How one risk-averse Maritimer came face-to-face with entrepreneurship and…(you’ll have to read on to find out)

Written by Cherise Letson

March 13, 2014

Entrepreneurship. That word scares the shit out of me. Well, at least it did.

Growing up in a lower-middle class family in Saint John, N.B., I was conditioned to believe that in life, you would always have to serve somebody. If you’re lucky, you could do what you want, just not in the way you want to do it. I went into journalism school with this attitude. Especially in New Brunswick, I felt like a journalism degree was just as useless as one in Medieval History. I’d accepted this, and had intentions on fleeing the region the moment I got my $30,000 piece of paper.

But there is an alternative route being forged. Recently the Pond Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick hosted one of these events. Its Student Ambassadors organized a BYOB: Be Your Own Boss event at Planet Hatch, a space I didn’t know existed, where several start-ups hang out in colourful chairs, use iMacs and draw on whiteboard walls. It was a precursor to the YES Atlantic Summit, happening March 13 and 14, 2014 in Fredericton. Check out the agenda and I’ll see you there.

Four speakers shared their experience and advice for young entrepreneurs. Pond Deshpande executive director Karina LeBlanc was the first speaker, explaining that she started out as an engineer at Proctor and Gamble trying to develop a softer, yet stronger toilet paper.  She was eyeing the upper echelons of the company, but a conversation with a stranger on a plane drastically changed her plans. That guy eventually called and offered her a job at a start-up in New Brunswick, a province that up until that moment she had ever travelled through on her way to a Nova Scotia vacation. She took the job.

“Sometimes, these paths open up in front of you, for whatever reason you made the decision to take them,” LeBlanc said, during to speech. “It has been my personal experience that you should always take the path less trodden, because it’s full of reward, even though it’s the scary one.” Since then Leblanc has experienced highs and lows while working in start-ups, however, she doesn’t regret leaving her corporate dreams behind. “You get the bug. You get in the start-up community and you never want to get out. You never want to go big again,” she said.

LeBlanc’s journey to New Brunswick eventually led her to the Pond Deshpande Centre. A place where that helps entrepreneurs achieve their best. “Invest in yourself. Keep your eyes wide open for opportunities. Don’t be scared to take the path less trodden,” she said.  “Listen to what really touches you, because that’s what’s going to drive you. The wealth and prosperity will come after that.” To me, this sounded more like great life advice than just entrepreneurial advice. I wanted to hear more. Luckily, her speech set the tone for the rest of the night.

The speakers who followed, Dale Vandenborre and Brian Dunphy, shared similar stories. Even down to the life-changing encounter with a stranger on plane, in Vandenborre’s case. But Relish Gourmet Burger founder Rivers Corbett ended the night with a speech that would make anyone want to quite their job right then and there. “Being an entrepreneur is like a sport. It’s in our DNA and we get play every single day of our lives and that is so cool,” Corbett said. “It’s a great game . . . there’s a lot of practicing that goes along with it, but it is a great high that you can never ever replace somewhere else.”

That sounds awesome . . . but wait a second. I noticed all of the speakers’ lives consisted of chance and luck (good and bad) but most importantly, taking big risks. I don’t do big risks. I was always told taking big risks were too . . . risky. I’ve have been conditioned to avoid those big, life-changing risks like starting your own business. New Brunswick’s a place that’s prided itself as being a “have-not” province and one that depends on natural resources to survive. Any other endeavours, like innovation, just get money thrown at it, but is never given concrete plans. But these people’s stories, and the passion in the student ambassadors, made me feel like that’s about to change. Risks are starting to seem less scary, and it’s people my age who could be leading the way.

According to one of the Student Ambassadors, Cathlia Ward, that was the main goal of the event. “I think there is a stigma around entrepreneurship, like ‘you don’t want to get into that, it’s so risky’,” Ward said. “But really entrepreneurship is the creation of your own dreams and whatever your ideas are, making them happen.” I asked Ward what her entrepreneurial endeavour was, and she told me it was blogging.  I was shocked, but also excited to see a young writer like me was stepping into that breach. “I never thought of [blogging] as being entrepreneurial,” she told me, “But I learned that being able to share my story and share my passion is entrepreneurship, as I’m starting to get paid in different ways for it. I’m starting to take on sharing my story in an entrepreneurial way.”

Though I haven’t reached the point in my life where I’m ready to take such a risk yet, I’m comforted in knowing there’s someone who is. It’s people like that who are going to change the face of this province.


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


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