While many students spent their March Break taking a well-deserved break from school, 18 aspiring entrepreneurs were hard at work developing original business ideas at MaRS.

As part of the MaRS Future Leaders program, a group of 13- to 15-year-old students had the opportunity to invent and test original business ideas under the guidance of one-on-one mentors, successful entrepreneurs and dynamic teachers.

Through this experience they learned, among other skills, how to see problems as opportunities, interview potential customers, draft a business model and present a compelling pitch.

We asked Angela He and Julia Wei, co-founders of Azalea Organics and winners of the pitch competition’s $1,000 prize, to write a guest blog on how the program helped them prepare to launch a business and what they learned along the way. Read about their experience below. 

Angela He and Julia Wei, co-founders of Azalea Organics

The March Break session of the MaRS Future Leaders program was an incredibly interesting and informative experience for us. Every single day was action packed from 9:00 in the morning through a working lunch to 5:00 in the afternoon. We had many knowledgeable and successful entrepreneurs from different industries come in and talk to us about many aspects of entrepreneurship, and we were also able to have one-on-one mentoring sessions with professionals in business.

We started off the week with a fun speed-dating activity to find our business partners, and then we brainstormed ideas for our business. The program was very fast paced; we were conducting interviews with potential customers about our idea by the afternoon of the first day! We then moved on to developing a value proposition, learning to use social media for marketing and communication, conducting market research and creating a business model. We got to engage in many different exciting activities, including filming our own infomercial, creating a Twitter account for our business, cold calling and even boxing (to boost our self confidence). We even received our own business cards!

The program basically walked us through how to start our own business and provided continued support from professionals in the field throughout the process. It was a truly extraordinary opportunity and it made the startup process much more understandable.

Finally, we learned that a very important aspect of entrepreneurship is delivering a pitch, because that is how entrepreneurs are able to appeal to investors to get funds for their businesses. So, we created a 60-second elevator pitch and an accompanying PowerPoint deck for our company.

MaRS Future Leaders March Break Session. (Image created by Shape Collage, winner of the 2009 Entrepreneurship 101 Up-Start! Competition.)

On the day of the pitch, friends and family members, judges, mentors and entrepreneurs all gathered in a room to listen to each group pitch its business idea. Although we only had five days for preparation and one minute to pitch, all nine groups had innovative ideas and impressed the judges. With business ideas ranging from an umbrella rental service to a chalk and eraser duo to an online job finder for teenagers, we were very surprised and very grateful to have won among all of the amazing groups.

During the week, we developed the idea for a line of organic bath and beauty products: Azalea Organics. At first, we weren’t very confident in our idea, but after talking to mentors and other entrepreneurs we realized that this business idea was actually feasible. We are planning on making a prototype for our first product in the line: a scented nourishing hairbrush. We plan on contacting different brush manufacturers in Toronto and developing partnerships to eventually get our product in the market.

The March Break 2013 cohort after the award ceremony

This March Break session of the MaRS Future Leaders program was a great experience for both of us. We had the opportunity to meet many inspiring entrepreneurs, develop friendships with other students and broaden our knowledge on entrepreneurship. We had a lot of fun and would definitely recommend this program to anyone aged 13 to 15 who is interested in entrepreneurship or even just the idea of starting a company. — Angela He and Julia Wei, co-founders of Azalea Organics

The grand prize was awarded to Azalea Organics for Best Overall Business. Honourable mentions were given to Lulu Miao and Raagavi Ramenthiran of CHOX for Best Pitch, and to Alex Cui and Thomas Gilbert of V-Terra for Best Social Purpose Business.

Where are our Future Leaders now?

Natalie Ngo and Alexander Chan of Urban Garden Solutions won the 2012 Summer Session pitch competition with The Herb Box, a simple and cost-effective way for amateur gardeners to grow their own herbs. Since launching their business, the two now host a fully functioning website, publish a blog on gardening tips and tricks, and have expanded their product line to include a variety of box sizes, soil enhancer and plant food. Keep an eye out for them this spring!

Alison Zhou, another Future Leaders alum, has partnered with MaRS Education to organize quarterly Youth Meet-Ups that bring together youth to network and meet others interested in entrepreneurship and to hear from seasoned entrepreneurs.

Are you between the ages of 13 and 15, and do you want to learn more about entrepreneurship? The next MaRS Future Leaders session will take place in July 2013. Email futureleaders@marsdd.com for further information or keep an eye on this page for when applications open.

Watch this short video to learn more about the MaRS Future Leaders program.


Marielle Voksepp

Marielle works as part of the education team at MaRS. She helps entrepreneurs get access to business resources both online and in-person. See more…