When Startup Canada issued a national challenge to entrepreneurs and enterprise organizations to help mentor 10,000 Canadians during Global Entrepreneurship Week, it wanted to turn heads and showcase the value mentorship can have on both local and national levels.
Today, as Startup Canada names British Columbia’s Women’s Enterprise Centre as its 2012 Canadian Mentorship Challenge winner for overall reach, impact and inspiration, Laurel Douglas hopes this is just the start of something big for BC entrepreneurs.
“One of the takeaways I got from this is that we’re going to have to host more events,” said Douglas, CEO of Women’s Enterprise Centre, from the organization’s head office in Kelowna. “There’s a pent up demand for mentoring.”
She noted that within BC, 36% of the province’s small business owners are women, yet studies have shown female entrepreneurs have a harder time accessing capital and growing their ventures. From November 13 – 16, more than 4,500 entrepreneurs across BC were engaged in activities hosted by Women’s Enterprise Centre, including a speed mentoring activity, a mentor panel discussion, one-to-one mentoring sessions, two Twitter chats, a Facebook ‘Ask the Expert’ event, a phone-in mentor advisory forum, plus several blog posts and an eNews issue focused on mentoring.
“When we heard about this contest, we wanted to profile and acknowledge our dedicated volunteers who are really invested in helping each other,” said Douglas, adding the timing is critical as WEC is waiting on news of its provincial funding for this year.
With offices in Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria, Women’s Enterprise Centre offers skills development, business loans, and other resource services to more than 137,000 women business owners in BC. Women’s Enterprise Centre also hosts a network of more than 150 mentors across the province.
“Our mentor program is so well-established and so strong. We’ve been told by people that when they get approved to enter our mentoring program, it’s like winning the lottery – that’s how much they value our program,” Douglas said.
The mentees aren’t the only ones who win.
“I like being a mentor in the program because it’s all about giving and receiving,” said Trisha Miltimore, one of the mentors at the speed mentoring event in Kelowna last week. “Also, I get to spend time with some fabulous women who inspire me as much as I hopefully inspire them.”
For Victoria-based entrepreneur Robyn Quinn, she discovered a new resource base through her Women’s Enterprise Centre peer mentoring group.
“It was a wonderful experience because it was essentially a de facto Board of Directors for those of us who were working on our own and often dealing with fairly complex issues and challenges in the business, and didn’t really have anyone we could trust to go to,” said Quinn, a communications consultant.
Anecdotes like Miltimore’s and Quinn’s were echoed across the country during the Canadian Mentorship Challenge. Co-hosted by Startup Canada,CATAAlliance and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, the campaign saw hundreds of community groups from coast to coast step up to engage thousands of Canadians, from aspiring entrepreneurs looking for advice to serial startup founders with stories from the trenches.
“Last week went above and beyond our expectations,” said Victoria Lennox,Co-Founder of Startup Canada. “Canada’s entrepreneur community really embraced it and I think that speaks to the impact and value mentorship has for everyone involved.”
The timing of the Challenge with Global Entrepreneurship Week was an excellent fit, noted Tessa Mintz, VP, Volunteers and Programs, Canadian Youth Business Foundation.
“Combined with the discussions and sharing on social media, this truly demonstrates that Canadians who support entrepreneurship are living the philosophy that we’re all in this together,” said Mintz. “The Canadian Youth Business Foundation looks forward to working with Startup Canada and our partners across Canada towards Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013.”
Canadian Women in Technology (CanWIT), a division of CATAAlliance, saw an increase in sign-ups for its eMentorship program during the Challenge.
“CanWIT was so pleased to partner with Startup Canada on this significant initiative,” said Emily Boucher, Executive Director, CanWIT. “In the spirit of the Great Canadian Mentorship Challenge and the recognition that mentorship matters, we hope the number of both mentors and mentees continues to increase. We look forward to participating again next year!”
While Women’s Enterprise Centre claimed the winner’s title, other front-runner events in the Canadian Mentorship Challenge were:
- MentorCity’s Shark’s Pond (Toronto, ON) – Seneca College hosted nearly 500 attendees for a Dragon’s Den-like event. Hatem Jabshan, the CEO of Steeped Tea and a recent Dragon’s Den success story, gave a keynote talk and student entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to the “Sharks”, many of whom were Seneca graduates.
- Startup Weekend Québec City (Québec City, QC) – This event brought together 74 participants and 22 mentors to form teams and launch startups in just 54 hours. The final pitches were live-streamed to nearly 200 people and many of the Startup Weekend participants have enrolled in the “NEXT Quebec” program to launch the business ideas created at the event.
- Invest Ottawa Mentor Madness (Ottawa, ON) – Invest Ottawa kicked off Global Entrepreneurship Week in the nation’s capital with Mentor Madness which saw 40 entrepreneurs and 40 Mentors participate in a speed mentoring event. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with mentors identifying 82 follow-up requests.
Startup Canada also gave honourary mentions to the York Region Small Business Club’s #YRSBizMC #MentorsCAN Tweetup event in Richmond Hill, ON for its strong social media reach; and to the Colchester Regional Development Association (CoRDA) for hosting its inaugural Mentoring Breakfast event in Truro, NS to match local entrepreneurs with mentors.
Other notable events in the Challenge were the entries from the New Brunswick Business Council (Meals with Moguls), TiE Vancouver (Storming the Beach: Finding Product Market Fit), the University of Alberta Nanotechnology Group (ACS Building Blocks Mixer), Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (Mentor or Be Mentored: Either Way You’re A Winner),Ethos Mentorship 2.0, and MaRS Discovery District (‘Meet the Entrepreneurs’ – Entrepreneurship 101).
“Having such a diverse collection of communities participate in the Challenge has demonstrated how broad of a spectrum there is for mentorship opportunities across the country,” said Irenia Roussel, one of the Mentorship Challenge Directors. “Each community has different and unique challenges and given this was a pilot project, we have identified a number of areas where we can enhance this Challenge for an even larger audience next year.”
Moaz Mohammed, another Mentorship Challenge Director, has been on both sides of a mentor relationship – first as a mentee early in his career, and now as a mentor to others.
“From that experience, I saw that mentoring has a deep impact on where a person takes their career and their life and it’s really important to have a strong mentor in your life,” said Mohammed. “I think one of the greatest impacts of the Challenge was that it allowed a lot of the participating organizations to come together on one platform and see what everyone else is doing and really showcase how important mentoring is for businesses and individuals.”
Startup Canada also used the Canadian Mentorship Challenge to recognize Canada’s Top 10 Mentor Rock Stars, nominated for their contributions of volunteer work and leadership development in their communities. Startup Kitchen, an entrepreneur-led TV show on Bell Aliant Community One TV, joined in the Challenge by profiling the Mentor Rock Stars through a series of short video interviews.
Clarity brought an international spin to the Challenge by partnering with Startup Canada to connect Canadian entrepreneurs with its global network of experts via a customized Startup Canada page. Startup Canada’s national partners, Microsoft Bizspark, Business Development Bank of Canada,Gowlings, and Ernst & Young, also hosted mentorship-themed events last week during the Challenge.