Spotlight on: Melanie Sodtka, McKeil School of Business Professor and Faculty Lead for SURGE

Summary

Spotlight on is a special series profiling the faculty and staff at Mohawk who are making a difference at the college and in the community.

Melanie Sodtka sees a day when the hard work and creativity of Mohawk students and alumni ring up sales on campus.

Sodtka is the Faculty Lead of SURGE, Mohawk’s entrepreneurial hub. SURGE offers year-round workshops, training, mentorship and competitions. All of the activity is aimed at fostering innovation and supporting students aspiring to launch their own businesses.

After only just over a year on the ground, two students working with SURGE will have their offerings available through the campus bookstore. One arranges leases for cellphones as well as a full stop mobile shop and the other designs and creates jewellery with ethically sourced crystals.

“It’s very exciting to be doing this,” said Sodtka, a professor and coordinator of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship program for the McKeil School of Business at Mohawk.

Sodtka’s two-year plan for SURGE focuses on creating a marketplace for student and alumni business ventures.

“We would love to see a SURGE-dedicated showcase to promote our clients’ products and services.”

SURGE launched in January 2015 after Mohawk successfully landed a grant from the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

“There is a very healthy ecosystem in Hamilton. We don’t duplicate efforts. We work together to create a united front.”

Melanie Sodtka, McKeil School of Business Professor

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The purpose of SURGE is threefold - foster an entrepreneurial culture at Mohawk, nurture student and alumni startups and link with community resources such as Innovation Factory and the Forge at McMaster.

“There is a very healthy ecosystem in Hamilton. We don’t duplicate efforts. We work together to create a united front.”

Sodtka’s primary objective is to raise awareness of SURGE and encourage participation in its workshops and activities. That includes “guerrilla” marketing techniques, visits to classrooms and engaging with other faculty and staff members.

Expert presentations have included social entrepreneurship, angel investors, bricks and mortar, and technology. SURGE has also hosted a career startup fair attended by over 350 people.

A pitch competition at the end of March helps students refine their ideas and approaches to potential investors, partners and clients. Students have the shot at a $1,000 prize and gain valuable advice from community judges.

Also thanks to SURGE, students at Mohawk’s Skilled Trades Campus in Stoney Creek meet accountants, lawyers and insurance experts who guide them through the business side of working in the trades.

“About nine per cent of our students currently get formal access to entrepreneurship in their curriculum,” said Sodtka.

To help fill that gap,Sodtka landed research money through Mohawk’s iDeaWorks to develop a two-hour online entrepreneurship module called an Entrepreneur in Every Classroom. Sodtka says the module can fit into any program.

“It’s highly interactive and focuses on an entrepreneurial mindset. Not everyone will start their own business but it really can help in any job.”

Sodtka, a mother of two young children, also owns her own consulting business and was recently named among the Top 40 under 40 in Hamilton. She worked in marketing, international training and development, leadership development and North American recruitment at food giant General Mills before coming to Mohawk in 2011 after discovering her love for teaching.

Sodtka, who holds a bachelors in sociology from the University of Western Ontario and an MBA from Niagara University, was thrilled to be asked to take on responsibility for SURGE.

“My worlds are colliding in such a good way,” she said about combining her love of entrepreneurship with teaching.

SURGE, which is supported by eight faculty entrepreneurs and five student ambassadors, has been a great success since its launch.

“Getting this started has been such an outstanding experience and I am tremendously passionate about it. We’ve become a victim of our own success. To keep up with demand, I expect we will need to bring on more people. The groundwork has been laid.”

In just a little more than a year, SURGE has connected with almost 1,000 students and community members. The hub has 18 active clients (students and non-students), including about one-third who are international students. SURGE has accelerated three businesses to the launch stage.

SURGE is a member of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs.

There is a tremendous entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hamilton, says Sodtka. Representatives of Hamilton’s broad innovation and entrepreneurship community meet every other week to talk about clients, coordinate events and establish partnerships, says Sodtka.

That includes SURGE, Innovation Factory, the McMaster Industry Liaison Office, Spectrum and the Forge.

“There is such passion for this work in Hamilton, so we have tremendous community partners supporting us.”

Boilerplate

Mohawk College educates and serves 30,000 full-time, part-time and apprenticeship students annually from three campuses in Hamilton. For five consecutive years, Mohawk has been ranked the number one college in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area for overall student satisfaction. Mohawk has also been recognized as one of Canada’s greenest employers and one of the top employers in the Hamilton-Niagara Region. More than 105,000 students have graduated from Mohawk since 1967.