UAlberta alumni dish out valuable entrepreneurial advice to students
Venture Mentoring Service focuses on developing entrepreneurs who will become business and community leaders.
By SHEILA GRAHAM
(Edmonton) In 2013, University of Alberta students Joel Wegner and Kelsie Kozakevich had an idea: an app that customizes a restaurant menu for people with dietary restrictions. But turning an idea into a company takes time—and support. The U of A’s Venture Mentoring Service has given the budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to gain valuable insight from alumni who have already faced those challenges.
“Our mentorship team is full of intelligent U of A alumni with vast entrepreneurial experience, which in turn provides us with much-needed perspective,” said Wegner, who graduated with a bachelor of commerce in December 2013. “The VMS program has been incredibly valuable.”
The VMS program connects enterprising U of A students with local alumni business leaders who advise and coach the entrepreneurs. The chair of its advisory committee, BioWare co-founder and U of A alumnus Ray Muzyka, ’90 BMedSc, ’92 MD, recently launched the program to inspire and propel young entrepreneurs to success.
"We strive first to develop the entrepreneurs, whereas most other entrepreneurial mentorship programs focus solely on the ventures,” says Muzyka. “This approach empowers our future business and community leaders, allowing them to reach new heights. It increases the odds of success in both their current and future ventures.”
“Little companies become big companies that drive our economy,” says VMS mentor Kristina Milke, a former senior executive at Investopedia and controller for Intuit. Milke, ’94 BCom, has participated on two mentoring teams, including the team behind Wegner’s app, and says the entrepreneurs they assist are “tenacious young people who are open to feedback.”
VMS is open to student and alumni entrepreneurs from all sectors. Now in its second year, the program will focus on recruiting and training mentors, providing professional development to help entrepreneurs become better mentees and leaders, and offering exclusive sessions to participants.
“Hearing from someone who is where I want to be in 10 years is very motivating,” says Wegner, who is hard at work on his app. “Our mentors provide us with invaluable support and tangible advice to help push our company forward.”