Written by: Stuart Foxman

Running a company is a challenge. Figuring out how to even get that opportunity can be even tougher.

“If we’re able to provide a solid network to people who are on one of the hardest paths of their life, we can make the whole journey more productive,” says Aïko Thurlow, Associate Director of Entrepreneurship at Innovation York.

She’s referring to LaunchYU (launchyu.ca/), York University’s entrepreneurship unit. It supports entrepreneurs and their ventures, at the school and in the community.

Through LaunchYU, part of Innovation York, entrepreneurs become better positioned to develop and grow their businesses. They learn about entrepreneurship, meet like-minded individuals, and collaborate with university and industry partners.

A big part of LaunchYU is about opening doors, says Thurlow. That can mean making the right connections to a first customer, potential investors or a strategic partner.

One element, LaunchYU Accelerator, helps entrepreneurs to build, launch and scale their venture. Assistance includes bootcamps, workshops and one-on-one mentoring. In a four-month program, participants touch on everything from practice pitches, to go-to-market strategies, to financing and fundraising.

With LaunchYU Coaching, participants can take a startup to the next level. Throughout the year, seasoned coaches are available at York University (Keele campus) to help people reach important venture milestones. Personalized feedback lets entrepreneurs solve problems and hit targets at a quicker pace.

Yet another aspect is LaunchYU Experience. For York students interested in creating a startup, LaunchYU partners with the School of Administrative Studies and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. In a summer program, early-stage entrepreneurs get access to workshops and mentors. That helps the students to shape their ideas, make key contacts, and build a foundation to apply for the LaunchYU Accelerator.

Entrepreneurs have to be determined. Thurlow says that LaunchYU can help them to channel that hunger into something tangible.

“People can have great ideas, but your actions make you an entrepreneur. Otherwise you’re a ‘wantrepreneur’,” she says.

While LaunchYU meets many common needs, Thurlow recognizes that every startup is different. The programs are designed to support the unique requirements of each entrepreneur and venture.

LaunchYU can assist with tactical questions, such as sales or marketing options. Equally important, says Thurlow, is support with more day-to-day issues that can frustrate entrepreneurs. Like, how do you become more disciplined? Or, how do you prioritize the range of business responsibilities?

Thurlow says entrepreneurs can often have analysis paralysis; there are so many choices, and so much to do and learn, that they don’t know how to take the next step. LaunchYU helps people to break out of the pack, and learn what to focus on and why.

To help women founders in particular, Thurlow is excited about a new venture called he Entrepreneurial Leadership & Learning Alliance, or ELLA (Ellawomen.com). ELLA is led by York University in partnership with the Small Business Enterprise Centres of Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and York Region. Its mission to reduce the gap of gender inequality in entrepreneurship.

Women account for only 16% of entrepreneurs in Canada. The ELLA accelerator, starting in 2020 is for high-potential women entrepreneurs – those running businesses with initial sales and traction, who are looking at scaling quickly. The six months of free support includes coaching, workshops by top experts, private sessions, exclusive networking events, and introductions to investors.

Is this a good environment in which to get a business off the ground? The support from entities like LaunchYU certainly helps. But Thurlow notes that any time is the right time if you remember something fundamental.

“An entrepreneur should be looking for an opportunity to solve people’s pain points,” Thurlow says. “As long as you can come up with a solution, it’s always a good time to start.”

 Photo credit: Zlatko CetinicImages Made Real