Exploring entrepreneurship full-time

Prianka SivaSt. Paul's GreenHouse

There’s a significant amount of structure in a UWaterloo student’s life, whether that structure involves classes or a co-op job. An entrepreneurial co-op job, however, is a different story altogether. When third-year Environment and Business student Prianka Siva began her E-coop term this winter, the open-endedness of the role was at first a shock — and then an opportunity.

Prianka, who is in her second term as a St. Paul’s GreenHouse student, had developed a business idea during the fall term and wanted to take the time to develop it fully.

IDEASPACE — which Prianka conceived as a kind of LinkedIn for social entrepreneurs and socially responsible ideas — has evolved over the course of the term. After her initial adjustment to having unstructured and essentially unlimited time to work on her project, Prianka began working with her advisors and mentors to create milestones and develop a plan for her term.

She met with a wide variety of entrepreneurs and managers of hubs and incubators, asking them about how a tool like IDEASPACE could best be developed to help create a community among entrepreneurs and even among incubators. She also began a Facebook group for entrepreneurs — a group that currently has more than 260 members — as an early prototype for an online community.

IDEASPACE was recently was awarded $5,000 during the Entrepreneurial Co-Op Program’s Mid-term Pitch Competition. Prianka plans to use the funds to begin developing a prototype for IDEASPACE’s beta test this summer with incubators across the Waterloo and Toronto region.

Prianka has appreciated being part of GreenHouse during this term, particularly because of the highly independent nature of an e-coop term. As someone who is passionate about developing community among diverse entrepreneurs, Prianka has welcomed the opportunities at GreenHouse to have conversations with other emerging social entrepreneurs who are similarly inspired.

Prianka has taken on new roles within the GreenHouse community: In addition to working part-time in marketing and recruitment, being a term ahead of new GreenHouse students has meant that she has perspective to offer to other students. “Lots of students are where I was in the fall and now I’m more focused on what I need to do. I talked with a friend at GreenHouse who had a huge exciting plan for a social enterprise about how things don’t always go the way you think they will when you create a startup company. What you expect will take a month might take four months. I think it’s important to allow yourself to explore and learn. People sometimes think that by the end of a four-month term, you will have a strong business, but it can take months and years and sometimes you even have to start again.”

Being part of GreenHouse has also been an encouragement to Prianka at times when she hasn’t been certain about whether her business idea is viable. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to see the value of IDEASPACE because it’s not a tangible product. Being mentored by Tania has been one of the biggest strengths of GreenHouse for me this term.”

Prianka embraces the uncertainty of the process that is part of entrepreneurship. “I’m experimenting to see what works,” she says. “There are so many options out there. What I know is that I want to continue to be part of the entrepreneurial space in some capacity, even after graduation.”

- Susan Fish is a Waterloo-based writer who operates Storywell, an editing company, and who has two published novels (Seeker of Stars and Ithaca).

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