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The Amazing Race

Jean-René Halde
President and CEO
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

Like every great adventure, a young entrepreneur’s journey is packed with action, drama and risk. The hero is called upon to confront the unknown and overcome adversity to succeed.

Ambitious young entrepreneurs often face their greatest test when their company comes to a crossroads—a moment when the right move will propel their business to the next level of success.

Whether it’s making a major investment, attacking a new market or engineering a strategy shift, an entrepreneur whose business is at a crossroads must use all of his or her skills to make the right decision and lead the way forward.

The journey is exciting but the outcome is far from certain. Indeed, only half of Canadian businesses with employees survive past the five-year mark. And the challenges can be even more daunting for young business owners. They often don’t have the business experience, financial resources or access to expert advice that veteran entrepreneurs can rely on at decisive moments in their company’s development.

But when they do succeed, the rewards can be immense—not only for the young entrepreneur but for Canada as a whole. After all, small and medium-sized businesses are the engine of our economy. They account for 99.8% of all businesses and drive innovation, productivity and employment.

Our challenge is to encourage more young people to embark on the adventure and help those who do to succeed. Last fall, BDC launched the Index of New Entrepreneurial Activity, a study that tracks new business creation across the country. It indicated the number of businesses launched by the 25-to-44 age group had declined steadily from 2006 to 2011.

As a country, we are already doing a lot to support young entrepreneurs through the actions of the federal and provincial governments, non-governmental organizations and private-sector sponsored groups. Organizations such as the Canada Youth Business Foundation, ACE and Junior Achievement—to name just a few—are doing great work to support and celebrate young entrepreneurs.

The emergence of entrepreneurship programs at universities is another terrific development as are the flourishing of start-up programs and business incubators.

Still, we all have a role to play in making Canada a more entrepreneurial society by encouraging talented young people to see business ownership as a valued and rewarding career path. One way we can do this is by working to change our mindset to be more accepting of entrepreneurs who create venture but fail. Some of our greatest business leaders are “serial entrepreneurs” who have had to change direction a number of times before striking gold.

We can also volunteer our time, talent and experience to help young entrepreneurs build their businesses. A mentor, in particular, can make a pivotal difference in the life of a young entrepreneur. That’s why we need more veteran business people to volunteer their time to bring along the next generation, informally or as part of one of the many mentoring and internship programs.

At BDC, we’re striving to do our part to support young entrepreneurs across Canada. One of the ways we do this is by organizing each year the BDC Young Entrepreneur Award (YEA) contest. We believe the contest is a great way to shine a spotlight on Canada’s best young entrepreneurs and spur others to join them.

This year’s YEA contest focuses on turning points in the life of a young entrepreneur’s business. We are inviting business owners, aged 18 to 35, to apply and compete for the $100,000 Grand Prize and a second prize of $25,000 in consulting services. We want them to tell us about a critical turning point or decisive moment their company is currently facing and how they will solve it.

We know it takes more than passion to run a successful company. It also takes endurance and skill combined with the ability to choose the right path at decisive moments. It’s not an easy journey. But month by month, turning point by turning point, ambitious young entrepreneurs climb higher, gain confidence and build momentum.

Let’s encourage them, lend them a hand and celebrate their achievements. They’re helping to create a brighter future for all Canadians.