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Entrepreneurship 101

High school students that are interested in creating solutions to local issues in their community now have an outlet to source their ideas through a youth-organized entrepreneurship program called Flowboat.

In 2017, Adam Martinez, a Grade 10 student from Conestogo, joined forces with Atif Mahmud to create a student-driven platform for high school students who are interested in learning how to start a company and how to formulate a business plan.

“There was really no opportunity like this. If you see a demand and you see something that could be improved, why not tackle it yourself,” Martinez said on the initial idea that would become Flowboat.

Each week high school students gather at the University of Waterloo to learn about how to develop start-up companies with the help of mentors, lessons, and hands-on experience. Students aren’t necessarily  expected to have a business idea off the hop, but can just want to learn more about starting a business. “It can be something that is unique to your community – a problem. If you want to tackle and try solving that, then this is where you can do it,” said Martinez.

The pair came up with the idea because there was no opportunity for high school students to pursue entrepreneurship outside of school. Martinez and Mahmud wanted to create a space for students all across the region to participate in growing their ideas. Over the last three years, the program brings in some 50 students each year from the greater Waterloo Region, including Guelph and surrounding areas.

“If you’re trying to understand how high school students can approach these problems, the best person to do it is a person of that age,” said Martinez.

Countering the lack of outlets the pair found, Flowboat provides a platform for high school students to grow their ideas, he said.

Entrepreneurship, the 17-year-old added, is not necessarily something you learn in the classroom, but is perhaps best learned from actually doing it and practicing it.

“At the high school level in the curriculum, they don’t really teach entrepreneurship that well. Nothing is really hands-on, so what this does is it gives high school students a possibility to actually do it.”

Now as Martinez approaches his final year of high school, he wants to make sure the program will continue for the years ahead. This includes ensuring that there are enough mentors to help the students in Flowboat.

 A lot of the current mentors are software engineering students at the University of Waterloo, along with co-founder Mahmud who is still involved in the program despite being a university student himself. Martinez himself reaches out to all of the mentors, who are all local to the area. This year, for instance, the former director of UW’s Velocity Fund program will join Flowboat as a mentor.

“We have a banker, we have a lawyer. We have a diverse range of mentors that we can hopefully partner up with students as they progress and as they need it,” said Martinez.

There is even some interest from other universities in different cities – the Rotman School of Management in Toronto is interested in opening a branch at their school in the near future, he added.

“It started in Waterloo, but in the future it could be a very diverse network of universities holding these programs and could perhaps be a national network that helps high school students.”

The unique thing about the program is that students come from all over, whether that’s Conestogo or Waterloo, and they have different issues that they want to tackle based on their community. This diversity allows for Flowboat to create different ideas or companies based on the range of students that participate at any time.

Flowboat is always searching for new mentors in the community who will take the time to support these students and their ideas. A mentor can be anyone who is willing to help share their expertise with the high school students. Those interested in becoming a mentor at Flowboat can register online through their website. Any students that are interested in joining Flowboat have until September 22 to sign up online.

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