How Sheridan College is giving local entrepreneurs a competitive EDGE

Brandon wrote this on Aug 21, 2018 | 0 comments

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A thriving entrepreneurial community within a region or municipality has the power to enhance lives and built prosperity. Sheridan College has long known this truth. It also knows that many students and alumni with entrepreneurial aspirations have great ideas and profound expertise, but not always the business know-how to translate that into a healthy enterprise.

Many post-secondary institutions across the country are realizing that these budding business owners need access to mentors, training and collaborative workspaces. Sheridan College believes those needs are crucial for new entrepreneurs and is committed to filling the gaps.

But, prior to 2016, the business start-up services and programs offered by the college were like a patchwork quilt – a disparate but growing collection of helpful entrepreneurship-related resources, clubs and networks spread across its three campuses in Oakville, Mississauga and Brampton. They were separately administered and sometimes unaware of their complementary sister services. Plus, there was no single point of entry to make it easy for interested participants to apply.

A Powerful Engine of Core Values

Sheridan College recognized that to help start-ups in Peel Region maximize their potential, their patchwork quilt of services should pull together and be available under one roof. It had the vision to build on and shape their small business programs into a powerful engine that, at its core, reflected Sheridan’s values. The college envisioned a place that supported entrepreneurs who were using creativity and innovation to fill important needs in their local market – and beyond.

In May 2016, armed with a goal of unifying all existing services to encourage greater uptake and accessibility, the college hired Renee Deveraux as Program Director. Renee’s mandate was to build a program that would support entrepreneurial and social enterprises that reflect the different academic faculties at Sheridan, contribute to the individual economies in its communities, and support ventures that make a positive impact on the world.

Deveraux brought with her a background of bringing people together to help one another succeed. She led an adult learning and social innovation enterprise in St Lucia for eight years which gave her subject matter expertise – in gathering the right people for the right reasons all in one spot to leverage each other’s strengths and help each other grow – and made her the perfect fit for the role.

EDGE is Born

Today, funded by a mix of private, school and government investments, entrepreneurs across Sheridan’s three campuses and communities have a single, centralized place to call home. Through the Entrepreneurship Discovery and Growth Engine (EDGE) program, they can access training and educational resources, get an injection of inspiration from like-minded peers, receive professional advice from business-owner and faculty mentors and even use the shared office space as their headquarters in an otherwise expensive rental market.

“We want to help create new businesses and organizations that are impactful in a positive way, that are not consumptive by nature,” Renee explains. “At the end of the day, we want it to be reflective of Sheridan’s culture and goals. We want to create something that matters.”

EDGE doesn’t solely serve students. Faculty, alumni and members of the public are welcome to access the program – all at no cost.

Enrollees are asked to set goals to which they are then held accountable by mentors, who coach them as they work to achieve milestones every semester. Not only does this ensure the program is reaching its own goals, it also helps the member businesses make measurable progress.

Brandon Grosvenor is one such mentor. Founder and CEO of Brand Grow Media, Brandon is also a past student of Sheridan College’s Advertising, Marketing & Communications program. With both a personal connection to the institution and professional experience as an entrepreneur, Brandon has much to offer the students and business owners who are part of the EDGE program. Brandon believes in giving back to the community and in helping budding entrepreneurs and small business owners reach success. He believes that small businesses today can achieve so much more than was possible in the past, and he’s honoured to be a part of the journey for EDGE’s participants.

“Let’s celebrate the independent and the entrepreneur who can deliver personal experience.”

~Brandon Grosvenor, CEO, Brand Grow Media

Like a Rock: Accountability, Team Work, and Smart Spending

Take Arwina Mogul, the 28-year-old founder of Esports-Tickets.com, an online platform where gamers can find tickets to video game and e-sporting events. A graduate of Sheridan’s social work program, Arwina left her full-time government job in 2016 to peruse her passion for online gaming.

She launched her digital event hub in 2017 and it quickly began to grow – giving video game fans and competitors their own place to organize and find their favourite niche events. In May of this year – with two new team members now on board – she realized she could benefit from some extra support.

Through her contacts with the federal Industrial Research Assistance Program and the City of Mississauga’s Business Enterprise Centre, Arwina was introduced to the EDGE program. After having successfully applied, she and her team now operate out of the EDGE building at Sheridan’s Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga. This gives them space to run the business without the worry of rental overhead.

