SFU’s student entrepreneurs set sights on the Next 36

Sep 24, 2015


The next generation of budding entrepreneurs from faculties across Simon Fraser University gathered at Surrey City Hall, all with one goal: to become a member of the 2015 cohort of The Next 36.

The event, held on September 22, was part of the Next 36’s annual coast-to-coast recruitment tour. The assembled students were shown presentations highlighting the strengths of the program, and treated to inspiring success stories from entrepreneurs at varying stages in their careers.

The Next 36 is Canada’s leading national entrepreneurial leadership initiative. Each year it selects 36 promising young entrepreneurs from universities across Canada and equips them with CEO mentorship, up to $50,000 of seed capital, and world-class academic instruction.

Guest speakers at the SFU event included John Volken, founder of United Furniture Warehouse and the John Volken Foundation, Peter Carrescia, Managing Director at the Next 36, and Jon French, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Next 36. They were joined by two graduates of the 2014 Next 36 cohort, Beedie School of Business alumna Lauren Watkins, and SFU Mechatronics student Gursher Sidhu.

Following introductions from Paola Ardiles from SFU’s Faculty of Health Science, and Beedie School of Business lecturer Sarah Lubik – who was recently appointed Director of Entrepreneurship for SFU – Volken regaled the students with the story of his remarkable career, which saw him emigrate to Canada with no money at the age of 18 and go on to build a business with over $500 million in annual sales.

Initially starting out as a dishwasher and farm labourer, once Volken had become comfortable with the English language he moved into sales. It was from there that he started United Furniture Warehouse, ignoring the advice of established furniture salesmen to turn it into one of the largest furniture chains in North America.

“As an entrepreneur you must have many talents,” he said. “First, you need common sense – you have to see things as they are, not as you would like them to be. Secondly, you need energy and perseverance. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted. And finally, you need to hire the right people. Good people make you money, the wrong people will cost you money.”

After selling his business, Volken turned his attention to social needs. He established the John Volken Foundation, which funds drug and alcohol addiction treatment centres in Surrey, BC, Seattle, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona. It also funds the charity Lift the Children, which sponsors over 80 orphanages in Africa.

“I live by the motto of learn, earn, return,” said Volken. “Learn how to make a difference; earn your money by putting your knowledge into practice; and then return the good fortune you have had to society.”

Following Volken’s passionate speech, Next 36 Managing Director Peter Carrescia spoke about his experience so far with the organization, having joined in January 2015. He informed the students that his trip to BC had involved meeting with some of the Next 36’s donors – including Beedie School of Business benefactor, Ryan Beedie.

“One of the questions the donors always ask us is how are things going,” he said. “We measure success at the Next 36 over a long time frame. Our expectation is that if our students are truly high impact entrepreneurs, then ten years from now they will have founded businesses that have created jobs.”

Beedie alumna Lauren Watkins then detailed her experience in the program, which saw her co-found Excellera, a website that connects retired professionals with organizations seeking professional expertise.

“There were a lot of highlights in my Next 36 experience,” said Watkins. “The network you receive contains the highest caliber of people, and the challenges the program puts in front of you always put you outside your comfort zone. The Next 36 made me a better entrepreneur, and a better person.”

For more information on the Next 36, visit thenext36.ca/

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