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Helping Alberta small businesses innovate to emerge stronger post-pandemic

Financial incentive assists companies with COVID-19 recovery by helping hire student interns
Mitacs Small Business Month Photo
Partnership of business and post-secondary students helps move forward in a post-pandemic economy. Photo submitted.

Small businesses grappling with the impact of COVID-19 are getting support from an unexpected resource: top post-secondary students.

Thanks to a financial initiative launched by Mitacs — a national organization that helps solve business challenges with solutions from universities, colleges and polytechnics — students across the province are adding much needed skills for employers looking to manage and grow their operations in an environment disrupted by the pandemic.

Available to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and not-for-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees--the initiative sees SMEs contribute 25 per cent of the intern’s stipend for the first four months of an innovation project done in collaboration with a post-secondary institution. 

“SMEs and academic talent are integral to Canada’s economic recovery, and we're committed to making the connections needed to help Canadian organizations solve their business issues, remain competitive, and thrive," said Mitacs CEO Dr. John Hepburn.

ParkChamp is one such success story. The Calgary-based tech startup uses a mobile app to give local drivers access to parking spaces from their smartphones. When the company found itself at a standstill during the pandemic, it partnered with Mitacs and the Haskayne School of Business to attract new customers, launch COVID-19-friendly technology and even expand into the Edmonton market.

“We needed to reach customers through online channels to be ready for when things opened up after the lockdowns,” said ParkChamp CEO Maggie Young, who has hired three Mitacs interns since March 2020. "This project has helped build brand loyalty, and increase conversions on new accounts by 50 per cent."

Young said ParkChamp's app gives customers the option of booking in advance on a daily, hourly, or weekly basis to secure a parking stall, or scanning a QR code with their phone when they arrive to start their parking session instantly and be billed by the minute. The company has also introduced a new corporate app program that reduces time managing and expensing employee parking and introduced smart technology that replaces traditional take-ticket parking machines.

For U of Calgary student and Mitacs intern Adam Davis, working at ParkChamp allowed him to leverage what he learned in business school and put his skills and creativity into practice. “You can’t replicate this unique experience in the classroom, and I feel much more prepared for my future career.”

 “Accessing enthusiastic students with the latest skill sets and knowledge of new online platforms and technologies has ultimately helped drive engagement by new customers," Young said.

Since 2011, Mitacs has helped more than 8,500 organizations, the majority of which have 500 employees or less. Industry-related innovation projects funded through Mitacs now nears $1 billion, with businesses contributing about half that amount.

Funded by the federal and provincial governments, Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit