The Digital Enterprise Management Society hosted the Young Entrepreneurs Challenge conference at UTM last Saturday and Sunday to connect students with industry professionals and hold competitions to spark innovation.

Students and alumni attended the conference from southern Ontario universities, including UTM, Ryerson, York, Waterloo, Sheridan, and OCAD.

Speakers from MaRS Discovery District, Yahoo! Canada, Bell Mobility, FreshBooks, and other companies talked about their stories and products to inspire students. The keynote speakers focussed on challenges facing Canadian corporations, how to build good corporate culture, and how to get jobs.

Canada’s productivity today is 16% less than that of the U.S., whereas it was almost equal in 1986, said Terry Stuart, the chief innovation officer at Deloitte Canada, referring to a recent study by Deloitte Canada that suggests that Canadian innovation and productivity has been declining in recent years.

“It is fundamental to change that trajectory, or we will be the first generation where my kids will have a worse quality of life than what our family has had,” said Stuart, who urged students to build companies for long-term sustainability. “My hope for all of you is that you create companies and that you build them to last and grow them into global dominant organizations, and not to do an IPO, make some money, call it a day, and go skiing in Whistler.”

Students starting up companies should not be afraid of the big corporations in their sectors, but should focus on innovating faster than them to stay competitive, said Luigi Calabrese, the president of Frontier Networks He also emphasized the need to create a culture of fun in the workplace.

“Every day you’re being chased. And it’s exciting and you have got to love the pace, you’ve got to love coming to your house at seven o’clock at night, you’ve got to love the challenges and you’ve got to love competing,” said Calabrese. “And if you don’t, you can’t run a company.”

Students should find companies that fit their passion and bring that passion to the interview; they have to convince employers that they’re trustworthy, said Charles Atkinson, the vice-president of sales at Hewlett-Packard Canada. “You gotta want it more than the next person, and you gotta show it,” said Atkinson.

During the networking break, students talked to company representatives about employment opportunities, new products, and how to get involved.

The goal of the conference is to connect students who share passions and career goals with each other, to connect students with industry professionals, and to promote the Digital Enterprise Management program at UTM, said Monique Scicluna, the conference’s event planner and the DEM Society’s initiatives and output director.

“We really wanted to give students the skillset that helps them in the future, to listen to experts, and to be inspired to do something once they graduate,” said Scicluna.

Frontier Networks and Hewlett-Packard were title sponsors for the conference, alongside Adobe, Deloitte, Rogers TV, Yahoo! Canada, RIC Centre, and UTM.

This year, 270 registrants attended the annual two-day conference for a total of 400 attendees including the speakers, company representatives, and organizers. Last year’s conference had a turnout of 250.

On the second day of the conference, students competed in entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship challenges. The winners won monetary prizes and got a chance to make their ideas a reality.