Never Too Young & Never Too Old: How Entrepreneurship Transcends Time and Age

By Faria Ahmed

I was 12-years old when I first rented a stall at the school’s annual fair with some friends. We made crafts, cards, baked some goodies at home, and asked mom to make some items too. I then stood by the stall bustling with excitement as people passed by, stopped to ask me about some of the items, their prices and strike up conversations. Each time I could satisfy them with my answer, I made a sale. Items left my table one by one and the little toy cashbox I had brought from home kept getting fuller. I was so proud of myself. I did this, while many of my friends got bored of standing by the stall and went on to explore the more interesting parts of the fair. These are internal instincts that really cannot be taught to an adult going to school and taking a 2-year program on ‘entrepreneurship’. While you can definitely upgrade your skills and gather more tools to market your ideas, the ideas themselves cannot be created without sheer passion.

This was the first time I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur, in some form. When I was 19, I started experimenting with a little online project of helping my friends get jobs using some of my contacts at the places I had worked at. At 21, I founded my first company, a recruitment agency which I named Career Solutions Bangladesh. Right now, at 29, I have gather a lot of experiences, of both failures and success. I tried by hand at half a dozen different types of businesses. From learning centers, to bakeries, to clothing boutiques. The most successful start up still continues to be Career Solutions Bangladesh and the latest venture which I only started a few months ago is my blog called Millennial Things.

My friends often ask why I still keep trying to come up with new businesses. I am entering a pretty stable stage in my healthcare career and have gathered multiple academic qualifications over the years. I cannot explain to them that for an entrepreneur, especially a serial entrepreneur, it is never about ‘settling’ down with a decent flow of money. That’s why people have jobs. It is always about trying to find gaps in the markets, gaps in peoples lives, and trying to fill those gaps with the comfort of unique products and services. When I was 19, they said I was too young to be wasting my time trying my hand at a business. Soon enough, they will say I’m in my 30s and will be too old to be engaging in child’s play of creating start ups. All I feel is that time and age are irrelevant. There is no minimum or maximum age of entry. There is no resume or degree requirements. It is the one thing you can do as long as you have passion for it. IMG_4668

Young Man In A Hurry: Featuring Jonathan Ruano DHaza

The complete story of my time at Invest Ottawa can never be told. I was witness to a watershed in this economic development agency’s history, which involved important personalities, political intrigues, and much more. Invest Ottawa was ground zero for these historic events, because this organization was and continues to be a strategic connection between governments, research institutes, mature tech companies, tech start-ups, and even international partners within Canada’s national capital, Ottawa. In other words, our organization was connected to every single powerful organization and individual you can think of with a presence in Ottawa. Furthermore, Invest Ottawa masterminded foreign missions in order to bring foreign tech companies to the national capital. All these activities were diverse and complex, but shared the common aim of accelerating economic growth and creating so-called “middle class jobs” in the Ottawa region.

While I cannot divulge Invest Ottawa’s secrets, I can provide deeper insight into what it means to be an employee in this economic development agency. To begin with, job titles are mostly irrelevant. Sometimes, the person with an unimpressive title will be given the most important assignments. While holding unimpressive titles like “research analyst” and “business analyst” for Invest Ottawa’s Investment and Trade Department (recently renamed “Global Expansion”), I ended up doing so much more than simply research. I had to recommend changes to immigration policy and consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure I was on the right track. I was expected to extract key insights from a 1598-page document on Canada’s trade and investment agreement with the European Union. That meant learning about harmonizing regulations, intellectual property, customs regulations, and labor mobility provisions – even though I had no formal education in any of these things. My biggest job, however, was when I had to write a comprehensive report on investment and talent attraction opportunities in Europe.

In September 2017, an earthquake hit our Investment and Trade Meeting. With his legendary bravado, Investment and Trade’s Managing Director Blair Patacairk announced that e-commerce Amazon intended to build a second headquarters with 50,000 employees in an unnamed city. He claimed that this was the most spectacular milestone in Invest Ottawa’s history – and he was right. Amazon is rightly considered the epitome of the hi-tech revolution for planning breathtaking innovations like hot air balloons which deliver restaurant meals to your door step and grocery stores without cashiers. We also realized that never before in Ottawa’s history did we succeed in attracting a company which created 50,000 new jobs. In short, we just had to convince Amazon to build a second headquarters in Ottawa. Ottawa was up against fierce competition, since Amazon’s decision not to mention any city in particular meant that every single Canadian and U.S. city with 1,000,000 people was bidding for Amazon’s headquarters. In the end, Invest Ottawa could not beat this competition, but we did succeed in putting Ottawa on Amazon’s radar. Amazon recently built a distribution center right here in the national capital – and my research into Amazon’s mergers and acquisitions activity and new technologies play a small role in making that happen.

So far, I presented my reasons on why job titles do not matter. No matter what job title you have at Invest Ottawa, you can never predict the requirements of your job or what you will have to learn. Next, I will talk about the importance of social networks to career development.

When I look back on my life and career in Invest Ottawa, I realize that human relationships are more important than post-secondary degrees and job titles. The job is a lifelong learning process, which involves being aware of your ignorance, failing quickly, and learning fast. To do these things well, you have to do two things: find the smartest people in your organization and learn as much as you can from them. The secret to my career development are the relationships – sometimes intimate relationships – forged with highly intelligent people, who I considered to be mentors. Blair Patacairk has always been a hero to me, because he convinced me to leave my comfort zone and challenge the boundaries of the possible. Along with Blair, I also tried to incorporate the best from a wide variety of other people – such as Alex Pugh (a legend within the organization), Adam Dewar and Ashley Mascarenhas (both intellectual giants), Dana Borschewski (an expert in managing client relationships and engaging in diplomacy), Sonya Shorey (a brilliant marketer), Katie LeClair (another promising marketer), Evan Blackburn (with deep expertise in tech), Caroline Croft (with deep business expertise), and many others I forgot to mention. Being able to value human beings and their innate talents and then emulate them is crucial to a successful career and probably to having a great life as well.

