Are you an entrepreneur looking for help with your startup? Consider taking on an intern. The Impact Centre is now accepting applications for placement sites. If you’re interested please apply, we’re looking to pair university students with great startups. For more information take a look at our website.
Maria Ponce is an aspiring entrepreneur and IMC390 alum who interned at iamsick.ca. She recently sat down to speak with us about her experience in the program.
How did you learn about the IMC390 program?
I was doing my bachelor of science at UofT, but it was always my dream to open my own business. I was just looking to learn about entrepreneurship, but I wasn’t able to take most business courses because I wasn’t a management student. Then I found out about the Impact Centre and IMC390, but I didn’t have the IMC200 prerequisite I needed to take the internship. So I emailed Alon [Eisenstein, program director] and I told him about how I was graduating soon, but entrepreneurship was my passion and I really wanted to learn more about it. And that’s how I got in.
I took the course in summer 2015, and it basically confirmed my passion. After IMC390 I took the MaRS Entrepreneurship 101 course as well, and I just started doing my own research, writing my own business plans, pitching to people and things like that. It changed my whole career focus in a way, and it opened up a lot of doors and a lot of ideas. Now I’m applying for an MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship, and if I didn’t take this course I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity to explore that side.
How much did your experience in IMC390 motivate your decision to pursue an MBA?
I hadn’t even considered it before, so it was really the main factor in my decision. When I started learning about entrepreneurship and working with a startup I was sure that’s what I wanted to do in life. I also knew I had to learn more skills to prepare myself for opening my own business. An MBA came to my mind because I want to do something big, and I’m just going to learn everything I need to know in order to get it right. This program is what sparked my interest in getting to know more about that.
What kind of things were you tasked with during your internship?
I did a lot of market research: how to get more customers, how to reach out to people, some cold-calling and emailing – just getting a sense of what was the best way to get to the customers. It wasn’t always an obvious thing, so that was challenging. But then you also learn that when you’re an entrepreneur, you really have to do everything on your own. Ryan [Doherty, founder of iamsick.ca] had to learn a lot of things in order to create the company and have it grow. I really tried to learn about everything they were doing, because that’s what you have to do in order to be an entrepreneur.
How big was your team?
It was a small team of maybe 10 people, but even then we weren’t together all the time. We had weekly meetings to catch up, see what everyone was working on and keep each other updated. But we didn’t have enough space for everyone, so people would go in and work on different days of the week.
Describe the classroom component of IMC 390.
The class size was fairly small. There were maybe 20 of us. The instructors would give us background on, let’s say, a value proposition or how to write a business model, and then we went on our internships to apply the concepts we learned. But we were also encouraged to research more on our own to see how we could apply everything and have input with the company.
When you’re breaking in with a startup, everyone is learning. When we got together for meetings someone might have a question, and if I had been reading up on something, I might have an idea that maybe others didn’t. It’s pulling together all this knowledge from people who want to learn more. You find a lot of answers out of nowhere. I went out and bought a lot of books and started reading on my own about entrepreneurship, and that’s how I started learning more.
So the program encouraged you to pursue more learning on your own?
They make you see the importance of it when you want to be an entrepreneur. You realize it’s a lot of work, and you realize the classroom instruction and the practical experience alone are not going to get you there, but it’s a path you have to commit yourself to in order to keep learning. You start seeing how all these companies are started from scratch and how they’re actually getting somewhere.
Startups have to learn how to effectively manage people in order to grow. Did you get the sense that the people you worked for learned from you being there just like you learned from them?
Definitely. And that is a skill that needs to be developed; you might be a smart entrepreneur and you might have a lot of knowledge about science or business, but it’s a completely different skill to be able to manage people, to make connections and get the most out of your team. Even though my internship only lasted a short time, I could clearly see how the team evolved from the beginning to the end. The ideas got better, we began to support each other more, and it all just started to make sense. It definitely helps companies build that management skill.
Given your experience in IMC 390, do you think work-integrated learning should be incorporated across more academic disciplines?
Yes. I truly believe that experiential learning is the best way to learn. People are very used to book learning and writing tests, but when it comes to real life you won’t always be able to apply those concepts properly. That’s also part of the reason I took this course. Yes I was interested in entrepreneurship, but I also wanted to get that hands-on experience. That’s where you realize what the workforce is about, and where you gain all the skills you need to learn in order to apply the concepts. There needs to be more bridges connecting academia to practical knowledge.
Any final recommendations?
For anyone interested in entrepreneurship, I strongly recommend taking this course and making the best of it. You have a lot of resources, the instructors have a lot of knowledge and they’re always available. If you have any ideas, just put them out there and get some feedback. That’s how you learn.