Teaching teens to become entrepreneurs

MTL UpStarts will hold a weekend-long boot camp for future entrepreneurs in November

Four college students focus on a girl who is ahead with thumbs up

As the community manager for OOHLALA, a local start up that has worked with universities and colleges to improve student engagement through mobile and virtual technology, Diana Baranga’s passion lies at the intersection of technology and education.

That’s why she recently helped organize a 54-hour competition with Startup Weekend, an international brand that specializes in entrepreneurship boot camps for people of all ages. It was during this time that she connected with another organizer named Bonnie Chau.

“After running the awesome event, Bonnie and I wanted to do something similar ourselves,” Baranga says. After much discussion, the two decided that Generation Z would benefit greatly from this type of experience because they are tech natives, tend to be creative, and represent the future.

The two women founded an organization called MTL UpStarts. In November, they will hold the first annual weekend-long entrepreneurship boot camp for teens with the aim to teach high school students the fundamentals of starting a business.

“Montreal is a great place for students to explore entrepreneurship,” Baranga says. Our start-up scene is the birthplace of companies like Busbud (a bus travel booking website), Lightspeed (a point-of-sale software provider), Hexoskin (a company that records and organizes personal health information) and countless others that are establishing themselves as leaders in their respective industries. This talent and experience is something that teens should be tapping into.”

The theme of the first edition is Smart School. Students will be challenged to identify real-world problems they encounter daily at school, and then asked to envision possible tech-driven solutions.

At the beginning of the weekend, each participant will choose a skill or area they’d like to explore, such as marketing, product development, customer success or design. The next day, they will attend two workshops built around their area of interest before returning to their respective teams to help prepare a business pitch. 

At the end of the weekend, participants will have five minutes to convince a panel of experienced entrepreneurs why they have the best idea. The winning team will be awarded the UpStarts Distinction Award, alongside a number of other prizes contributed by sponsors. Runner-up teams will also be recognized and receive resources to help them pursue entrepreneurship.

“We are trying to complement the skills students develop in academic settings with hands-on experience and mentorship,” Baranga says. “We encourage students to tackle real-life challenges as they work on their ideas beyond the classroom.”

She says it is a great way for young thinkers to tap into Montreal’s entrepreneurship bubble and connect with people who offer local resources. Moreover, participants will build important transferable skills, such as collaboration, creativity, resourcefulness, responsibility, leadership, and team spirit.

“We believe that everyone, no matter how young or their financial background, should be empowered to explore ideas that can effect positive change, that’s why we’re offering the event for free,” Baranga says.

To attend the boot camp, teens between 14 and 18 must fill out an online application; write about their areas of interest and why they want to attend. The deadline to apply is Oct. 28. A selection committee will invite 60 applicants to participate from Nov. 18 to 20 at the Notman House downtown Montreal. For more information, visit mtlupstarts.com.