Mentorship: A Key Element to a Thriving Canadian Economy

Later this month, the Canadian Mentorship Challenge will be upon us once again: a time when our collective attention will focus on the importance of mentorship in Canada.

The Challenge, powered by Startup Canada and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), is a national effort to mentor 10,000 enterprising Canadians by teaming up with individuals and organizations to host mentoring and networking events in communities across the country. For the second year in a row, the Challenge is being held alongside Global Entrepreneurship Week November 18 to 24.

Why should Canadians care about mentorship? When Startup Canada set out on its inaugural cross-country tour, it spoke with more than 20,000 Canadians. Startup Canada asked entrepreneurs what they considered to be one of the most important tools to start a new business. Unequivocally, the most common response was mentorship. In response, Startup Canada launched a campaign to celebrate mentors across Canada and encourage more opportunities for Canadian entrepreneurs to learn from each other.

In 2012 we succeeded in mentoring more than 10,000 people through local events in every province, from The Colchester Regional Development Association’s “Mentoring Breakfast” in Nova Scotia to Startup Weekend Quebec City to speed mentoring events in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The Canadian Mentorship Challenge succeeded because it built a forum for collaboration and networking while creating a national dialogue about the importance of mentoring our entrepreneurs. The Challenge also brought to light some of the great programs that exist throughout Canada.

For example, In Atlantic Canada, The G. Wallace F. McCain Institute at the University of New Brunswick runs programs for high potential entrepreneurs. The program is so impactful that after the year is over, 99% of the entrepreneurs completing it commit to meeting quarterly for the rest of their lives.

And on the West coast, the BC Venture Acceleration Program, an initiative of BCIC, is a structured venture development program that helps early-stage entrepreneurs in BC grow their businesses under the guidance of volunteer mentors and experienced Executive in Residence(s), who coach entrepreneurs through a four-stage Venture Growth Model. Since 2012, 143 BC companies have participated in the program, which has created $4.4 million in generated revenue, 396 jobs added to the BC economy and attracted more than $25 million in investment.

These programs are successful because mentors are given the opportunity to share their business knowledge, resources, networks, and leadership skills to help spark new ideas, offer different perspectives and lend valuable first-hand advice to other entrepreneurs. According to the Fondation de l’Entrepreneurship (Entrepreneurship Foundation), a business mentoring program created in Quebec in 2000, more than two-thirds of firms that received mentoring services ended up surviving in the market for five years or more. This is double the survival rate for unmentored entrepreneurs in Quebec.

In a competitive global economy, it is imperative that we foster a healthy entrepreneurial culture in Canada. If we give small businesses and startups access to the tools and knowledge they need to become sustainable and prosperous, that will translate into a healthier Canadian economy at both local and national levels. According to statistics from Industry Canada, small businesses contribute more than 30 percent to Canada’s GDP.

As of 2011, small businesses employed approximately 5 million individuals in Canada, or 48 percent of the total labour force in the private sector. The success of our economy is intertwined with the success of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Currently in Canada we employ valuable apprenticeship programs for the skilled trades industry where apprentices are mentored by experienced professionals in their field of study from classroom to on-the-job training. In Ontario, under the Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act, an electrical apprenticeship must receive 9,000 hours of experience (www.ecao.com), nearly 5 years of classroom and on-the-job training with experienced mentors, before an apprenticeship can be completed—similar to the plumber apprenticeship program. This is an extraordinary mentoring relationship that has been utilized in Canada for decades to ensure that apprentices are taught by experienced professionals the skills and competencies needed to succeed in their field.

We need to see more programs targeted to entrepreneurs earlier in their careers, such as high school apprenticeship programs where students could engage in long-term mentor relationships that are nurtured from a classroom to on-the-job experiences and beyond. We currently employ a fragmented approach to mentoring entrepreneurs; Canada would benefit from a pervasive national mentoring strategy, and this is what Startup Canada is trying to build.

The Canadian Mentorship Challenge aims to highlight successful mentors across the country while uniting entrepreneurs under the flag of mentorship. Canada needs to recognize the value of mentorship and to develop a culture of “paying it forward” with the next generation of entrepreneurs. This is vital in terms of knowledge sharing, creating networks and making sure that Canadians are not simply building innovative businesses, but are supporting each other to build a stronger country.

In recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week, this year let us celebrate Canadian mentors and put them on the national stage. We must recognize their importance in building a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and promote mentorship’s involvement for a thriving Canadian economy. Help us set Canada abuzz.