President, Redwood Strategic Inc.
Location: Toronto, ON
Redwood Strategic runs CampusPerks, a program delivered through a proprietary social-media platform. Its purpose? To facilitate major brands’ involvement with—and sponsorship of—student extracurricular groups and events at colleges and universities across Canada. Dave Wilkin, who started non-profit community initiatives as a teen in Northern Ontario, launched the company with a single client while studying science at the University of Waterloo. “I saw the difficulties companies faced when trying to recruit and market to youth,” he explains. In the short time since, he has amassed a customer base that includes Loblaw, Domino’s Pizza and other major brands, which he has connected with more than 25,000 students in leadership roles. In Wilkin’s view, he’s providing a win-win service: underfunded youth-run organizations get much-needed support, and brands get a chance to engage with influential leaders in the notoriously tough-to-crack Gen Y demographic. And he’s betting that clients south of the border will get the value, too: he’s currently working to expand CampusPerks into the U.S.
What is your best advice for young entrepreneurs?
When you start a company, the first year is extremely high-pressure; you put in long hours and are often faced with a lot of rejection. Skepticism is inevitable, but it is important to turn criticism into positive energy and use it to help your company adapt to new situations. Keep testing your product and listening to your consumers. Don’t be afraid to adapt and iterate; it’s what will make you and your company strong and resilient.
What has been the biggest surprise about being an entrepreneur?
When I started out two years ago, I only dreamed of working with the biggest Fortune 500 companies and growing into the U.S. Now, we are doing both of these things. It’s been such a huge, wonderful surprise for me because I’ve realized that with hard work, an incredible team and a strong vision for smart change, it is possible to make a large impact in a short period of time.
What can governments, institutions and other businesses do to better support young entrepreneurs?
I think governments need to reinvent how they teach and integrate entrepreneurship in the classroom. Organizations like Impact Entrepreneurship Group run micro-credit programs that truly teach entrepreneurship by providing students with a small amount of money and one week to grow their idea. Educational programs and institutions should be jumping on board with this idea. I’ve never studied a marketing or entrepreneurship course, but I’ve seen what they teach and it’s everything that entrepreneurship is not.