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Student startup

ETP grad secures seed funding, ramps up operations

special feature: Back to school

Part of a special feature coinciding with the beginning of a new academic year at Memorial University.

By Libby Carew

How far can entrepreneur-focused training take you?

Pretty far, according to Sahand Seifi, co-founder of HeyOrca!, a startup focused on social media collaboration tools for marketing agencies.

Interested in starting his own business one day, Mr. Seifi signed up for Memorial’s Entrepreneurship Training Program in 2011 while working towards a master’s degree in computer science.

Genesis Centre-grown

Student Fresh, an early version of the company Mr. Sahand started with business undergrad and HeyOrca! co-founder Joe Teo, focused on connecting freelance students with local companies.

Student Fresh was based out of the Launch Pad space at the Genesis Centre, but the duo soon realized that they needed to pivot their business idea if they wanted to build a sustainable company.

The pair describe 2015 as the year they validated the business model for HeyOrca!. It took them almost six months to come up with the name, which reflects the social media industry they’re in. Having secured $650,000 in seed funding at the end of 2015, the company is ramping up their operations and growing the sales of its marketing collaboration platform.

Joe Teo and Sahand Seifi of HeyOrca! hold their mascot. They pass around the inflatable whale in meetings to indicate who has the floor. The whale is their "conche" of sorts.
From left are Joe Teo and Sahand Seifi of HeyOrca!. The whale is used as a “conche” at meetings.
Photo: Chris Hammond

So far, their efforts are paying off. HeyOrca!’s sales are increasing by 50 per cent month over month, which, according to Mr. Seifi, is the growth track they want to maintain.

The company now employs 14 staff, many of whom are graduates of Memorial. They have a multicultural team with seven countries represented. Mr. Seifi says the best part of running his startup is working with young, talented people.

Have an idea?

This fall, Memorial is making it easy for students like Mr. Seifi and Mr. Teo to get the training they need to launch their own businesses and turn their dreams into reality. If you’re a graduate student with a few hours to spare, you may want to look into Memorial’s Entrepreneurship Training Program (ETP).

ETP is open to full-time graduate students who have a business idea they want to pursue. The program brings students face-to-face with entrepreneurs, funding agencies and business experts who give students the advice and training they need to start a company. The program runs over 16 weeks with a certificate of completion awarded at the end.

Key connections

To increase the number of startups on campus, Mr. Seifi believes it’s imperative to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with key people who can give them the right advice. That was one of the benefits of ETP, which helped guide him. He’d also like to see more opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration on campus.

“Ideas are cheap. Execution is what matters.” –Sahand Seifi

His advice for students is simple: “Don’t be afraid to help someone else with their business idea. Ideas are cheap. Execution is what matters.”

To find out more about Memorial’s Entrepreneurship Training Program, please visit here. The deadline to apply is Monday, Oct. 17.

ETP is delivered by the School of Graduate Studies, the Internationalization Office, the Faculty of Business Administration and Student Life, with financial support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

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