with everything from education to human rights to business to economics, so you need that diverse expertise to understand the topics.”

This year, students visited the Bulgarian Permanent Mission to the UN, and met with diplomats at Bulgaria’s permanent mission to the UN, to discuss current global affairs and issues.

Dooks was attending this year for the second time. “The highlights were different from last year—this year it was really seeing other students achieve the same milestones I did last year, especially those were might have been nervous. One friend of mine was worried all year, concerned that she wasn’t going to be able to speak in front of the entire room, and so a highlight for me was when she did her speech and was just amazing. Those are the moments that make these experience so worthwhile.”