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Sprouter: An Entrepreneur’s Latest Tool


“Entrepreneurship has traditionally not been an actively promoted profession.  In Canada, there is a systemic culture of striving to be “number two”—a propensity to join larger companies, climb the corporate ladder and achieve success through direct reports and an executive title reporting to the president.”

A talk with Sarah Prevette

By Laksh Vig, Contributor

Sarah Prevette

Many students in university dream of landing a nice job when they graduate.  They want a job that will offer a great starting salary, a job where professional development is encouraged and recognized and a job that provides them with self-satisfaction.

 

Other students meanwhile dream of having their own business.  They want to be their own boss, they want to make their own hours and want to be rewarded for everything they do.

These students want to be entrepreneurs.

While many students dream of owning their own successful business, few of them venture out to do so because of the risks involved.  It is a fact that 80% of new businesses close within the first year.  And with an economy still recovering from an ugly recession, the chances that a student will take a risk and open up a business is very unlikely.

Still, some do find a passion in working for themselves and being the one to make the important decisions.  As a result, they begin to execute their brilliant idea and open up shop.  While some do not make it to their fiscal year, some go above and beyond.

York University students have the privilege of getting to meet and hear successful individuals speak and share their success stories at events and conferences.  Many of them are from large corporations and well-established businesses.  Who York students do not often get to meet are the business owners themselves: the ones who took the risks, invested all of their time and money and the ones who can offer advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

For you see, a business owner was also once a student who was thinking of an idea and how to market that idea.  On Wednesday November 26 2009, Sarah Prevette, the founder of Sprouter (a website that “enables collaboration and networking between entrepreneurs globally”), came to New College to speak to students.  She had a wonderful presentation where she answered questions, as well as gave students a chance to talk to her face to face.  She taught them important lessons such as toughening up, especially in face of failure.

I also had the privilege of getting a chance to interview her.  Here is what she said:

How did you come up with the idea of being an entrepreneur, as entrepreneurship is not a well-publicized profession and as it can be a ‘risky business to enter into’?

Entrepreneurship has traditionally not been an actively promoted profession.  In Canada, there is a systemic culture of striving to be “number two”—a propensity to join larger companies, climb the corporate ladder and achieve success through direct reports and an executive title reporting to the president.

The more visibility we can lend to innovation and innovators, to new start-ups, the more we will encourage entrepreneurship as a viable career choice.

What was your inspiration to become an entrepreneur?

I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain experience in a start-up while still a student.  Learning first-hand under an exceptionally charismatic and visionary entrepreneur was a great initiation.  Being submersed in an environment that fostered ongoing innovation, had a culture of unyielding passion and an ongoing sense of urgency was intoxicating.  It was that first experience that gave me the desire and confidence to pursue my own ideas.

How did you come up with the idea for Sprouter?

Sprouter was born to overcome the traditional isolation of entrepreneurs and create an instant, plug-in network of support.  Start-up founders leverage Sprouter for advice, inspiration and real time feedback on their business.

Do you have any advice to give University students who are interested in start-ups?

I’d recommend that anyone interested in start-ups first gain experience working at someone else’s start-up.  The culture, uncertainty and hectic pace of a new business is not for everyone—try it on first and see how it fits before committing your life to it.

Internship can be an incredible foot in the door and beneficial to both parties—the student and the start-up.  Resources are hard to come by in the early days of a company and a willing (unpaid) worker is happily accepted in most places.  The intern benefits from hands on experience and the entrepreneur through having an extra set of hands to help.

Many people (especially students) want to run a business but are unable to
come up with the start up funds needed.  What advice do you have for students in
this position?

A number of programs, loans and grants exist that are meant to facilitate new business creation – they just tend to lack effective visibility.  I’m continually amazed at the plethora of initiatives geared specifically at students.  I would strongly recommend researching opportunities and speaking with not-for-profit organizations like the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF.CA)

What lessons have you learned from running your own business/what advice can you give now?

Start-ups are ongoing evolutions: constant iterations, tiny refinements and adjustments to pre-laid plans.  Aim to fail early.  Establish what your minimal viable product is and push to bring it to market as fast as possible.  Get feedback before you even establish a prototype—build your product around true, established needs.  Embrace failure as a process of progression, i.e. strive to fail early, fail often and commit to constant evaluation.  Establish your key metrics, build a dashboard and hold yourself accountable for the numbers.

What, in your opinion, are the advantages (or disadvantages) of aspiring
entrepreneurs starting up a business during a recessionary economic climate?

A recessionary global economy means tighter budgets, longer sales cycles and a climate of fearful uncertainty.  But, like with most issues, there lies opportunity for a resourceful individual offering a timely solution.  Products positioned to save money for example, might particularly prosper in a recessionary environment.


It’s worth noting that at the same that the economy has taken a hit, technology becomes cheaper and the cost of starting your own business has lessens.  It is an unprecedented time in history to start your own company—leverage free online tools, tap into online networks of support and actively engage with your market.

The advice that Sarah shared with us was definitely invaluable and aspiring entrepreneurs should play close attention to what she is saying, as good advice on starting your own business is hard to come by these days.

EXTRA BIO INFO

Entrepreneur.
Founder of Sprouter, RedWire, , , Break Out Camp and Social Mastermind.

Sarah Prevette

Sarah Prevette is a serial entrepreneur in a classic sense.  Upon graduating from school, soon after founded the online venture, Sprouter, of which this feature article discusses.  However, she is also the founder of a variety of other ventures, including: RedWire (an online collaboration tool facilitating knowledge exchange between startups and business leaders), Social Mastermind (a volunteer run initiative pairing social media luminaries with charities to help causes build online market share) and regular networking events, such as Wired Wednesday, Sprout Up and Break Out Camp.

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