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opinion

From my first steps as an entrepreneur, I have felt the only mission worth pursuing in business is to make people's lives better. I have followed the general rule that frustration can be an enormous driver of change, if you are good at spotting the opportunities sitting at the centre of a problem. Whether it is the travel industry, health care, the entertainment or leisure sector, this strategy has always worked for me.

Entrepreneurs are better placed than anyone when it comes to spotting these problems and turning them into opportunities. As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, it is time to fully realize the country's potential to become a global powerhouse of free enterprise and innovation.

Unsurprisingly most of you agree with this. The newly formed Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative (CEI) has just produced a report entitled Entrepreneurship: Canada's Golden Opportunity which reckons more than 70 per cent of Canadians think your country is a good place for a startup business. However, the number that needs fixing is the fact only 40 per cent of people are interested in becoming an entrepreneur. Of those, half of them doubt they could ever succeed.

Fear of failure and access to funding are two of the biggest issues putting people off taking the bold step to go it alone. For those even considering making that first move, these reasons probably feel like two giant immovable redwoods.

My experience is one can carve a path through that forest and create responsible lending solutions for those looking to start out on their own. We can find more ways to fund and guide entrepreneurs to nurture the future of the Canadian startup scene and help to grow these businesses into international companies of the future.

For example, in the United Kingdom, our own not-for-profit Virgin StartUp, has found ways to lift the initial burden entrepreneurs face. Virgin StartUp has provided funding to over 1,800 entrepreneurs with £21-million ($35.7-million) in support. It has also provided thousands of hours of mentoring and business advice to entrepreneurs to help guide them through their infancy years. This is part of a British Government-backed startup loan scheme (Start Up Loans Company) which has provided over £300-million to micro-businesses across Great Britain since its launch in 2012.

I'm excited about the launch of the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative founded by Ruma Bose. I am especially thrilled we can play a major role in its first program to amplify Canadian entrepreneurs, if you have a business seeking support I encourage you to visit entrepreneurshipcanada.ca for the details.

The country is ripe for entrepreneurial disruption. Your people are talented. Your immigrants, who tend to be disproportionately entrepreneurial, are welcomed with open arms and industries such as artificial intelligence and biotech are growing quickly.

However, there is Canadian entrepreneurial potential left to unlock. Successful entrepreneurs and businesses are still moving south of the border to grow and expand. There remains a feeling they cannot get the support in Canada they need for their startup to truly thrive.

In the Entrepreneurship: Canada's Golden Opportunity report, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, was ranked by Canadians as one of the greatest entrepreneur in the world. When asked for their favourite Canadian entrepreneurs, he didn't even make the top 10 (suggesting they did not know of his Canadian heritage) showing a need for greater education around free enterprise in Canada.

All of this reinforces the need to celebrate entrepreneurship and encourage its growth within Canada. It's why the CEI project is so important for the future of business not just in Toronto, Montreal or Calgary but across the whole of the country.

As I was starting Virgin in the 1970s, there was only myself and Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame who were seen as "entrepreneurs." As a result, we received more than our fair share of media coverage. Today, I'm pleased to say things are much different. There are many examples of inspiring entrepreneurship across the U.K., showing the impact entrepreneurs can have on the economy and communities.

The world needs more Canadians to go out there and raise the bar. You have many examples to model against. Leaders and disrupters such as Michele Romanow, who doesn't just lead by creating amazing technology companies but shares expertise and resources with other entrepreneurs. Or, Mike Lazaridis, one of the people behind BlackBerry and now leading pioneering computing research through his Institute for Quantum Computing.

If you ask people such as Mr. Lazaridis or Mr. Musk, they would probably tell you everyone is born an entrepreneur. We all have the potential to be one; it is just not everybody gets the opportunity to realize that. My own personal struggles to be successful in the world and our experience with Virgin StartUp and the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship have taught us that education and support can make all the difference.

I encourage business leaders in Canada to support the project – whether through mentorship programs within your company, advice or even financial support. Canada's startup community needs Canadians to come together to take it forward.

I'm humbled that Canadians named me alongside Mr. Musk as one of their top entrepreneurs. However, I'd love nothing more than for this program to find the Canadian entrepreneur who can replace me on that list and I'm sure if you asked Mr. Musk, he would also like to see more Canadians propelling your country's economy on a world stage.

Daniela and Alexa Roeper are in their twenties, and the sisters already have experience getting an idea off the ground.