SAGE Canada’s very first <Ad>Venture Conference on Feb. 27 was a huge success for youth entrepreneurs, university students and industry professionals.
The aim of the conference was to help young entrepreneurs in the GTA with personal development, particularly public speaking and pitching business ideas. The day began with a quiz segment called Mind Games run by The Purple Patch Inc., a business advisory company, that warmed up the students and helped them network with entrepreneurs from other schools.
Following their presentation, the Ryerson Toastmasters team consisting of President Abdul Matin Khandwala and Vice President of Education Zack Korn took the stage. The pair engaged with the students in a public speaking workshop that included breathing and mouth exercises, tips on how to speak clearly and persuade their audience, how to use hand gestures effectively and how to give feedback to other speakers.
Students were excited to put these new lessons to work, when they were asked to practice pitching their businesses in their school groups. This was a chance for the youth to gain confidence during public speaking, a skill that they’ll be able to apply at TheSTAGE, SAGE’s national competition. One student with the best pitch from each group was chosen to pitch his or her business to the entire room in under 60 seconds.
After an amazing round of pitches from the students, the Toastmasters team picked three students: André Betram from HelpWear, Umer Mirza from Limitless Co. and Shayan Hasan from Buzz Marketing, to compete in the final round and pitch their business ventures to industry professionals and other university students.
The conference moved to the Sears Atrium in the George Vari Engineering building for a networking dinner, keynote speakers and the final pitch competition. The room had creative art installations from each team mounted on the wall, in order to showcase the hard work and dedication high school students are putting in their business ventures.
Grade 12 Danforth Collegiate students Frank Nguyen and André Bertram attended the conference and are the minds behind their venture called HelpWear, in which they have designed a watch that tracks blood pressure, heart rate and blood oxygen levels. If signs of a heart attack are present, the watch will call EMS services.
“It’s important for us young entrepreneurs to meet each other and network.” said Bertram.
The pair, and many other teenagers, are working towards winning the SAGE national competition and move on to the global competition, which will be held in Manila, Philippines in the summer of 2016.
Other students like Jinzi Huang, a student at Riverdale Collegiate Institute, said that the event allowed her to step outside of her comfort zone and gain public speaking skills that aren’t taught in classrooms.
“High schools already think you know how to present. I’ve never actually been taught the skills needed to present,” she said, adding that the Toastmasters activity would help her in future presentations, not only as an entrepreneur but also as a student. “I became a lot more open and less nervous.”
Students from William Lyon Mackenzie C.I., who developed SpitStrip, an innovative and inexpensive way to test a user’s blood alcohol concentration instead of using a breathalyzer, were initially nervous about public speaking.
Their startup consultant Virusan Wignarajah said some of the students didn’t know how to successfully pitch their company, but after having the opportunity to practice their pitching, it didn’t seem like such a challenging task.
“They have a lot of confidence going forward because now every single member of our team is going to go out in the real world and pitch their business to investors,” said Wignarajah.
Chaith Kommamuri, Co-founder of the Purple Patch Inc was impressed with the event and the opportunity it gave to students
“The enthusiasm and attendance was great today. The students were pretty competitive and showed a lot of energy,” he said, adding that this conference was a great way for students to see what the real business world is like and build a network early on.
Keynote speaker Sharn Kandola, the director of Startup Grind Toronto and the Co-Founder of Fee Duck told students that entrepreneurship is the door to the world they want to create.
“We don’t see enough of this [student entrepreneurship],” she said. “What SAGE has done is beautiful.”
The second keynote speaker was Ben Zifkin, the CEO and founder of Hubba.
Instead of a pre-planned speech, he challenged students to ask any questions about being an entrepreneur they had and received some great questions about things that students can expect in real life situations.
The importance of having skills that translate into the real world, but also the student’s business’ was another theme of the conference. At the end of the night, Jun Seo and Kelly Xiao were announced as the winners of the Purple Patch quiz competition.
“I want my team members to be in the position that they will be able to look back five or ten years at their time at SAGE and say I was able to learn so many things that actually helped me in the business world,” said Wignarajah.
The SAGE team is working hard to prepare students for the main competition, which will be held in May 2016.
By: Josie Mills