NOTE: Scroll to end to watch the Founder’s Dinner presentation from beginning to end.
Upper Canada College’s Founder’s Dinner is a time to look back at Sir John Colborne and his efforts in launching the school in 1829, but this year’s edition also looked ahead to some of the challenges facing Canada and the potential leadership role the College can play in overcoming them.
People began slowly filing in to the Upper School on Feb. 11 and were greeted by the sounds of the Prep Senior Band in the Bernick Family Foyer before making their way into the student centre.
The proceedings moved downstairs to the tastefully lit and decorated Hewitt Athletic Centre after an hour, and the more than 400 attendees were seated to soak in the ambiance. Dinner chairmen and masters of ceremonies Charles Field-Marsham ’87 and John Francis (father of Will Francis ’18) welcomed everyone and Paul McGarr led the Prep Senior Band in a rendition of “O Canada.” Form 6 student Nikhil Satchu, son of keynote speaker Reza Satchu, emphasized the importance of gratitude while saying grace.
As folks settled in with their salads, Association Council president Alexander Younger ’89 talked about the UCC contributions made by David J. Walker ’51, this year’s recipient of the John D. Stevenson Award for his commitment and countless hours of volunteer service to the school. His son, also named David J. Walker, introduced his father and brought him on stage to receive the award from Stevenson ’47, who was his prefect at McHugh’s House in 1946.
The senior Walker was previously inducted into UCC’s Harold A.D. Roberts Circle for his volunteer service and this time he was honoured for, among other things, making 3,000 phone calls to Old Boys that resulted in raising more than $100,000 for his alma mater. He’s done other fundraising for the school and his acceptance speech mentioned how he donated his $100 bonus from his job as a salesman to the College in 1959 when it was revealed that it was collapsing and would have to be rebuilt.
“What is next? Keep posted. Don’t get smug and keep vigilant. As my classmate Ted Rogers said: ‘The best is yet to come.’”
Diners enjoyed a meal catered by Oliver & Bonacini Events that was accompanied by music from the Peter Smith-directed UCC Jazz Band.
Principal Jim Power was at the podium next and he referenced Colborne’s military exploits and connected them with anecdotes about UCC Old Boys and students who’ve taken risks and how they can be seen as role models. His final example of daring was from the UCC community and its “commitment to the transformation of our school through scholarships, facilities, faculty and program development and boarding revitalization” through the Think Ahead fundraising campaign, which is now less than $10 million away from its $100-million goal.
“Thank you all for daring to be an example to our boys,” said Power in closing. “For daring to dream of what UCC can be for new generations of great students. For daring to think ahead.”
Field-Marsham introduced his McGill University buddy and keynote speaker Satchu, who has an impressive resume that includes launching several businesses and selling them for handsome profits and teaching the University of Toronto’s most highly rated undergraduate course. He’s the managing partner of Alignvest Capital Management and founding chairman of Canada’s leading entrepreneurship program, The Next 36.
Satchu picked up on Power’s theme of daring and applied it to the need for Canada to improve its entrepreneurship and innovation if it’s going to have an impact in a changing global economy. While this country has a lot of good things going for it, it’s falling behind in productivity and prosperity and could drop back further.
‘We have no coherent innovation strategy, a highly ineffective venture capital industry, inadequate competition in many sectors, a lack of global focus and an aging population,” said Satchu. “We don’t have enough people building businesses that create extraordinary value in this country.”
Satchu talked about The Next 36 and its goal of creating Canadian entrepreneurial leaders who “will build something of substantial national significance” through mentoring and support.
“My definition of entrepreneurship is the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled,” he said, adding that many Canadians have good ideas but lack conviction in them, which has contributed to a culture where there’s a fear of failure and a seemingly endless quest for more information before important decisions are made.
Three engineers who’ve each started technology-based companies that have combined to employ more than 250 people and raise more than $40 million in capital were invited on stage. Thalmic Labs co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Lake, Nymi founder and CEO Karl Martin and Old Boy and Nulogy chief operating officer Kevin Wong ’97 talked about their businesses and answered questions from Satchu and audience members about their experiences, challenges and opportunities.
The final part of Satchu’s presentation examined the role that UCC and its broader community can play in developing young entrepreneurs.
The Next 36 recently ran a contest where UCC students were asked to write about their interest in entrepreneurialism, with the winner becoming the first high school student to become part of the program. Satchu said he was impressed by the ideas submitted by the boys but chose Grade 10 student Todd Joy as the recipient because of his essays and experience in developing businesses — with a plan for another one already in the works.
Satchu suggested that UCC should become the first high school in Canada to introduce an entrepreneurship element to its curriculum by utilizing an array of Old Boy and parent resources in conjunction with academics.
“There’s a group of people here who are smart enough, who are capable enough and powerful enough to figure it out,” said Satchu. “Because if it doesn’t happen here, it’s not going to happen.”