ESP (Entrepreneurial Skills Program)

Dalhousie’s Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development Inc. (CEED), offers a Certificate Program in entrepreneurship. Known as the Entrepreneurial Skills Program (ESP), this Certificate Program is open to all Dalhousie University students.

ESP facilitates the development, growth and success of student-run business ventures. Through extracurricular, individualized, experiential learning, you will apply skills learned in the classroom to your own ventures. Students participating in the program develop personal portfolios that illustrate their entrepreneurial capabilities.

The program is designed to be taken over the length of your time as a student at Dalhousie and therefore shouldn’t extend time to degree completion. Successful students will earn a certificate in entrepreneurship in addition to their associated Dalhousie University academic degree in their field of study.

Program Contact: Ding Fan ([email protected])



What is the Entrepreneurial Skills Program (ESP)?

ESP is a post-secondary certificate program that facilitates the development, growth and success of student-run business ventures. ESP is designed to add to skills learned in the classroom through extracurricular, individualized, experiential learning. The program culminates in the development of a personal portfolio that illustrates a student’s entrepreneurial capabilities. Upon successful completion of ESP, students are accredited and receive a certificate indicating venture readiness.


What’s the cost of participating in ESP?

There is currently no fee for enrolling in ESP. In the past, students have been charged a nominal fee for access to the program and its resources. Due to the generosity of our funders, student fees are not being charged in 2005-2006.

How do I know if ESP is for me?

Like most things, you probably won’t know till you know. What we can say is that ESP typically appeals to those students who have an interest in being the masters of their own destiny. If you’ve got an idea for a business that you want to start, either during University or after graduation, then you owe it to yourself to get involved with ESP.


What’s in it for me? Why would I want to be part of ESP?

Being part of ESP introduces you to a network of like-minded individuals. It’s no surprise that successful people surround themselves with talented, energetic and visionary people. If you want to learn more about being in business for yourself, or if you want to get better at being an entrepreneur, then ESP is a good start.

By enrolling in ESP, you become part of a growing cohort of students that are interested in small business. Aside from networking and peer-to-peer learning opportunities, you will also have access to training subsidies, business coaching, and skills development opportunities that you can leverage to make yourself a better business owner (or make yourself more marketable as an employee).


If I sign up, how big a commitment are we talking about?

Students enrolled in ESP are free to choose their degree of involvement. Many students become heavily involved, attending most, if not all, ESP-sponsored events. Others attend a limited number of events. ESP is flexible enough to accommodate you and your personal, academic and professional schedules.

Is Dalhousie the only University that offers ESP?

No. Mount Saint Vincent University also has an active ESP program. On occasion, Dalhousie and MSVU partner to run ESP-sponsored events that are attended by students from both Universities.

ESP sounds like a lot of work – what if it gets too much for me?

Involvement in ESP is entirely optional. You are free to leave the program at any point. Unlike most academic programs, there’s no downside risks (mark-related/academic) associated with dropping ESP.



Who’s eligible to participate in ESP?

ESP is open to all Dalhousie University students regardless of their Faculty or field of study.


If I’m a business student, do I have to be an entrepreneurship major to participate in ESP?

No. You can enroll in ESP regardless of your declared major.


How do I apply to participate in ESP?

You must complete and submit an ESP application form (available from [email protected]) to the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship. The Centre‘s staff will review your application and meet with you to discuss your participation in the program.


What if I’m in my third or fourth year of study?

Typically, your application to enroll in ESP should be submitted within your first two years of academic study. Meeting the venturing, business skills development and other program requirements can be difficult if you join ESP in your final year of study. If you have a strong entrepreneurial background, you may be able to complete ESP despite a late entry into the program.


What’s the deadline for enrolling in ESP?

There is no application cut-off date. ESP applications are accepted on an ongoing basis, throughout the year.


Once I’m part of the Entrepreneurial Skills Program, do I still have to compete for spots in ESP-associated courses, or am I automatically guaranteed a seat?

You must register for all ESP-related courses as you would normally. Participation in ESP does not trigger automatic enrollment or guarantee you a spot in any of the ESP-related academic courses.


If I have a business that I’m already running, can I operate it as part of the ESP program?

Yes. You should, however, be able to establish how you plan to expand, or further develop, the operations of the existing business and how the experience will enhance your entrepreneurial skills.

What if I have an opportunity to purchase an existing business? Can I purchase and run it as part of the ESP program?

Yes. A purchase of an existing business certainly can also qualify. Again, you must be able to establish how you plan to expand, or further develop, the operations of the purchased business and how the experience will enhance your entrepreneurial skills.

I have an idea for a business that I’d like to explore in more depth. Can I do a feasibility study as part of the ESP program?

Yes. Feasibility studies are not only permitted, they’re encouraged. Developing the groundwork for a larger scale business, (one that you intend to operate after you graduate), is one of the intended outcomes for ESP participants.

What if I don’t have a business idea? Can I get help in coming up with a venture concept?

Yes. The Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship hosts idea generation workshops as part of the lead up to its supervised Entrepreneurial Work Terms. If you are interested in participating in one of our workshops, email us to be put on our workshop invite list.

Can I partner with other students during ESP?

Yes. You can work with other students to either run a business or conduct a feasibility study. Keep in mind that, when it comes time for accreditation, you will each be individually evaluated. Your personal contribution will be the basis for your final assessment and accreditation.

Is there anything that I can do to prepare myself for venturing?

