“Business has lots of obstacles, says Sathish Bala, Computer Science ’99, a serial entrepreneur and mentor/innovator-in-residence at Ryerson’s Science Discovery Zone (SDZ). “You are going to hear ‘no’ 99 times before you get a ‘yes.’ What is it about you that will get you to the yes? A great idea is not enough. You have to create a belief system about yourself. I think that’s what’s missing in the academic system and it’s what Ryerson is addressing with zone learning.”
For Bala, being an entrepreneur is about questioning who you are and what you want to become, not by default but by design. It’s a journey of self-discovery he’s travelled since launching his first business (web company Spyder Design) while in his fourth year at Ryerson and with his two subsequent startups (New Age Inc., a software developer turned e-learning turned enterprise resource company, and BlueBand Digital, a digital marketing company he sold in 2016). He is working to expand his not-for-profit (desiFEST) to a social venture, focused on helping young people break barriers and hurdles through arts and music.
Becoming a successful entrepreneur has allowed Bala to shed the early labels ascribed to him growing up a creative in the academic-driven Singapore of the 1980s. “Being the oldest son in a South-Asian family with a high-achieving engineer father, I was already behind the eight ball.” When he was 14, the family moved to Canada and settled in Scarborough. School was now a place where his creativity and passion were encouraged. “That started my interest in finding out what makes me who I am.”
It was at Ryerson that he came to realize his strength was in understanding how to use technology to solve problems. A stint as Computer Science Course Union president helped him find his voice and confidence. “When we graduated, my friends went on to jobs with IBM and Imperial Oil. I didn’t want to go work for someone else,” he says.
“With every new business opportunity, I was changing for the positive. I had to learn how to pitch, when to raise money, how to convince someone that I was the best option.”
Now he’s sharing those lessons and more. “The SDZ is not a typical incubator. It allows you to ask fundamentally different questions about who you are. If you look at how we are going to support startups, we have to be building entrepreneurs up as people.”