“Booking or renting office space and getting the resources we have here, like stationery and snacks, would cost between $1,500 to $2,500 each month,” she says. “That’s how much we’re saving.” Plus, she adds, her bottom line has benefited from regular mentorship coaching.

“We’re held accountable for our progress to make sure we’re not just sitting around the office. It’s a nice way of really making sure there’s traction. And they don’t set the priority items for us. I tell our mentor that my priorities are a, b, and c and he helps me make sure I stay on top of them.”

Also, she says, she looks forward to the monthly meetup where all EDGE members gather to share ideas, problems and insights. “It’s always nice to hear other people who are in similar situations. As a business owner, sometimes you feel very alone. When you know someone else is going through the same thing, it’s comforting. We compare notes and see how the other person dealt with the problem. And, there are always new problems to deal with that are specific to the stage of your business. Even big-time entrepreneurs go through those same frustrations.”

Today, 1,700 users have registered on the Esports Tickets website and Arwina’s business continues to attract a growing number of event-organizer clients. She credits EDGE with not only allowing her to invest her office space savings back into the business but also expects direct leads will soon result from her membership in the program.

“One of the most important thing in start-up accelerators is communities. They help you keep on going, they’re kind of like your rock.“

Who runs the EDGE program?

EDGE is run by a small team of faculty members and students and is supplemented by mentors who are current and past alumni and members of the wider business community.

Since opening in the fall of 2017, EDGE has supported more than 40 start-up businesses, with 10 new companies currently working out of its space. The program has about 15 mentors who assist the new businesses, and, in total, has seen more than 500 people attend it’s training sessions and events. Along with Esports Tickets, nine other start-ups work directly from the co-working space. A lively mix of ages, educational backgrounds and industry sectors are represented.

Students are the ones who keep the EDGE engine running, including those completing co-op requirements by working there part-time.

“We rely heavily on the work of students – they do it all,” Rene says. “Marketing plans, ideas, social media – it’s student-driven and that’s the whole point.”

One of these students is Charles Javelona. The EDGE program helped him garner attention for his online job board, UnivJobs.ca, which connects employers with the students or new grads they’re seeking, to fill part-time, entry-level and intern roles.

Invaluable Experience Filling Entrepreneurial Gaps

Charles was one of the first students to complete his computer science co-op requirements while working at the EDGE hub. He says it was an invaluable experience, helping him fill expertise gaps – especially in marketing and sales, where he has no formal training. It also helped him build buzz around UnivJobs.

“It allowed for my platform to be better known. It’s been helpful in terms of exposure and connections to different people.”

Today, he and his co-founder Khalil Stemmler use the space to meet with clients and prospects – giving their business an established, professional feel. “I don’t have an office, so they provide me with space I need for professional meetings –  if I’m bringing in an employer client to show them we’re legitimate. It’s been very useful to me.”

Charles also likes to check in with other members online, using the EDGE Slack space for quick chats and to answer questions. Like Arwina, Charles says EDGE has been a great place to meet likeminded people going through similar founder-related experiences. “During our monthly meetups, we talk about problems we encounter, they’re almost like therapy sessions. It’s really hard with friends and family… if they’ve never started a company, they don’t know what it’s like.”

Because Charles’ business is further along in its lifecycle (he has a team of four, 3,000 students registered on his site representing 40+ universities and colleges, and about 120 employer clients), these days, he and his business partner are asked to share their expertise with newer business owners.

“Sometimes we teach people what we’ve learned. It’s knowledge like that which totally helped me, and now we’re helping others. It’s a great place, especially for first-time founders.”

Who can take part in EDGE?

Although so far, the program has been most popular with the technology set (including software developers, video game businesses and AI firms), owners from any industry or discipline are welcome. Participants are vetted via an application process designed to ensure candidates show a mix of both entrepreneurial ingenuity and community spirit.

“Through the application, we look at the strength of their venture idea, whether they have a track record of making progress on that idea, the strength of their team, and whether they have others helping them,” Renee says. “We want to know: Do they know their gaps and what is their interest and willingness to be part of a community?”

Today, EDGE continues to welcome new members, bring on new supporters and offer a place for students to work and shape the program. And, as it continues to grow, so too do the vibrant, up-and-coming enterprises it supports.

“Entrepreneurship is important because it serves communities, and that’s a value that’s aligned with Sheridan’s own,” Renee says. “We’re very proud to do the work we do.”

 

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