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Fail tales

Fund helps student entrepreneurs find success in failure

Student Life

By Susan White

Mehnaz Tabassum learned the hard way that the same vision that made for a successful business in Bangladesh doesn’t necessarily transfer to Newfoundland and Labrador.

The third-year bachelor of business administration (BBA) student ran a successful company with her family in Dhaka, Bangladesh, called Astha Foundation, which provided free education and entrepreneurial training to underprivileged women and children.

Business students Mehnaz Tabassum, Saif Amed, Mahmudul Islam Shourov and Adib Rahman pose with the Fail Tale Cup, which they won recently from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE).
From left, Mehnaz Tabassum, Saif Amed, Mahmudul Islam Shourov and Adib Rahman won the inaugural Fail Tale Cup recently from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE).

But in St. John’s, where there are many organizations and government supports to help people in need, her vision to help people through business needed refining.

“In Bangladesh, there’s a significant class of underprivileged people who are combating poverty and illiteracy with very little help or access to resources,” said Ms. Tabassum.

“Here it’s totally different. Here people do need help but not as much, which is where our idea failed. So, we changed our plan. We wanted to help the youth but we were going in the wrong way so we came up with a new idea.”

‘A new idea’

Ms. Tabassum and her colleagues — BBA students Mahmudul Islam Shourov and Adib Rahman and engineering student Saif Ahmed, all from Bangladesh — decided to start Astha Marketing and Communications, a youth-focused marketing and event planning company that trains youths who face barriers to employment to act as brand ambassadors at events.

It also provides training programs to equip youths with knowledge and skills related to marketing and entrepreneurship.

That learning experience recently won them the inaugural Fail Tale Cup from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) at its first iteration of Fail Tales on June 21.

“We all sat down, we brainstormed and we came up with this new idea where we can make an impact.” – Mehnaz Tabassum

“We came up with a plan and it did not work, even before we had executed it, because we weren’t as focused and we didn’t know which direction to follow,” said Ms. Tabassum.

“And then we came across the MCE Failure Fund and it was very inspiring. The theme was you fail and you succeed. We all sat down, we brainstormed and we came up with this new idea where we can make an impact.”

Natural journey

The concept of learning from failure is an important one for entrepreneurs, says Florian Villaumé, director, MCE, at Memorial.

“We want to help develop an entrepreneurial culture where failure is accepted as a natural part of the journey for entrepreneurs,” he said.

“It’s something that’s not talked about often enough but it’s through failure that we learn, and by embracing it we are giving ourselves permission to take healthy risks. It’s no longer something to be feared.”

MCE created the Failure Fund to support student entrepreneurs at Memorial who have tested a business idea and failed. The fund provides $1,000 each year to a student or group of students who demonstrates the lessons learned from a failed business idea.

The fund was officially launched at Fail Tales, an event featuring a panel of local entrepreneurs who shared their own stories of learning from failure. Chelsey Patterson, founder and former owner of Model Citizens, Sarah Murphy, founder and CEO of Sentinel Alert, and Jason Trask, president of Zambara, participated on the panel.

Emphasis on learning

“We were looking for a way to promote our first failure fund as well as ways to host a failure-positive event with students and the community where the emphasis would be on learning,” said Mr. Villaumé. “It seemed like the perfect fit to have both launch at the same time and gain more exposure for the failure conversation.

“We want to share with students and members of the community the true journey of entrepreneurship and the lessons and growth that come from taking smart risks,” he continued. “Our goal is to eliminate the stigma about failure and to start having a conversation that focuses on failure as an essential step on the road to success.”

Finding the right trail

For Ms. Tabassum and her business partners, winning the Fail Tale Cup and the cash prize has been an incentive to keep developing their business.

They hope to rent office space in the near future and will put the money towards rental costs and an official launch event for Astha Marketing and Communications. They’ve also landed their first booking: a promotional event to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday at Canadian Tire.

“This trophy will be a reminder that failure is not the end.” — Mehnaz Tabassum

Ultimately, the failure fund has allowed them to keep pursuing their dream of running a successful business that also has a positive societal impact.

“We have always been actively involved in community work and volunteering,” said Ms. Tabassum. “It’s just something we have been taught from childhood by our parents. We believe that if everyone unites and works together, anything is possible. We, the youth, are the future and we need to help each other to make sure that the future is as bright as the potential in all of us.”

“We are glad to have won this trophy. I think that it’s our biggest stepping stone in our startup because this trophy will be a reminder that failure is not the end: it’s actually the rickety bridge you have to cross before you are on the right trail again.”

The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship, based at St. John’s campus, promotes entrepreneurship and supports students, faculty and staff when developing a startup, contributing to the development of an attractive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was initiated through a partnership of the Faculty of Business Administration and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

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