Okanagan College Student Learns and Leads as Part of Launch-a-Preneur
The student has become a teacher in Shuswap Launch-a-Preneur.
The Salmon Arm-based business competition has helped propel Laureen Shannon, a fourth-year Business student at Okanagan College, on a business development trajectory fuelled by community connections.
"I love this program. Once you’re in a launch, you’re in it for life,” Shannon explains. "We always follow up how they are doing, cross-promoting their business."
She began her studies in Office Administration, which capped off with a six-week practicum working with the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society (SAEDS) on a variety of projects. One of the biggest projects included Shuswap Launch-a-Preneur — a Dragon’s Den-style business development competition, featuring a series of workshops that support participants in developing the building blocks of their businesses.
When Shannon returned to pursue her Bachelor of Business Administration, she joined Okanagan College Enactus — a student organization committed to offering community outreach projects.
"It allowed me to get to know students that had the same thought about giving back and making a difference in your community,” she says. “You are fostering a network that is creating positive change. It’s action oriented, they don’t just talk about change.”
Being part of the non-profit allowed Shannon to stay involved with Launch-a-Preneur, which is driven by three partner organizations: Okanagan College Enactus, SAEDS and Community Futures Shuswap. The program features a series of six workshops that cover the essential components for a business plan. In addition to the workshops, entrepreneurs are matched with business mentors specializing in fields that would benefit the new idea. For example, someone needing information on financials or accounting are partnered with local volunteers from BDO or Grant Thornton. The participants also have access to a pool of mentors ranging in expertise.
Since the program inception, 81 mentors from local businesses have provided countless hours of one-on-one training. Forty-four businesses have been involved, creating 78 full-time and 15 part-time jobs in the Shuswap.
"That mentorship begins a long-term relationship. They become customers, become partners, they’ll still work together in years to come,” Shannon adds.
Given the program runs every two years, Shannon and the Enactus team supported an accelerated weekend program last year that introduced participants to business plan fundamentals, with the option to join Launch-a-Preneur in 2019. This year, Shannon is a project coordinator for SAEDS, supporting sponsorship requests and facilitating sessions on her own.
“Over the last several years, our organization has had the opportunity to work with a variety of Okanagan College students on different community projects. We continue to be impressed by both the knowledge and passion to create change that OC students bring. We have been very fortunate to work with Laureen Shannon in different capacities, first as an Enactus volunteer and most recently as project coordinator for Season 5 of Launch-a-Preneur. The subject expertise, energy and unwavering commitment she brings to this program will provide ongoing benefit to our local entrepreneurs,” says Lana Fitt, SAEDS Economic Development Manager.
“Laureen is in a critical role this year, which is fantastic,” says Andrew Klingel, the Business professor who serves as an Enactus coach, alongside Terry Kosowick. “Community projects such as Launch-a-Preneur allow students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the real world. They see what they are learning is relevant to their careers. They practice these skills, tools and techniques, which really builds their confidence. I’ve seen Laureen grow tremendously over the years, which is really rewarding to see."
Shannon takes her business development path in stride.
"For me, the benefit of taking part is being able to apply what I’ve learned in school, working with the entrepreneurs, and learning from them. Creating a relationship and connection with the participants helps grow my network,” she says.
The group is now prepping for Season 5 Final Night, where participants compete for thousands of dollars in prizes like seed capital, business consulting hours, website development packages, accounting and legal fees — all designed to assist with Shuswap startups. Teams present a short pitch to a panel of judges that include angel investors and successful entrepreneurs in the region. Prizes are awarded for green initiative, public choice and the judges’ top three selections.
“Launch-a-Preneur showcases the entrepreneurial spirit of the Shuswap,” says Joan Ragsdale, Regional Dean of Shuswap-Revelstoke. “It is a great opportunity for the College and students to work closely with community partners and businesses to strengthen our region.”
Shannon wants to continue on with Launch-a-Preneur, having already witnessed the value that Okanagan College alumni bring to working with students and community members.
“Launch has given me a lot of openings for my future and what I want to do when I graduate. I’ll either want to run these programs all the time or be in it,” she laughs. "These people are starting up businesses, and they’re going to hire Okanagan College students."