Young entrepreneur profile: Ryerson University student leader Andrea Belvedere

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Andrea Belvedere is not your typical young entrepreneur.

Actually, she’s technically not an entrepreneur at all. But we wanted to feature Andrea, a fourth-year student at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, because she may have done more for youth entrepreneurship than any other student or recent grad in Canada.

Andrea is the former president of Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) Ryerson, a student-run organization that aims to create new economic opportunity by creating and implementing innovative projects at Ryerson and within the community, and the co-founder of the Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute (REI), which helps students and alumni bring their entrepreneurial ideas into reality through the StartMeUp Program, education, resources, funding, research and outreach.

In December, Andrea was named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network in the future leaders category due in part to the fact that under Andrea’s two-year leadership, SIFE Ryerson:

  • created more than $20 million in new economic opportunity
  • had an operating budget of more than $500,000
  • grew to 104 active members who ran seven programs, 34 projects and over 80 events in 2008 and 2009
  • won 15 awards including two national and three regional championships

Today Andrea is finishing up her studies at Ryerson and recently moved into the role of director of the Action Learning Program there, which provides professional education and development. I asked Andrea some questions about entrepreneurship, but she also discusses the benefits of getting involved with organizations like SIFE from a student perspective in this video interview.

Q. When did entrepreneurship make its first impression on you, and what in particular caught your interest about this business area?

A. When I was in high school, I took a couple of courses in entrepreneurship. In grades 11 and 12 we had to elect a class president, and I was voted in for that. We had to run a venture which went successfully. So [that] is when I actually started learning about entrepreneurship and trying different things which kind of sparked my interest in it.

However, when I came to university, I did marketing. The entrepreneurship program did interest me, though, as I sat in on classes mainly because I liked the professors and the material, not because I was getting credit. If I could go back and do entrepreneurship, I would, because it’s so hands on and the professors are fantastic. Marketing is good and I find it interesting, but that would have probably been more in line with some of the things that I’m passionate about.

Q. You have dedicated much of your time to helping generate interest in entrepreneurship amongst students through SIFE and REI. Do you plan on eventually launching a company of your own in the near future?

A. Yes, definitely. I don’t know exactly what it would be or what industry, however that’s something I’m very interested in doing. Right now, the experience I am gaining will only help me perform better.

Q. As co-founder of the Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute (REI), how have you helped young entrepreneurs put their ideas into action?

A. Part of REI is about getting people interested in entrepreneurship. It’s not necessarily handling someone else’s business, it’s also about saying, “YOU can be an entrepreneur.”

I’ve talked to people who are running their own business, but they’re not a business student, so they often shy away from the entrepreneur label. Often people don’t grasp that business and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. You can’t be an entrepreneur and not be doing business.

So it’s kind of letting people know what entrepreneurship is and that it’s something that you can do. Entrepreneurship is not just an accounting company, or it’s not just a business, it can be something like having a retail store. People understand that and get excited about it. On the resource side, we’re responsible for building the ideas, the online courses, the workshops that help students and entrepreneurs to see if their business is feasible.

Q. What have your experiences working with and leading students interested in entrepreneurship been like? Do students come to you with a vision and well-thought out plans or do they develop this over time?

A. I would say definitely developed over time. You do get students who are so excited that they’re not really focused. You also have students who are more developed in their ideas and intent on where they want to go.

Students are very afraid to share their ideas with anybody because they think somebody will steal them. What students come to realize, and what we promote, is the value of your idea does not come from telling anybody, it comes from the implementation you put behind the idea.

How do you develop your idea, how do you build a team and make it better if you don’t talk to people and get feedback? So that probably the biggest thing that we’ve been facing for the last year or so; trying to help people understand and overcome their fear of sharing their ideas. You don’t always have to share every single detail about how the technology works or the exact way you’re doing something, but telling people enough so that they have a high-level view is never a bad thing. It always helps you to get feedback to see where you can improve.

Q. You have been active in SIFE Ryerson throughout your undergraduate degree. Which accomplishment are you most proud of during your tenure as president?

A. Well, I guess you can look at this from two sides. On one side is the people side; being able to see people develop and reach their goals is hugely rewarding. Because you see people who couldn’t even have conversations in a small room and they’re going and presenting on a national stage, and they’re presenting to classes. I think the transformation is incredible.

As well, the growth of an organization as a whole and its reputation that it was able to gain the last couple of years. We’re not even seen anymore as just students, but a student-run operation that operates like a business which produces results and generates revenue. The fact that undergraduate students are doing that is really cool and really exciting.

Q. What is your priority as a future young professional: helping others achieve their business vision or executing your own?

A. I’d like to do both and think that I can do so. A lot of it is learning while I am doing, whether it’s working on my own thing or helping somebody else fulfilling their experiences. Eventually I know my priorities will be creating my own venture, but now I like to see what’s going on, meeting new people, learning about their ideas.

Q. Who or where do you look to for inspiration? Is there someone or something that inspires you to become better at your work?

A. I’d have to say my faculty advisor, director of REI and faculty at Ryerson, Steven Gedeon, has been the faculty advisor for SIFE for the last four and a half years and I’ve been able to work with him in that time.

He is just fantastic. He is committed, inspirational, motivational, thinks big, but he never does your work for you. He makes you go on your own, but he’ll push you in the right direction, he’ll ask the big questions and make you think about how you can be doing things better. I would say he’s definitely someone who I look up to and say I want to be where he is.

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About the author

Will Moniz is a recent graduate of McMaster University's biology program and his career goals include urban planning and environmental management.