With another Next 36 cohort coming to an end a new one begins. This month, 78 of the nation’s top innovators and entrepreneurs arrived in Toronto to claim their finalist spots at the 9th Annual Next 36 National Selection Weekend (NSW). Hailing from 30 schools across Canada and with over 35 languages spoken between them, the finalists arrived ready to embark on a 3-day journey of intensive learning, connecting, and building the foundation of their future startups.
Day 1: Great Expectations
As the finalists arrived at the Royal Conservatory of Music, the room began to fill with nervous excitement. NEXT Canada CEO, Sheldon Levy welcomed our guests and shared the company’s mission by stating, “at NEXT Canada, we believe in empowering young people and giving them the opportunity to turn their dreams into reality. Thank you to our phenomenal partners for always believing in NEXT and our mission to promote entrepreneurship in Canada.”
Damian Peschier, Manager of Business Development at Air Canada, took to the stage to congratulate and welcome finalists, especially those flying in to Toronto from out of town. NEXT Canada is a proud partner with Air Canada. Recognized as an In Kind Partner to NEXT Canada with category exclusivity for 2018–2019 year, Air Canada’s generously supports air travel for the Next 36 finalists to come to National Selection weekend.
Next up was a fireside chat between Daniel Rodic — Next 36 alum and Co-founder & CEO of Exact Media — and Jesse Horwitz, the 23-year old Co-founder & CEO of Hubble Contacts.With both businesses being consumer focused, Hubble has $70M in ARR while EXACT media is described by Forbes as the Airbnb of marketing.
The two entrepreneurs took turns sharing bits of their entrepreneurial journeys and shared advice pertaining to getting started, growth and fundraising.
“It’s always the right time to be fundraising. It doesn’t cost you anything and you get feedback right from the beginning,” Jesse said. “Some businesses can bootstrap while most can’t; but even if you think about the credibility you get from the VCs that invest in you, it becomes worth it.”
To conclude the keynote reception, the finalists were kept on their toes with rapid fire questions from NEXT Canada Founding Chairman, Reza Satchu. He asked questions including: why become an entrepreneur; How would you define entrepreneurship; and what is your entrepreneurship story? It was truly inspiring to hear from several brave finalists, who stood up to tell the entire audience about some of the hardships that led them to choose this path. While some entrepreneurs shared stories relating to hardships that were thrusted upon them such as athletic injuries, others made choices such as dropping out of school in order to pursue their dreams. Either way it was clear that their past experiences inspired rather than discouraged the finalists to choose entrepreneurship.
Reza noted, “You want to make an impact and you have the freedom to make that impact through entrepreneurship. It’s beyond money, status and power. But there will be things blocking your path and most of the time it’s because you’re waiting to gain access to perfect information.”
Considering the finalists had a rollercoaster of a weekend coming up, Reza left them with one final piece of advice to reflect on before the event concluded with a cocktail reception. He stated, “Anyone can make a decision with perfect information. But the entrepreneur who takes risks will thrive. Without taking risks you won’t get through the program.”
Day 2: Conversations, Collisions & Callbacks
Feeling inspired after Thursday night’s warm welcome, finalists arrived at NEXT Canada’s headquarters on Friday morning ready to leave it all on the line. While half of the group would be sitting in back-to-back rapid fire interviews with the Selection Committee, the other half would get to hear stories and gain advice from Next 36 alum and guests’ speaker sessions. Later in the afternoon the two groups would rotate and attend their respective interviews and speaker sessions.
With team building being a key topic on everyone’s mind, Ben Baldwin, Co-founder of the Founder City Project, focused his talk on how to get started with building a company vision and team that is in it for the long haul. One of Ben’s biggest influences was none other than Jim Collins, who taught him one of his most invaluable lessons. As a young entrepreneur unsure of whether to lead or follow, Ben often found himself confused with a myriad of available options. Jim’s advice was simple: “Just be useful.”
Drawing on Jim’s well-known hedgehog model, Ben explained: “You want to be passionate about your venture, you need an economic engine that will support your passion (i.e. capital) and the last is trickiest: you have to be the best in the world at doing what you do for your target market.”
Following Ben’s insightful talk, Next 36 alum Henry Shi, Co-founder and CTO of SnapTravel, shared his entrepreneurial journey and some of the lessons learned along the way. As one of the youngest individuals to be accepted into his Next 36 cohort, Henry shared his experiences of launching a failed startup, working as a software engineer at Google, founding SnapTravel, and all the lessons learned in between.
“Starting a business will require 100% of your time. As your startup grows and things get harder, you have to think about what you want to do long term, not just about what will generate revenue,” he explained. Henry’s resilience and passion beyond reaching a bottom line has allowed him to persevere through difficult times, including the one where he was rejected by 99 out of 100 investors. He says, “when you’re fundraising at the seed stage, learn how to tell a captivating story and always lead with that.” It has been this resilience and ability to share his story that most recently led Snaptravel to raise a $28 million Series A round, led by the NBA’s Stephen Curry and Telstra Ventures.
Reflecting on his time in the Next 36 program, Henry encouraged the finalists to network and leverage the community within the program in order to learn, collaborate and gain feedback from the best.
