The Next 36 THOUSAND

Wed, Aug 15, 2012

Featured, Mentorship Programs

Yesterday morning’s Demo Day and Graduation for the 2nd cohort of the Next 36 program got me excited about the possibilities for building a culture of entrepreneurship in Canada.  Clear in its goal of being an elite program for “Canada’s most promising and innovative undergraduates”, N36 is a microcosm of what we can be accomplish when we teach-mentor-fund-accelerate new ventures.  The question it left me fired up by though, is how can we scale this for the next 36 thousand?

You couldn’t help but be wow’d by the 5 minute Venture Presentations that kicked off the agenda. Teams were introduced by their mentors, who not only validated the solution they were presenting, but the participants growth and development that had taken place over the 9 months of the program. The endorsement of these successful entrepreneurs only began to set the stage for the incredible pitches that followed.  Having judged a number of student entrepreneurship competitions now – the N36ers really set a new bar for nailing their market challenge, value proposition and milestones with velocity.

Programs like the Next 36, don’t emerge to this stature without visionary leadership.  As co-founder Reza Satchu charismatically articulated – N36 is about creating a new Canadian mindset that “high expectations are achievable”.  The team and supporters that have emerged around this movement is a strong statement of how Canada’s entrepreneurial leaders are committed to creating cultural shift.

I haven’t experienced many man-crushes in my life, with the notable exception of meeting Stephen Covey circa 2002.  But the heart-pounding, knee-shaking anxiousness I experienced asking a question to Graham Weston following his presentation, suggests that he may have joined the ranks.   His presentation “Will you be and Entrepreneur?” boldly addressed some issues that get my blood pumping:

• The need for organizational infrastructure to produce entrepreneurs
• Our reliance on Universities to teach business – and in his words, “MBA schools destroy more entrepreneurs than they create” – academia needs to buy into a 21st century model for developing entrepreneurs
• The need to show how being an Entrepreneur is REALLY EXCITING

As the one of the founders of Rackspace – a nich company that has become the backbone of many cloud-based services – he brings a unique perspective to the conversation of how to grow startups.  I loved his advice:

• Find a small idea
• Failures are learning
• Go all in
• Be famous for something specific
• Build something Inspiring!

In the student award winners speeches at the conclusion, two descriptors of the program jumped out to me that I feel are critical to scaling the principles of The Next 36 to the masses of emerging entrepreneurs:

1. Transformational – as Canadian entrepreneurs we need to transform the paradigm that in order not to fail, we won’t swing the pendulum very far.  That mentality doesn’t create the level of innovations that make a difference in today’s world.
2. Family – while many of our own families may not always get our crazy ambitions – the support and shared experience of tight-knit communities of entrepreneurs will provide the sense of belonging we all need to ride the ups and downs.

As Graham asserted, the forces of “love and fear working together” are at the root of where true inspiration is born.   If we can instill this into our broader entrepreneurship programs, we can begin to move the needle on launching the careers of the next 36 thousand entrepreneurs.

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