THUNDER BAY - Succeeding in business takes a lot of skill and a lot of drive but a group of entrepreneurs who are the first graduating class of a new program at Lakehead University say having the mentorship to continue chasing their goals has transformed their business ideas into a reality.
A celebration was held on Friday for the inaugural graduates of the Ascend Accelerator program hosted by Ingenuity at Lakehead University.
“We have been open since 2018 and this is our greatest success to date,” said Alyson MacKay, manager of Ingenuity at Lakehead University. “To be able work with these four ventures and take them through the last 12 weeks has been an absolutely incredible journey.”
The Ascend Accelerator program is a 12-week boot camp for students or recent graduates of Lakehead University to help kick-start their business.
It includes mentorships, workshops, and funding for things like marketing, equipment, and inventory.
Entrepreneurs were selected through an interview process and given milestones to achieve in order to unlock funding, which was made available through FedNor.
Mary Wokomah, who started Sunkissed Universe, a business that combines both art and fashion, said the program helped get her idea off the ground and turn it into a fully functioning online store featuring uniquely hand-painted, sustainable products including purses and clothing.
“This program, if you are just starting out or just have an idea, this team is ready to back you up. You basically tell them the direction and goal you have and they take you there,” she said.
“With the funding I needed help with promotional items and branding and they put a lot of things into perspective. They had a lot of mentors and a lot of workshops and through the program I was able to learn a lot more and gain a lot more insight into the business world and made a lot more connections through networking. It’s been amazing so far. I would do it all over again.”
For Ajey Meekis, Tristian St. Aubin, and Andrew Faulkner, who started By the Bay Esports, the Ascend Accelerator program was a lot of work, but it was worth it to be where they are now.
“It was great. It really pushed us, kept us accountable, and helped us get the start up,” Meekis said. “The Ascend program helped us greatly and we probably wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
By the Bay Esports is running online video game tournaments and there are plans to expand and open a facility for in-person events, while also expanding its social media presence.
“An online presence is super important, for anyone now a days, but especially for us as an e-sport company, I think it’s important to show the most intense replays and people love to see themselves on the big screen and social media,” Faulkner said.
Meekis advises anyone interested in joining the program should come prepared to work because it is a fulltime commitment.
“Sometimes when you are doing a start-up there are ups and downs, but they try to keep you up and keep you motivated,” St. Aubin added. “With the success of our tournaments, it gave us a lot of motivation to push forward and really give back to the community and we are really excited to see what happens afterwards.”
There is one more year of funding available, but MacKay said she is hopeful the program can continue to help more young entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.
“I think it’s extremely important,” she said. “Not only for the students who are in the program, but to showcase that entrepreneurship is a viable career option and things like this can be done and there is support there for them.”