in Canada, Recruiting, Resources, Startups

Entrepreneurship as a career path

F1 in SchoolsI am a huge F1 racing fan. And I was impressed to see a group of Ontario high school students participating in F1 in Schools at the Ontario Science Centre. It is an amazing concentrated effort to bring together partners and create an educational program for the succession of the people that keep Formula 1 teams building new innovations (that in turn inthrall an audience). The program is a multi-disciplinary challenge for students aged 9 to 19 years to design, build and race gas powered balsa wood F1 cars. What a great opportunity to build the next generation of engineers and designers that are interested in 3-D manufacturing, CAD/CAM, computational fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, engineering, etc. It provides a training ground to ensure that Formula 1 teams have an educated talent pool with practical experience and excitement.

It has started me wondering about the role we play in exciting the next generation of entrepreneurs. I remember reading that career choices are made by Grade 11 (source needed, I think it was in discussion around STEM careers and girls in IT from the Microsoft DigiGirlz program however I  am not able to find the reference). Much of the work and research seems focused on increasing the number of girls that choose Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

In the US there is the work of the Kauffman Foundation that supports entrepreneurship through education, training, policy development and other activities.

“The Kauffman Foundation is working to further understand the phenomenon of entrepreneurship, to advance entrepreneurship education and training efforts, to promote entrepreneurship-friendly policies, and to better facilitate the commercialization of new technologies by entrepreneurs and others, which have great promise for improving the economic welfare of our nation.”

I really like how the Kauffman Foundation has divided up their Entrepreneurship Track: Youth Entrepreneurship; Minority Entrepreneurship; Higher Education; Capital, Markets and Economics; Knowledge, Training and Networks and Global Entrepreneurship. This division allows for the creation of programs, grants and offerings that support different strategic needs of each group.


I am really impressed with the efforts of the team at Communitech. They are doing a great job building the programs, partnerships, and policy work that supports the efforts of Waterloo Region. They have identified the gap left by many of the University focused programs like UW Velocity and Impact, by building and supporting the activities to attract and engage students before they make their post secondary decision. Communitech delivers programs like:

It is great to see that Waterloo Region really has an institution that is dedicated to supporting technology companies and startups. And is developing the necessary programs to interest kids in making STEM education and career choices. It shouldn’t be a surprise given that UWaterloo has a pioneered cooperative education program that revolutionizes the career experiences available to students.

There are other programs available that typically focus on post-secondary students We have programs like the:

I wonder who outside of Communitech (and maybe BCIC on the west coast) working on programs that support the development of entrepreneurship careers. Are there good global examples of entrepreneurship education and engagement for middle school or high school kids? Where can find other examples of what is working?

Some rights reserved Photo by Terriko
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What programs can startups take advantage to find talent possibly with subsidies (yeah I can’t believe I’m saying that) to help develop the next generation of founders. The Government of Canada – Canada Business has a list of Grants, Contributions & Financial Assistance that is a great starting point for getting access.

What would be beneficial to startups is an agency that actively matches students and funding programs with my current business needs and stage of corporate development. Rather than relying on me to change my focus from product development, customer development, sales and marketing to educational program participation. It would be great if there was an member-driven organization like Communitech that was focused on making these programs accessible to me.

Maker Faire

I want to see programs like Maker Faire (check out the mini-Maker Faire on May 7-8, 2011), Ace Canada Student Entrepreneur Competition, Ivey Business Plan Competition, Moot Corporation, Extreme University, etc. The hard part is how to increase startup participation in the growth, development and refinement of the talent and ideology without distracting founders from their missions to build successful businesses.

Who, how and what should be done to continue to build a culture starting with middle school and high school students to help encourage entrepreneurship as a career path? What do other startups want to see? I’m interested in hearing from John MacRitchie (@jmacritchie), Anand Agarwala (@anandx), Scott Pelton (@spelton), Brian Sharwood (@bsharwood), Lauren Friese (@LaurenFriese), Danny Robinson (@dannyrobinson) and others.


  1. David, I love your article and I whole heartedly agree. Education and opportunity at the middle school and high school level is critical in the future growth of entrepreneurship in Canada.

    Have you heard of Shad Valley program for teenagers? See I was one of the first students through this program way back in 1985. It had such an impact; I built my first start up straight out of university.

    Shad Valley is a four week summer enrichment program. Students spend a month living in residence at one of our host university campuses across Canada. (I did my at University of Waterloo) The program is offered to students currently completing grade 10, 11 or 12. During the four weeks, students were engaged in lectures and activities that focus on the sciences, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. The program provides an academically stimulating, mind expanding adventure for top well-rounded students. BTW, these lectures were at 2 and 3 year university level which really made you push yourself. I was fortunate enough to have a corporate sponsor. This sponsor ended up hiring me every summer as a student software developer. I made my first production code at the age of 16 which was used by financial institutions for bond trading. Early success in computing really accelerated my personal growth and fired my passion to build my own business.

