June 6, 2018


More than 75% of the SHAD community say the Government of Canada should help Canadian youth develop as entrepreneurs by providing more access to intensive entrepreneurship training programs and encouraging  provincial governments to include more entrepreneurship curriculum and hands-on activities in high school.

Those are some of the key recommendations from a new survey conducted by the SHAD network, Canada’s premier enrichment and entrepreneurship program for high school students since 1980.


SHAD surveyed more than 100 members of its network on entrepreneurship, a field seen as a vital component of 21st century economy and many job opportunities in the future. Although the sample size is small, the respondents represent a cross-section of the SHAD network – a community of entrepreneurs, Rhodes Scholars, Top 30 under 30 and various other award winning leaders. The survey is being shared with Members of Parliament in Ottawa the week of June 4 as the Federal government prepares this country’s first ever national youth policy.


A recent study by the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative found Canadians support entrepreneurship in general yet only about 40 per cent of Canadians feel they could be successful entrepreneurs.


“The Government of Canada must encourage youth to take entrepreneurial risks.  High risk equals high reward.  Of course high risk also equals high probability of failure. Therefore, if you want more people to take big risks, make failure less fatal,” says Maxwell Brodie, 25, founder of Kaizena, which helps educators provide feedback to students and is used in more than 50 countries.


Alex Gillis, 19, is a SHAD Fellow who started Bitness while still in high school. Bitness is a business that tracked consumer purchasing habits in stores. Named Canada’s Young Entrepreneur in 2015, Gillis says more youth need to learn how to start a business from scratch before they graduate high school.


That includes coming up with an idea, testing the market for it, creating a road map to develop the product, a pitch deck to raise money and revising and improving the idea based on the feedback.


He also adds it’s important that like-minded entrepreneurs connect. 


“Build a community by providing means of connecting with other passionate young entrepreneurs with similar interests,” Gillis says.


Gillis isn’t alone in his thinking. 


Almost 90% of the SHAD community surveyed believe that students should have at least one experiential opportunity with a start-up before graduating high school. They also say the best way to teach specific and concrete entrepreneurial skills is not through textbooks but through hands on learning and access to entrepreneurship incubation.


“Should students have an experiential opportunity with a startup? - YES YES YES. Deploying this on a provincial or federal level is difficult, logistically. But it’s so damn useful for students to appreciate how exciting, terrifying, rewarding and possible being an entrepreneur is!”  says Darian Zigante, 23, a SHAD Fellow who is now working on his own start-up through the Next36 program in Toronto.


Another respondent says youth need to learn how to create something that has value, need to learn how to hustle to generate revenue and how to work in ambiguous circumstances.


“I believe all students should have a chance to create their own business through their school, with the guidance of local business people and entrepreneurs. When I got to do that in school it was the most beneficial project I had ever done. I learned more through creating my own business than I ever did learning the curriculum provided,” says Madeline Bishop, 17, a recent SHAD Fellow.


Bishop adds, “I believe that if more children learned about starting their own businesses and handling money they would be more confident as they grow up. My parents taught me about business and finances from a young age. My sister and I would create businesses in our rooms for each other, trading pennies for Webkinz and claiming interest on loans!”


Another SHAD Fellow, Jade Choy, 24, who co-founded an app called EPOCH to help refugees settle in Canada and was a finalist for the $1 million-dollar global Hult Prize, says more youth entrepreneurs should be invited to be guest speakers in schools so youth can not only learn about what it takes to become an entrepreneur but also find the speaker relatable.


“Relatability is so important - students seeing other recent students taking the entrepreneurship path are more likely to think ‘if they can do it well so can I!’ We should have more projects and initiatives in early education (elementary school/middle school/high school) that encourage students to experience creating a business,” Choy says.  She points to the design engineering challenge at SHAD where students are presented with a social problem finding a sustainable solution for it.


“Present them with a relevant and timely social issue (like how SHAD does), put students into teams where they are provided resources and mentorship to find a solution. Add in the challenge of making it a for good and for-profit entity.”


Cathy Han was recently named one of Forbes Top 30 under 30 as co-founder of 42 Technologies which aims to revolutionize retail using big data. The SHAD Fellow now lives and works in Silicon Valley and says Canada needs to provide more exposure and opportunities in high school including hackathons, coding and start up competitions.


More importantly, she also believes Canada needs to teach youth a different mindset around entrepreneurship.


“We need to teach our youth to be audacious and carve their own path. Our global reputation for niceness should not translate to taking a back seat on the world stage when it comes to creating the next big ideas, organizations, or initiatives. It is my hope that we can devote more resources to even out the playing field and give Canadian entrepreneurs a fair chance.”


Many of the Fellows say the Government of Canada also needs to offer more funding and tax incentives.


 “The two largest challenges first-time entrepreneurs face are access to market and investment capital,” says Joseph Fung, Co-founder & CEO of Kiite, which uses artificial intelligence to help companies improve their sales processes.


“Making it easier for early stage angel investors to write off small and early investments will unlock massive amounts of untapped angel investment,” Fung adds.


But Fung cautions entrepreneurs can’t become too reliant on government and need to understand why anybody would invest in their venture.


“I worry about our future entrepreneurs when they are nurtured in an ecosystem rife with accelerators and free money - it doesn't set realistic expectations.”


 “This is a really complex problem...early stage startups in Canada find it really difficult to raise pre-seed/seed rounds here. It’s hard on Canadian founders when they see startups in the States who have less than the expected traction here being able to raise lots of money down there and grow much faster. So many startups I know here (myself included) have no option but to go to the States given its faster paced ecosystem. When this happens, many Canadian startups end up operating in the States to work with their American investors.  It’s a bit heartbreaking to see all this Canadian talent and economical potential of our startups not being realized in our own amazing country,” says Jade Choy.


“The ‘fundraising slog” caused by a very constrained seed-stage capital market leads to a depletion of founder ambition, energy and ultimately pushes them to raise capital from the US which further increases their odds of relocation,” says Jay Shah, Director of Velocity which assists startups especially in the Waterloo tech corridor.


View SHAD's submission to The Government of Canada