Career Readiness

JA inspired my career, my life: From disengaged high school student, to motivated college student, young entrepreneur, and CEO

By Adrian Salamunovic, Co-founder, CanvasPop, as told to Meg Friedman

I joined JA in Grade 11 at Colonel By High School. A representative from JA had come to the school to talk about the after-school program, and I thought it sounded cool.

I was a C-level or D-level student at the time. I was disengaged and kind of bored with school. I guess I was a bit of a rebel – not a bad kid, really – but I just didn’t care. The classes didn’t interest me. I didn’t see how they were relevant to my life.

Yet I was always entrepreneurial, even from a young age. I had a newspaper route when I was 13 years old, and after a while, I figured I could expand my small enterprise by buying other people’s paper routes. I don’t know if that was allowed, but I did it.

So hearing about a JA program that would teach me how to start a company? Well, that really captured my imagination!

Once a week, after school, we’d meet in the basement offices at St. Laurent Shopping Centre. The JA mentors were there – and week by week, they would guide us through the next phase of starting a business. All of the sudden, I understood why math was important and why accounting mattered. I learned about teamwork, and that everyone has their role to play.

In my first year of JA, our company failed. But, you know what? We learned the most that year. We analyzed what worked and what didn’t work, and I discovered that learning what NOT to do, was as important as learning what I should do.

In my second year with JA, we developed a recipe holder made out of Plexiglass that held a recipe at 45 degrees and kept it clean. It wasn’t fancy, but it was useful. We had succeeded in creating a product that people actually wanted to buy (not just our mothers and grandparents), and we became profitable.

I have to say…to have the JA experience at such a young age, to have the chance to learn about product development, marketing, finance…and to be able to apply what I was learning at school…it was really powerful. It changed everything.

In Grade 13 (back in the day when we still had Grade 13), I took as many business courses as I could. Then, I enrolled in business marketing at Algonquin College and continued to build the T-shirt company I’d started at the end of high school.

In my final year at Algonquin, I took all that I had learned through JA and the T-shirt business and started a company called MediaWav. It was 1996, and it was one of Ottawa’s first web consulting and development companies. I landed a handful of big contracts with local companies, then sold it in 1997, just as I was graduating from Algonquin College. I was in my early 20s.

Over the years, I’ve launched and sold about 10 companies. Today we have a company called WorkshopX – with several companies under that umbrella including CanvasPop.

Looking back, I credit my success, in part to the experience I gained through JA. JA lit the fire! JA showed me that I could start a business on my own. It gave a C-or D-level student the confidence to become a CEO.

That is why I am a corporate supporter of JA Ottawa. I want to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs, right here in Ottawa. Why? Because JA inspired me, and I know that it has the potential to inspire others – both the over-achiever and the disengaged student.

Also, the backbone of our global economy is entrepreneurs – they create jobs, spark innovation and growth, and drive the economy.

How can Canada become an innovation nation? How can we create a thriving economy? We need to develop more entrepreneurs, and we need to start when students are young, eager, and open to learning.

JA fills that gap between talking about business and entrepreneurship and actually rolling up your sleeves, getting busy, and doing it. The more entrepreneurs we can breed the better it is for our economy. It’s a no-brainer.

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