In a roundtable with student entrepreneurs from the University of Toronto, Guy Cormier, President and CEO of Desjardins, led a meaningful conversation on tips every young entrepreneur should know.
A text by Fatima Raza, youth reporter for Desjardins
The discussion explored the challenges young startups face in today’s economic environment, and what corporate leaders can do to support more homegrown innovation.
From artificial intelligence designed to understand emotions to beauty products and organizations tackling social injustice, the entrepreneurs at the table represented a variety of creative and innovative backgrounds.
Here are the top 3 tips Guy shared with these entrepreneurs:
1. Stay focused, even when the end looks blurry
In a heartfelt conversation looking back at how Desjardins got its start, Guy emphasized the importance of remembering your purpose, especially when the journey gets challenging, and obstacles seem too big to tackle.
For Alphonse Desjardins, founder of Desjardins, the path was just as big and confusing, but he persevered.
It all started back in the 1900s when Alphonse learned how French Canadians in Quebec couldn’t have access to credit or savings. They had to rely on short loans and short lenders to lend them money.
Alphonse wanted to change this. His initial plan was not to try and start a financial institution, but to start a movement determined to increase financial literacy, education and democracy. For him, this was essential in making change.
“Back then in the 1900s, social entrepreneurship wasn’t even a word but Alphonse Desjardins was a social entrepreneur,” Guy said.
Alphonse’s story is worth pondering for every young entrepreneur, especially one hoping to overcome social injustice and inequality.
“Alphonse Desjardins never thought of becoming a company like we are today. His priority was just to fix a problem in society,” Guy reminded the young entrepreneurs.
The main takeaway is to stay focused and constantly remind yourself why you started. When going through a rough patch, it can be easy to lose focus.
The key is to push through by picturing the end goal—it may be blurry now, but with determination and hard work, you can pave your way forward.
2. Network and personalize your ecosystem for growth
“Choose the people around you carefully,” Guy advised.
It’s important to surround yourself with people with similar goals and ambitions. If you want to do well, befriend people who inspire you and can support you. Step out of your comfort zone and start networking with people who will drive and motivate you.
“In Alphonse’s time, there was no ecosystem,” Guy said, referring to the ample resources and mentorship opportunities available to entrepreneurs today as an ecosystem for growth.
Make use of everything you have access to. Reach out to people you think would provide valuable advice and guidance.
3. Criticism is your best friend and comfort is your enemy
When things get tough, it’s easy to doubt yourself. But the earlier you acknowledge that challenges can create opportunities for growth, the better.
“Challenges are good because it allows you to go so deep personally and find a solution that you never thought you would,” Guy said.
Adversity allows you to learn from your mistakes and be better prepared for the future.
Growing between the walls of comfort is nearly impossible; criticism and feedback are vital for improvement.
“Realize that most of the criticism you receive is not against you or your ideas. It took me over 25 years to understand that,” he added. Insisting that challenges, criticism and feedback are opportunities to think differently and discover new ideas from different perspectives that can fuel growth.
Guy emphasized that although it’s important to love your work, it’s even more important to be open to feedback.
Desjardins has partnered with U of T for its annual business pitch competition, which is designed to recognize, support and accelerate the academic institution’s most innovative startups.
There are over $100,000 in prizes being offered through the Desjardins Startup Prize. This is part of a larger three-year commitment as a lead partner for the U of T Entrepreneurship community, which will also feature a financial literacy workshop for founders and a speaker series sponsored by Desjardins.