Isaac Adejuwon, who’s lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for the past seven years, is originally from Nigeria. He moved to St. John’s when he was 19, to study engineering at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). After graduating from the program in May 2016, he decided to launch a start-up company and become an employer rather than follow the traditional pathway of starting a career as an employee.
“As an engineer, I was trained to identify problems and create solutions,” he says, explaining the evolution of his company, Metricsflow (www.metricsflow.com).
Adejuwon recognized the frustration faced by marketers who can’t effectively measure how their online content boosts (or discourages) buying habits. His solution “tracks, interprets and provides actionable insights into the performance of the content being produced and its impact on the buyers’ journey.”
For someone without any training in business, Adejuwon is deftly guiding Metricsflow’s rapid advance through the early awkward stage that is every start-up’s infancy. In just a few years, he’s progressed from idea to product, from being a student to becoming a client of Memorial’s Genesis Centre (an incubator and accelerator for technology start-ups), to building a client base and attracting attention from investors.
Even for the rapidly-running tech sector, this is growth at warp speed – and Adejuwon says he owes it all to the twice-weekly mentoring he received from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) over a four-month period.
“Engineering taught me to be a problem-solver,” he says, “but MCE taught me to re-assess my solution from the client’s perspective. They helped me develop a business plan and consider how I could develop my idea in a way that would be viable, that would make money. They coached me on how to pitch my company to potential clients and investors.”
“There is no way I would be where I am today, or have gotten here so quickly, without MCE,” says Adejuwon.
By curious coincidence, both Isaac Adejuwon and Dr. Wilfred Zerbe arrived at Memorial at approximately the same time. But while Adejuwon was pursuing his then-dream of becoming an engineer, the Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration says a Centre for Entrepreneurship was one of his earliest priorities. The Centre was co-founded by the faculties of Business and Engineering, with input from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the provincial Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development. The initiative was led by Dr. Zerbe and Dr. Greg Naterer, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
“Memorial already had the Genesis Centre, which was and is doing a great job incubating high-tech start-ups,” says Zerbe. “But I felt there was a gap in support for people who hadn’t committed to launching a business. I wanted to raise awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable career option, and foster creative connections across faculties.”
“MCE’s mandate is three-fold,” says Zerbe. “It inspires students, faculty and staff to think and act entrepreneurially. It provides financial support to emerging business owners and helps them grow. And, working with other community stakeholders, it is helping to build a stronger province-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Ultimately, it’s about creating a broader funnel of start-ups. Think of it as a positive chain reaction: as more new businesses start buzzing around, the more they encourage and inspire additional entrepreneurial activity.
“You might have been born with the capacity to be a concert violinist, but you’ll never get there without a violin,” Zerbe explains. “You’ll still need someone to teach you how to read music, finger the strings and work with an orchestra. That’s what we do for aspiring entrepreneurs. We give them the opportunity to try, and the safety of knowing it’s alright to fail, and a nurturing environment that shows them how to pick themselves up and try again.”
It’s only been a year since Florian Villaumé accepted the position as Director of the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship in March 2016, and he already has many successes to report. Together with two full-time staff (Daan Goossens, Programs Catalyst and Elyse Summers, Program Support Coordinator), they’ve recruited a team of Student Ambassadors, put new student entrepreneurship programming in place, forged partnerships with other stakeholders, and even launched a new course on entrepreneurship for non-business students.
In addition to Isaac Adejuwon, MCE has also helped numerous other students, such as Peter Dawe and Viktor Jónsson. Their start-up, New Island Studios (www.newislandstudios.com), was founded in 2016 and the independent game developer already has a virtual reality game on the market – Escape!VR. In fact, four (soon to be five) businesses have incorporated thanks to MCE, and 41 applications have been submitted for their Start-up Semester program. And they’re seeing strong attendance at idea-sharing events like Hacking Health Café (a grass-roots organization co-created by MCE and other organizations in the ecosystem) and to MCE’s workshops. It’s an impressive resume for an organization that could still be described as a start-up itself.
Asked to identify exactly what MCE does, Villaumé says they help aspiring entrepreneurs transition from dream to reality. “We do a lot of coaching, we work on helping them come up with ideas and we teach them to identify the market potential. We provide them with financial support and we connect them to a broader entrepreneurial community. We introduce them to agencies and organizations that can help them develop even further. And, we give them the tools that will enable them to transition from idea to implementation.”
Ultimately, explains Villaumé, MCE (in partnership with other provincial stakeholders) is making Newfoundland and Labrador more attractive and supportive to entrepreneurs, particularly students of Memorial University. “I believe we can help people see entrepreneurship as a more attractive career option. Students don’t need to leave the province in search of work.”
“This is truly a global community,” he explains. “People come to Memorial from all over the world. By working with them and opening their eyes to the entrepreneurial opportunities, we are able to keep more graduates here when they graduate.”
Isaac Adejuwon, for one, is already convinced. “This is my home away from home now. I plan to stay here and grow my business here. If I can do it, anyone can do it – innovation and entrepreneurship are a universal language.”