Exploring opportunities yields unexpected career path

October 06, 2016

When Gursher Sidhu joined SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, he never dreamed he would be graduating this month as an up-and-coming entrepreneur.   

But Sidhu’s successful foray into business proves that exploring new opportunities can lead to extraordinary things.

Sidhu was one of 38 students across Canada selected for the 2015 cohort of The Next 36, an annual search of Canada’s best and brightest student entrepreneurs.

During the eight-month program, young entrepreneurs build a business from scratch while receiving support that includes mentorship and up to $50,000 from venture capitalists.

Sidhu’s startup story began when he joined Technology Entrepreneurship @ SFU, a business accelerator program for students co-founded by Sarah Lubik, SFU’s director of entrepreneurship.

Spotting Sidhu’s leadership potential, Lubik recommended him for The Next 36, a decision she calls a “no brainer,” citing his outstanding “technical skills, ambition and work ethic.”

The Next 36 judges agreed.

In January 2015, at the selection session held in Toronto, Sidhu earned a coveted spot in the program from among 80 finalists in a pool of 630 applicants.

“You have one night to come up with an idea and a business plan to present to a panel of judges in the morning,” says Sidhu. “Then, you have two weeks to cement the idea.”

Sidhu’s team settled on a concept close to home.

“We discovered that three team members had family in the trucking industry,” says Sidhu. “Vancouver is also perfectly located as a logistics hub: more than 50 per cent of freight comes through the city’s port.”

The start-up company, named Switchboard, is a paperwork-management software platform that allows trucking companies to get paid faster.

“They can use that time and capital to grow their business, instead of filing paperwork,” says Sidhu.  

In 2015, the team made the finals in the Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition. Spurred by this success, and having secured additional seed funding from investors, the team launched Switchboard’s second version in September 2016.

“We want to expand the business across North America, and beyond,” says Sidhu, who also hopes to explore a career in consulting after graduation.

“Though my background is in engineering, The Next 36 exposed me to new skills on the business side, like project management and sales. I still want to keep trying new and different things.”