Can entrepreneurship cure youth unemployment?

Scott Walton, chief executive of Enovex in Saint John, N.B., stresses the importance of brokering global partnerships.

While entrepreneurs Armen Bakirtzian, Scott Walton and Louis Parent all hail from different parts of Canada, the trio last week returned from a Moscow summit with a renewed motivation to fix the chronic national youth unemployment. Their plan? The magic wand of entrepreneurialism.

They were part of the 18-strong Canadian delegation who attended the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (G20 YEA) summit in Moscow from June 15 to 17, joining more than 400 energetic entrepreneurs from the world’s 20 largest economies at the Skolkovo Technopark venue in the Russian capital.

Youth unemployment has been at the forefront of the summit since its inception four years ago, said Mr. Bakirtzian, founder of Waterloo-based Avenir Medical Inc., adding that it’s a plight that continues to deepen. Severe youth unemployment in Canada was the subject of a CIBC report released June 20, which highlights that one in 10 young Canadians are neither employed nor in school.

Julia Deans, chief executive of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), warned that Canadians, especially with youth unemployment at double the national jobless rate, are not sheltered from the generational job crisis threatening stability in regions such as the European Union.

With the International Labour Organization reporting 75 million young people unemployed worldwide, entrepreneurship is touted as a leading engine of job creation. The grimly titled “Avoiding a Lost Generation” report by Ernst & Young unveiled at the summit found that businesses with less than 250 employees represented two-thirds of G20 employment. In Canada, that figure is 98%.

The overarching theme at the Moscow summit was to support entrepreneurs so they can hire jobless youth and remedy the rising unemployment rate. Necessity is driving many to pick up entrepreneurship as an alternative career, Ms. Deans said. This trend demands more educational programs early on that offer the basics of running a business.

Moscow was Mr. Bakirtzian’s third summit. Being a veteran at the Russia summit allowed the 27-year-old to critically examine what’s missing in Canada and what can be done to improve the local ecosystem and bolster the country’s standings in commercialization, innovation, and productivity — including becoming more globally minded.


While Canadian entrepreneurs have a leg up on many of their G20 counterparts with respect to a supportive national ecosystem, a stable economy and encouraging government and legislative measures, Ms. Deans said some countries’ entrepreneurs are more global in their thinking. With only a handful of global entrepreneurs based in Canada, the country needs more export-ready startups who look beyond provincial borders, she added.

“There’s no company today that can be successful working in a silo and ignoring what is happening in the rest of the world,” Mr. Parent, co-founder of Montreal-based ChronoMetriq Inc., said from his hotel in Moscow.

Two-time delegate Mr. Walton, CEO of  Saint John, N.B.-based Enovex Corp., who secured a deal with an Indian university to open a $2-million research lab, also stressed the importance of brokering global partnerships.

“Everyone wants their business to go to the moon, but starting Day 1 they need to ask themselves, ‘where in the world can I partner with a lab to offset $100-million in capital costs so I can do some proof of concepting?’ ” said Mr. Walton, who is also a board member of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The tolerance for risk in Canada is not well developed, CYBF’s Ms. Deans said. “You really saw when you talked to people from other countries that we pale in comparison.”

“Canadians need to embrace the you win or you learn mentally — failing at a business venture doesn’t mean you’re the weakest link”

Mr. Parent, who is 36, said he was amazed to meet a 28-year-old female entrepreneur from Russia who has founded 50+ companies to date, her latest venture worth 140-million euros.

Ms. Deans said it goes beyond that perennial flagellating criticism of the cautious, conservative Canadian business person. Rather it’s a mindset entrenched in mostly traditional industries that doesn’t see entrepreneurship as a viable career option.

“Other countries might be more aware of entrepreneurship as a viable career path, whereas we’re a little bit scared of it,” Mr. Bakirtzian said. “We met American entrepreneurs who started when they were in their early teens. We don’t start ‘entrepreneurship’ until our mid-twenties,” he said.

Ms. Deans referred to it as “a tall poppy syndrome,” and noting, “we cut down people who stand out in the crowd.” Canadians need to embrace the you win or you learn mentally — failing at a business venture doesn’t mean you’re the weakest link, she stressed.

On top of early business-101 education, Mr. Walton called for more “selfless knowledge transfer” — already a Canadian trait — among advisors and mentors at universities and larger enterprises.

An Accenture report coming out of the summit revealed two-thirds of the 1,000 young entrepreneurs surveyed across the G20 are dissatisfied with their existing government policies. Mr. Bakirtzian said our general policy support system and innate helpfulness outperform other nations. “All the other delegations kept saying, ‘We can’t believe how nice the Canadians are.’ We don’t think we’re being nice — we’re just being ourselves. It comes back to the ecosystem and how giving we are,” he said.

The 18 delegates will reconvene next week to pen a Canadian-specific communiqué, which they will present to policy-makers and business leaders. The four areas the communiqué will target are: startup access to finance, specifically those outside the tech industry; legal and regulatory systems (including the federal temporary foreign worker program and tackling municipal corruption issues); investment in educational programs; and stronger digital infrastructure (accessing government services online, high-speed Internet in remote areas).

However, Mr. Parent contends that the choppy waters of economic recovery allow young entrepreneurs who are natural risk-takers to thrive. “It’s always in these moments that creativity and vision is tested.”

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