The entrepreneurial path is a winding one. That's especially true for youth and newcomers to Canada, who often navigate many barriers and networks to achieve success. So what's the best way to help young entrepreneurs, particularly those with ideas that could potentially benefit society?

To answer that question, says Ryerson researcher Jean-Paul Boudreau, we need to fully understand the unique experiences of young entrepreneurs. So Boudreau, the university's inaugural special advisor and executive lead in the Office of Social Innovation, is spearheading a project that adds a visual storytelling element to the process of launching a social enterprise.

“Youth innovators and newcomers to Canada have energy, passion and dynamic cultural strengths, such as resiliency, empathy and adaptability,” says Boudreau. “They are fuelling Canadian innovation and we need to know how we can support them.”

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, “Canada 150: Roles of New Canadians in Canada’s Innovation and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” will ultimately lead to recommendations for Canadian policy-makers. To that end, Boudreau says, Ryerson is a fitting host for the initiative, given the university's leading role in entrepreneurship and innovation, and creating jobs for young people. The timing of the project is also apt; innovation has been a key focus of the Canada 150 celebrations in 2017.

The initiative's other participants are: Monica Jako, Ryerson's director of community engagement and social innovation; Harald Bauder, director of the university's graduate program in Immigration and Settlement Studies (ISS); Igor Rosic, ISS program administrator; and social innovation assistants Jessica Machado and Tyson Fogel. The Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national charity founded by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Distinguished Visiting Professor John Ralston Saul, is also involved.

The initiative has been divided into three research-gathering and research-mobilizing phases. First, during an interactive event held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in September, young, newcomer entrepreneurs such as Venezuelan-born Stefany Nieto, Business Management ’16, co-founder of Growing North, which addresses food insecurity in Northern Canada, shared their experiences developing social enterprises. The entrepreneurs also used strings on a specially designed interactive display to visually depict the obstacles and support systems they have encountered during their journey.

The display was designed by Madeleine Co., an art collective founded by Alexandra Hong, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education ’12, marketing research co-ordinator in Ryerson's Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI); Nicole Bazuin, Image Arts ’10; and Cheryl Hsu, a former marketing research co-ordinator in the OVPRI.

The exhibit was used again during the research project's second phase, the InnovateTO150 event. A showcase of Toronto's next generation of changemakers, innovators and entrepreneurs, InnovateTO150 was held earlier this month at the Design Exchange.

Finally, the initiative will conclude in the new year with an on-campus symposium. The event will bring together experts and entrepreneurs from across Canada to discuss the project's findings and potential for a more comprehensive study, which will then be prepared for publication in an academic journal.

The opportunity to work on a formal research initiative was one Saad El Hakmi, ISS '17 won't soon forget. Last summer, along with his classmates Vivian Hong and Zhengying Qian, ISS '17, El Hakmi helped to gather background research. In addition to receiving a stipend for collecting stories of successful new Canadian entrepreneurs through an extensive academic literature review, the students completed the internship requirement of their master's program.

“I learned how to develop a conceptual framework for the work,” says El Hakmi. “I was also inspired by the stories of the new Canadian innovators and entrepreneurs.”