Startup TO – Where’s all the talent at?

startup to - where's all the talent at?

by Ashley Huffman 

If you’ve been staying on top of the latest buzz in Canadian small business, it’s that there’s a lull of professionals to fill the holes in all these new startups. It’s almost shocking that Canada would have a lull of talent. Especially considering 68.5 per cent of our population is 15-64 year olds.

So how does a country with the second best education system in world have issues churning professionals for startups?

Well, because Canada has the second best education system in the world. We’re technically creating our own problem. Obviously education is not a bad thing.

Ashley Huffman  – Contributor

It all makes sense though. The Ontario Education System is based on a very cookie cutter formula. If your family has money or you have straight A’s, you go off to university. B level students go to college, whereas C level students do college courses or just work. The average college program runs for 2.5 years. If you headed to university, that means you were looking for a master’s degree which takes 4 years. And if your goal is a Phd, that’s another 2 years on top of that.

So if my math is any good, that makes the potential startup candidates around the age of 25 to 31.  So, that leaves the 25-whenever-you-get-out-of-school-year-old in a bit of an awkward position. You can:

Get a Real Job
Get a job in your field, which from what I hear is a double edged sword for many graduates. If you have a Masters but not a PhD, you’re not quite an expert. But if you have a PhD you’re considered a full blown expert, but an extremely expensive one to hire at that. By the time you’re done school, your wallet is likely empty and you’re eager to get that average salary.

Infinite School
Turn into a chronic school-a-holic and take your studies abroad. Over 5% of Canadian university graduates go onto even more schooling at one of the top ten schools of the world. With the US having the easiest barrier of entry, in regards to language, culture and reputation, you can understand why it’s the main target; over 29,000 flocked during the 2009-2010 semester alone.

Start It Up
Work in a startup as an expert but likely at a huge loss; salary and loan repayment wise. That’s a pretty serious opportunity cost. But, as we all know this risk can have a pretty sweet payout. You can do more, learn more and often have more of a say compared to a big box company.

To get down to the nitty gritty of why college and university graduates should take a look at startups as a good career avenue, I asked my buddy Ben Zlotnick of INcubes. He’s also the brains behind NO IDEA, an open call to startup entrepreneurs to start a new team. Ben supplied me with his top 4 reasons:

1) Passion – Live to work, not work to live. The typical 9am to 5pm job is becoming extinct. Your work will inevitably follow you home and if you don’t like that, you’re doing the wrong job.  Especially considering you’ll work over 90,000 hours in your lifetime. That’s a lot of time.

2) Less Red Tape – Startups offer a perfect balance of flexibility and workmanship. Bigger companies tend to be a lot more strict about your time, essentially owning it. Maybe your best hours are 10am to 3pm and 8pm to 11pm, so work then. Maybe you don’t care to eat lunch during the day and would prefer to leave an hour earlier to beat traffic. Flexibility and adaptability are the backbone of being in a startup.

3) Experience – In most startups there’s some form of bootstrapping going on, which means everyone has to pick up the slack to make the company a success. So, chances are you’ll gain more experience by having to learn a new role or help someone with theirs. Rather than just learn how to master a department, you’ll learn how to a run a company. That’s pretty priceless.

4) Work with people you love, respect and care about – We’ve all worked at a job around people we’ve disliked, and chances are it made going to work painful. At a startup, it really does become like hanging out with friends. But friends with business benefits.

Now I do have to add that some universities are doing a superb job of helping foster their students into savvy business people.

I recently learned that many of the newest, amazing innovations related to the world of science, chemistry and forestry have actually come out of university based startups. The geekiest of all my friends Lindsey Fiddes, a Ph.D in Chemistry from Western, is working with a professor who is running a small startup team that’s integrating soft matter with microfluidic devices and producing a stamp for hot embossing.

It’s a world of nano technology versus gaming apps. The gamification of human biology even.  If that peaks your interest, check out these links:

U of T – The home of stem cell research and bio-engineering.

McGill – Postdoctoral 101.

Mitacs – Developing the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills.

Ontario Centre of Excellence – Co-invests to commercialize innovation originating in the province’s colleges, universities and research hospitals

MARS –  Science and technology incubator.


Ashley is an education & technology evangelist from the GTA.  She is proudly a Marketing & PR mentor at INcubes and is the brains and brawn behind the geek blog Ashley is also a self proclaimed Twitter and Nanodots addict.

Ashley Huffman
Ashley Huffman
Startup, technology and girls in tech evangelist. Can be found behind the scenes at Nano Magnetics Ltd getting things done. Professional @Nanodots builder and Guinness World Record holder. Fan of life hacks, Scrum and WOW, in no particular order. Self proclaimed Twitter addict.

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