The Best Entrepreneurs


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Yesterday, I stepped into a different element for just a second to attend a judges reception for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards program.

A couple months back, a former intern of mine recommended me to this program, to vie for the title of Ontario's Entrepreneur of the Year - although I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or who I would be up against, I thought, "Why not?" Fast forward until yesterday, as I stood there amongst some of the best and brightest in the city - in the province! - and I thought to myself, "I am so totally out of my league here...."

As I sat there listening to the all the welcome speeches from former winner and nominees, I started thinking about what exactly embodied a true entrepreneur. Here I was preparing for my 5 minute schpeil (my "commercial" as they so aptly put it) with one of the judges, thinking of all the things I would say about my growth, my abilities to run a team, my leadership skills, and then someone at the podium said something different.

She said something along the lines of, "When you talk to the judges, remember that we want to hear a good story, and we want to hear how you gave back to the community, and what you truly stand for. That is the true mark of an entrepreneur." She went on to talk about last year's winner of the worldwide program, who was a victim of a violent household as a child, who lived in bedouins, and did hard labour in front of a school until one of the teachers took mercy on him and registered him in even though he was unqualified. He went on to university, getting his PhD and going to the UK to begin building his business. His book, "Bedouins" is now mandatory reading in several schools across the UK. I don't even remember what his business was about - that was how enthralling the actual backstory of his life was.

I started thinking about my backstory and what I stood for as an entrepreneur. And what I came to realize is that although I was raised in an age of privilege - and by that I mean, I am not an immigrant, I didn't come to this country 'with nothing', and I was blessed to have parents that paid for my education and give me a relatively comfortable life - my backstory in developing Envision Weddings had a lot of similar struggles as many of the entrepreneurs in that room. We all started from little to no capital, developing something we believed in with the one hope that we would be able to do this for a living and love our lives. We all used trial and error to help us along and we all made huge mistakes along the way. And we all persevered.

And as my winter/spring interns finish up their term in about one week, I also reflected on how big part of my backstory is how I developed these new event planners, contributed to their success and in turn, they contributed to mine. That, I believe, is even more of a success to me, and that is where I spoke from when I talked to that judge. Sure, he threw a bunch of more practical questions at me (profit margins, percentage commissions, etc.) but the fact of the matter is, he remembered reading about my internship, even before I mentioned it. And that's when I knew that I hit the target.

So to my interns that are wrapping up now, here is my final words of advice, my send off if you will - taken from what I learned yesterday at the reception.

1. You don't have to only choose one interest, but you do have to have focus. You do need to know relatively what you want and how you want your end result to be like. You do need to have concrete goals, even though they can and will change over the years, and that's okay. But pick something to focus on, and have the intuition to know when it is time to move on to another goal when that one doesn't work.