How I Became One of the Next 36
A reflection on Next 36 National Selection weekend by finalist Eddy Chiang
Every year, NEXT Canada brings together 80 of the brightest and most ambitious students from coast to coast. After a weekend of pitches, interviews, and networking, 36 of them join an elite community of rising entrepreneurs known as the Next 36. Their mission — to create the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs and possibly even the next Narwhals (a play on America’s “Unicorns” or start-ups with $1 Billion+ valuations).
So what is NEXT looking for? More importantly, how do you know you are ready to be an entrepreneur? The short answer is that you need to know fundamentally who you are and what drives you.
NEXT Canada is different from other incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars because they are truly founder-focused. You are selected because of your potential to make a significant impact on Canada’s start-up landscape. Next 36 is looking for individuals who can think big. As NEXT Academic Director, Professor Ajay Agrawal pointed out, there is little difference in capability between a Canadian student and an American Ivy League student. The difference lies in their ambitions. When you ask an engineering student from Canada “What is your goal in life?” they will say, “To become a manager at Google.” But, when you ask an Ivy League student the same question they will say “I want to create the next Google.”
NEXT Canada empowers young Canadian professionals to reach higher than they have ever dreamed.
NEXT is an incredible community, and I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel a bit of imposter syndrome. When you get added to the NEXT Slack chat, you are met with so many extraordinary young Canadians, each making a significant impact in their field. But as soon as I walked through the doors of Shopify HQ for NEXT Canada’s Selection Weekend welcome event, I noticed one common thread between the successful 36. Each person was deeply self-aware, crystal clear on why they are an entrepreneur, and not afraid to talk about their weaknesses. No matter what your weakness is, NEXT will find it and press on it. NEXT doesn’t care if you didn’t go to a well-known school, if your GPA is low, or if you don’t come from a wealthy background. What they want to see is your ability to blast through these disadvantages and rise in the face of adversity.
Who am I and what did I bring to NEXT Canada’s National Selection Weekend?
Like many of you who are reading this, I’m deeply passionate about helping others. When I was 16, I earned my Glider Pilot’s License and Private Pilot’s License the following year through the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. Having struggled to find mentors who could guide me through this process, I developed a program that helped dozens of young cadets become pilots without the struggles I had. Today, I am working on my company Moment. At Moment, we are striving to help individuals better cope with stress and anxiety through a neuroscience-based wearable. But what NEXT cared about wasn’t my company — it was my motivation. In my second year of engineering, I fell into severe depression due to juggling 6 engineering courses, an overwhelming relationship and making time for family. I was very fortunate to find a solution that worked for me and ultimately recovered from my mental illness. Now I’m dedicated to helping others along that journey.
From 500 applicants, why do I think I made it into the Next 36?
1. Knowing who I am.
I am driven by my desire to help every person avoid the hardships in life that I experience. My weakness is that I’ve suffered from mental illness, which many believe to be a disadvantage for an entrepreneur.
2. Knowing how to turn my weakness into a strength.
What gives me founder-market fit and genuine credibility is the simple fact that I have experienced the problem. By working on a problem that you have lived, you intrinsically have the insight and drive to develop the right solution.
NEXT is not looking for cookie cutter answers. They know how to find out if you are the real deal. If you are still asking yourself “Is entrepreneurship right for me? Do I have the entrepreneurial drive? Will I be an entrepreneur if I don’t get into NEXT?” then you might need more time to think before embarking on this path. As NEXT co-founder Reza Satchu said, “entrepreneurship is a way of life.”
No matter what your goals are, be it influence, money or solving a problem you are passionate about, the core motivation behind every entrepreneur is to be able to influence one’s own freedom. I challenge you to look inward honestly, determining if you have the qualities of an entrepreneur and if it has been a lifestyle for you.
If so, NEXT Canada is waiting for you.