If you were anywhere near the Metro Toronto Convention Centre a couple of weeks ago, you may have noticed a bunch of young people dressed to the nines in business clothes.
Don’t let those innocent faces fool you—there’s a good chance you’ll be calling them “boss” in a few years’ time.
The National Business and Technology Conference (NBTC) is an annual consulting and entrepreneurship competition and networking event attended by over 400 students from across Canada.
The flagship event of Nspire (an organization co-founded by U of T grad and current Yelp Product Manager Brad Menezes), the NBTC continued its tradition of bringing young leaders and industry professionals together on March 8-9 of this year.
As an NBTC media partner, we had the pleasure of attending the conference and getting a glimpse of the action.
Two days, two competitions, too many bright ideas to cover
A lot is packed into NBTC’s two-day run, with a steady stream of speakers, panels, networking sessions and NBTCTalks scheduled around the competition rounds.
Friday’s main event was the Entrepreneurship Competition, which started bright and early at 8 a.m.
Budding entrepreneurs in all different stages of business went head to head with their ideas, getting feedback and advice from a judging panel of venture capitalists, veteran entrepreneurs and industry experts. After hearing from students keen to revolutionize product management and the way we write, construction app Bridgit eventually took the $5,000 cash prize.
Saturday was all about the Capital One Case Competition. Aspiring consultants were put to the test as they presented tech startup Loose Button with their ideas about how to significantly boost the company’s sales in 90 days. Two rounds and many different pitches later, the $2,000 prize was handed to Nick Barbour, Amanda Tartas, Gabriel Pirvu and Shawn Lucas for their idea to introduce a line of colourful socks to the company’s product wheel.
Between the two competitions, attendees were treated to an inspiring series of speakers, such as Facebook’s Alfredo Tan and ME Consulting’s Mark Evans, and panels that focused on venture capitalism and women in entrepreneurship.
The Women in Entrepreneurship panel
It just so happens that the Women in Entrepreneurship panel featured TalentEgg’s very own founder, Lauren Friese. She was joined by Emilie Cushman of Kira Talent, Heather Payne of Ladies Learning Code and HackerYou, and Nicole Verkindt of OMX to discuss their experiences as female founders.
They talked about everything from the challenges of being a young female entrepreneur to the benefits of having co-founders (or not). While everyone had their own perspective on each topic, they all agreed on the importance of being yourself, knowing your stuff and starting your entrepreneurial journey sooner rather than later.
It’s hardly surprising that some of the questions that came up during the Women in Entrepreneurship panel focused on issues specific to being a woman. But the majority of the participants said their age, rather than gender, was the biggest hurdle they had to overcome when starting out.
The trick to getting people to take you seriously? Don’t pretend to be something you’re not (older) and back yourself up with knowledge and passion.
“When I first started out, people couldn’t believe that at 27 I could sell to Aerospace Engineers,” said Nicole. “ I would wear military buns and suits to appear older, but people see through that. The best thing is to be yourself and do your research—the facts will speak for themselves.”
Lauren agreed, telling the audience that she used to wear business suits to meetings to make her then 24-year-old self appear more credible.
“Then I realized one day that I basically looked like a child playing dress-up,” she said. “So I started wearing my own version of professional clothes, and once I felt more like myself, my passion and ideas were what shone through.”
The hour-long session flew by and and after talking about how to find the best mentors (organically, by surrounding yourself with people who are experts in their field) and the benefits of co-founders (great for a balance of skills but if you work best alone, you might not need one), they each offered a final piece of advice to the entrepreneurs-to-be in the audience.
Heather: Learn to code. Having technical skills in your toolbelt gives you that much more power and autonomy in your business.
Emilie: If you have an idea, don’t wait to start. With incubators, landing pages and social media, it’s cheaper than ever to start a business.
Nicole: Focus 100% on one thing instead of 20% on five things. Building a business takes complete dedication. You have to go all in.
Lauren: Don’t be afraid to get started now on your idea. As a young person, your opportunity costs are lower than they ever will be, since you likely don’t have a family of your own or the responsibilities that come later in life. There’s no better time to take a risk, so go for it.
Learn more about this year’s National Business and Technology Conference here, and check out Nspire to get involved with future conferences and other initiatives for young leaders passionate about business and technology.