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Student entrepreneurship

January 5, 2010

The University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and other BC based post-secondary institutions are hotbeds for entrepreneurship.

Dating back more than fifty years, some of BC’s local entrepreneur success stories originated from the university environment.

Jimmy Pattison started curbing cars while at UBC.  Brian Scudamore started hauling junk while at UBC.  Peter Armstrong started giving sightseeing tours while at UBC.  Anthony and Andrew Sukow started Advanced Economic Research Systems while at UVic.  There are many more examples.

Useful capital is one thing companies need, but there are two key things entrepreneurs must seek out.

(1) Mentorship – someone with domain expertise and a verifiable track record.  I was 23 when I started my first company and grew it to 40 employees and y second company grew to 12 employees.  I was surrounded by staff, but I struggled to make big decisions and made myriad mistakes.  Had I had effective mentoring I would have made good decisions great and bad decisions better.

(2) Effective relationships – entrepreneurs can’t do it alone and you never know when a relationship is going to pay dividends.  Had I not made a great effort to establish connections while building my second company, I wouldn’t have made two very key hires and, undoubtedly, would have had trouble selling it.

The free market thinker in me thinks that if a student entrepreneur is going to be successful they will figure these things out on their own.  They’ll find a commercially viable opportunity, build the right relationships, find effective mentors and raise appropriate capital.

But the entrepreneur in me who has been beat up (particularly in my second company) likes the idea of giving a helping hand, particularly in the early days.  So, I’ve been helping out a team which is establishing a program in entrepreneurship for my alma mater – UBC.  It will include mentorship, opportunities for relationship building and very early stage pre/pre seed capital.

I will write more on this another time.

In the interim check out this Financial Post article (http://www.financialpost.com/small-business/business-solutions/story.html?id=2403106) on Canada’s current venture capital market.  It features a take on this climate by Danny Robinson, co-founder of Bootup Labs and a successful entrepreneur in his own right.

Bootup is doing some very interesting things in Vancouver and it’s worth checking them out.

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