    I would love to hear from others how we can help foster entrepreneurship and educate today’s students in our experiences. I would love to help in some way.

    Andrew Lo (@fastdrvr)

  2. One missing piece is the level of involvement of successful Canadian entrepreneurs and reengagement with first time founders – great to see your interest, just need more like you.

  3. Don’t forget Shad Valley! Brilliant youth focused entrepreneurship program

  4. One of my favourite Paul Graham articles broaches the need for better mentorship programs (and also why nerds are losers) –

    I think some of it falls back on to entrepreneurs to hire & mentor high school students. I feel there is a stigma of high school students being not super useful.

  5. One of the best guys I’ve recruited recently is only 19! Age is not a determinant of work ethic, smarts, or even relevant experience.

    Perhaps the easiest way to get started in startups is to join one. It follows that if we want a healthy ecosystem 5 years out, each of us should be hiring some fresh blood, who will one day go on to found startups of their own.

  6. re: ” Are there good global examples of entrepreneurship education and engagement for middle school or high school kids? Where can find other examples of what is working…”

    My answer is simple, and taken directly from my own blog posting in late March —

    BASEF is the Bay Area Science & Engineering Fair, held in Hamilton annually, and they promote BIG TIME the involvement of entrepeneurs and firms looking to instill innovation in our younger science/tech minded students! And the nice thing is that they will help YOU get a similar event started in your own community too!

    Pls do click that link and see what they’ve done now for over 50 years – or drop by their own site here — — too for more information!


  7. The Science & Engineering Fair is a great starting point. I think that too many entrepreneurs or companies see it as a pure recruiting opportunity. We need to find opportunities that encourage development and mentorship of students beyond just recruiting them.

  8. I had forgotten about Shad Valley. I remember seeing it when I was at Waterloo but I don’t have any experience with the program. Would love to learn more.

  9. I attended in one of the early years too, but also taught at it for a few summers several years later. While it does provide some exposure to business for people who otherwise might not get it, it really turned from an unknown, creative risky thing into a checklist item for science-oriented students padding their resume to get a good university admission. So the bulk of the students were the smart but more conservative types who would end up in a standard medicine or engineering program.

  10. A few thoughts here.
    In Canada we don’t end up having students with huge student debt like they do in the U.S. but it does make a difference to young people’s decision process. I’ve met young people who feel obliged to pay student debt and getting a ‘normal’ job is often the best and easiest way to get that process going. So one way, by policy, to encourage kids is to take entrepreneurship as a career is to forgive student loans when students engage in an entrepreneurial endeavour. Obviously we’d need to frame it so as not to be abused, but it could be made such that any small success creates large debt forgiveness. (hiring your first employee, for example)
    The other thought is that kids need to be encouraged to think of entrepreneurship as just as much of a job education as taking a real job. When I left Babson my entrepreneurship profs reminded me that if I worked at an entrepreneurial endeavour and failed (which many students will) I would gain infinitely more experience in my line of interest than if I managed to secure my dream job. (You can always join the workforce later, if things are getting tough) This is 100% true as even those who haven’t succeeded have ended up in far more interesting positions, and with far more insight than their peers.
    One other point worth making is to ensure that we keep the term entrepreneurship broad enough so as not to just include technology. There are many businesses to start, not just tech. There may just be a better way of approaching a traditional business or a small shift in product or position which makes a big difference in the market (think Freshi). The programs mentioned above all focus on tech. But let’s encourage kids to start any type of business – from that lemonade stand, to going out on your own as designer or plumber, to the creating of the next Facebook. It’s all entreprenurship and it’s all good, because it all leads to independant business smarts.

  11. Myself and a few colleagues started an incubator at the University of Western Ontario called BizInc.  We found that there were hundreds of business plans created across campus every year (some course-related, some not), but that students sat on the plans in favor of safer summer jobs back home.  With BizInc, we hoped to catch students at that inflection point (at UWO it’s January/February) when they’re still high on completing their major business plan as part of their second year accounting course, but before they’ve decided on a summer job.  We partnered with the City of London, the UWO, and several other community partners to fill the space with up to six full-time businesses this summer.  It’s no Velocity, but it’s a start.

    I don’t think it’s about ‘encouraging entrepreneurship’, I think it’s about providing that key mix of resources at very specific points in time.

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