Written By

Jonathan Ruano DHaza

The Writer is an employee at Invest Ottawa. 


From Within: Featuring Shamayel Ghani

Dream at age 5: To become a Doctor

Dream at age 15: To become a Doctor

High school electives: All Sciences

Volunteer work: Hospitals and Research Labs

Dream at age 18: To become a Doctor

University degree: Biochemistry

Currently: Branch Manager at one of Canada’s leading banks, and loving every moment of it. Random, right?

The idea of becoming a doctor was never imposed on me. Not even by my Bangladeshi parents. Maybe what was missing, whether from school or from family, was encouragement to explore more options to have a full understanding of what my passion is, what my strengths are, and what kind of a career would really give me a sense of fulfillment. University, in my opinion, is four very expensive years which comes too early in life, where teenagers, who have close to no idea what’s out there, are asked to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I got my bachelors degree from University of Ottawa. While I was in school, I worked for the Aldo company. I learned how to ask open ended questions to be able to match people up with the shoes that they needed. I learned how to ‘FAB our shoes’ (discuss Features And Benefits with customers). I learned that an add-on to a sale is meant to add some sort of value to the customer, and also how important it is to take ownership of our mistakes and make things right at first point of contact. I was fortunate to be able to work with a few great managers who put a lot of focus into training and developing their employees and keeping them fully engaged at work. Not all of my managers were like that though. As someone who sees an opportunity in every situation, I decided that from these managers, I can still learn what not to do and how their actions can impact their team members. By my third year of university, I was still working towards my degree because I had made a commitment and wanted to complete it. I knew, however, that my passion was to identify people’s needs and help them get to their goals. I knew that my strengths were keeping business objectives in mind, connecting with customers and listening for cues to meet those business objectives while working in the customer’s best interest. A sense of fulfillment to me was knowing that I could grow freely, and have an expert to be able to reach out to for guidance. TD Canada Trust checked all those boxes. I picked TD not because it was a bank or because of their business results. I picked TD because my vision and theirs were identical when it came to customer experience and development. Learning banking products vs shoes were the same idea- just solutions to a different set of needs. This is my seventh year with TD and my focuses have evolved. In the next two years, I want to get my HR accreditation and explore opportunities in that area at TD. I have come to terms with the fact that it’s okay not to follow your childhood dream, because 5 year old Shamayel won’t be the one going to work everyday. Working with a company that focuses on the same things that I do makes me look forward to work everyday. The support that I continue to get reassures me that there will be no glass ceiling that I am not able to break through as long as I have the drive to do so. My growth is in my hands and no one else’s. Maybe it wasn’t up to my family or my school to encourage me to learn more about myself- maybe that comes from within.




Shamayel Ghani

The writer is a Branch Manager at one of Canada’s Top Banks. 

The Land of Infinite Possibilities

Most of us who grew up in Dhaka have observed the ever-saturating job markets, extreme rural-to-urban migration that is straining city resources and the scarcity of quality human resource all at the same time. Yet, it was exactly these issues which made Bangladesh, and particularly Dhaka, the gold mine for start-up businesses. When there are infinite problems, there are also infinite solutions to those problems.

Without quoting statistics, I believe it is still safe to say that the drastic start-up boom began in Dhaka sometime around 2010. I have always believed that Bangladeshis are brilliant at coming up with ideas, but even more brilliant at replicating them. As we had previously seen with the clothing boutiques, the hookah lounges, the fast food joints, and the event management companies, this new trend too, would become increasingly repetitive. Unsurprisingly, at least 40% of most Bangladeshi’s facebook friends can be traced back to a minimum of one failed start-up. Okay, so that was a fake stat I came up with based on mere observation, but there may just as well be some truth to it.

Coming back to the issue: if there are start-ups addressing ‘social’ issues mushrooming at every mossy corner of this concrete jungle, then how do we predict their tentative success?  Again, based on personal observation over the past decade, I believe it is neither the first player, nor the last, that are most likely to succeed. Often times, the first leaders who take initiative to enter the game of creating a start-up with a highly innovative idea, suffer the most for being a bit too ‘progressive’ or ‘out of the box’. It is almost as if consumers in the market are not ready for this giant, drastic change that the company envisions. While this company or companies struggle to establish the relevance of the product/service, the demand, and the validity of the selling price, there are ten more players on the field- marketing the same product but with a twist. This twist can be a more competitive pricing, a better marketing tactic, a more specialized service within the same field.

Similarly, when the market has about 20 big players and a few hundred or thousand small ones providing a semi-identical service in different packages, each new start-up at this point has a vast range of competitors waiting to make them irrelevant. At this point, no matter how unique their brand positioning or marketing ideas are, there is always a consumer ready to question, compare and contrast with an existing product  meeting nearly the same requirements or pitching nearly the same service. At this point, many start-ups face a complex identity crisis. They struggle to answer the question- how different is different enough? 

Luckily, though, the current trend of creating and growing app-based social-issue targeted start-ups is not about to retire any time soon. Especially with government and private funding just about to enter the markets in full swing. However, there is a lot of other interesting discussions to be had at this point. As global statistics indicate, for every successful start-up, there are at least 97 failed ones. With that comes the generation of failed ‘Founders & CEOs’ and their return to the job market with the most refreshing interview questions waiting for them. That, however, is a discussion for another day.

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Faria Ahmed

The writer is the founder of successful start-up Career Solutions Bangladesh.