Luong got his first taste of entrepreneurship in high school. (Image courtesy of Brian Luong)

McGill alumni foster budding entrepreneurs on campus

a/Science & Technology by

It started with an email and ended with a company. For two McGill alumni, Brian Luong and Sepand Norouzi, the Next 36 program was the perfect opportunity to kick-start their entrepreneurial careers.

Founded in 2010, the Next 36 is an entrepreneurial and leadership program that helps develop Canada’s 36 most promising entrepreneurs. According to Luong and Norouzi, the goal of the program is to groom candidates to become the next founders and leaders of influential companies.

However, what separates the Next 36 from other start up initiatives is the program’s focus on the development of the individuals themselves rather than the ventures that candidates bring to the program. Once individuals are selected, they are grouped with others to build a company under the direction of the Next 36, which provides the proper training and tools.

“[The Next 36] is really focused on helping the person grow, as opposed to helping the company grow, which is the focus of other accelerators,” Norouzi noted.

Norouzi’s childhood obsession with computers translated into a major in software engineering at McGill. He joined the McGill Entrepreneurs Society (MES) in 2011 which helped cultivate his love for new business ventures. Through his relationship with the MES, Norouzi learned about the Next 36 from co-founder Claudia Hepburn and entered the program the following year.

In contrast, Luong’s experiences with entrepreneurship began in high school when he started a business that sold gyros to the student body. In the wake of his company’s success, Luong fell in love with the entrepreneurial lifestyle and decided to continue his involvement in start up ventures. He proceeded to create his CEGEP’s badminton team, as well as a painting and construction business in his first year at McGill. From there, he applied for Next 36 and has not looked back since.

“I love being able to start my own business, own it, and see everything that’s happening,” Luong said.

As a part of their experience with the Next 36, Luong and Norouzi started Glimpse, a website which helps people find appropriate neighbourhoods for their new home based on their needs, preferences, and lifestyle before they look at listings. The website is beginning to gain traction, and has the potential to change the way consumers approach real estate.

“We have real estate agents signed up,” Luong said. “We’re planning on integrating listings on the website soon [….] We realized that people have a hard time making decisions in general [so] we’re trying to build a technology that revolutionizes the way people make decisions.”

Having just recently begun its process of selecting its fourth cohort of candidates, the Next 36 has already seen a number of significant initiatives emerge from its program. Most notable amongst these is the Myo project from Thalmic Labs, a revolutionary gesture control machine that uses electrical activity in muscles to wirelessly control digital technology. Thalmic Labs was co-founded by Next 36 alumnus Stephen Lake during the program’s inaugural year. He was later joined by Scott Greenberg, a 2012 cohort of Next 36 who now sits on the development team.

Thalmic Labs has partnered with Y Combinator, one of the biggest accelerators in the world. With $14.5 million in backing, Myo is on track to become one of the most revolutionary pieces of technology in recent years.

As recent graduates of McGill, Luong and Norouzi are not quite ready to leave the university behind. Their goal is to help expand McGill’s entrepreneurial scene to be on par with the likes of the University of Toronto, Harvard, and Stanford. The duo hope that the increased entrepreneurial presence on campus will abate concerns about McGill’s recent drop in the world rankings.

“One way for [McGill] to stay competitive and relevant on a global scale is for it to become a more entrepreneurial university,” Luong said. “We’re speaking with the alumni departments and McGill faculty members right now to promote [innovation] on campus. [We want] to get other students at McGill to see entrepreneurship as a viable career path rather than students seeing it as a last resort.”

According to the Glimpse team, this is an excellent opportunity for McGill to increase its entrepreneurial presence in Canada.

“We feel that this is the perfect time to promote the growth of entrepreneurship and to [expand] it [further],” Norouzi said. “There’s no limit to what you can accomplish when you set your eyes on goals and move towards them.”