Wicked Ideas

They’re how old?!? Why a growing number of students are saying YES to being their own boss and how you can too

Raphaël Paulin-Daigle is a full-fledged entrepreneur.

His first venture started in 2007 where he was a magician, performing over 300 shows at events that needed a magic touch. In 2011, he founded Idealinput, a company that linked small businesses to marketing experts.  In 2012, he founded Shopulse, a place where people could shop from the world’s best boutiques. He shut that down in 2013 and now, he’s on his fourth entrepreneurial venture called Traces Optimization, a company that offers web conservation and optimizations services to help companies increase profits.

Oh, by the way, he is only 17 years old.

“I need to have the freedom of working on my own business,” Paulin-Daigle says as we chat on a couch during the Pond-Deshpande Centre‘s recent Atlantic Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, held on a snowy March 2014 day in Fredericton, N.B. “I don’t feel like I could work under someone else.”

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Raphaël Paulin-Daigle (third from left) joins a multigenerational panel of entrepreneurs at the Pond-Deshpande Centre YES Summit. From right: Nancy Mathis, Wallace McCain Centre for Business Leadership; Marcel Lebrun, Vice-president, Salesforce.com; Raphaël Paulin-Daigle, serial entrepreneur; Christy Clarke, owner Gratitude Works; and Karina Leblanc, executive director Pond-Deshpande Centre.

His leap into entrepreneurship is a risky game of trial, error, and seeking help and feedback from friends and family, many who were unfamiliar with the business world.

He then found Launch 36, an Atlantic Canadian accelerator program based in Moncton, where Paulin-Daigle lives. Not quite ready to enter the program, he instead asked executive director Trevor MacAusland if he could work as his unpaid intern through 2013, shadowing MacAusland and the Launch36 start-up entrepreneurs as they worked their way through the program. It was while shadowing MacAusland that Paulin-Daigle developed the idea for Shopulse and was invited to pitch during Launch36’s March 2013 demo day alongside seven Launch36 company founders, including Wicked Ideas’ Lisa Hrabluk.

“It was trial and error but once I got into the Launch 36 mentor network they [the volunteer mentors] helped and supported me,” he said. “They gave me directions on where to go.”

It’s clear his resumé is quite impressive compared for someone his age but Paulin-Daigle says it’s the result of determination and hard work, qualities that are a must for jumping into entrepreneurship.

“Anyone can be entrepreneurial, but being an entrepreneur, you must be determined and you must love being busy,” he says.  “Just doing whatever it takes to reach your goals. If you’re not committed to do it, maybe your not the right fit.”

The Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick is working specifically with high school, university and community college students to help turn their idle musings into business ventures. For instance Pond-Deshpande’s Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES) was both a chance for student entrepreneurs to meet, and a business test case for the Centre’s student ambassadors. The Student Ambassador Program exposes students to entrepreneurial activities in Atlantic Canada and in Boston, the heart of the Atlantic seaboard’s tech scene. In exchange, Ambassadors help promote entrepreneurship in their schools and, this year, they were in charge of planning and running the Summit, which linked participants with leading entrepreneurs in the region. Workshops taught participants new strategies for innovative thinking, social finance, and even simple computer/phone applications to increase productivity (even I learned from that one).

It was much-needed advice because most participants were just beginning to explore the potential of starting their own business, such as Emilie Chiasson, a UNB Renaissance College student. As part her degree, Chiasson is taking a course in project management. With the help of a mentor from the NB Inclusion Network, she and another classmate are looking create a folk school in Mactaquac, N.B., located just across the St. John River from Fredericton. Naturally, such a venture come with challenges, such as creating a dialogue around the project and working with different cultural groups.

“Another risk we have identified is just today’s generation in general and how with the folk school, we’re hoping to introduce survival skills and working outdoors,
Chiasson says. “Where the generation is today, they’re so technology-driven, the risk is they’re scared of the environment.”

Though the project has risks involved, it doesn’t seem to bother Chiasson. In fact, she loves it.

“For me, I thrive on adrenalin. I love being in the moment. So I think the risk-taking aspect is something really cool for me in terms on entrepreneurship,” she says.

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Getting down to business at Pond-Deshpande Centre’s YES Summit.

YES attracted entrepreneurs outside New Brunswick too. A group of young lads from Acadia University drove through last week’s massive snowstorm to get there. If that’s not hard-core, I’m not sure what is.

“We recently started Acadia’s entrepreneurship association and we’re trying to bring like-minded people together to help with our entrepreneurial ideas and bring the right resources to these people,” says Wesley Booth, one of the brave souls. “So this was one of the [events] we circled on our calendar. It’s a great opportunity to get exposed to new ideas, but also to meet and network with other entrepreneurs outside of Acadia.”

The association’s biggest challenge right now is breaking a common stereotype surrounding entrepreneurship. “By no means does an entrepreneur have to have a business background. Most [don’t] by statistical studies,” Booth says. “So right now we’re just trying to reach out and find out who the champions are in other areas of the school and connect with them so we have a fair representation of the entrepreneurs.”

The summit brought together students of different ages, experience and locations, but they all had one thing in common. They were all fearless. Whether it was starting their fourth business venture or networking with complete strangers, these students did it with passion and overwhelming friendliness and excitement.

“If you look at it right now, there are so many great things happening in the province and Atlantic Canada, there’s more resources than ever,” Paulin-Daigle tells me, as we wrapped up our chat. “And what’s great about Atlantic Canada is people love to help.”

Though he is only 17, he had seen a lot change since he jumped into entrepreneurship at age 11.

“For start-up specific resources, there weren’t many and now, I’m seeing just in the past two to three years, we’ve seen Planet Hatch appearing, Launch 36 growing like crazy, there’s so many new initiatives and events that weren’t taking place a few years back.”

He believes entrepreneurship could be the solution to New Brunswick’s economic rut.

“Entrepreneurship is creating new jobs and bringing wealth to the province by creating new companies,” he says. “For me that’s one of the best ways we can help the province go forward.”

You can say what you want about his age or inexperience but before you do, ask yourself one question: How many lucrative businesses have you created lately?

I think he could be onto something.

Wicked Ideas writer Cherise Letson is the News Editor @TheBrunswickan. Follow what she’s got to say @CheriseLWrites

 

 

 

 

 

Cherise Letson

January 2018
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