By Kelvin McDermott
This summer, the Impact Centre is partnering with the Norwegian School of Entrepreneurship (Gründerskolen) to offer a 10-week internship and training program at U of T. Since arriving in mid June, two dozen Norwegian students have worked with Toronto-based companies to gain hands-on startup experience.
The partnership symbolizes Canada’s established reputation for collaborating internationally, along with Toronto’s growing reputation as a hub for innovation. Both qualities were key factors in some students choosing Toronto over other partner cities, including Boston, Houston and San Francisco.
“I would really recommend [it] to other students…think outside the box and relish the challenge.”
“Toronto is more up-and-coming,” said Ingvild Engen Bogetvedt, who interns at SpaceiShare. “You’ve heard of Silicon Valley, but that’s more established, and everyone goes there to start up a new company…I didn’t really know [Toronto] was a new entrepreneurial city before someone told me, so I was curious.”
Other students, like Plank intern Anders Tveita, admire Canada’s overall landscape – both for its similarities to Europe, and it’s differences from the U.S.
“I’m fairly comfortable with the way Canada is as a country, compared with the U.S. and their political climate,” said Tveita. “Also, the business culture is kind of alike. Compared to the U.S., Canada is much more European in its ways.”
Students are also getting an in-class crash course in entrepreneurship over their ten-week visit, covering all aspects of the Lean Canvas and concluding with a final business pitch. Together, the classroom instruction and on-the-job learning help fully immerse the students – some of whom are aspiring entrepreneurs themselves – in startup culture.
For Anja Bergersen, the experience has certainly been invaluable. As an intern at urban farming startup Just Vertical, she’s been able to make effective use of her background in food security.
“It’s a very newly-established startup, so from the start I got to come into meetings with banks, partners, suppliers…it’s super interesting,” she said. “I had the experience of being able to build something completely from scratch. It gives you some sense of ownership from the start, which makes you very enthusiastic.”
Meanwhile, the value these interns provide to their startups goes beyond just additional labour. Bringing on more team members gives these companies experience managing new people, which can be one of the most difficult learning curves when it comes time to scale up. It’s a multi-tiered learning outcome that the Impact Centre prides itself on.
“I had the experience of being able to build something completely from scratch. It gives you some sense of ownership from the start, which makes you very enthusiastic.”
“My managers are very eager to learn, so every week I have to give them comments about their managing style,” explained Bergersen. “It’s very good, because they really want to improve all the time.”
In terms of the students using these experiences back home, Norway has plenty of demand for entrepreneurs. Not unlike Canada, the country is encouraging innovation in order to diversify its economy and move more toward sustainable energy.
“I feel like [Norway’s] government is trying to push people to start up their own business to create something to live on, instead of the oil,” said Bogetvedt. “So I would say that [innovation] is up and coming, and that it’s easier as well to create a new business.”
There’s always an adjustment period when going to live and work in a new country, particularly when crossing an entire ocean to do it. The students received a lecture on cultural differences between Norway and Canada before making the trip over. Even the idea of networking, which North Americans might take for granted as a fixture of professional life, doesn’t exist in the same form for both countries.
Nonetheless, it seems both Toronto and U of T have made a positive impression on our Norwegian visitors.
“I would really recommend [it] to other students…think outside the box and relish the challenge,” Tveita said of his Canadian experience. “You feel so welcome here. There’s a lot of people you can learn from, there’s a lot of cultures you can be exposed to for inspiration, and by going a traditional route, you kind of miss out on a big opportunity to develop yourself and make something happen.”
Kelvin McDermott is a communications intern at the Impact Centre