What I Know Now?
By Alexandra Daignault
As an English major, with a minor in Indigenous Studies, I had spent very little time in the Bissett School of Business, never venturing to the upper floors. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Mount Royal Campus, the Arts building and the Business building stand on opposite sides of the main building. Slate, a collaborative workspace for students, is situated on the top floor of the Bissett School of Business, and is somewhat hidden away.
The first time I met Ray DePaul, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, I was sitting in Slate admiring the fancy desks and soft chairs. I had never been to this room before, despite being in my fourth year of University. Unlike collaborative study spaces I had encountered before, this room was exceptionally well equipped with everything you might need for a really good ideation session. Sitting there, in this room full of students who seemed to have it all together, I felt completely out of place. Why was I here? What could I even bring to this space? Who did I think I was to march in here with my big hair and bigger ideas? All of these questions played across my mind as I looked at the posters of past launchpad participants.
As a student, I have sometimes felt stuck. Much of my degree up until this point had been spent pouring overly theoretical texts, writing papers, and thinking critically about the world around me. However, with the exception of my community service learning courses, there had been little emphasis on how I could apply theory to the work I hoped to do outside of academic spaces. I never considered myself an entrepreneur, finding it easier to inhabit terms like community activist. Little did I know that there was a place on campus that helped students grow something tangible from the theoretical; and that I was about to shift my whole perspective on the radical, transformative power of activist projects.
I had begun the initial process of building my current business, Solidariteas, a Calgary based social justice tea company, when my business partner suggested that we meet with Ray. I had no real idea who he was, or what the Institute did. Over the course of a half hour, we discussed conscious consumerism and the transformative power of strong product. Our mission, as a company, was to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, providing an easily accessible act of activism to consumers. I learned that yes, in fact, English and entrepreneurship can go hand in hand. The conversation with Ray both challenged and inspired me, pushing me to work harder and do more; since then, I have grown so much. I have learned that really no discipline or course of study can truly prepare you for starting your own venture. It really is a kick in the pants, and is probably the best thing anyone could ever do.
The Launchpad Accelerator Course brings together a cohort of emerging entrepreneurs, all working at different stages of their businesses. The cohort is varied, and no two ideas are the same. Through the work of my contemporaries, I have learned how to market, how to run product tests, and perhaps most importantly how to pivot or change direction! As a relatively inexperienced entrepreneur, there is something really special about having a support network around you while you lay the foundation for your projects. Being critiqued by such a small group of peers is something both challenging and rewarding. It is a delicious experience to have your ideas pushed, prodded, validated, and sometimes crushed. You become close quickly, drawing on each other for feedback and support. In this way, a strong bond of community formed, transcending academic discipline.
I feel stronger as a person, and as the founder of business, knowing that I have a profound network of support, both inside and outside academic spaces. Everyday I am inspired by the people around me. Their initiatives, projects, and voices push and support me. So, what do I know now? If I could go back to that very first meeting, I would tell myself that yes, I absolutely belong here; because, to be an entrepreneur is to be a creative thinker, a bridge builder, occupying many spaces as at once. Someone once told me that the strongest projects are collaborative and interdisciplinary. I have come to really internalize this notion. I am thankful to be an English Major, to have taken Indigenous Studies, and now to be part of MRU’s entrepreneurship community. I truly believe that together we are stronger, and as a community we have an impact.