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Under-20 entrepreneurs pitch their startups to business leaders at international trade forum

The BC Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual #TradeTalks event on 11th October, 2018. This was a half-day forum for BC Business leaders to take a closer look at Canada’s trade and export agenda, with key insight on CPTPP from Maryscott Greenwood.

Eight YELL students got the opportunity to attend this amazing event and this year we had two YELL teams pitching to industry professionals.

Below is a Q&A with those young entrepreneurs.

Presenter #1: Saimir Sulaj- Oigo

Saimir Sulaj currently is a 3rd year Computer Software Engineering student in UBC as well as the co-founder of Oigo, an AI-driven text-to-speech annotation platform that allows university students to record lectures and search for specific snippets of audio with their desired topic.

Staring from this summer, Saimir has been working on Oigo for four months. “University can put lots of stress on people. You should be enjoying yourself. So I tried to see what I could do to help that.”

Actually Oigo is already his fourth start-up venture. “Two of them failed. One of them was generally successful.” But Saimir learned a lot from all the failure and progress. “That’s good because I meet lots of people and I get exposed to different kinds of projects. I love building things and dreams. Entrepreneurship is kind of ideal.”

“Before YELL, I had zero interest in business. And then I took YELL and it literally changed everything. It is about building and creating. YELL by far was the class had most impact on me.”

The week before #TradeTalks was extremely stressful for Saimir. He had three midterms in three days and needed to prepare for pitch at the same time. He did a lot of research and practice. “I didn’t sleep the night before. But It is fun, stressful, and I feel alive.”

After his pitch, panelists, Takuji Sakai, Executive Director of JETRO, and Angela Hollinger, Director of the Canada-Japan Society of British Columbia, came to Saimir and shared their opinions on his future expansion plans for the Japan market.

( I wish I had this program when I was in high school !!)

For the whole video, click here.

Presenter #2: Javed Gill- SmartPill

Javed Gill graduated from YELL last year. His team, with Ali Bhagudi, Amaan Mangalji and Faaiz Walji, won 2nd prize at the YELL Venture Challenge 2018. Their venture idea, SmartPill, is an app that connects patients to physicians and pharmacies to reduce wait times for reoccurring prescription orders.

“We actually originally started with making sure patients take their medication on time, and then we pivoted to focus on helping patients get their medication. We figured this was a better and more solvable problem.”

#TradeTalks was memorable experience for Javed. “I was excited, and nervous at the same time. I think a little bit more nervous than excited. But I practiced and did it over and over again in front of different people just to get everybody’s opinions.”

Javed heard about YELL from his friends, who are currently part of his team of SmartPill. “It was a great experience. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur before. But after YELL, I actually want to pursue entrepreneurship.”

The part he liked most about YELL was the experience of pitching at the Venture Challenge. “I liked the YELL venture challenge  because it felt high profile and it gave me good experience in public speaking. So even now, when I give speeches in school, I just feel more comfortable.”

As for the good tips for our current YELL students, Javed mentioned YELL weekly guest speakers. He encouraged students to take seriously what YELL weekly guest speakers say. “They have a lot of good stuff to say. It is really important that you put their experience to good use.”

The full video is here.

YELL and SFU are creating new pathways for youth entrepreneurship

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Youth Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad (YELL) Canada and Simon Fraser University (SFU) announced on May 14th, the 2018 Venture Challenge, that they intend to work together to create a first for high school students in Canada. The two organizations will work together to explore a pilot in which students who complete the YELL program in high-school would be able to receive university credit toward an entrepreneurship credential at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

 

YELL and SFU Beedie School of Business seek to develop a new model for giving university credit for a program taken in high school. Existing models for giving university credit for high school programs often require the course to be Advanced Placement (AP) or require that classes are taken on campus, which can put them out of reach for some students. SFU Beedie and YELL are committed to ensuring that neither financial resources nor proximity to the university affect a student’s ability to access this opportunity. The model under development is intended to ensure any student who takes the YELL program in BC, regardless of which high school they attend, will be eligible to claim that credit at SFU Beedie.