Yes. There are several courses offered on campus that would be helpful to take. Enrolling in CSCI 2102, Initiating the Technology Venture and/or MGMT3901/COMM 3307 New Venture Creation will help you tremendously in laying the groundwork for running your own business.

Can I run a business for academic credit?

If you are a co-op student, you can participate in an Entrepreneurial Work Term during any of your designated co-op work terms. An entrepreneurial co-op counts towards your requirement to graduate from your degree program with a specified number of completed co-op work terms. For complete details on the EWT option, visit the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship’s online FAQ.

For students outside of a co-op program, you can still receive academic credit for venturing. Some of the ESP-associated courses incorporate mini-ventures into the coursework. Although these ventures are shorter in duration, you will get the chance to develop, start, run and shut down businesses – all during the course(s).

Am I better off venturing later in my studies?

That’s a very personal decision. You may be ready to run a business in your very first term. Some students wait until they have a bit of academic knowledge behind them before attempting venturing. There’s no hard-and-fast rule.

If I run into problems is there anybody to coach me through?

Yes. The Staff and Faculty members associated with the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship are available to coach you in overcoming obstacles encountered. All Entrepreneurial Work Term participants are paired with a business coach who will work with them throughout your participation in ESP. For those students who are venturing outside the context of a co-op work term, coaching support is still available, although on a more limited basis.


Supervision and Support

Who supervises me during my participation in the Entrepreneurial Skills Program?

Staff and Faculty members associated with the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship will “supervise” your participation. You will be given a contact person who can answer your questions and help you through the process.

Will I have to do any reporting as part of the Entrepreneurial Skills Program?

Unless enrolled in a for-credit option (University course or co-op work term) as part of ESP, you will not be required to do reporting. You will, however, be encouraged to make activity submissions to build a profile of your entrepreneurial progress during the academic year. Your submissions will help us to better advise and assist you as you move through the ESP program.

Making ongoing submissions will also help you work with us to formulate a strategy to meet the ESP accreditation requirements by the time you are ready to graduate. Think of it as a running score-card that will help you gauge where you’re at and what you still have left to do before going forward to the accreditation panel.

What if I decide that accreditation isn’t for me? Can I still attend ESP events?

Definitely. ESP is meant to be open ended. Ultimately the hope is that all students who initially register will complete the full program and become accredited. The realities of juggling school, home life and making money often get in the way. We recognize that not everyone who comes in on the front end will do all that’s required for accreditation. Regardless of how things turn out, your participation in ESP events can still add a lot of value to your experience at Dalhousie.

Will ESP show up on my transcript?

No. ESP is not an academic program, and, as such, it will not appear on your transcript.


Financing your venture

Where do I get the money to launch my business?

You may be able to launch your business with little to no cash. Many great ventures get started with personal savings, and family financial support. Businesses with low startup costs are more likely to turn a profit during the four-month work term.

What if I can’t self-finance or get family money to start up my business?

If you can’t self-finance, the Students in Business (SIB) loan program is a great option. SIB provides up to $5,000 in start-up capital and has very favourable financing conditions. To qualify you must be between 15 and 29, must be attending school and must plan to operate your business in Nova Scotia. Visit for more information on SIB.



Will my participation in ESP be assessed?

Yes and No. If you choose to be accredited, then you will be invited to take part in a formal accreditation process. If you choose not to be accredited, then no “evaluation” of your participation will be done.

Work done as part of any courses that you enroll in will be evaluated using the marking schemes and grading rubric set out by the course instructor(s). Whether you pass, and how well you do in a particular course, will not be a deciding factor in your accreditation. Your academic performance in ESP-related courses is simply an element in the bigger picture of your growth as an entrepreneur.

What do I have to do to prepare for the accreditation session?

ESP uses a “portfolio learning” approach. ESP participants are expected to build individualized entrepreneurship portfolios over the course of their involvement with the program. Each individual’s portfolio is unique, but there are key elements that are consistent from person-to-person. As an accreditation candidate you will be asked to document how your entrepreneurial skills/abilities have developed over the course of your participation in ESP. Special emphasis is placed on demonstrating:

  • capacity to venture – i.e. starting and running (micro)businesses
  • ability to effectively network
  • use of role models and mentor relationships
  • peer-to-peer learning
  • completion of course work (entrepreneurship-related academics)

What happens at the accreditation session?

Your involvement with ESP will wrap up with an accreditation session. You will be expected to present your portfolio to an accreditation panel. Presentations are made orally and usually last for approximately 15 minutes. Following your presentation, the accreditation panelists will have an opportunity to question you about your portfolio. This question-and-answer period is in place to allow the panel to better gauge your progress as a student entrepreneur. Typically you will be asked to elaborate on goals set and achieved, and be asked to detail the business skills that you have developed.

If I don’t make money in my ESP-related business venture(s) can I still get accredited?

Yes. Your entrepreneurial skills development, and your ability to set and meet venture-related goals will be the basis for your final assessment. Certainly we’d like to see all ESP-related businesses making money, but not every one will be profitable. Many business lessons are learned in failed ventures, so don’t be afraid to take risks in venturing for fear of jeopardizing your accreditation standing.

Who sits on the accreditation review panel?

The panelists are outside people with a background in entrepreneurship and small business development. They provide the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship with an impartial perspective on accreditation candidates.

What happens if I am turned down for the accreditation?

If you are turned down for accreditation, you will be provided with written reasons. In most instances, candidates will be given the opportunity to make changes/additions to their learning portfolio to meet accreditation expectations. While the accreditation panel has the right to outright reject a candidate, conditional approvals/accreditations are more common.