Not many students entering Grade 7 this year attend Stanford University, but Jordan Van Slingerland had that opportunity this summer when he took part in Camp Bizsmart at the prestigious California school.
Camp Bizsmart gives students a chance to learn entrepreneurial skills from business leaders and create a new product design that they pitch business plans for at Microsoft. This year’s edition included students from 10 countries.
Van Slingerland — who plans to study engineering and get an MBA upon graduating from Upper Canada College and eventually start a business that encompasses real estate, electric vehicles and space transportation — found out about Camp Bizsmart while searching online for ways to successfully kick-start a business and learn more about entrepreneurship.
“I pitched the idea to my parents and asked them if I could apply,” says Van Slingerland. “After submitting a college entrance-like application I got accepted, and I was extremely happy.”
The camp ran for two weeks, and it was no vacation for participants.
“The days were very long and consisted of learning from Silicon Valley executives and mentors different business lessons on how to design a product, develop a business plan, how to make a product succeed, product planning, finance, marketing and sales,” says Van Slingerland. “We were taught how to work in business groups and work against a deadline.”
In addition to these entrepreneurs, the participants also received guidance from coaches who were university students working on their own startup companies.
Van Slingerland said the message that stuck with him most was: “Have a plan, check it, revise the plan, keep your team efficient, check it, pitch it to investors, revise it, execute your plan, and if you’ve done everything right, you should succeed.”
There were four business cases to choose from: Nuheara (wireless earbuds); Atmotube (a portable pollution monitor); Linden Labs (virtual reality software); and Slice (harmless ceramic knives). Participants then had to decide what executive position they wanted to hold to represent these products.
“I chose Nuheara as my business plan because the idea of a wireless earbud would market well and has a lot of room to grow technology-wise,” says Van Slingerland. “Our job with Nuheara was to create a second generation of their IQBuds, which are an earbud-hearing aid mix.
“I chose chief innovation officer (CINO) as my position because, aside from being head of product design, the CINO’s job is to innovate people — and not just your market, but your team.
“After a week-and-a-half of product design, market analysis, sales planning and much more, we went to Microsoft’s conference centre and offices in Mountain View, California. Every position pitched a speech to real investors about their department and about their product — in my case product design and what made it innovative — and competed to see who gave the best pitch and product.”
While Van Slingerland’s group was successful with its pitch, older European students with more Bizsmart experience won the competition. Still, he says it was a valuable opportunity that taught him both business and life skills.
“Working with a team can be tough. When people get out of hand, when work isn’t done properly, when not everyone is carrying their weight, and when people lose their focus, it can hold you back, and this gave me some added life experience. This was a terrific experience and I look forward to starting the school year again with these new skills at hand.”