“Don’t expect to be an overnight success.” “Ninety per cent of startup businesses fail.”
These were some of the tough love takeaway messages students and aspiring entrepreneurs heard from Allen Lau.
Lau, CEO and co-founder of Wattpad, was the keynote speaker marking the finale of Global Entrepreneurship Week at the Digital Media Zone on Friday evening.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Lau spent more than an hour with entrepreneur hopefuls sharing lessons learned from his eight years of experience evolving his startup businesses.
“As an entrepreneur, you will face challenges that you might have never anticipated,” Lau said. “You not only need to create a product based on your idea, but you also need to be an accountant, a financer, a salesperson – things that you’ve never done before.”
Just as important as adaptability is the acceptance of setbacks when launching a business.
“[Business] startup is five per cent glory, 95 per cent crappy; you may not be able to get any traction early on,” Lau noted. “But that’s OK, that’s OK … that’s part of life. Be creative and work around all the problems that you have.”
So how can rookie entrepreneurs (or those with an entrepreneurial mindset) arm themselves with adaptable, creative and lifelong skills as Lau suggests?
Although Global Entrepreneur Week comes to a close on campus, StartUp School is still in session.
Launched as a pilot project by the Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute earlier this September, “StartUp School: Passport to Innovation” is a series of 13 workshops to help students cultivate their entrepreneurial skills and startup business ideas.
Each Wednesday evening during the fall semester, leading industry experts, student entrepreneurs and faculty professors teach three-hour courses in business fundamentals.
Topics include practical exposure in law, discovering business opportunities, and even how to build a mobile app. Participants who complete eight out of 13 modules receive a certificate.
However, the continuation of StartUp School into the winter semester remains uncertain. The school, which is the brainchild of assistant professor of entrepreneurship Sean Wise, only has three workshops left in the semester.
Wise confirmed that talks with senior administration will happen in early December to determine if StartUp School will host another round of workshops.
Wise is optimistic of its return since “the feedback has been positive and the demand was incredibly good.”
Steven Gedeon, founder and executive director of Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute suggests that the field of entrepreneurship is not just for entrepreneurs anymore. Rather, entrepreneurship is a means of personal development for everyone as much as it is professional growth.
“I believe that entrepreneurship is something that is fundamental to the human spirit. It goes way beyond just a discipline at the Ted Rogers School of Management and it’s not just about starting up a business,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is really about being an empowered, proactive person who can change their lives and the world around them.”
A similar sentiment is shared by Ryerson Commerce Society vice-president Harman Singh, who believes StartUp School is more than just the course content.
“For me, it’s more of a networking hub … you meet like-minded people because people who are committed will go to all the 13 modules and you can collaborate,” Singh said.
For Andrew Walls, taking StartUp School workshops as a first-year business student gave him valuable insights into his own entrepreneurial journey.
“StartUp School has given me the confidence to pursue my own ideas, my own initiative,” Walls said. “I’ve learned all about how I can start my company and more importantly, who I should be for my company to succeed.”
Modelled after a program at Stanford University, StartUp School is facilitated by students for students who are either studying business or have a passion for entrepreneurship.
“As a team, we are working closely with people to provide guidance in terms of education, resources and funding,” said Alif Ruhul, one of the project managers of StartUp School and a fourth-year business management student.
StartUp School is a joint initiative between Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute and the Ted Rogers School of Management and costs an estimated $10,000 to run.
The $10,000 price tag for the school is entirely funded by Ted Rogers School of Management’s dean Steven Murphy.
The workshops are free for Ryerson students and alumni, while the general public pays a nominal fee to register.
Like the success of Ryerson’s Digital Media and Fashion Zones, StartUp School encourages zone learning, or close-knit collaboration between stakeholders, faculty and student entrepreneurs – the latter of whom are mostly in disciplines outside of business.
“We have around 1,000 entrepreneurship majors on campus and in the last 90 days, StartUp School has had over 1,500 people register – those aren’t in the entrepreneurship major necessarily – they come from the arts, the school of media, early childhood education, our English department, our economics department, engineering and science,” Wise explained. “So entrepreneurship starts in the Faculty of Business, in the department of entrepreneurship, but it really traverses boundaries.”