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The CampusPerks team at Redwood Strategic.
The CampusPerks team at Redwood Strategic.

Grow: Mia Wedgbury

Young CEO reboots campus promos Add to ...

Dave Wilkin has never taken a marketing course in his life, but he has the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and hunger for innovation that every major employer is looking for in its young, new hires. The catch is, he doesn’t want to work for you – he wants to work for himself.

If you’re an avid reader of The Globe and Mail’s Your Business pages you may remember Mr. Wilkin from his 10-part summer series. He wrote about his first client, adviser and hire, he counselled on ways to kick-start your career, and he explained the value of internships.

Mr. Wilkin unabashedly provided valuable insight into the world of a Gen-Y entrepreneur, but he also piqued the interest of some seasoned executives, causing us all to wonder: who is this 22-year-old anyway?

He’s the founder and CEO of Redwood Strategic, the Toronto-based firm behind CampusPerks. This fall, CampusPerks is taking university and college campuses across Canada by storm, delivering unique marketing campaigns that not only entertain and generate interest, they aim to leverage corporate partnerships to improve student life.

Mr. Wilkin’s unique value proposition is this: “Why create artificial social experiences when there are already authentic experiences happening on campus that could benefit from brand partnerships? We harness the power of marketing to make student activities and groups bigger and better.”

To do this Mr. Wilkin created a 40-person “strategist team,” a network of Canadian student leaders who have influence on campus. The Toronto head office, just shy of 10 people, hire and work with these young marketers to score brand partnerships that can truly benefit students on campus – bringing a stronger return for companies and providing unmatched marketing experiences while in school.

For example, instead of parachuting in what Mr. Wilkin calls “street-team strangers” of models and part-time sample distributers to entice the interest of students on campus, his team offers brands the opportunity to find the best events, leaders, and on-campus programs through integrated social media, experiential and word-of-mouth campaigns.

Case and point: just last week, CampusPerks helped launch a new touch-screen smartphone – the BlackBerry Torch 9800 – on campuses of the University of Western Ontario, the University of British Columbia and McGill University. The team worked with local hip-hop and dance groups to create flash-mobs (impromptu public dance parties) that would complement campus-wide scavenger hunts for the new phone.

“It resulted in thousands of conversations asking where the Torch was in residences, cafeterias, and popular student hangouts on the day it launched,” Mr. Wilkin says. “Everyone loved it.”

Reflecting on his first few months of business, Mr. Wilkin says he did face some skepticism from the companies he reached out to. “At first glance, many have asked if I am an intern. But now we’re fortunate to be working with some of the most prestigious brands, and allowing them to become a part of student life.”

From what I’ve seen over the past few years, Mr. Wilkin is of a generation of young people who want it all. They see people such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wonder ‘why not?’ Mr. Wilkin’s resolve is strong. He knows he wants to follow his passion, and he will do everything to get there – an attitude that should inspire us all.

“If I had a dollar for every person who told me I was crazy, I would be retired right now,” he says. “I was this crazy academic, but decided to turn down the corporate route and start a company I was truly passionate about…and I did it because I know we can change the way companies speak with young people.

“There is always a reason to say no or not now. If you love to do something and there is something you are really passionate about…the rest of the details will just come.”

If I’ve learned anything from my chats with Mr. Wilkin it’s this: don’t squash the spirit of young entrepreneurs. They aren’t just our future, they are leading the way right now.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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