By Terrilyn Kunopaski
On the popular TV series Dragon’s Den, viewers see hopeful entrepreneurs vying for support from successful business people. At Ryerson, a similar program is now underway. But there is a difference — it’s run by angels, not dragons.
Announced in December, the Ryerson Angel Network (RAN), is the first university-led program of its kind. It’s designed to get the entrepreneurial ideas of Ryerson students, staff or alumni, realized by investors, called Angels.
“What I find really exciting about Ryerson is that whenever I talk to someone and ask what they’re doing, they say that want to start their own business,” said Neira Hodzic, student director of RAN.
“We’re connecting students with the right people to do that.”
James Norrie, associate dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management, says RAN is a support system set up so students can get help with networking, advice, and just maybe, money.
“We have all these bright students with these incredible ideas who are just kind of stuck,” Norrie said. “If the idea is good enough, some investors will put money into it.”
But a business plan must be perfected to receive financial investment from Angels.
Through a program called Students in Free Enterprise, (SIFE), candidates take their business plan to a committee, who review it and make recommendations for improvement.
“At a minimum,” Norrie said, “the committee promises a lot of feedback and help.”
Adam Kahan, Ryerson’s vice-president of university advancement, said that the concept got its start after a number of students with great ideas came seeking the support of the university.
“If there’s a way we could help students and alumni get their ideas out in the marketplace,” he said, “we should be doing it.”
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy agrees.
“Students have come here to see me with really exciting ideas that had commercial opportunities and asked the university if there was any way to help them get it off the ground. And there was no way,” he said.
“Now there is a way.”
RAN is being directed through the Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute, a new program designed to provide students and alumni with the resources they need to start their own business, and also in collaboration with the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO).
Norrie said that through the connection with NACO, Ryerson can find Angels that may be interested in student ideas and start-up businesses.
He compared the process of developing a business idea for RAN to dating. A good business plan needs to be a complete package that is attractive to others, just like a hot date.
“You walk into a bar, you look good,” he said.
“We’re helping people fine-tune their ideas until they find someone to date.”
“We’re playing a matchmaker role,” said Kahan.
“We take a student’s great idea and match it to people — the Angel — who we think would be interested in investing in it.”
“I couldn’t think of anything nicer for Canada and the future of the economy than bringing together Angels and students,” he said.
Hodzic plans on going through RAN after she graduates, and said that the Angel’s real-life experience helpsmake it a nurturing experience.
“If someone is investing in your business, it means they have experience in your field, which means they have the right connections and can be a great mentor,” she said.
Before Ryerson, Norrie’s job was in business development.
Now, as an Angel himself, he said, “I have to use my experience to help students.”
For Hodzic, the term is a literal one.
“They’re called Angels because they are actually watching over you.”