Cohort by Cohort, The Next 36 is Cultivating Canada’s Future Leaders

Late last year the British satirical site The Daily Mash offered a witty yet valid inquiry on young entrepreneurs. Could shows like Dragons’ Den or Shark Tank be encouraging the creation of “trendy but utterly pointless businesses?”

Maybe, but one stroll throughout the offices of Toronto’s The Next 36 program and those notions can be dismissed.

The boot camp for Canada’s high-potential future leaders opened applications this week for their next cohort. After nearly four years the program has now graduated 75 young upstarts, and will add 36 to that number in August.

The Next 36 was founded by a small group of entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics in response to Canada’s need for more high-impact entrepreneurs. It provides its cohorts with an academic and hands-on curriculum over nine months. Resources, mentorship and up to $80,000 in seed capital is provided for students who are expected to push the boundaries of their potential.  

Its current cohort began late in November of 2012, and Louis-Philippe Couture was chosen as one of the 36. Program administrators received 1,000 applications from undergraduate students from across Canada, whittled that down to a short list of about 75, and eventually selected the chosen 36.

“It was a lot of pressure and it was exciting, going there, meeting all those high-profile people and being put in a situation that I wouldn’t normally be put in,” said Couture. “I kept thinking, I’ll do my best and what ever happens happens, but definitely I was going in knowing that the competition was really good.”

Within two weeks he had been placed in a group with a few other members of the cohort. Since, they’ve developed an iOS app that gamifies music learning for children. MusicQuest gives children a virtual pet that they must nurture by practicing their piano skills, for example, through a fun and competitive experience.

Couture and his team aren’t the only one’s who have benefitted from the program. This week Techvibes reported on Needle HR, the creative industry’s hiring solution. Already in talks with three venture capital firms, the team of Michael Cheng, Sean Kim and Christopher Bowal received their first customer just two days after launching a month ago.

Programs like the Next 36 are evidence of a changing landscape in the Canadian economy and changing ideals of where young Canadians should turn to after university. When The Next 36 mentor Dean Hopkins graduated from university in the 90s, turning to entrepreneurship just wasn’t a viable path.

“It was go back to professional school or become an engineer and work for some big company,” he told Techvibes. “Not so anymore, and I think these programs are completely changing that and turning it into, ‘this is a completely viable career path and the best people are choosing this path.'”

Hopkins joined The Next 36 out of a belief that if Canada is to sustain its lifestyle, it’s going to be entirely predicated upon a successful entrepreneurial culture. “Now you have a very credible success path that says go start a company,” he said. “I’m seeing a huge volume of Canadian youths look credibly at the Canadian entrepreneurship sector and say, ‘that attracts me.'”

Christian Lassonde, chief venture officer at The Next 36 agrees. The generation that came of age in the 2000s came equipped with a different notion of career satisfaction. However, many young people today still prefer a stable job at a large corporation and those that choose the startup life are still the select few.

The timing for university grads may be perfect through, given that a 22-year-old will generally have less debt and responsibility than a 35-year-old. On the flip side, said Lassonde, most university grads aren’t equipped with the knowledge and experience to run a successful business.

“I think a big problem with what we have here in Canada is that we just don’t expose our future leaders to the greatest possibilities and therefore we don’t aspire to them,” said Lassonde.

Lassonde said they find those individuals who have an innate ability to push themselves beyond what most others can (including 100-hour work weeks). In comes the Next 36, where the plan is to increase Canadian prosperity. Ideally in five to 15 years from now Canadians will witness the fruits of all those cohorts of young entrepreneurs.

“We train these guys early in their career so when they see an opportunity that can change the landscape of Canadian prosperity, they’ll go after it,” said Lassonde.