The path to poutine: Smoke’s Pountinnerie CEO Ryan Smolkin speaks at Laurier

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Photo by Sadman Sakib Rahman

On Thursday, Nov. 15, Ryan Smolkin, the founder and CEO of Smoke’s Poutinerie, spoke at the Wilfrid Laurier University Lazaridis School of Business & Economics to kick off their Entrepreneur Speaker Series. Smolkin is not only the founder of a massive company, but also graduated from Laurier’s BBA program in 1995.

During his presentation, he spoke about his company and his plans for world domination in the form of poutine, but also reflected on his time at Laurier and how many of the skills he learned as a businessman came about from his time at the school.

“Time management is the one thing I learned in school. But seriously, in the business program you learn about budgeting and corporate relations and business models.  I mentioned in my presentation that there was no entrepreneurship when I went to Laurier — and it wasn’t a dig, but a high-five to where they are now,” Smolkin said.

“I took a class in my fourth-year, called ‘New Venture Creation’ and that was the only entrepreneur-type class offered at the time, but all those fundamental business skills still help you as an entrepreneur because you still need to know how a business runs.”

The path to poutine did not start right after graduation for Smolkin, as he actually started creating an income for himself while still in his undergrad, as he would buy properties on streets like Albert Street, King Street and Noecker Street to rent out to students.

“I bought my first property at 181 Albert in my third year, right across from the Peters building where all the work was being done at the time and I crammed as many of my buddies as I could in there to cover rent and expenses at the time,” Smolkin said.

“After graduating I had several properties and the first one I ever flipped was actually on King Street, right near the location of the Smoke’s Poutine that was now there. I turned it into three units with five bedrooms each — so a 15-bedroom total — and made a few millions off that.”

Through programs like the RBC Venture Program, LaunchPad, Sandbox and the ENTR curriculum, the Schlegel Centre offers many initiatives to help young entrepreneurs find their path while still being a student. They want to give them the chance to further their knowledge, with help from notable alumni with events, like the speaker series.

Smolkin also worked in merchandising and branding — without any graphic design experience — and learned the business, working with big name partners like Molson in his time selling merchandise to companies.

Though Smolkin attributes his success in part to what he learned in school on fundamental business skills, he also realizes how hard it is for students to walk out of Laurier and into the real world as an entrepreneur.

Smolkin has generously offered to pay 50 per cent of the franchise fees for any students who want to get involved with Smoke’s, as well as 100 per cent of the fees for one lucky student; on top of that, exclusive to this school, one Laurier student will get 100 per cent of their fees covered as well.

“It’s great that you’ve learned all these things in school and you come out of your fourth year with all these ideas as an entrepreneur, but then what? It’s hard to come out and go to the bank and try and start a business and it’s just impossible, so that’s why I wanted to give back because I know how hard it is,” Smolkin said.

“I wanted to give back to the young entrepreneurs — and especially at Laurier — because you go to the second-best entrepreneurial school in Canada and the best school in the world, you were on it to have me come and speak so I thought why not give this opportunity?”

Sam Haas, the programming and student engagement coordinator for the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship & Social Innovation, helped organize the event and plans to have more entrepreneurial based programming at different levels in the future at Laurier.

“The idea is that we want students to be able to engage with people in the community and the alumni who are successful entrepreneurs just to give them someone to aspire to be and who’s done it. It’s also especially amazing when you can see a student who used to be in their shoes be that big,” Haas said.

“We also want to have smaller panel events that will feature entrepreneurs who are closer to the students’ age who are just starting to get big; and we have some coming up like one in January that is just focused on start-up life. They’re coming from a variety of backgrounds; like going straight into entrepreneurship out of school versus being in the corporate world for three years before they realized they wanted to be an entrepreneur.”

Through programs like the RBC Venture Program, LaunchPad, Sandbox and the ENTR curriculum, the Schlegel Centre offers many initiatives to help young entrepreneurs find their path while still being a student. They want to give them the chance to further their knowledge, with help from notable alumni with events, like the speaker series.

“It’s multi-faceted in the sense that we want to do it in three stages; it’s the big people like Ryan, then it’s the people who are kind of closer to their age but are out of school and we also have current students like those in RBC and Launchpad. Those will be focused on how to build the business but also how they did it while still in school,” Haas said.

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