Program provides entrepreneurial power to students

About eight months ago, University of Western Ontario student Saumya Krishna was awarded $25,000 to attend a summer-long program, partner with three fellow – yet unknown – undergrads from across the country and told to launch a business with $50,000 by the end of the summer.

No problem, right?

Part of a elite group of some of the top undergrad minds in the country, Krishna was selected for the inaugural Next 36 program, a exhausting bootcamp of sorts meant to help launch the careers of Canada’s most promising and innovative students. While the program actually began for the health sciences student in January, it meant numerous conference calls and e-mails with her team – which included students from the universities of Waterloo, Toronto and British Columbia – while still wrapping up her second-year work at Western.

“I think for all of us it was a balancing act,” says Krishna, one of five Western students selected for the program. The other students included Danish Ajmeri (social science), Nadeem Nathoo (Huron University College), Ronen Benin (Richard Ivey School of Business) and Holly Smith (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry).

The creation of four Toronto business people, including Western graduate Tim Hodgson, Next 36 provides key resources to young entrepreneurs with great ambitions, including faculty and business mentors, 180 hours of instruction and other resources to conceive and launch their business.

The Next 36 is based on the success of a course taught by volunteer professor and efficacious entrepreneur Reza Satchu, whose course, Economics of Entrepreneurship, rated tops out of 400 undergraduate courses at the University of Toronto for six years running.

The idea is to define and tackle problems by pushing students out of their comfort zone and fundamentally alter their self-perception and goals – which is exactly what happened, Krishna says.

“I was always interested in business from a young age but growing up I never really pursued it,” she says. “When I heard about this opportunity I felt it was the perfect time to see entrepreneurship was really like and figured it would be a great learning opportunity.

“I wanted to learn as much as possible, challenge myself and meet some great people in the process. The program really challenged me in ways I did not anticipate. I was thinking I would just learn about entrepreneurship, about business, but I went through a lot of personal growth in the process. It really does push you out of your comfort zone.”

This year, Western has joined the Next 36 program as an academic partner, looking to introduce even more students to this amazing opportunity.

“Western students did exceptionally well in last year’s inaugural Next 36 competition, with five of our own earning a coveted spot to participate in this unique leadership development opportunity,” says Amit Chakma, Western president. “Inspired by that success, we have joined forces this year with McGill and the University of Toronto to help raise awareness of the program on our campus and to encourage more of our top students who have entrepreneurial aspirations to apply.”

Krishna’s group worked hard on this year’s focus – the creation of a mobile or tablet venture. Their app, targeting those who want to get fit, but lack motivation, provides people with the incentive to walk, run or bike more through rewards from favourite retailers and restaurants.
“What we learned was that entrepreneurship is not simply about creating businesses and organizations, it is a mindset,” Krishna says. “Put yourself in positions where you could fail and learn from it. Being an entrepreneur you need to get used to the idea failing and be comfortable with that. If you have the idea and have the guts to do something about it, then you’re being an entrepreneur.”

Krishna says there was no “cookie-cutter formula” for success for the 36 students involved. The different personalities, experiences and mindsets were what added so much to the program.

“I would love to put myself in similar situations where I’m really being challenged and where I can do something entrepreneurial,” she says. “I’ve noticed coming back to Western this year I can see how I’ve grown. In certain situations where I may not have raised my hand or try and volunteer, now I notice that if I’m uncomfortable about something I will absolutely do it. You got to keep believing in yourself.”

Applications for this coming year’s Next 36 program are now being accepted on the organization’s website, thenext36.ca. Deadline is Oct. 7.