Janelle Hinds, a 2016 LaunchYU graduate known as the MobileAppQueen on Twitter, has always had a passion for making a difference. After co-founding the app Helping Hands, a platform to help students find suitable volunteer matches, she enrolled in AccelerateUP, a four-month accelerator program run by York University’s entrepreneurship unit, LaunchYU. The program supports young entrepreneurs as they build, launch, and scale their ventures.
What started out as a simple idea for an app grew into so much more and Hinds cites her participation in the program for her successes.
While AccelerateUP features workshops and tips to master skills such as the art of the pitch, students are also given regular opportunities to provide feedback to their peers. The program’s hands-on approach provided Hinds with the opportunity build real-life skills to help bring her business idea to life.
“I love the way the program was structured. We had pitch nights and the opportunity to get feedback from mentors and fellow students,” says Hinds. “There were lots of opportunities to get advice in life but there is so much value in learning to give advice. Learning to give advice is highly underrated.”
In addition to hands-on workshops and one-on-one mentorship, LaunchYU also provides an extensive support network, something that originally prompted Hinds to join the program. “I wanted the community,” Hinds explains. “Having peers that I could talk to and the opportunity to meet other social entrepreneurs was really beneficial. I learned that I loved being around other entrepreneurs.”
“I love the way the program was structured. […] Having peers that I could talk to and the opportunity to meet other social entrepreneurs was really beneficial.”– Janelle Hinds
The presence of other like-minded individuals helped Hinds build skills that will continue to support her throughout her life. “Not only do you learn skills, but you get the benefit of meeting and learning from other entrepreneurs who are at the same level as you or just a few steps ahead. It can help you avoid making mistakes,” she says.
LaunchYU’s unique program support for social enterprises changed Hinds’s way of thinking about her own business. “When I first started LaunchYU my focus was just on making an impact through technology,” she says. “Once I was in the program I was exposed to other advocates for social change which really expanded the company scope to truly make the impact my team envisioned.”
Her expanded viewpoint on her business model was something that certainly made a difference in the way that Hinds structured her business. Helping Hands has since expanded to provide other tools such as volunteer tracking and feedback and holds volunteer training workshops for minority youth, newcomers to Canada, and youth with disabilities. “Through the program, I learned that launching a business with a social mission, without relying only on donation and grants, is possible,” says Hinds.
Gaining a wider perspective on her business model wasn’t the only change that Hinds experienced. Since joining LaunchYU, Hinds notes an increase in confidence, which propelled her to many great achievements. As an avid lover of all things science and technology related, she has become a strong proponent of empowering young women and people of colour to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Notably, Hinds was given the unique opportunity to testify before the Status of Women Parliamentary Committee, as part of the Daughters of the Vote initiative which is dedicated to the equal representation of women in all areas of the Canadian political arena. She used this as an opportunity to bring the issue of women’s participation in non-traditional fields to the forefront.
“LaunchYU gave me confidence to speak to the Canadian government about social entrepreneurship on a public stage. I was able to discuss where they fit into current and future business models,” she explains.
The assistance that Hinds received from LaunchYU has truly been immeasurable. As a frequent student of entrepreneurship, Hinds was no stranger to other programs that supported individuals like her. “I took many traditional business and entrepreneurship classes before and, as a social enterprise, I was not supported in the way that LaunchYU supported my ideas,” she says.
“LaunchYU gave me confidence to speak to the Canadian government about social entrepreneurship on a public stage.”– Janelle Hinds
Hinds also benefited greatly from the advice and guidance she received while applying for the Youth Opportunities Fund (YOF) grant of which she successfully received $210K from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. While grant writing support was not something that she initially expected LaunchYU to assist with, Hinds says she was pleasantly surprised that she was able to communicate her vision effectively enough to win the grant.
Hinds continues to strengthen her network by keeping in touch with her former program peers. “I help them with their own grant applications. It’s very nice to know that we have this program support,” she says.
In addition to peer support LaunchYU offers a host of other resources for entrepreneurs like collaborative working space, legal advice and services, cloud and virtual infrastructure, access to maker spaces, and cash awards. In fact, while in the program Hinds received a $5,000 award to recognize the progress that she made with her startup and to help support its growth.
“Janelle is driven by her passion and it is amazing to see her growth and the growth of her company, Helping Hands. She was one of the smartest entrepreneurs in the cohort and she is well deserving of this award,” says LaunchYU Entrepreneurship Manager Nilay Goyal.
Hinds’ growth in the program and exemplary success continues to be recognized today. Most recently, she was selected as one of five Canadians to receive the Everyday Political Citizen award by Samara Canada, a non-profit that advocates for citizen engagement and recognizes how ordinary citizens can make a difference.
Chosen by a panel of judges which included renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood, Hinds was selected among more than 200 nominees across the country illustrating her continued drive to make a difference and think big when it comes to social change.
“Typically, when people look to others to make a difference in the community they look to politicians, activists, etc. I’m trying to make an impact through business. They don’t think of change makers as social entrepreneurs,” she explains.
While she is making way for a new way of thinking about social entrepreneurship, she is grateful to LaunchYU and all that it has brought her. “I owe a huge expansion in the scope of my social enterprise and my increasing role as a social advocate to the time I spent in LaunchYU,” says Hinds. “Having someone support you in your goals really helped me as a young entrepreneur.”
“I’m trying to make an impact through business. They don’t think of change makers as social entrepreneurs.”– Janelle Hinds
As a speaker at this year’s Women’s March in Toronto and one of Betakit’s top 40 Canadian Women in Tech worth Following, Janelle is truly an inspiration for entrepreneurs, women, and change makers around the world. You can read more about Janelle’s impact here.
To learn more about York University’s entrepreneurship unit, LaunchYU, click here.
To learn more about Innovation York, watch the video.