Margaret Wu, VP of Georgian Partners, was next to share her story with the finalists. Margaret’s path to investing has not been a linear one: she wore the hats of a consultant, entrepreneur, COO, MBA student, product manager, and others before hopping over to the investment side.
As the interviews wrapped up and deliberations began, the finalists gathered in the NEXT Canada lounge to get their final doses of advice for the day. Farhan Thawar, CTO of Helpful, has learned a lot over his years of leading software teams, building Xtreme Labs (now Pivotal Labs), and advising young entrepreneurs. But the one most important thing he’s learned is to “find ways to be around smart people in a high bandwidth way. Working directly with smart people just like you makes it more productive to learn while staying on task…you are not in a group where you are the dumbest, it’s time to change your group.”
Chenny Xia, Next 36 alumna and Director of Design and Technology at GotCare, shared the two greatest dangers for entrepreneurs: our assumptions and solving for stakeholders needs. When it comes to their business ideas, Chenny encouraged the finalists to continuously ask themselves, “what’s the biggest assumption you’ve made about your idea? What can your team do to learn more about that assumption?”
Chenny used her own experiences with developing a solution for intergenerational poverty as an example on how to approach an idea and the market it affects. She says, “there’s two ways of serving people. You can show up with a solution or you can show up with an open heart and willingness to listen.”
When tackling the second danger, Chenny encouraged the finalists to consider all of the actors that affect their business, not just the final user. Focus on each stakeholder’s needs while solving problems by focusing on your end customers’ fears.
With the jam-packed day coming to an end, the finalists enjoyed dinner while some were called back for a final round of questions. With nerves and excitement at an all-time high, finalists such as Hayley Mundeva (Founder and CEO at ThriveHire) and Haman Mamdouhi (Co-founder and CEO, Health-Bridge) shared their highlights of the day:
“The highlight of the National Selection Weekend for me was definitely the connections I made. Being an entrepreneur can sometimes feel like a lonely game, so being surrounded by some of Canada’s top CEOs and aspiring young entrepreneurs was really motivating and refreshing. I also enjoyed being continuously encouraged to ‘think big’ and to find novel ways to differentiate our enterprise from what’s already out there. Overall, it was an awesome opportunity and I can’t wait to see what’s next!”
— Hayley Mundeva, Founder and CEO, ThriveHire
“I was most excited to hear about the work done behind the scenes by the NEXT Staff developing partnerships and ventures to create an organization of the exceptionally talented entrepreneurs that will one day parallel YPO. My favourite quote was how one day we’ll have the first Next 36’er Prime Minister, and I’m going to aim to meet that goal!”
— Haman Mamdouhi, Co-founder and CEO, HealthBridge
Day 3: Lessons Learned & Selection Results
On the third day of National Selection Weekend the finalists gathered at the Yorkville Marriott Hotel for an alumni panel presentation and the much anticipated announcement of who made it into the 2019 cohort. The panel, moderated by Professor Ajay Agrawal, included Jaclyn Ling, Co-founder of Hatchways; Braden Ream, Co-founder of Voiceflow; Andrea Palmer, Founder of Awake Labs; and Guillaume Laliberte, Co-founder of Setter Home Services.
The session started with the alumni briefly going over their startup journeys while Professor Agrawal reminded the finalists that, “Great entrepreneurs have an exceptional capability to minimize risk. They are not risk lovers, they are risk minimizers.” Guillaume agreed and stated that the best way to get started is by being scrappy and launching something early to get customer feedback as soon as possible.
Professor Agrawal then went on to explain that the number one reason for failure in the program is team dysfunction. He stated that, “role clarity and responsibilities are extremely important.” When asked about picking her co-founder, Jaclyn said that she asked tough questions early and chose someone that is a quick learner and open communicator.
The session ended with Professor Agrawal and the alumni leaving the finalists with advice on how to get the most out of the program:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it
- Establish mentorship relationship with people, before you need them
- Don’t worry about the idea and learn as much as you can
- Network and make friends
- Don’t compare your metrics to others
- Go ALL IN on one thing — don’t split your focus
After much anticipation it was finally time to announce the finalists who made it into the Next 36 2019 cohort. From the 78 innovators and entrepreneurs, 41 were selected to continue on with the first challenge of the program. The 2019 cohort includes representation from 30 universities and colleges including University of Toronto, University of Alberta and Waterloo University, as well as students from backgrounds including computer science, engineering, arts and business. Set up like a mini hackathon, the candidates split into teams of three and began to work on their venture pitches which they would present the next day.
As the weekend came to an end, the program entered the venture formation phase where some candidates choose their co-founders and ideate, and others iterate on existing ideas with their co-founders. With events and activities scheduled throughout the month, this phase will likely last until mid January when the entrepreneurship institute begins and the candidates start building their ventures.
A special thank you to our National Partners, EY Canada, Osler, and Power Corporation; our Government Partners, Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario; and our In Kind Partner Air Canada, who has generously flown our finalists to Toronto for NSW.
View the photos from the weekend on our Facebook page.
Written By: Sagal Muse, Marketing Assistant, NEXT Canada