As a student entrepreneur, Braden Ream-Neal remembers how difficult it was to begin to develop his now successful app, Flare. He wishes there had been more support to help lift his idea off the ground.

This need became the spark behind why W5 was founded two months ago.

“I came up with this idea on a park bench,” says the second-year BMOS student in consumer behaviour. “I was talking with my buddy and I was like, ‘Man there’s just no support for idea-based startups.' ”

Ream-Neal explains that his initial idea was to create a five-month mentorship program that pairs five student entrepreneurs with five established local companies to help them build their startup.

Since that park-bench conversation, Ream-Neal has partnered with fourth-year engineering student Kirill Kokorin and third-year social sciences student Zach Friedman. They’ve increased their number of entrepreneur spots from five to 15 to better promote cross collaboration and the program runs during a four-month semester.

W5 is a non-profit and is raising sponsorship funds to help their startups grow. There will also be an internal pitch competition at the end of the program with cash prizes up for grabs.

Interested students must apply online to be a part of W5’s 15-member program.

“When you get enough smart people and enough ambitious people in a room, something amazing is going to happen," Ream-Neal says. "That was a big inspiration behind W5.”

The three managing partners are passionate about the power of ideas when given the chance to grow, saying that too often business ventures fizzle out or become forgotten.

Ream-Neal admits he had little familiarity with software when he started with W5, but working with the start-up has been a valuable experience.

“Especially for students, entrepreneurship can be scary,” says Kokorin. “You’re taking a risk. Having mentors that have been through the process and help you take that first step is exactly why we call ourselves an ‘ideation accelerator’ because we go from ideation to ‘here, go get started.' ”

To maintain this momentum, W5 will be helping entrepreneurs set attainable goals and hold them accountable for their deadlines each month.

Kokorin adds that W5 has generated significant traction on campus, presumably because the program offers a service otherwise missing from currently available entrepreneurial resources like Propel. 

"[Propel] is an amazing resource and working space you can go to to get help," Ream-Neal says. "W5 on the other hand is a fast-paced program designed to take 15 of Western's brightest aspiring entrepreneurs and help them build the team, network and skill set they need to build their company and bring something to market in four months."

W5 also speaks to the flexibility they provide.

Kokorin says the fact that W5 is also still a startup works to its advantage. He explains that joining something like Propel requires you to fill out a client intake form and already have a logo design and branding direction. This can be troublesome because being in the idea stage means you still need the space to change and evolve your startup. W5 has thrived off of flexibility because they still have room to grow. Kokorin hopes their program will provide this wiggle room for other student entrepreneurs as well.  

He adds that they’ve also acquired a diversified group of mentors across a variety of areas including sales, manufacturing, IPP protection and more to offer help tailored to clients.

Among the mix of mentors in and outside of campus are CEOs of public companies, a Silicone Valley VC and the Western developers of Bottle Flip 2k16.

Through mentorship, W5 aims to jumpstart entrepreneurs’ ideas by sharing experiences of success and failure. As the program grows, Ream-Neal, Kokorin and Friedman hope that W5 will add legitimacy to the startups under their direction, helping students to persevere through the initial adversity of starting a business. 

"We hope that in the future students in high school make the decision to go to Western because of W5, because they’re entrepreneurs and they think their idea could become something," Kokorin says. It is their hope that W5 will change the landscape of innovation at Western.

W5 Applications are open to student entrepreneurs until Nov. 21. To apply, visit the W5 Facebook page.

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Amy is a second year English and Visual Arts student in Western's faculty of Arts and Humanities. This is her first year as a culture editor at the Gazette. For comments or feedback, email her at amy.skodak@westerngazette.ca.

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