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Start them up: Business grads get first-hand look at what's out there for budding entrepreneurs

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Red River College's Scott MacAulay holds a snowboard as he stands next to snowboard maker Matt Olson (in tuque) at AssentWorks/Ramp-Up Manitoba on Friday during the Start-Up Bus Crawl.

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Red River College's Scott MacAulay holds a snowboard as he stands next to snowboard maker Matt Olson (in tuque) at AssentWorks/Ramp-Up Manitoba on Friday during the Start-Up Bus Crawl. Photo Store

It was a street-level demonstration of the vibrancy of the Winnipeg entrepreneurial ecosystem.

On Friday, two busloads full of 80 new business-school grads from the University of Manitoba and Red River College toured some of the city's startup hot spots.

The second-annual CEO Manitoba Start-Up Crawl 2014 -- which doubled in size this year from one busload to two -- was designed as a way to get would-be entrepreneurs introduced to the opportunities and support systems that are out there for young people thinking about starting their own business.

Throughout the day, they were hosted by some of the city's business leaders, including senior executives from National Leasing Inc., the premier sponsor.

They toured the Asper School of Business at the U of M, business incubators the Eureka Project and the Manitoba Technology Accelerator and AssentWorks/Ramp-Up Manitoba, the maker-space that is becoming a hub for the growing startup community in Winnipeg.

Mohammad Almaleki, a second-year Asper School student, who is this year's president of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) Manitoba -- one of the event organizers -- said there is a lot of real enthusiasm for the event.

"This trip is an attempt to inspire students to start their own businesses and also show them where the resources are and where the people are who could help them take their ideas into actual functioning businesses," he said.

While that may sound like a nice idea that may not really translate into reality, there really is a bustling array of supports that now function well in the city.

The sponsors for the day include the schools, Innovate Manitoba, the province, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, whose local office, headed by Joelle Foster, recently funded its 100th business in the last three years.

Scott MacAulay, entrepreneurship researcher and instructor at RRC and one of the inspirational leaders of the event, said the pieces are in place now so young people can move through the ecosystem quickly.

"This is the next cadre of entrepreneurs running through," MacAulay said.

"The innovation ecosystem is exploding. It's really coming together."

By showing students at an early stage the kind of support and mentors that are out there, it will hopefully lead to more successes and a healthier business environment with increasingly more opportunities for young graduates.

"These students inject a massive amount of young, eager entrepreneurs into the system," he said.

Then there are CYBF loans and small-business loans from the likes of the RBC and BDC and then on to angel investors and bigger money."

Of course, none of that is ever easy and typically won't work very well if there's no passion involved. The bus crawl is a way to help ease that passion out.

"The main mission is to remove the ambiguity and fear that comes with starting a business," Almaleki said. "A lot of students want to be entrepreneurs, and Winnipeg has some of the most brilliant entrepreneurial minds in Canada. What holds us apart is the fear of the unknown -- where do you get the money, how do you arrange office space?"

The bus crawl is a way to provide some entry into that world.

At AssentWorks, young entrepreneur Matt Olson, who designs and makes snowboards, casually told the students about the array of laser cutters and 3D printers at the disposal of members of the innovative maker-space.

"This place is amazing," said Hayley Johnston, who graduated from Asper School last year and has a few ideas for her own businesses.

"I joined AssentWorks last month. Now that I have graduated, it's something I want to immerse myself in."

Pablo Steinberg, a 40-year-old student at RRC's international business program, said, "The whole day is about the possibility of connecting with the right people in the right environment to incubate your idea."

Steinberg, who moved to Winnipeg from Argentina 10 years ago, said there really is an atmosphere in Winnipeg that makes it seem possible to launch an idea into a business.

"It's exciting to be able to get to know the people that have the energy and resource to help implement a business idea," he said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 B6

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Updated on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 9:50 AM CDT: removes extra word in headline

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