Tim Gourlay knows that success is never guaranteed, but with the University of Alberta Golden Bears volleyball team, he always found it attainable.
The same holds true now for the two-time Canadian university champion in his current career as an entrepreneur.
“The Bears are always known for success, and even if it isn’t a national championship, (it’s) being a stand-up team and a well-respected team,” said Gourlay.
“Being part of that process and part of that legacy really helped my attitude and confidence going into the entrepreneurship world, of wanting to leave a good impression, make the right decisions and make success the only option.”
Gourlay has successfully transferred from the classroom to the business world, and is an example of how services at the university can help students facilitate their entrepreneurial aspirations.
After earning a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Alberta, Gourlay runs Fitset
, which provides members with access to thousands of classes in Edmonton’s best studios and gyms.
Gourlay launched Fitset with assistance from eHUB
, the university’s Entrepreneur Centre located at Hub Mall, which offers resources, networking opportunities, and funding to help those who are new to the entrepreneur community in order to turn ideas into projects, initiatives and ventures.
Now as Fitset flourishes, Gourlay is taking advantage of the university’s Venture Mentoring Service
(VMS), which serves to develop, inspire and empower alumni entrepreneurs by connecting them with successful business leaders in the Edmonton community.
“When I had started the business I periodically popped into eHUB and I always left with something really valuable to the business,” says Gourlay, who through eHUB was arranged an interview on CTV news, connected with a studio and found a designer that built his first business website. “Every time I went there I left super-pumped because I took something away and it was really helpful.
“It was through eHUB that I learned about VMS, and the timing was right. Just when I was starting to find some (success) I realized there was a whole bunch of stuff that I have no idea how to do, and I got into the VMS and it’s been really helpful.”
Noreen Hoskins, the director of eHUB, can particularly relate to how Gourlay’s sports background informs his entrepreneurial approach. Once a competitive basketball player, she’s now more like a coach who fosters teamwork at the university’s Entrepreneur Centre.
“We’re really making great efforts to make sure that anybody who’s a member of eHUB is just not there to have a desk and a chair - they’re participating,” says Hoskins, who has 20-plus years of experience in small business development. “We’re building that strong community because it’s really important to feel like you’re being supported.”
VMS has a roster of over 50 alumni that come from an array of professions, such as law and engineering. Each student is assigned three or four mentors who function in a role that will be quite familiar to athletes.
“It is more of a coaching style that we advocate, where we ask questions of the entrepreneur and walk them through their issues and problems, we’re focused on the entrepreneur, not the venture” says Arden Tse, VMS manager. “It’s developing strong entrepreneurial minds and skills like problem-solving, exploring optionality, how to raise money, how to build a team, how to plan for growth. Those can apply to any industry and any business.”
At eHUB and VMS, students benefit from collaboration, not only with each other, but the University of Alberta and the Edmonton entrepreneurial community as a whole.
“That’s a nice network for them to have,” Tse says. “Our community has events beyond the mentoring to connect entrepreneurs with each other, because then they can help each other and lean on each other.”
Athletes, it seems, are naturals when it comes to entrepreneurship. Whether it was with her boutique-marketing firm in Victoria or pet treat manufacturing firm in Canmore, Hoskins treated obstacles in the business world like opposing defences on the hardwood.
“A lot of times entrepreneurship is making decisions without having all the information, so it’s very similar to basketball,” Hoskins says. “You have to be quite strategic and you have to make instant decisions when you’re on the court ... having that same confidence level that you would on the basketball court to actually say, ‘I don’t have all the information but i need to move forward, I need to progress, so I’m going to make a decision,’ and being able to be ok with whatever that outcome is and just know that you’ll be able to handle whatever happens post-decision.”
Likewise, Tse sees big similarities between sport and business in one’s drive to succeed and ability to overcome defeat.
“As an entrepreneur you will face a challenge every day,” he says. “You’re not always going to win but you have to have your eyes on the prize and know how to move forward. To me, that’s what entrepreneurship’s about. It’s about having something you want to bring into the world - you have control over how that happens, and no matter what it takes and how many challenges you face and how many times you get knocked down, you find it in yourself to get back up and keep on moving forward to bring your vision to life.”
Gourlay’s vision continues to expand: Fitset recently introduced a corporate fitness solution that provides access to a company’s entire staff. Meanwhile the individual pass has become quite popular, allowing members to try a new workout every day or take multiple classes at partner studios. Yoga, spinning, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, and dance are just some of the many available choices.
“Fitset is like the Netflix of fitness options,” Gourlay explains. “In essence it’s like a multi-studio fitness pass.”
Even back to when he first graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Commerce, Gourlay has always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
He just needed to go for it.
“When you put something into motion, things will happen that you had no idea (were possible) and you couldn’t see coming,” Tse says.