Written by Andrew Seale

Dave Wilkin and Elliott Garcea weren’t shocked when their social experiment Ten Thousand Coffees took off, quickly becoming one of the largest mentorship programs of its kind in the world. It made sense, after all, when it launched in mid-2014, Toronto was quickly becoming a hotbed for fresh tech talent and serial entrepreneurs alike and Ten Thousand Coffees served as the perfect matchmaking tool for knowledge-sharing.

But it’s success also highlighted a gap within organizations themselves, an opportunity that the mentorship platform co-founders couldn’t ignore. So in 2016, they re-jigged the system, building an enterprise-focused platform. Like Ten Thousand Coffee’s initial concept, the enterprise-focused approach proved to be a success, with the team rolling it out to more than 100 groups including StartUp HERE Toronto, Western University and the Royal Bank of Canada.

“We saw very quickly that we could actually make more impact by giving that technology to communities like StartUp HERE because they had thousands of these people that should be meeting and would benefit a lot from meeting but didn't have a way of doing it,” adds Wilkins.

The platform lets these organizations create private mentoring groups and uses artificial intelligence and data analysis to match people together for coffee chats based on the themes and topics they’ve specified.

“Think about the startup community in Toronto,” says Wilkins. “There are so many people that a user experience designer or a founder could go and speak to – but without an introduction, you'll never have that conversation.”

For perspective, the StartUp HERE Toronto Cafe powered by Ten Thousand Coffees has nearly 2,000 mentors/mentees participating and, since launching last year, has helped create over 10,000 coffee matches for advice, mentorship, and peer-to-peer networking.

And that’s just one of their partners.

Wilkins, who founded a youth marketing startup before launching Ten Thousand Coffees with Garcia (who worked at Extreme Labs) says he’s always been fascinated with how the next generation engages leaders and vice-versa. But it’s only been over the past couple of years that he’s realized how much that can contribute to an ecosystem as a whole.

“We have a unique opportunity to actually make Toronto the tech centre of the world… that's not only an opportunity for engineering, product or sales-type talent, but it's also, in a way, our responsibility to actually make this city what it will become,” he says. Entrepreneurs need other entrepreneurs and organizations need to know themselves, need to know the people who make up their ecosystem. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

“We’re continuing to provide (our platform) to different incubators, and entrepreneurship programs so they all have one place to connect,” adds Wilkins. “Any person in Toronto that's interested in starting a business joining a startup or helping startups now has an easy way of doing that.”

Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)