Helping young entrepreneurs succeed

Helping young entrepreneurs succeed

Entrepreneurship programs at universities should help more young people get started.
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Like every great adventure, a young entrepreneur’s journey is packed with action, drama and risk. The hero is called upon to confront the unknown and overcome adversity to succeed.

Ambitious young entrepreneurs often face their greatest test when their company comes to a crossroads — a moment when the right move will propel their business to the next level of success.

Whether it’s making a major investment, attacking a new market or engineering a strategy shift, an entrepreneur whose business is at a crossroads must use all of his or her skills to make the right decision and lead the way forward.

The journey is exciting but the outcome is far from certain. Only half of Canadian businesses with employees survive past five years. And the challenges can be even more daunting for young business owners. They often don’t have the experience, financial resources or access to expert advice that veteran entrepreneurs can rely on at decisive moments in their company’s development.

But when they do succeed, the rewards can be immense — not only for themselves but for Canada as a whole. After all, small and medium-sized businesses are the engine of our economy. They account for 99.8% of all businesses and drive innovation, productivity and employment.

Our challenge is to encourage more young people to embark on the adventure and help those who do to succeed. Last fall, the Business Development Bank of Canada launched the Index of New Entrepreneurial Activity, a study that tracks new business creation across the country. It indicated the number of businesses launched by Canadians aged 25 to 44 had declined steadily from 2006 to 2011.

The country is already doing a lot to support young entrepreneurs through the actions of the federal and provincial governments, non-governmental organizations and private-sector sponsored groups. Organizations such as the Canada Youth Business Foundation, ACE and Junior Achievement — to name just a few — are doing great work to support and celebrate young entrepreneurs.

The emergence of entrepreneurship programs at universities is another terrific development as are the flourishing of startup programs and business incubators.

Still, everyone has a role to play in making Canada a more entrepreneurial society by encouraging talented young people to see business ownership as a valued and rewarding career path. One way to do this is by being more accepting of entrepreneurs who create a venture and fail. Some of our greatest business leaders are “serial entrepreneurs” who have had to change direction a number of times before striking gold.

Another way is to volunteer your time, talent and experience to help young entrepreneurs build their businesses. A mentor can make a pivotal difference in the life of a young entrepreneur. That’s why more veteran business people are needed to help bring along the next generation, informally or within one of many mentoring and internship programs.

BDC is striving to do its part to support young entrepreneurs across Canada. One of the ways it does this is by organizing the BDC Young Entrepreneur Award (YEA) contest each year. It’s a great way to shine a spotlight on Canada’s best young entrepreneurs and spur others to join them.

This year’s YEA contest focuses on turning points in the life of a young entrepreneur’s business. The BDC invites business owners aged 18 to 35 to apply and compete for the $100,000 Grand Prize and a second prize of $25,000 in consulting services. Tell us about a critical turning point or decisive moment your company is currently facing and how you will solve it. You can find out more at

We know it takes more than passion to run a successful company. It also takes endurance and skill combined with the ability to choose the right path at decisive moments. It’s not an easy journey. But month by month, turning point by turning point, ambitious young entrepreneurs climb higher, gain confidence and build momentum.

Encourage them, lend them a hand and celebrate their achievements. They’re helping to create a brighter future for all Canadians.

Jean-René Halde is president and chief executive of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).

National Post |