At Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), our vision is to build the world's most influential community of entrepreneurs. One way we encourage young entrepreneurs is through the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), EO's premier competition for students who own and operate a business while attending college or university. The intense, international competition culminates with the Global Finals, where "studentpreneurs" from 50+ countries compete and make connections with both seasoned entrepreneurs and their fellow competitors. We asked André Bertram, the 2018 EO GSEA finalist from Canada, about his entrepreneurial journey. Here are five takeaways that Andre's path teaches us about how to make a difference:
1. Partake in healthy competition.
As highly motivated and ambitious students at Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, a specialized math and science high school in Toronto, André Bertram and his future business partner, Frank Nyugen, competed fiercely for research grants and awards to further their work. They pushed each other to do better and be better. At age 15, André garnered the opportunity to use his biological research with NASA on mission eight to the international space station. Frank was awarded one more research award than André overall, but their competition turned into collaboration when Frank's mom's health took a turn.
Frank's mother had several health concerns and had been recently referred to a cardiologist for an irregular heartbeat. One day when Frank came home from school, he found his mother lying at the bottom of the stairs. When they got to the hospital, the doctors suspected a cardiac episode but had no way of confirming it.
This sparked the entrepreneurial spirit in Frank and André, who knew they had to do something to change that. They joined Ryerson University's Basecamp, a six-week accelerator program designed to help high school and university students develop ideas into a product or technology that gains market and customer validation. Their competition-turned-collaboration won the program's top prize and led to not only individual successes but to a monumental collaboration: their company, HelpWear.
2. Don't be afraid to innovate.
André and Frank combined their respective biology and electrical engineering backgrounds to create their company's first product, HeartWatch. The device is a 24/7 non-invasive, clinical-grade ECG monitor that can determine when a patient has a cardiac event and contact emergency services. For minor heart issues such as palpitation, HeartWatch flags the event for follow-up at the patient's next appointment. For major problems including heart attack, the device signals for emergency services and provides GPS data to help locate the patient quickly. With the growing worldwide epidemic of heart disease, the technology offers a much-needed and cost-effective service that benefits both patients and clinicians. Their product and business model supports the UN's Sustainable Development Goal of fostering good health and well-being.
3. Solve a problem (or a few).
HelpWear was inspired by a personal desire to solve the problem of collecting data on small and large cardiac events. As the company grows, it aims to solve other problems through social entrepreneurship--including the exorbitant cost of devices that monitor heart disease--by offering its product to clinics at low or no cost and making them easy to acquire through health insurance.
André is also committed to solving problems that affect young entrepreneurs like himself across Canada. Both he and Frank are advisors to the Canadian minister of innovation and entrepreneurship. André also sits on the Ontario Chamber of Commerce Digital Health Advisory Board to help bridge the gap between new and existing systems.
During his experience raising capital for the startup, André developed relationships with investors in Hong Kong who supply late-stage capital to existing businesses. He's also familiar with resources for Canadian seed capital and Canadian companies with growth capital. To pave the way for future entrepreneurs, André is building connections between the two regions and the critical type of capital each offers to address the financial shortfalls he has witnessed on both sides.
4. Be creative in overcoming obstacles.
When André and Frank started their company, they were 17 years old. In addition to being exceptionally young entrepreneurs, they also fell outside the realm of funding for young entrepreneurs in Canada which is traditionally reserved for 19- to 29-year-olds. Therefore, they had to get creative about raising seed capital for their company. Their solution: By participating in numerous national and international pitch competitions, they were able to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to successfully launch their startup.
5. Get and give support freely.
"My parents have always supported my entrepreneurial ventures," André explained. The support he received at home helped to build a foundation of confidence that expanded thanks to the many networking opportunities he experienced through pitch competitions and incubator programs. To date, André and the team have accumulated over US$2 million dollars of support via investments for the company's work.
As his company thrives, André is supporting other up-and-coming entrepreneurs not only as a policy advisor but also as a venture partner in Pioneer Fund, a US$20 million fund that invests in Y Combinator alumnae (including André and Frank) as they start their businesses. He is proving himself not only as an innovator committed to solving real-world problems through technology but as an entrepreneur with a heart who gives back to the ecosystem that helped launch his dream.