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Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off of launch pad 39-a at Kennedy Space Center for its final scheduled launch May 14, 2010 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Eliot Schechter/2010 Getty Images)
Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off of launch pad 39-a at Kennedy Space Center for its final scheduled launch May 14, 2010 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Eliot Schechter/2010 Getty Images)

Guest column: Dave Wilkin

The launch pad for young, rock-star entrepreneurs Add to ...

Launching a company as a Gen-Y is by no means the path of least resistance.

But we’re seeing more and more Gen-Y’s get behind the wheel of innovative companies, changing how we perceive the stereotypical CEO. Whether I’m grabbing a pint with an aspiring entrepreneur or chatting about startups with family, friends or colleagues, there are some need-to-knows that occupy the minds of Gen-Y CEOs.

I sat down with a group of fellow Gen-Y entrepreneurs at the Ryerson University Digital Media Zone (DMZ) in downtown Toronto to build the “top five need-to-knows.” DMZ is an idea development space that has become the second home and launch pad for some young, rock-star entrepreneurs. It is an innovative initiative that helps keep our top entrepreneurial talent in Canada. Throughout our conversation we shared our successes, challenges and failures, to scope out the need-to-knows that keep us focused while we grow our companies:

Find mentors and advisers

After a number of coffees and chats, it was my adviser who said: “Before I see you next, you must have started a company.” It was after this conversation that I took the first step toward starting my own business, Redwood Strategic. Advisers and mentors are critical, building confidence and helping young entrepreneurs navigate through decisions that are best known by the most experienced people. Seasoned entrepreneurs want to help. “To start finding mentors look to professors at school, friends of family, and other experts in the industry,” suggests Mike Lawrie, co-founder of the ultra-innovative Phosphorous Media.

Know yourself

As a young entrepreneur it is impossible to know everything. Identify your strengths and then seek partners, mentors and team members to fill the voids.

“Find people who challenge you and share your passion, know yourself and challenge your assumptions,” says up-and-coming HitSend CEO Brendan McEachran.

Be passionate

In the beginning, it’s very normal for friends and family to be skeptical of your business idea. Starting with a well-thought-out business plan and fuelling it with passion, you will convert what was once skepticism into a powerful network of supporters and cheerleaders. When thinking about your start-up, pursue the business idea that keeps you up at night and don’t be afraid to share your excitement while building your team, making new contacts, and selling your idea to your first clients. Always remember, passion is contagious.

Fail fast

If you’re anything like most Gen-Y entrepreneurs, what’s standing between you and your business idea is the fear of failure.

“Most aspiring entrepreneurs don’t realize that failure is a good thing, it needs to be embraced, just make sure you fail fast,” say Josh Davey and Dave Senior of Burstn.com.

Failure is a stepping stone to the improvement of your business. It’s rarely the initial idea that forms the end product, making it important for entrepreneurs to appreciate the process of starting a company, learning from failure, and always staying focused on a final destination.

Getting cash

As the saying goes, “it takes money to make money.” Gen-Y’s have access to start-up support organizations such as CYBF and business plan competitions such as Queen’s University’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition ( QEC), which awards thousands of dollars to winning undergraduates. When it comes to raising bigger sums of money, Gen-Y entrepreneurs can consider angel investors who not only provide a financial investment, but often bring years of experience to accelerate your company.

As an entrepreneur, it’s all about the journey of building, learning, and challenging yourself to exceed your potential. Every month that goes by can be the equivalent of an MBA, as there are always lessons to be learned by meeting people, working on exciting projects or leading dynamic teams. Though it can seem overwhelming, if you keep these need-to-knows in mind you’ll soon find that sitting in the hot-seat is actually pretty cool.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Dave Wilkin, a Gen-Y entrepreneur, works in the digital and experiential marketing space. Mr. Wilkin has combined the latest technologies and new marketing approaches to build the “social technology” behind Redwood Strategic, an integrated marketing company. Mr. Wilkin previously started a number of non-profit initiatives, mentored young leaders across the country, and continues to work with emerging entrepreneurs. You can follow him on Twitter @dwilkin. This is the fifth of a 10-part summer series Mr. Wilkin is writing for Your Business. The columns appear every Wednesday.

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