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Students at the University of Waterloo's VeloCity
Students at the University of Waterloo's VeloCity

Guest Column

Help is close at hand for eager Gen-Y entrepreneurs Add to ...

Little cash, minimal work experience and a full academic load makes it seem impossible for Gen-Y’s to make entrepreneurship a reality. Fortunately, there are innovative entrepreneurship programs that are launching today’s brightest and most ambitious Gen-Y’s into the founder hot-seat. To connect with like-minded mentors, build start-up capital and meet fellow GenY co-founders there are leading programs in Canada that are often overlooked.

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As Canadians, we are fortunate enough to have one of the best entrepreneurship ecosystems in the world, especially for Gen-Y, with a landscape of unique programs. Canada is also home to thousands of passionate business leaders who are ready to answer the phone and help a young entrepreneur start their business.

During my early undergrad at the University of Waterloo I put my entrepreneurial drive on the sidelines to focus on my academics and extra-curricular projects. I struggled with how I could start a company while balancing a degree in Biochemistry and Business, with little work experience and barely enough money to buy the occasional pitcher of beer.

As I started to attend more conferences, pursue extra-curricular interests and invest endless hours into side projects with no other reward than my own excitement I began to realize it was entirely possible to pursue my entrepreneurial interests. For me, the big push came from meeting amazing mentors and having the opportunity to participate in entrepreneurship programs including a term in Velocity, Canada’s first ever “dormcubator.”

Imagine 70 entrepreneurs in a campus residence with boardrooms and plasma TVs supported by a network of mentors, seasoned entrepreneurs and potential investors; this is a dormcubator. A “dormcubator” is literally the combination of a dorm-style residence and an incubator, creating a hub for entrepreneurship, innovation and collaboration. Velocity allowed me and other students to go beyond academics to build companies, pursue opportunities and collaborate with other bright minds.

“Velocity helps students build solid connections with their like minded peers in different programs across campus. It can also help students that already have a start-up and are looking for a unique environment to build connections between other student entrepreneurs, the booming start-up culture in Canada, and industry mentors,” explained Jesse Rodgers, Associate Director of Velocity at the University of Waterloo.

For any student, an experience like mine at Velocity experience could be the best investment of your undergrad, even if only to stretch your mind before transitioning into a corporate setting.

A full academic course load is no excuse for shrugging off your entrepreneurial interests. In fact, you will likely find that as a student, more doors are actually open to you. The executives and entrepreneurs you might think are unreachable are usually more than willing to help a Gen-Y who is ready to learn.

There are many ways to jump into an entrepreneurial sandbox and meet like-minded individuals, even while in school, with organizations like Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship. ACE helps students apply the lessons of classroom case studies to real entrepreneurial opportunities.

“This year alone, ACE students created over 500 jobs, logged 273,000 volunteer hours, impacted 114,000 people, and in the last three years have generated over $80-million in economic activity,” said ACE President Amy Harder

Even though you’ve got a burning idea, it’s normal to question your ability to fund and actually start a company. The Canadian Youth Business Foundation helps young entrepreneurs aged 18 to 34 with initial funding, mentorship and coaching. Though finding a mentor can seem difficult, it is crucial for entrepreneurial success and with help it can become a very rewarding experience. CYBF has been the launch pad for many of my closest colleagues who now run exciting companies of their own.

“CYBF is unique because we help young entrepreneurs beyond simply supplying the vital start-up funding by taking the next step and providing pre- and post-launch coaching and highly qualified business mentors,” said CYBF CEO Vivian Prokop

With organizations like Velocity, ACE, and CYBF, Gen-Y’s are growing up in a country with endless entrepreneurial opportunity. It may seem overwhelming to launch an idea so young, but pursuing your entrepreneurial passion is an investment that is worth much more than any financial return.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Dave Wilkin, a Gen-Y entrepreneur, is an innovator in the campus marketing space, taking a unique approach to reaching students. Mr. Wilkin is the founder of Toronto-based Redwood Strategic, which aims to help Canada’s leading brands connect with the influencers, activities and initiatives that matter to students. He has mentored young leaders across the country, and he has advised non-profits and emerging entrepreneurs. You can reach Dave on Twitter @dwilkin. This is the third of a 10-part summer series Mr. Wilkin is writing for Your Business. The columns will appear every Wednesday.

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