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Venture for Canada fellowship program provides graduates with experience and companies with the skills they need

Venture for Canada founder and CEO Scott Stirrett chats with a guest after a press conference to launch the organization’s expansion of its fellowship program to Newfoundland and Labrador. The program is designed to pair high-performing entrepreneurial young graduates with high-growth small- and medium-sized start-ups.
Venture for Canada founder and CEO Scott Stirrett chats with a guest after a press conference to launch the organization’s expansion of its fellowship program to Newfoundland and Labrador. The program is designed to pair high-performing entrepreneurial young graduates with high-growth small- and medium-sized start-ups. - Kenn Oliver

When Corner Brook’s Bronwyn Woolfrey wrapped up the practicum portion of her master’s degree in public health from Memorial University, she thought, like so many other graduates, that she’d slide into a career in her field of study.

But despite a recording sterling 4.0 GPA, earning the title of Fellow of the School of Graduate Studies, and winning the Dr. James Rossiter master of public health practicum award, Woolfrey didn’t land a job in public health right away.

Her partner, Adam Pelley, suggested she apply to Venture for Canada’s (VFC) fellowship program that he was looking into.

The program is designed to pair high-performing entrepreneurial young graduates with high-growth small- and medium-sized start-ups. The firms get access to the skill sets they need to grow, while the graduates get experience, access to networks, and mentorship that will help them one day start their own companies.

Despite her belief that it was geared more towards graduates with a background and interest in entrepreneurship, she figured there was no harm in filing out an application.

Not long after making it through a thorough application process, Woolfrey and Pelley were packing their bags for Nova Scotia and an accelerated interviewing process through VFC.

“They introduce you to various partner startups that you're interested in and you kind of speed date your way through and then you find a fit,” explains Woolfrey, whose fit was found at BlueLight Analytics, a Halifax-based tech firm that uses data to help the dental community save time, money and increase patient satisfaction.

Not only does working at BlueLight allow Woolfrey to use her background in science, analyze data, and help train users, it allows her to work in her field.

“Our checkmark program really helps keep patients safer and helps dentists improve their practice, and that program is all over the world,” she says. “I don't ever have to set foot in a dental office to make a difference there, so I'm impacting thousands of patients all the time.

“I get to be creative and innovative and I have a very long leash at work. I really appreciate that because it allows me to work hard and see results and I know that in some jobs, that's not the case.”

Thanks to over $300,000 in non-repayable funding through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Business Development Program, VFC is expanding its fellowship program to both Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

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Founder and CEO Scott Stirrett says the funds will allow the organization to host selection days in Atlantic Canada, conduct recruitment visits, host a month-long training camp for the fellows at Queen’s University, and provide on-going training and support to participants over their two-year fellowships.

Stirrett says the plan is to have at least five fellows working in Newfoundland and Labrador startups in the next cohort, but more is always better.

“In the past year, we've placed over 20 fellows in Nova Scotia, so our goal would be mirroring that kind of social impact here,” he says.

Over four and a half years since it was founded, approximately 50 per cent of participants have been business school grads. A further 25 per cent were humanities students and the remaining quarter were students from a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) background.

“At the end of the day we're looking more for people's character and their entrepreneurial potential than anything else,” Stirrett explains, noting that it’s also open to grads from colleges such as the College of the North Atlantic or the Nova Scotia Community College.

Stirrett says the program is a great way to battle the migration of talented youth away from Atlantic Canada and to help attract more of those individuals from other parts of the country.

“The narrative of the region is often around brain drain,” he says. “I think there's an ability to retain more young people but there's also an ability to attract entrepreneurial young people from other parts of Canada that are really attracted by the quality of life that Atlantic Canada can offer.”

Woolfrey, for her part, highly recommends the VFC program and how it works with the individual to find the right fit and give them a sense that they’re contributing something to the firm they’ve matched with.

“I work for a very small company… so when I show up I know that my contributions are valued and I think that that’s great for any recent graduates, especially now that it's in Newfoundland for people who want to stay in Newfoundland and create change and new business and economic growth.”

To find out more about VFC’s fellowship program, visit ventureforcanada.ca.

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

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