The Ups and Downs of a Student Entrepreneur
As a student at McGill University in the early 90s, Eric Boyko discovered a career path he had never knew existed: business owner. As a child, he wanted to become a meteorologist, later on, during his business studies at McGill, he discovered his passion for building businesses.
The Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship had just been launched at McGill (1988) and had just begun building entrepreneurship curriculum and offered mentorship opportunities. Eric was one of the first students who benefited from the Centre’s resources, notably by finding a mentor in its late patron, John Dobson. As a strong advocate of entrepreneurship, Mr. Dobson invested his time in educating the next generation of entrepreneurs, and Eric became one of his very first mentees.
Following his first entrepreneurship class with Professor Johnson and putting together a business plan that received an A+, Eric was encouraged by his professor to launch the company while he was in his third-year of study. Campus Gourmet was born, selling pre-cooked meals to students and staff from a restaurant location on Sherbrooke across from Roddick Gates.
Following a successful launch and a rapid downfall due to some unforeseen issues, Eric and his business partner lost their initial investment of $40,000. Undeterred by the setback, they pivoted, turning their prime location restaurant into a pub that sold muffins in the morning and beer at night. While he had never set out to become a pub owner on Sherbrooke Street, this bump in the road taught Eric that pivoting from your original vision and flexibility are key skills to be a successful entrepreneur.
With his experience, support and knowledge, Eric went on to start the Universal Fundraising Group right out of University. He saw the opportunity to turn the fundraising business from selling chocolate bars into a more viable, forward-looking online venture. This new focus turned the industry around, allowing him and his partner to sell the company for a sizeable profit to Reader’s Digest, where he worked for over 6 years in New York.
After looking for a new venture to invest and build upon, Eric and his partner, Alexandre Taillefer, purchased the karaoke company Soundchoice in 2007. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, they turned the company into the world leading streaming service Stingray, now present in 152 countries. Eric serves as the CEO of this world-leading music service provider.
Closing the loop with Dobson entrepreneurs in the making
While his road to success hasn’t been clear of obstacles, Eric mentions persistence and flexibility as being critical to his success.
“When you start a business, you have to be persistent. People invest in the entrepreneur, not in the project.” notes Eric, who only a few years ago, didn’t see as many students wishing to take the leap. “I am happy to see that 2021 students are more entrepreneurship driven, when you are young, you can take more risk."
Eric urges students and young graduates to consider the advantages of starting a business while they have less financial and personal responsibilities holding them back. He mentions that now is also a good time, as current events have created a unique environment for a young business to thrive and that financing is easier to come by in Montreal than it used to be.
“I am proud of Montreal and the entrepreneurship ecosystem” notes Eric, who mentioned other successful startups such as Lightspeed and Nuvei.
Keeping fond memories of his time at McGill and his experience as a mentee of the late John Dobson, his success resonated with the founders taking part in this year’s McGill Dobson Cup, giving them a glimpse of the road ahead… and some sound advice to weather the roller-coaster ride ahead of them.