By Linda White, Special to Postmedia Network
Read full article on Toronto Sun
Published March 23, 2016

As a “serial entrepreneur” with three profitable startups under his belt, Brian Deck never imagined he could benefit from a business incubator. His experience with the top-ranked DMZ at Ryerson University proved him wrong.

“It has been a tremendous experience,” says the 39-year-old, whose resumé includes developing a proprietary loyalty and sales platform associated with over $1B in sales for clients. In his latest venture, Deck co-founded SmoothPay, a free mobile app customers use to pay for purchases while automatically collecting and redeeming rewards at participating locations.

“We were self-funded for the most part in the early stages with the view of raising capital from investors. We were just entering that stage when we entered the DMZ,” Deck says. “It’s a very collaborative environment with incredible opportunities for exposure.”

Entrepreneurship has moved from the margins to the mainstream of university education with universities prepping students to create jobs for themselves and others, the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) reports.

“This is much more than an interesting campus trend. It is the key to success for many thousands of students. It is vital to the strength of the economy,” COU said in its 2013 report, Entrepreneurship at Ontario Universities Fuelling Success.

According to a 2013 Bank of Montreal survey, 46% of Canadian post-secondary students see themselves starting a business after graduation. “There has been a huge trend in people wanting to develop their own business ideas and taking their futures in their own hands,” says Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ, an incubator for emerging tech startups.

The COU describes startup incubators as “spaces where new ideas for products and services are discussed, tested and brought to fruition.” They allow innovative students to think big and take the risks necessary for business creation with the guidance of advisers from industry and academia.

“Imagine coming into a space and being surrounded by like-minded individuals, supporting you and giving you tips and tricks, sharing information about what they’ve done and how they’ve overcome obstacles and challenges,” says Snobar.

The DMZ typically receives five to 10 business pitches a week and successful applicants have several characteristics in common. Coachability and the ability to handle constructive criticism are paramount.

“The most important thing we look for is passion because that’s essentially going to be your driver,” Snobar says. “We know a lot of people want to establish a startup because they can’t handle working for corporations or large companies because they’re not passionate about it or aren’t being challenged. A startup is always going to be challenging.”
Within five years of opening its doors in 2010, more than 200 startups have incubated at the DMZ, collectively raising $120+ million in seed funding and creating some 2,000 jobs. About 70% of companies that leave the DMZ are successful, Snobar reports.

Many will remain small to medium-sized and that’s perfectly fine because they’ll be sustainable and will contribute to a diversified economy, he says. “It’s the way forward. It’s allowing people to create jobs rather than consume jobs.”