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Fourth-year finance student Cathy Han is one of a select number of undergrads from across Canada participating in The Next 36: Canada’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Initiative, an elite business program which aims to launch the careers of the country’s most promising and innovative students.

Han competed against more than 1,300 undergrads from across Canada in a rigorous national selection process to earn one of the 36 coveted spots. The program runs from December 2010 to August 2011 and gives student hands-on experience launching new product ventures.

“I’m looking forward to the real experience of executing a business and learning all the aspects of that – from building to competing,” says Han. “It will also be a great opportunity to gain knowledge from some of the best business minds and entrepreneurs in the country.”

Each of the 36 students receives a $25,000 scholarship that covers the entire cost of participating in The Next 36 program and has been grouped into teams of four or five. Over the course of eight months, the teams – each of which has been provided with $50,000 seed capital – must build a viable business by inventing, launching and selling a new product or service focused on the mobile communications environment.

The students will work with their teams remotely until the end of the current academic year, after which, they will live together at the University of Toronto’s Massey College to complete the remaining 16 weeks of the program. At the end of August, the teams’ businesses will be judged by a panel of investors to determine which group has developed the most successful venture.

Han says her team has gelled quickly, and that their project is well underway. “We’re excited to be meeting with Sean Wise [industry advisor to popular TV show Dragon’s Den] to get his feedback on our business idea so far.”

The Next 36 also gives students the opportunity to build networks, not only with the other promising peers in the program, but also with business leaders, who will provide personal mentorship throughout the process. In addition to Wise, mentors include Tom Hodgson, special advisor to the Bank of Canada; Reza Satchu, managing partner, Guildwood Capital Management; Frances Shen, founder and CEO, Aastra Technologies; Patrick Meneley, vice-chair, investment banking, TD Securities; and Sam Duboc, founder and CEO, Edgestone Capital Partners.

Students will also gain from in-class instruction from some of the nation’s top business minds and attend workshops on finance, negotiation, sales, marketing and project management for software development.

“When the program is done, I’m excited to come back to UBC and encourage the next group of entrepreneurial Sauder students,” enthuses Han.