With fall just around the corner, it's time for us to say goodbye to the great teams we welcomed to campus for the Student Summer Accelerator Program. Teams of four joined us for 14 weeks of intensive programming focused on developing their tech-enabled products. The students went through the Preflight series, participated in weekly mentorship sessions and pitched their companies at a practice demo day.
We look forward to working with students this year! Stay tuned to startupedmonton.com/students for updates.
We sat down with Carl Charest, Program Coordinator, to chat about his experience with the students this summer.
Q: What were three highlights of working with the students this summer?
Seeing that students were first here to work on a startup idea and then to watch them realize that the skills they were learning were as valuable, if not more valuable, than having dedicated time to work on their startup. I like to think that we taught them a set of skills that is highly practical and that has the potential to give them a serious competitive advantage in their personal and professional lives.
Getting to know the students on a deeper level over the weeks was a big highlight. I discovered that, despite coming from different walks of life, the students were all here for the same reason: they wanted to make someone's life more enjoyable and find real solutions to their customers' problems in an effective manner.
The final presentations completely blew me away. The potential that these students have is bottomless and the desire to make their dreams into reality is humbling.
Q: What were the greatest opportunities for growth and improvement for the students?
The biggest opportunity for the students was to learn a set of skills that most universities and business books don't focus on. Starting a business is often seen as a risky adventure. Indeed, many businesses do fail. Entrepreneur does not have to be synonymous with taking a gamble. Taking small actionable steps on a well-defined path is what most entrepreneurs have to learn. I take pride that this is one thing that Startup Edmonton teaches better than most.
Most students are often well-versed on the business-side or the technical-side of their idea. One are of improvement I saw, over the course of the summer, was the teams were open to acquiring the skills necessary to be functional and effective on both the business and technical sides of their projects. Startup Edmonton offers a wide variety of programs, workshops and meetups that can help students explore and begin to fill the gaps they see in their skills.
Our student teams really took to heart that the point wasn't to become an expert on all sides of the equation, but that they had a responsibility to be functional enough to overcome obstacles when they hit.
Q: Why would you encourage students to start working on projects and companies now, rather than waiting until their studies are complete?
Who would be crazy enough to spend money on a startup (and ramen noodles) instead of a brand new car and hot vacation on the beaches of Mexico, right?
Students waiting for their studies to be complete face the urge to start their grown-up lives. Once debt from a mortgage starts accumulating or steady income from a stable job starts rolling in, it becomes extremely hard to focus on building and launching ideas.
Start a business as a student. Start cheap and fail fast. Try and launch something that will make you $100, then something that will make you $500, then $5,000, etc. Learn by doing. Books and classes are great only if you apply the concepts you learn. You will probably fail at some point down the road. If you learn anything valuable during the process, it will be worth as much as what you're studying in a formal college/university class. Just take a small step. Then take another small step. Become and expert at taking small steps. Let it become second nature to you; taking steps is the most overlooked skill one can have.
Build, measure and learn. Rinse and repeat. Then, graduate from college or university (heck, even high school) and never trade your time against an hourly wage. Time is the most valuable currency one has. Time is true freedom. Why wait to start?