Words of advice from Waterloo’s Dragon, Michael Wekerle

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Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

According to Michael Wekerle, Canadian investor, dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den and former Bay Street trader, there are three aspects to a powerful city — education, awareness and diversity. These aspects are what drew him into investing in Waterloo Region with its ever-growing tech ecosystem.

These words and other bits of wisdom for young and aspiring entrepreneurs filled THEMUSEUM on January 28. The event, Entrepreneur’s Exchange, had its fifth year run and is Startup Laurier’s flagship event.

Wekerle was invited to address the mix of business owners, workshop leaders and students from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. The event had a total turnout of 150 guests.

In his talk, Wekerle took the audience through a tour of his life, including his first job when he got his “break” in the finance industry eventually which inspired him to this point in his journey.

“The only thing in life you can control is your decision … Based on that, you make a decision based on accountability. You can’t pass it off. You take responsibility. That’s a true leader,” he said.

Danielle Wong, a third-year business student and co-president of Startup Laurier, said it took months to prepare the event and some digging to book Wekerle. They initially got the idea from K-W start-up, MappedIn.

“What’s really cool about him [Wekerle] is that he’s a huge investor in the Waterloo Region and he’s always supportive of a lot of the companies in K-W,” said Wong.

Wekerle first invested in building an initiative titled, “Waterloo Innovation Network,” which was launched in 2014. Now he owns six of Blackberry’s buildings and hopes that its location, situated near the University of Waterloo and the future LRT, will attract tech companies to occupy the space.

Working with THEMUSEUM was also a new experience. Its core downtown Kitchener location was beneficial as it was close to the a number of offices that housed tech start-ups. In addition, no other on-campus clubs have used the space as a venue.

“We looked into a lot of places and we were attracted to THEMUSEUM, especially because it is in Kitchener. We really wanted to show students the space,” she said.

After the keynote, the event proceeded with workshops that showcased specific tools for market validation and software development, amongst others, presented by big names in tech such as Boltmade, Shopify and the Conrad Centre.

For example, Julia Bowen, sales manager at Shopify, hosted a session on working in the Shopify Sales Lab.

Jeremy Liu, second-year double degree student in financial math and business at Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo, said Wayne Chang’s workshop on networking was a highlight. Chang is a co-op coordinator at University of Waterloo’s Conrad Centre.

“He talked about the importance of networking and how networking is not about just adding them on LinkedIn. It’s about following up, really going out there and making that connection instead of just saying hi,” Liu said.

At the end of his keynote, Wekerle advised students to put themselves into situations where they are lucky. He has continuously invested in the Region as well as supported aspiring students in hopes of one day striking out.

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