Entrepreneur launches into the world of private education
Business professor-turned-entrepreneur Leslie Roberts was teaching an MBA course two years ago when she found herself, yet again, complaining about the lack of helpful business education available to new entrepreneurs. With 50 per cent of Canadian small businesses failing within the first two years, and 70 per cent failing by year five, Roberts was justified in feeling a problem existed. “Why doesn’t someone do something about it?” Roberts asked. “Then I realized, why can’t that person be me?”
After nearly 16 years as a professor at Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary, Roberts, who holds Canada’s first PhD in entrepreneurship, quit her job and vowed to quit complaining. She started the GoForth Institute in 2009, a national private sector company that educates entrepreneurs. GoForth provides a comprehensive online skills-based program to micro-business owners. Through high-definition online videos, GoForth can reach clients anywhere, anytime.
Those clients are often in rural areas, where learners do not necessarily have access to traditional classroom training. GoForth’s first client was Community Futures in Alberta, an organization that is part of a national community economic development program.
Another client, Susan Power, recently completed GoForth’s curriculum and says she now feels ready to launch her own business. GoForth’s expert-taught videos gave Power the confidence and knowledge to form a sound business model for her consulting service, which she intends to start this year. “To have more than a dozen different experts who are mentors to you – whether you want to spend your time on [the program] at midnight or four in the morning – it’s there for you and that’s tremendous,” says Power.
Though Roberts says she is planning for 6,000 GoForth students this year, she admits there were initially many days when she just wanted her old job back. “The first few months of not having a secure paycheque were pretty terrifying. Spending my retirement savings on this idea was also terrifying,” says Roberts. She attributes GoForth’s quick success to the time spent conducting research and talking to small business owners in Canada to understand the needs of the market. Just two years after launching, GoForth is already looking to expand to new markets, including underserved populations like aboriginal people. Roberts is busy working with translators to adapt the curriculum for other languages.
For Roberts, who says she first felt the thrill of entrepreneurship when she made and sold Christmas decorations to teachers and friends in Grade 3, building relationships with entrepreneurs and organizations provides the greatest excitement to her job. “We’re helping other people succeed in small business and helping them to achieve their dreams of independence,” she says. Roberts thinks small businesses are crucial for the nation’s balance sheet, as they generate income, taxation revenue and create jobs. “If we can help a few more of them succeed,” she says, “that’s a really great thing for the Canadian economy.”