 

“This partnership allows us to give an edge to all of our students, not just those within Metro Vancouver, but also to those students in northern and rural BC taking the exact same program,” noted David Cameron, Executive Director of YELL Canada. “We hope this ground-breaking partnership helps legitimize the importance of entrepreneurial learning to high school students. The fact is, many trades people, lawyers, doctors, athletes, artists, and scientists start their own business at some point, but more than that, entrepreneurial skills teach youth how to adapt in the fast-paced and changing economy we see. These skills, the ability to adapt, change your thinking, deal with failure, and innovate are super important for their future, particularly as they enter the workforce.” Added Cameron, “in my experience, these skills develop much more easily at a younger age - university is too late.”

 

   From left to right:     Georgiy Sekretaryuk (Youth Ambassador at YELL), Amit Sandhu (Co-Founder of YELL), David Cameron (Executive Director at YELL), Sarah Lubik (Director of Entrepreneurship at SFU), Bill Roche (Co-Founder of PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs), Andrew Gemino (Associate Dean, Graduate Programs at SFU Beedie).

From left to right: Georgiy Sekretaryuk (Youth Ambassador at YELL), Amit Sandhu (Co-Founder of YELL), David Cameron (Executive Director at YELL), Sarah Lubik (Director of Entrepreneurship at SFU), Bill Roche (Co-Founder of PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs), Andrew Gemino (Associate Dean, Graduate Programs at SFU Beedie).

SFU’s Director of Entrepreneurship, Dr. Sarah Lubik, highlights the importance of the entrepreneurial mindset and the people that have them. “Increasingly, it’s hard to predict what technology will enable and what jobs will be available in the future, but what we can predict is fast-paced change, complex problems and the value of the people that can keep up, collaborate, tolerate ambiguity and problem-solve: the entrepreneurs.

“But sadly it’s not always clear that entrepreneurship aligns with a university education, or that universities are looking for these ways of thinking, these attitudes. This is a key priority of Beedie and SFU, and we are excited to work with YELL to create a pathway that shows how much we value people with this mindset and to create a clear welcome for those students who want to exercise and cultivate it.”

“It is very exciting for our students to have the chance to earn university credentials while in high school,” adds West Vancouver Superintendent Chris Kennedy.  “It also reinforces the quality of the YELL Program for students.”

 

At 20, Georigy Sekretaryuk is a YELL Alumnus and co-founder of Nero, a smart-jewelry line that you can use to call for help with the tap of a button “[YELL] taught me to find approaches to problems through different, creative ways, and how to apply them in the real world to help improve the society that I live in. I was put into positions that made me think quickly on the spot, and this helps me greatly in my day-to-day life. I have become a better speaker and presenter, and I am confident that I can find a way to get any job done.”

Now a 2nd year Computer Science and Mathematics student at SFU, Georgiy highlights the common cultures of entrepreneurship and support between the organizations. “SFU has a very strong spirit of innovation that allows students like myself to be creative in any way we see fit. SFU's strong entrepreneurial community made me want to attend SFU because I felt confident that I would receive the support necessary with my entrepreneurial endeavors, which I did. [SFU] is very well set up with work labs and spaces to assist in the creation of projects like the one I'm working on that require extensive tinkering and an open, welcoming environment for innovation.”

YELL and Beedie anticipate launching the pilot before the end of 2018, ready for the students who come to SFU in September 2019.

 

Media release from SFU: http://beedie.sfu.ca/ideas/2018/05/sfu-beedie-to-offer-credit-to-high-school-students-completing-youth-entrepreneurship-program/

 

What do you get when you mix salmon, high schools students and crickets?

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Our current dietary habits are destroying the environment and the well-being of our planet. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, that’s more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. People need to be searching for sustainable protein replacements.” – Prize Catch, 2018 Venture Challenge winning team.

