“It’s not an accelerator or an incubator. Through it I learned to live,” tweeted one of the 36 young entrepreneurs who just became part of the third graduating class of The Next 36, an intensive, nine-month program to teach undergrads the art of entrepreneurship.
Flown in from across the world to Toronto, the 36 students were chosen from over 1,000 applications. Now that they’ve gone through the program, this year’s class is presenting their start-ups today to angel investors and venture capitalists from across North America. While cheques may not be written today, a handful of ventures will likely receive funding over the next few weeks and months as the result of today’s Venture Day pitches. The three winners of the program’s Outstanding Venture Award, Needle, Boxit and Seamless, have already been awarded $150,000 between them.
But even those who weren’t awarded funding had the chance to learn from big-name mentors and guest lecturers including Canadian business leaders Jimmy Pattison, Paul Desmarais and Galen Weston. This year, Brian Scudamore, Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, served as keynote speaker, telling the story of how he built his business. Last year, Graham Weston, co-founder and chairman of Rackspace, the San Antonio, Tex.-based Web-hosting pioneer, made a rare Canadian appearance at the event, telling students, “If you don’t like to learn, an entrepreneurial organization is not for you.”
Inspirational, for sure. And lucrative for some. But how is this different from any other incubator program?
The Next 36 isn’t just about helping startups find their way; it’s about creating true entrepreneurial thinkers, something Reza Satchu says is missing in Canada. Last year, the co-founder and founding chair of The Next 36 told PROFIT that the program is an attempt to solve the “right tail” problem in Canada, which is that there are not enough truly extraordinary entrepreneurial successes. “If you look at the prosperity gap between the U.S. and Canada, it’s increasing,” said Satchu. “The reason isn’t the median worker in Canada, who is just as productive as his American counterpart. The difference is the far right tail. We don’t have our share of Googles or Facebooks. What we’re trying to do is inspire that kind of thinking in the students that come through our program and to serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurship in the ecosystem.”
“The program will be hard,” Satchu told students when they first arrived. “For many of you, it will be the first time that you will fail. We will teach you that failing is a good thing.”
As the 2013 class launches their new businesses, the program is accepting applications for 2014 until October 7, 2013.