The summer 2021 cohort of the Student Venture Advisory Program (SVAP) has come to a close! This four-month program provides student entrepreneurs with that important starting point needed to launch and grow their startups through access to mentorship and coaching. This year’s cohort got to experience a special kind of guidance — with alumni of Platform Calgary's Junction Program.
Having gone through the startup experience themselves, the advisors have a unique chance to impart their valuable knowledge and pass the entrepreneurial torch to a group of early-stage founders.
The mentors include Euan Thomson, founder of Raft Brew Labs; Shanika Abeysinghe, co-founder of Bessie Box; Jennifer van Zelm, program development for WISE Planet; and Umair Tazeem, founder of Embold. Teaching the nuances of the startup journey, the Junction Alumni advisors helped along the way as the students navigated the program’s customer discovery process, finding product/market fit, peer learning and accountability, pitch development, and a well-rounded business foundation and knowledge to scale the students’ startups.
“It’s so exciting to see the next generation of entrepreneurs and what they are building,” said Shanika Abeysinghe. “They are changing Alberta for the better and to be a small part of their journey is truly a blessing.”
Brandon Pentz, a University of Calgary student and participant in the SVAP, is the founder of Advocacy and Innovation in Child Prosthetics (AICP) Foundation. AICP Foundation designs and uses 3D-printing technologies to provide children with an improved quality of mobility and life, with plans to use a multi-disciplinary framework to design and develop 3D-printed prosthetics specifically targeted towards improving impact and quality of life.
Brandon was inspired to create AICP Foundation by a local teenager, Jerlena, whom he had been assisting to provide a 3D-printed prosthetic. “Working with Jerlena has been very valuable to learn about some of her challenges and to figure out how we can overcome them using 3D-printed prosthetics,” said Brandon. “This inspired us to figure out how we can further expand our impact to help other children experiencing similar challenges.”
When it comes to challenges, the SVAP helped Brandon overcome some of his own. “This program has taught me about several of the key steps involved in starting a business/foundation,” he said. “One of the biggest steps that’s sometimes overlooked, is problem validation. I learned about the importance of validating your company's assumptions and how it is a crucial step before jumping ahead with any business model hypotheses.”
According to Euan Thomson, founder of Raft Brew Labs and a Student Venture Advisor, another obstacle to overcome for new entrepreneurs is “shiny object syndrome,” which is “trying to please everyone instead of focusing on a core product that I could build on. When you’re stretched too thin, it can take away from the core product that people know you for.”
Benjamin Pearman, another SVAP participant, is a Mount Royal University student and the founder of Chinook Aerosports — a Western Canadian disc golf startup creating community-driven products that improve the game and grow the sport. One of Ben’s biggest takeaways from the program is that you don’t have to get things right every time, as long as you have people to support you.
“My advisor was amazing at reassuring me that it was okay to try and fail, and helping me test new ideas,” said Ben. “I received great help with my obstacles through the hivemind sessions, having that many experienced people to just blast you with input is great.”
The SVAP provides the knowledge and guidance of experienced advisors who have gone through similar challenges and triumphs along their entrepreneurial journey. Advisor Jen van Zelm of WISE Planet shares the reward of imparting her successes and failures on new startups. One piece of wisdom she imparted is about the “startup prenup.” She explains how important it is to have something like a “prenup” in place when working with a co-founder. She said it’s “one thing that might be overlooked but can blow the whole thing up.”
Jen discusses the importance of teaching early stage founders how to ensure their company is protected and people are treated fairly when life happens in unpredictable ways. “Negotiating how to leave a start-up once a lot of time and heart has already gone into something is much harder than following a set of rules written and agreed upon earlier,” said Jen.
The SVAP is an invaluable resource for student founders, giving them the tools they need to grow and scale their businesses.
Learn more about the Student Venture Advisory Program and the student founders who took part in this cohort, here.Back