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Feature Interview: SURGE: Powering Entrepreneurship

August 19, 2015

A Speed Networking event held at Mohawk College's SURGE. Photo courtesy of Mohawk College.

Industry connections, networking, workshops, speaker series, mentoring and coaching, pitch training and competitions. In SURGE’s quest to help start-ups thrive, they are leaving no opportunity untouched.
 

SURGE is Mohawk’s Entrepreneurship Connection and for the past year, the on-campus resource has been stimulating and fostering a culture of entrepreneurship across Mohawk College while providing students access to start their own sustainable businesses. Run through the McKeil School of Business alongside iDeaWorks and the Faculty of Engineering Technology SURGE aims to reach out to the entire Mohawk student population across all campuses and programs of study, as well as the greater Hamilton start-up community. 

SURGE project coordinator Karen Reiner introduces the vital players of SURGE.  

Melanie Sodtka, Professor and Coordinator of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Program and SURGE Faculty Lead 

How are you connected to SURGE?

In 2014, I was asked to lead the On Campus Entrepreneurship Activities and Initiatives on behalf of McKeil School of Business and Mohawk College by my Dean and Associate Dean.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity not only to mentor and coach students and clients, but to also connect them to resources that will help springboard their entrepreneurial aspirations to new levels.

Through different partnerships within the Hamilton community, such as with Innovation Factory, the Small Business and Enterprise Centre, Alumni, iDeaWorks and the Agency, SURGE has been successful in offering students multiple opportunities to learn the critical points and pathways of a start-up. This initiative has gathered tremendous support from all angles and the momentum is strong going into 2015/2016.

How do you see SURGE evolving in the next year, and what are your hopes for the future of the program?

We have big hopes for SURGE in upcoming year. Based on the levels of success and engagement we've experienced, we will offer customized event programming for multiple Academic Programs. We will continuously support students who are currently highly engaged with SURGE, as well as those new start-ups that express interest in the program. To date, we have helped one student entrepreneur who hopes to change the way the world operates with 3-D printing, and another one who aims to add tremendous value to the health and technology sector by developing a new app for those who suffer from Celiac Disease. These are only a couple of the exciting initiatives and examples that SURGE has had the privilege of supporting.  

What do you think is the most important piece of business advice to give to a young entrepreneur that is just starting out?

Never, ever, ever give up. There will be scary and doubtful moments where the negative self-talk will take over. It's so important to keep your perspective and listen to your soul. That is where you will get the truest of answers and guidance. 

Aaron Perras, Mohawk Entrepreneurship Club President

Describe your role as President of the Mohawk Students’ Association Entrepreneurship Club and your involvement in SURGE

I find the title of President to be somewhat of a misnomer. My role is not about leading or directing. The role, as I see it, is about finding the students who might have a seed of interest in starting their own businesses and encouraging it to grow. The Club is a space where students can hash out their business ideas and get constructive feedback from students, faculty, and guests.

One of the main goals I have for the Club is to create a nexus where students from different programs can find or trade the skills they need for their ventures without having to worry about funding. My job is simply connect people together.

How have you benefited from SURGE and what do you hope to gain from it in the future?

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of being involved with an initiative like SURGE is having the opportunity to meet and converse with people who are creating, or have created, their own entrepreneurial endeavours. Knowing that people are actually doing these things is inspiring and the lessons I have learned from them have become important tools in my entrepreneurial lexicon.

In the upcoming year, I expect I will be able to learn much more from SURGE events and the people participating in them. Once I am finished at Mohawk, I am also hopeful that these new skills will set me apart from the crowd.

In last year’s Startup Weekend (Maker Edition) you were part of team that won first prize –explain your winning app idea Crosspoint  and what the next steps are in your venture?

The idea behind Crosspoint is to find a way that allows people with similar interests to find each other so that they can participate in activities. Too often, we find ourselves looking for something to do or somewhere to go; only to find our circle of friends are either uninterested or unavailable. With the Crosspoint app, we can expand that circle to people who do what you want to do.

The next steps for Crosspoint is to continue development into a working and testable platform. Once that is completed, we will launch a beta test that will allow us to measure and determine its usability and, more importantly, popularity.

Brodie Dawson, Owner, Dawson's Hot Sauce

As an entrepreneurial alumnus of Mohawk College, how was your experience as a mentor with the Speed Networking event for the SURGE Launch in May 2015? 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time during the surge speed networking portion of the event. It was refreshing to hear new ideas, developed and undeveloped, from students with passion in self-employment.  

Describe your company; how long have you been in business, do you have any employees, who are your biggest supporters, where do you hope you will be in a year from now? 

Dawson's Hot Sauce is a small batch gourmet company that focuses on quality ingredients and a hands on approach. We are in our third year of business and we are growing steadily. We have some part time assistance in the cooking and packaging process. Our biggest supporters are the people who take the time to comment after tasting on our Facebook and Twitter accounts. It means a lot to see positive reviews from people who are just trying it for the first time and becoming fans. We hope to have a strong presence in Toronto in the next 12 months.

How do you feel Mohawk College has helped you prepare for your entrepreneurial journey?

When I was a student I knew very early that I wasn't going to work in the field of Journalism. Instead, the time spent at Mohawk built my networking abilities. Building larger groups of peers allowed me to understand how important a solid foundation of believers is to start a venture - independent or otherwise. Without the networking skills being an entrepreneur would be even more challenging.   

Describe one negative and one positive experience that you have gone through since you launched your business.

Great perk, you make your own hours and the only person who gives you any grief is yourself.

Big downside, you make your own hours and the only person who gives you any grief is yourself.

Anders Knudsen, Lawyer from Simpson Wigle Law LLP 

Talk about your initial involvement with SURGE.

Simpson Wigle has been involved with SURGE since its inception, and as a young business lawyer I jumped at the opportunity to work with SURGE in mentoring, teaching, and partnership capacities. I have given talks on contractual issues for start-ups and judged the SURGE Pitch It to Win it competition back in April 2015. It is exciting to meet entrepreneurs at the beginning of their careers. Young entrepreneurs and young lawyers have a lot in common; we are interested in creative solutions, adopting new technologies, and responding quickly to the adapting market.

What do you think is the most important piece of legal advice to give to a young entrepreneur that is just starting out? 

Know what your limits in respect of what you can do yourself. There is a vast amount of free information of dubious quality and a temptation to cut corners early in one’s career. Get your first commercial lease fully vetted; same thing applies to employment agreements and contracts especially those you will use again and again. Never assume that an entity you are contracting with has your best interests at heart or that what a representative of that entity tells you is in the contract is really there. The contract is paramount and the fine print can have a huge impact.

What is the biggest challenge and opportunity, respectively, you most commonly encounter with new start-ups?

I have had the pleasure of dealing with a number of new start-ups and I have been impressed by their drive, creativity, and solid understanding of their market. As a factor of my own early-stage career, I am still building the long-term relationships with these entrepreneurs. But I also understand why an entrepreneur doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on legal advice, so one challenge is having the same kind of business continuity with an entrepreneur as I have with some of my more established clients. Thanks to SURGE, I can network and meet future business leaders of the region without necessarily having to bill my time, which is refreshing and exciting.

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SURGE receives its funding through an On-Campus Entrepreneurship Activities (OCEA) grant as part of the Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy. This funding was issued through the Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE).  

This story was provided by Mohawk College.