Increasingly, young entrepreneurs no longer wait to graduate from business school before starting a venture.
“When you are young and in school, it is a good time to learn by failing,” says Paul Cubbon, a marketing instructor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business in Vancouver. “The mantra of the startup movement at the moment is ‘fail forward, fail fast,’” he says, a maxim that encourages students to test their ideas in a low-risk environment.
Here are six business students who have pursued or are pursuing ventures before graduation.
Talon Lloyd, 20
Program: Third-year bachelor of commerce, Queen’s University, Kingston.
Business: Lloyd & Co. Bespoke Tailoring (lloydbespoke.com)
His story: In 2012, Talon Lloyd offered his on-campus marketing services to a Toronto custom tailor. One three-day visit generated $20,000 in sales. Last year, while working with the tailor as a product supplier, Mr. Lloyd founded his own bespoke tailor business catering to recent graduates and young professionals.
He used group-buying sites to promote his business online, generating enough sales to open two mobile locations in Toronto. One was a corner office, rented for 10 days a month, on the 26th floor of a downtown high-rise with a spectacular view of the waterfront. He assembled IKEA storage units to display samples of cotton, silk and wool fabric.
Since May of 2013, he estimates revenue of $164,000 from an initial investment of $5,000 for materials and office rental. He hired a seamstress and an assistant and added an online ordering option to his website. Last fall, despite the demands of school and business, he earned As in all but one course.
Now in Glasgow, Scotland, on a semester-long exchange at the University of Strathclyde, Mr. Lloyd conducts 30 per cent of his business via his iPhone. This summer, he hopes to turn the daily operations over to another student to pursue his goal of becoming a management consultant, starting with an internship at the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman this summer.
Advice for others: “Don’t let anybody put down your ideas if you feel they are credible and there is an opportunity for you to be successful.”
Andrew Paradi, 18
and Brandon Chow, 19
Business: Teknically, Web-based business analytics (teknically.com) expected to go live on March 10
Program: First-year bachelor of business administration (Paradi); bachelor of business administration and bachelor of science in computer science (Chow), Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ont.
Their story: One-time elementary school chums in Mississauga, Andrew Paradi and Brandon Chow reconnected during their first week at Laurier last year. Almost immediately, they collaborated on a startup that would simplify technology-based tasks for small businesses and recently hired two employees. One product, about to go to market, translates website analytics for businesses to improve their online presence.
The two partners were active entrepreneurs prior to university. Mr. Chow developed and sold an IT hosting company before arriving at Laurier, and Mr. Paradi ran a freelance business in video production, photography and Web design. Their new venture is one of the first developed by freshmen to be accepted into Laurier LaunchPad, a university program that provides physical space, mentoring and other support to student startups.
“When I came to Laurier, I never thought I would end up being in a tech startup this early,” says Mr. Paradi. He and Mr. Chow estimate they spend up to 50 hours a week on their venture, in addition to school.
“I find it is a time-management game,” Mr. Chow says. “Laurier offers us a balance between schoolwork and extracurricular activities. It [the university] has set us up in an environment that fosters entrepreneurship, so you are able to build on yourself and explore opportunities.”
Advice for others: Andrew: “If you are smart, if you are hard working, if you have some cool ideas, you can do it.” Brandon: “Building a core network of people you are really close with, and able to share ideas with, is really valuable.”
Breanne Everett, 29
Program: 2013 graduate, executive MBA, Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
Business: Orpyx Medical Technologies Inc., health and medical technology (orpyx.com)
Her story: Two years into a five-year plastic surgeon residency, Breanne Everett co-founded (with a group of doctors and engineers) a company to develop pressure-monitoring devices for patients, such as those with diabetes, who suffer a loss of sensation in the limbs. The device, which is undergoing trials in the United States and Britain, sends a wireless alert to a smartphone if the patient’s foot, for example, is at risk of damage from being stood on for too long.
Dr. Everett still plans to complete her residency at the University of Calgary. But she opted for a strategic break by timing her arrival in 2011 as chief executive officer and president of Orpyx with enrolment in the two-year executive MBA at Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.
“I thought if I am going to take the time off [from the residency] I might as well get more education,” she says. “In that way, I can have the business experience and business degree to bring back to the medical profession for whatever purpose.”
The flexibility of the executive MBA – Friday and Saturday classes twice a month – enabled her to juggle business and school, working overnight shifts at the hospital to stay current and pay for her education. “As I completed the [EMBA] program, I was able to take those learnings and apply them directly back to the company,” Dr. Everett says.
Advice for other women: “Don’t focus on your limitations but on your capabilities, and pay less attention to the fact you are female and more attention to the fact you are capable of doing this.”
David Nordqvist, 24
Program: 2014 bachelor of commerce graduate, Sobey School of Business, St. Mary’s University, Halifax.
Business: Cynosure Media, creative advertising (cynosuremedia.ca)
His story: On a visit to Toronto in 2012, David Nordqvist got the idea for a startup when he picked up a fancy business card discarded on the street. Back in Halifax, he and Greg Dobson, a friend and fellow Sobey student, decided to go into business designing and producing custom plastic cards. Making a virtue of their small scale, the partners set no minimum order limit and offered a 24-hour turnaround, speedy by industry standards.
The business almost faltered when the partners’ sole printer, purchased used for $5,000, broke down halfway through an order. Mr. Nordqvist fixed the printer but the partners also invested in a new one for $8,000.
Business grew through word of mouth. “The cards became our biggest marketing tool,” Mr. Nordqvist says.
The company generated enough revenue to cover costs, make a small profit and pay for his degree. When Mr. Dobson had to step away from the business for family reasons, Mr. Nordqvist decided to sell the plastic cards division and restructure the company as a video production and website management service.
Combining schoolwork and the business was “a challenge,” but Mr. Nordqvist says he is indebted to two Sobey professors of entrepreneurship for their advice. “I would not be remotely where I am today if I had not done it [school and startup],” he says.
Advice for others: “If you put the time in, it is doable. You just have to prioritize what you want to be doing.”
Jaclyn Ling, 22
Program: Fourth-year bachelor of commerce, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal.
Business: Blynk, a Web application for fashion advice (justblynk.com)
Her story: While still in school, Jaclyn Ling has started a couple of online businesses and a YouTube channel that focus on fashion.
Now she has added a new venture, this one with Drew MacNeil and Shums Kassam as a team in the current cohort of The Next 36, a national competition for young entrepreneurs to build a business from scratch in nine months. Ms. Ling and her co-founders are developing a website, expected to go live in the next few months, to connect those seeking fashion advice with those in the know.
“We will build a platform for you to interact with your adviser online,” Ms. Ling says. “The human element of the fashion consultant is not lost. … It is not automated or generated by a machine.” The fashion adviser and Blynk share a commission on sales of any clothes purchased by the client.
In February, in a strategy to build a profile for Blynk, Ms. Ling successfully wangled industry invitations to New York Fashion Week. Not only did she meet a potential investor for the website, she talked her way into a photograph with Paris Hilton at the show, flashing her Blynk card prominently.
Advice for others: “Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that is handed to you. You never know what will come out of it. The best experiences are the ones that come unexpectedly.”