 

With this in mind Griffin Dent, Teva Zanker, Liam Ryan and Dayne Hack, four high school students from North Vancouver, set themselves on a mission to solve the global food crisis by providing a scalable, environmentally sustainable source of healthy protein: premium cricket-fed Atlantic salmon! This is the concept behind “Prize Catch”, the 2018 Venture Challenge winning venture idea. But why crickets? By growing the cricket used to feed the salmon onsite, Prize Catch is using a more sustainable option then fish meal on its salmon, significantly diminishing the aquaculture impact on the environment and producing a much healthier salmon for consumption.

 

   From left to right:      David Cameron (Executive Director at YELL Canada), Team Prize Catch, Kyle Treleaven (General Manager at BrainStation & Mentor of Prize Catch), Robin Fell (Director, Strategic Technology Solutions at Goldcorp)

From left to right:

David Cameron (Executive Director at YELL Canada), Team Prize Catch, Kyle Treleaven (General Manager at BrainStation & Mentor of Prize Catch), Robin Fell (Director, Strategic Technology Solutions at Goldcorp)

After a full day of nervous preparation, 3 pitch presentations to different judges and the anxiety for the results, we were able to gather with the winning team on Monday evening to learn about their experience with YELL, before they set out to celebrate their win with family and friends. And here is what they had to share:

 

1.     WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE LESSON YOU WILL TAKE FROM THIS VENTURE CHALLENGE?

I think the number one thing is to go beyond what the requirements are! Do all the work necessary to be prepared for questions, as you never know what the judges will throw at you. It’s better to do more work and then cut it down, if needed. This will help you feel more confident in your presentation. Another important point is to never lose sight of your venture goals and mission and keep those in mind when presenting and answering the judge’s questions.

 

2.     HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE OF HAVING A MENTOR IMPACTED YOU?

Our perception of what being a good mentor means has shifted as the program evolved. Initially, we believed that a good mentor is someone that gave you the answers you needed to guide you in the right direction. Although that is to a certain extent still true, we found out that a good mentor knows just how much direction to give and, more importantly, what questions to ask so that you can figure most things out for yourself. Also, having someone that has excelled in business and is willing to share that knowledge with you, like our mentor Kyle Treleaven, gives you an invaluable opportunity for growth. To learn from some of those experiences was very helpful.

 

3.     HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE "ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET" AND ITS IMPORTANCE?

If we could define it in one word it would be: perseverance. This means never stopping when someone gives you a ‘no’ or things don’t go your way. There is always a better way to do things and if you’re open and persistent, you will get there eventually. It’s also very important to be able to fail, learn from it and keep moving forward. Being comfortable with the concept of failure helps you persevere. Finally, another important point is the openness to learn new concepts and explore new ideas. Sometimes the path to the right solution is not as linear as you would think!

 

4.     WHAT DO YOU FEEL BETTER PREPARED FOR NOW, AFTER TAKING YELL?

I think we all feel more prepared for life in general. From a business perspective, YELL has made us more comfortable in front of larger audiences and it feels good to get over that hump! Another critical point was learning about the importance of networking, as well as building connections and collaborating with other people. From a personal perspective, YELL has helped us identify what our strengths are and how to work well in a team. It has also given us tools to develop more confidence to pursue our goals and taught us the power of setting a target: we learned that we can accomplish a lot in a year!

 

TOP 4 TEAMS SHOUT OUT

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Being one of 4 finalists from a pool of 40 competitors teams, is a huge feat! We want to recognize all the hard work and ingenuity of our other 3 finalist teams: SmartPill (close second!), an automated system that reminds people to take their medication; Cicer, which aids drowsy drivers and those with heart conditions by monitoring their heart rates and sending alerts if any irregularities occur; and Tracker Bond, a GPS tracker that you can stick on valuable items.