June 27, 2013
Samantha Phelan is no stranger to adventure – her latest involves packing up and moving to Toronto to participate in The Next 36, a business accelerator program for young Canadian entrepreneurs.
“Travelling for me has been about the sights, sounds and smells of a place which tie the threads of my memories and experiences together,” says Ms. Phelan, who graduated from the commerce program in 2012.
“When I graduated, I asked myself: Did I want to take up an opportunity that offered me international experience? Heck yes. Was I interested in putting myself into an uncomfortable environment where I would be forced to overcome unexpected challenges? Absolutely. Would I want to pack up all of my life into one suitcase and leave my family and friends behind? That was my only hesitation, so with that I booked a plane ticket before I could talk myself out of it.”
That plane ticket led her to Brazil where she spent three months teaching English and then, after a visit back home, to Africa where she took on climbing one of the seven summits, Mount Kilimanjaro, for Young Adult Cancer Canada. It was while in Brazil that Ms. Phelan heard about The Next 36.
“It came at an opportune time as I was trying to decide what my next steps would be once I returned to Canada. Travelling was exhilarating because I could do things on my own schedule and those decisions were driven by my own interests. From reading some of the insights about this program I thought there was a lot of correlation between what I enjoyed about travelling and what it meant to be an entrepreneur, so I applied hoping this program could be an extension of that.”
The Next 36 is a Canadian entrepreneurial leadership program started by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Thirty-six undergraduate students from across Canada are selected to participate in the program each year. The application and selection process for the program is intensive, beginning with general information and essay questions, followed by a video interview, and finally, selection weekend.
Selection weekend was held in Toronto, ON, in November 2012. Once Ms. Phelan was selected, she was assigned to a team with fellow program participants, Josh Levitan and Nigel Gutzmann.Using the capital, resources and mentorship provided through The Next 36, they have developed ConqRit – a mobile platform that allows companies to reach and engage their employees through an interactive community.
The early months of the start-up consisted of each of the three team members working remotely on the venture. However, all participants recently packed up and moved to Toronto, ON, to dedicate 16 weeks to making their venture a success while learning from internationally-acclaimed academics and Canadian business leaders.
In mid-August, Ms. Phelan and her team will have the opportunity to present their venture to investors and business leaders from across North America before graduating from The Next 36program.
“I love the feeling of ownership and control that the three of us have over this business. We’ve literally built it from nothing so it’s rewarding to see how the first product demo looks, or get great feedback from a potential client, or sign our first deal, or launch our product for the first time. With such a small team, we have to divide and conquer all the tasks thrown our way.”
Each team member brings different elements to the team; Ms. Phelan’s contribution is centered on marketing and sales.
“I have been leading the marketing side of things, which includes customer relationship management, cold calling, setting up meetings, market research, working with our designers, or more recently devising a social media strategy. I’ve also dabbled a bit into the legal side of things as we started taking on clients.”
As for lessons learned throughout her participation in The Next 36, there have been many.