FEBRUARY 11, 2013
This time last year, I could not have imagined I would ever know what it was like to be a part of either an accelerator or a master’s program. Now I can tell you the big difference between the two.
I was working commercial finance at BDC and hoping GetintheLoop would grow in its second year. I was the first one to say, “Accelerate? Naw, I wouldn’t be a good fit for the program.” I thought it was only for really techy companies and I had no idea the value they had to offer.
During the growth of my company in Year 2, I realized that the GetintheLoop concept had a chance. I was on a mission to improve it. I started searching for master’s programs that focused on the internet, creativity and entrepreneurship. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the innovation and entrepreneurship program at Antwerp Management School in Belgium.
This was going to be the winter that I took the GetintheLoop concept to the next level and got my master’s while doing it.
It wasn’t until I was invited out for lunch with Accelerate Okanagan’s CEO, Jeff Keen, and a BDC colleague of mine that I found out more about Accelerate Okanagan and the services they offer. I quickly realized that if I wanted to achieve my goal, I had to be part of this program. Luckily for me, I was accepted as a VAP [Venture Acceleration Program] client, selected my mentor and never looked back.
If there is anyone who can tell you which of the two is more valuable for your company and personal growth, it’s me. I’m seven weeks away from completing my masters degree and am currently participating remotely for the past six months with Accelerate Okanagan.
If you compare lessons learned, personal or company development, my position at Accelerate blows my master’s program out of the water! That is putting it nicely. Here are a few reasons why:
First and most importantly, the value of a mentor. I have been lucky enough to be mentored by Richard Favro, one of the executives in residence at Accelerate. Richard has provided guidance on every topic needed for GetintheLoop’s development, through brainstorming, business modeling, legal advice, meeting preparation and more. Each time I talk with Richard, I come away feeling more confident about what I am doing and learn more in one hour than I do in 35 hours of class time.
The blind leading the blind. This is how I would refer to some of my courses. In my master’s program, I am lucky enough to be taught by some very successful business owners, some of them owning three to 15 successful ventures. Their courses are tremendous, but the problem is that not every course is taught by true entrepreneurs. I have a tough time listening to a triple mastered, doctor in business talk to our class about innovative market entry strategies for start-ups when I know they have never spent one sleepless night thinking about how their company launch is going to go. You can’t read about that gut feeling, you can’t listen to lectures and know what it feels like to fail or succeed when it’s your own idea. Every single advisor at Accelerate is a seasoned entrepreneur with extensive experience in a myriad of industries. These are the people you want to learn from.
Sink or swim. At school, every project, business plan or test I do gets graded. Instructors provide feedback and I can try and improve on my next “test”. If I get my 65 percent, I pass, move on, get my certificate and graduate. With Accelerate, I am demanded to present quarterly reviews. If I am unprepared, I don’t get a 60 per cent - I am out of the program. I have to show progress and growth. If I am not successful, I am out of the program. This is real life: do well, get better or move on. With the education system, you can do well, do ok, or do poorly, but still get by. I see too many people happy to just get their master’s and see what happens after that. It’s easy. It doesn’t teach perseverance. It doesn’t imitate the pressures of the real world. It’s not reality.
The one big positive a master’s program has is the vast network you build while attending. My management school has programs that are ranked in the top 25 in the world and my classmates are highly motivated, hopeful entrepreneurs. The international connections I will have gained from this experience can’t be measured. The opportunity to work with a group of young, energetic master’s students is a great experience and one I have enjoyed from Day 1.
I could go on and on about the big differences, but the highlights are clear. With Accelerate’s programs, you are given a mentor that brings unlimited value to your personal growth. You are surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs and held to a standard that pushes you to succeed. If you have a great idea, or have just started a business and you think there is any possibility you could fit into some sort of program like Accelerate Okanagan, do whatever you can to find out more and explore your options.
I can tell you one thing: if I ever do need to hand out a resume again (fingers crossed I won’t), the first thing on my resume will be my experience running my company and being a part of the VAP program at Accelerate. My second highlight will be my corporate experience and my education will be listed at the bottom. It’s more of a token necessity to gain the roles we motivated folks are looking for.