A keen intellect and a stimulating university environment ought to be a virtually unstoppable combination, but sometimes students face financial obstacles. In over four decades of teaching undergraduate classes at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management, Professor Gregory Vit has often seen a student’s financial need interfere with their academic achievement. That is why many alumni and friends of McGill together with Professor Vit have created The Professor Gregory Vit Entrance and In-Course Bursaries, which will assist Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) undergraduates who need financial support to pursue their studies.
“In every class that I have taught, there has been a motivated undergrad who is working a part-time job, or two jobs, or even three,” says Prof. Vit.
“Many generous alumni and friends of McGill have contributed to create two endowed bursuries to give those students more certainty – one for incoming students, and one for those who are already studying at Desautels. A McGill student can have the academics to make it in, and then realize they can’t pay for tuition. We have established these two bursary funds, so that we can open the door wider for students in financial need, in perpetuity. When there are students who need help, these bursaries can take the pressure off.”
Prof. Vit was once a BCom student himself – he began his undergraduate studies at Desautels in 1977 – and he credits his degree with giving him the knowledge to excell professionally. After graduating in finance, he accepted a position as an analyst with the Bank of America, and worked as an investment banker for two decades prior to becoming an academic.
“The applied, theoretical and tacit knowledge gained by attaining a McGill BCom is still the best lifelong investment that I can imagine. It has helped me, and thousands of my students during my time at McGill, and I want more students to benefit from one.”
Even while he was working in finance, Prof. Vit maintained his connections to Desautels. He began teaching international finance in 1983, did a year of his MBA here, and completed a PhD seminar with Prof. Henry Mintzberg in the early 1990s. That oriented his own PhD research in Contrarian Strategy at the University of Bradford in England. In 2001, he joined Desautels’ professoriate, and in 2013, he was recognized with the Professor of the Year award for teaching excellence by the McGill Management Undergraduate Society.
Yet it is Prof. Vit’s work in developing the University’s startup ecosystem that is among his signature achievements from his time at McGill. He served as the Academic Director of the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship for a decade, and transformed it into one of the top university business incubators in the world, according to UBI Global. By 2021, McGill startups had raised more than $1 billion in seed funding, but in the beginning of his mandate at the Dobson Centre, only a few startups were getting started. It was a chance meeting with MIT professors at an academic conference in Houston that served as the spark for a new direction for the Dobson Centre.
“We were basically playing high school football, and I discovered the NFL playbook, thanks to colleagues at MIT such as Bill Aulet,” says Prof. Vit.
“We created programs that connect entrepreneurship with academia and alumni. We launched the McGill Dobson Cup startup competition and the X-1 summer accelerator, which used a skill-based approach based upon Aulet’s MIT Disciplined Entrepreneurship Methodology. Together with fellow academics, we redesigned the entrepreneurship curriculum within Desautels, and created a minor in entrepreneurship for students from other McGill faculties. We integrated academic activities with extracurricular activities, and focused on innovation-driven technologies that can really scale.”
Prof. Vit credits the creativity and positive energy of the Dobson Centre’s former Associate Director Renjie Butalid and Program Administrator Carol Clelland for their hard work in making it all happen. Not to mention the teams of students, alumni and friends of McGill who have participated in its programs and events.
“Many students who engaged in the McGill entrepreneurship process are now running their own companies. When they, in turn, are able to donate time and money to McGill, it becomes self-reinforcing and grows exponentially,” says Prof. Vit.
“The McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship ecosystem has become very successful because excellent students were given opportunities and alumni backing to be creative and grow. This is exactly what I hope will happen with the Professor Gregory Vit Entrance and In-Course Bursaries – that anyone who has benefitted from a McGill degree or connection to McGill will consider contributing to these bursaries along with many others who have already contributed, so that undergrads who need financial support to pursue their studies will benefit. Perhaps one day these students will in turn also look back at the head start they received, and contribute to further grow these bursaries for future students in need.”