From ideation to success: Students gain knowledge on Startups during McMaster World Congress 2022

March 2, 2022 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Izabela Shubair, DeGroote Contributor

Entrepreneur Matt McCoy’s session at the 2022 McMaster World Congress had ended 30 minutes prior. But he was still on the virtual stage fielding questions. McCoy — whose career has taken him from closing a deal on Dragon’s Den to a tech startup advisor role — was one of nine speakers at the longest running student-run conference in Canada. While speakers’ industries ranged, they all had two things in common: expertise in startups (this year’s World Congress theme) and surpassing their allotted time, as students eagerly interacted with presenters.

“McMaster World Congress is an easy and fun way for students to gain knowledge and inspiration outside of the classroom,” says McCoy, who also runs Student Helpers, an on-demand platform connecting student volunteers with seniors who need live technology support.

“As a student, the most important knowledge I gained was through the advice I received from the stories of others who had been there before. I hope this event will inspire students to try new things and see the world in a more positive and hopeful light.”

For the past 43 years, the McMaster World Congress (MWC) has aimed to deliver functional and valuable sessions to students from every faculty. Informative presentations and inspirational speaker sessions provide students with applied knowledge that helps them to better understand how to adapt to real-world situations.

Each year, the MWC team — made up of students and overseen by program director, associate professor Nick Bontis — chooses topics that are on trend or that they predict will be important in the coming years. Past themes have included artificial intelligence and sports management. Bontis says COVID-19 made this year’s startup theme especially timely and relevant as managing a new venture in a pandemic environment requires the ability to think, create, and quickly execute.

“Don’t ever waste a crisis,” says Bontis, who, well before becoming program director, attended the conference in 1996 as a student. “We all need to improvise, pivot quickly, and prepare for future challenges. Students need inimitable skills that will allow them to face unprecedented obstacles because of COVID-19. For startups in particular, the economic implications of the pandemic will have long-lasting effects.”

Ryan Spadafora is a third-year Integrated Business and Humanities student and this year’s event co-chair. He says this year’s agenda of speakers followed the four startup stages of ideation, launch, growth, and success. Speakers were chosen based on their experience and expertise as well as their connection to McMaster or to the local area. In addition to McCoy, they included Michael Lee-Chin of investment company Portland Holdings, and Shahrzad Rafati, chairperson and CEO of BroadbandTV, the leading creator monetization company, among others.

“Startups are becoming more the norm,” Spadafora says of the timely theme.

“Pushing boundaries in innovation is the heart of the new generation, and startups provide the opportunity for anyone to explore their ideas. I think the biggest takeaway from the event was to take action and adjust accordingly. There is no such thing as a perfect idea or timing. The people who are able to pivot when needed will be most successful. It’s a matter of persistence and passion.”

An average of 100 to 150 attendees logged into each of the eight online sessions from Jan. 17 to Feb. 10. Even in its virtual format, the event provided ample opportunity for student engagement. Spadafora says speakers even networked with students beyond their presentations, and Kerem Kolcuoglu, a managing partner at blockchain-focused consulting firm Penrose Partners, sought out job applicants.

“We’ve been virtual the last two years, and we tried hard to maintain a high level of engagement,” Spadafora says. “With almost all the sessions going over, it was clear that students found the speakers’ presentations relevant and applicable. We look forward to returning to a traditional in-person format soon.”


Sessions were recorded and are available for viewing at 2022 McMaster World Congress.

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