ventureLAB’s entrepreneurial education program might be free of charge and it won’t turn anyone away, but CEO Jeremy Laurin wants to make it clear that it’s no cake walk.
ventureLAB is one of 14 research and innovation centres (RICs) sponsored by Ontario to be a non-profit organization with a mission to boost economic activity. To that end, they’ve designed a five-stage curriculum for entrepreneurs designed to take a business from conception straight through to being a global-facing firm that’s ready to export its product or service.
Called BUILD (a tricky acronym that contains the five phases: Begin, educate, Invest, Launch, expanD), the program accepts applications from entrepreneurs at any time. It keeps the classroom at ventureLAB’s Markham, Ont.-based location filled many days of the week. There’s no charge for registration, except that participants put their full effort into it, Laurin makes clear.
“It’s not easy to build a company, if it was, everyone would do it,” he says. “Instead of me having to tell you you’re not going to make it, you’ll spend two hours at one of these boot camps and know for yourself.”
Laurin compares the BUILD program to military basic training – you’ll know once you begin whether you’re strong enough to make the cut or not. Classes cover material such as value proposition and goal setting, marketing strategy and sales planning, pitching a business, and how to sell services to the government.
Though free, Laurin does ask one type of compensation from BUILD participants in the form of a letter summarizing what they learned from the program and what impact it had on their business. The feedback allows ventureLAB to hone its programming to best serve its current clients, and helps demonstrate the impact of government funding on boosting economic activity.
“Entrepreneurs who don’t take it as seriously as a heart attack are politely shown the door,” he says. Companies agree to provide this feedback when they sign on to ventureLABs’ services.
Those who feel up to it can apply to join BUILD at any time. An application made on the Web site will lead to an in-person meeting with ventureLAB. Participants aren’t required to take a linear approach to the courses, but can attend the classes they feel they’ll benefit from the most.
Started last year, BUILD has helped ventureLAB become the RIC with the second-highest output of entrepreneurs, beat out only by Communitech in Waterloo, Ont. That’s pretty good, considering that Communitech is about twice the size of ventureLAB.
With its proximity to Toronto and Waterloo, York Region is possibly overlooked for its tech sector activity. The region is home to 3,600 ICT firms including IBM Corp.’s largest software development lab north of the border and an AMD office that was formerly home to ATI Technologies until it was acquired by the chip manufacturer.
With ventureLAB working to provide a virtual accelerator centre to entrepreneurs in the region, that ICT sector may get even bigger – provided those fledgling businesses can survive boot camp.