NEXT Canada handpicks 36 students at annual National Selection Weekend to create seventh cohort of the Next 36

Dec 07, 2016

Written by: Olivia Tomic

Four days, 76 finalists, 15 guest speakers, 684 interviews, 24 flights, 14 volunteers, countless cups of coffee, and one mission: to find Canada’s Next 36.

This past weekend young entrepreneurs from across Canada came to Toronto for National Selection Weekend, each vying for a spot in NEXT Canada’s premier program, The Next 36.

Over four days, finalists were put through a rigorous set of rapid-fire interviews with other finalists and seasoned judges including Janet Bannister (General Partner, Real Ventures), Kirk Simpson (Co-founder and CEO, Wave), Candice Faktor (Former GM, Wattpad), Yoav Schwartz (Co-founder and CEO, Uberflip), and others.

Finalists also had the opportunity to sit in on guest speaker sessions led by the likes of Sam Sebastian, Managing Director of Google Canada, and Tony Lacavera, N36 Co-chair and Chairman of Globalive Capital.

An emerging trend quickly surfaced with many of the speakers – from Next 36 alumni panelists, to successful entrepreneurs like Tony, to self-proclaimed risk-averse former accountant Sam – to be an entrepreneur you must jump in head first, embrace uncertainty, and learn how to lead with both a microscopic and telescopic lens.

“The intensity of the programming paired with the awesome speakers and incredible mentorship we got through the judging panels this weekend alone was really valuable,” said WonJune Tai, one of the successful applicants and newly minted member of the 2017 cohort.

WonJune, a fourth-year University of Toronto Computational Biology and Computer Science student, joined finalists from 20 Canadian universities and colleges with a diverse set of educational backgrounds including engineering, medicine, business, law and theatre.

“I had the chance to meet with so many bright people who share the same values and the same ambitious drive that I’m looking for in a co-founder,” said WonJune.

Since its inception in 2010, The Next 36 program has nurtured over 220 young entrepreneurs through mentorship, founder development and support from an incredible network. This cohort will be the second to embrace program changes that allow co-founders to bring in their established teams and further develop their pre-existing startups.

Recent University of British Columbia Kinesiology graduate Jessica Bilmer along with her Co-founder Taran Ghatora are among the group of finalists who are taking advantage of this change and will be coming into the program with a venture idea.

Reflecting on the Selection Weekend process, Jessica said: “After this weekend I feel like I really can do this –it can be done. I wasn’t expecting this kind of intensity, but I definitely came out stronger than I was when I first got here… What it really comes down to is hard work, grit, perseverance and resilience. If you want it and you go after it, you can achieve it.”

Meanwhile others, like Nicola Sahar, are entering the program on the lookout for co-founders and will be building something from the ground up. Nicola is looking to find a team that will work with him at the intersection of emerging technologies and the healthcare industry.

“The weekend has been very valuable for me as a medical student because it gave me the opportunity to connect with people I’m not normally exposed to,” he said. 

“I loved the opportunity this weekend gave me, I loved being challenged in the interviews, trying to defend my views and reasons for doing things. I’m excited to be part of the program and about potentially having a huge impact on Canadian healthcare.”

WonJune, Jessica and Nicola along with the rest of the 2017 cohort will start to assemble their teams and ideas remotely over the next 6 weeks before reporting back with their co-founders and being assigned mentors. In May they’ll return to Toronto for an intensive summer to build their startups full-time, while learning from faculty and entrepreneurs who are the top 10 in the world in their respective fields.

Until then, we leave all finalists, and especially the 2017 cohort, with the words of Sam Sebastian:  step out, and into the chaos that is entrepreneurship. The real hustle begins now.


Olivia is the Digital Marketing and PR Coordinator at NEXT Canada.