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Follow your passion

More to success than money says new graduate and student entrepreneur

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2020 at Memorial.

By Kelly Foss

Spring graduate Jan Mertlik says Memorial has provided him with a “bulletproof portfolio.”

Now that the undergraduate computer science student has completed his bachelor of science program at Memorial University, he’s confident in the skills and knowledge he’s gained here.

Mr. Mertlik came to Memorial in 2013.

Originally from the Czech Republic, a landlocked country, and having spent several years living in China with his family, an island in the North Atlantic seemed exotic by comparison.

His journey begins

Mr. Mertlik’s connection to Memorial began in 2014 when he discovered the university’s Startup Weekend event.

Over 54 hours, student developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing specialists and graphic designers pitched ideas for new companies, formed teams around those ideas and developed a presentation or prototype by Sunday evening.

“That’s where my entrepreneurial journey began and since then I’ve found this province is a great place to start something,” said Mr. Mertlik. “There’s a lot of opportunity.”

Mr. Mertlik completed the Co-operative Internship in Computer Science in the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE), which offers students foundational training, encouragement, guidance, access to funding and business connections. As part of the program he started his first company: delivering food orders for local restaurants that don’t offer delivery service.

The business became popular very quickly, particularly with Memorial students, and ultimately delivered more than 2,000 meals in 11 months before shutting down.

“It was a pretty fresh idea in Canada at the time,” he said. “There was nothing like it on the East Coast. We ended up closing it for various reasons, but I learned a crazy amount, most importantly the importance of being passionate about what you are doing.”

Sharing his experience

Although Mr. Mertlik felt discouraged, he began mentoring at the MCE when he returned to school following his work term, sharing what he learned with other student entrepreneurs.

“I did start a business, but I didn’t make any money from it, so from my perspective it was a big failure,” he said. “I didn’t know if I would be a good person to learn from, but I thought could certainly give them some pointers.”

Jan Mertlik began his entrepreneurship journey at Memorial’s 2014 Startup Weekend event.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

In 2017 he started a new business – Get Coding. The idea was to teach people the coding skills needed in the province’s technology sector.

“I saw the startup industry was growing, but there weren’t enough computer science and computer engineering students coming out of educational institutions to fill the need that created,” he said.

However, after training one group of students, Mr. Mertlik ran out of money and shelved the idea, choosing to work instead for another struggling startup.

After a difficult year he was approached by a friend for help with his growing business.

“Andrew Cook from Seaformatics, I don’t know if he knows how much he saved my life,” he said. “They needed help with their website, and I had built some before but not at that scale. From there I went on to build websites for and do consulting with other startups in the Genesis Centre, as well as other businesses.”

A good idea resurfaces

While his latest web design business was doing well, Mr. Mertlik couldn’t stop thinking about Get Coding.

This past fall, he partnered with Sahand Seifi, from another local entrepreneurial success story, HeyOrca, to restart Get Coding. They began running their first programs in late 2019.

The men say they want to create accessible and effective education to prepare people for the jobs of the future.

“Our bootcamps, courses and workshops will teach people who don’t know anything about code as well as accelerate the growth of developers already in the industry by providing training that isn’t currently available,” said Mr. Mertlik. “We think we can focus on niche problems because we’re more flexible to respond to industry demands.”

The upside of failure

This winter Mr. Mertlik told his story at an entrepreneurial community networking event with more than 150 students, entrepreneurs and business community members in attendance.

It won him the MCE’s third annual Fail Tale Cup.

The cup is awarded to a student entrepreneur who has failed at a business or business idea, learned from that failure and started something new.

“The upside of my past failures is I have grown as an entrepreneur,” he said. “I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m resuming Get Coding in a different, more educated way. I’ve already seen a difference.

“Before Sahand and I even started working together we had important conversations about why we were doing it and were very honest about our expectations. Ultimately, we were able to agree on a vision. I’ve learned I can’t get behind something just for the money, because you can go through a lot of difficult times when starting a business, and really, the money just isn’t worth it.”

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