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Jocelyne Murphy on how the tech ecosystem can help young Canadian founders feel less alone

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“I think we’re looking for the industry veterans to lean in, be mentors, and show up for us.”

Jocelyne Murphy “graduated into a world that was very much in a turbulent state.”

The 21-year-old is passionate about building community. Now, as a systems design and engineering student at the University of Waterloo, she spends much of her time fostering spaces where people of her generation can feel seen and heard. 

“The cost of living is really getting in the way of the opportunity to innovate.”

Jocelyne Murphy

As a host for Socratica, Murphy coordinates weekly co-working sessions that bring people together to show off their creations, from music to coding—as long as it’s not related to school or work. Murphy also recently started a company called Wygo, a platform that sells tickets to mystery events aiming to help people connect in the real world and address what she calls the loneliness epidemic. 

As likely one of the youngest founders in the room, Murphy addressed 500 leaders from Canadian tech, including numerous CEOs, VCs, and key organizers at the BetaKit Town Hall last week. 

She spoke about the lack of meaningful mentorship for young entrepreneurs, frustrating hiring practices, and how the cost of living gets in the way of innovation. 

The following Q&A contains Murphy’s responses from the vantage points panel at the BetaKit Town Hall and a separate interview. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What challenges and opportunities are you seeing at this moment in Canadian tech?

The biggest is that my cohort of kids was coming into the workforce and [higher] education straight out of the pandemic, so I graduated into a world that was very much in a turbulent state.

I think people of all generations optimized for what helped them personally stay afloat, and the consequence is that it’s been quite lonely for young people. We’ve had to be quite self-reliant as we navigate the beginning of our careers, whether that means teaching each other things or using YouTube for classes. Many of my internships through the University of Waterloo would either be me working from my bedroom or going into an office that was largely empty because most people were working remotely, since that was best for them. 

While I can’t judge anybody for doing what’s personally best for them, it’s led to a lack of mentorship and a lack of this intergenerational passing of knowledge between veterans of the industry and the younger people trying to learn. 

As a result, we’ve started to build these self-reliant communities around providing ourselves the opportunities that we haven’t really been able to find. Socratica is a great example of that: at school, we have a very tightly networked cohort of kids who rarely interact with their professors. 

I think we’re looking for the industry veterans to lean in, be mentors, and show up for us. Although we can be self-reliant, we can be so much stronger if we have the support of existing entrepreneurs. If we’re struggling and you’re stepping in to advocate for us, that goes a really long way and makes us feel like we’re a part of Canada instead of just a Zoom call that happens to be located north of the border.

What do you think needs to happen? 

I have four pretty specific points.

I think the government really nailed it, housing is the most important thing young Canadians need support with right now. I know many young entrepreneurs who would love to go all-in on whatever they’re working on, but they have zero runway because the cost of living is too high. 

I moved to a different province to save money while I was figuring out what to do, and I’m now living in a two-bedroom-turned-three-bedroom apartment in Toronto (with roommates); sleeping in a living room so that I can work on my entrepreneurial pursuits. While I’m very fortunate to be supported by scholarships and my parents, my friends and peers aren’t as fortunate. The cost of living is really getting in the way of the opportunity to innovate.  

Secondly, I think companies need to rebuild trust. The reality of looking for a job as a young person right now is spending six months being recruited for a three-month internship, which you potentially might be laid off from before you even have a start date. 

RELATED: Watch: Vantage points panel with Jocelyne Murphy and three other Canadian tech founders

I’ve seen this happen time and time again. I’ve seen people get laid off three times in a year. It’s resulting in a workforce that really doesn’t feel like they have stable ground underneath them. That makes it really hard for us to give it our all at work and focus.

For incubators and accelerators, I think we need to open the doors. Fees and applications do two things: exclude the people who need them most, and exclude the people who can contribute most. 

If we were to open the doors and have these as watering hole gathering places, people who are really struggling right now could find themselves in the same room as each other. That could actually turn into a place where people are highly innovative.

Finally, for individuals and executives, our eyes are on you. We really model ourselves after you as young people in the tech industry, and the biggest message we’ve been getting for the past two weeks on LinkedIn and Twitter [now known as X] is “If you’re smart and you’re Canadian, you should leave.”

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Although you’re advocating in our best interests, it does feel pretty counterproductive to the community building I’ve been trying to organize, because deciding to stay is about where your friends are. Something that I’ve seen with Socratica is that if we believe that we’re in the best place to be, that will become true. 

I’d love to see Canadian leaders bring back that sense of pride, reminding us why you chose to stay in Canada, even if you’ve gone to the US and come back. Talk about the reasons that you chose to stay in Canada and why you’re proud to be Canadian. Advocate on our behalf when you feel that something needs to be said from a policy standpoint, but be very aware of the place you’re doing that advocacy from. 

So much of the current tech conversation is focused on money: where it’s going and who’s getting it. What’s your focus?

The biggest thing that I’m focusing on is this: you have to build the base of the pyramid before you can reach higher heights. 

After the past couple of years isolated young people, we need to instill confidence in them right now. That comes from the community pieces like New Demos or Socratica. They’re providing venues for people to pitch their ideas before they’re venture-backed companies. 

The scariest pitch I’ve ever done for my company was to a room of 20 people at a Socratica session and I was hooked. My hands were sweaty and I was shaking, but that one opportunity to share and receive feedback for what I was working on, even in a small environment, really enabled me to take bigger and bigger leaps and receive more and more support for the company that I’m building.

We need to be believing in people and trusting them before they self-identify as entrepreneurs. If we want to create an entire ecosystem of people who are innovating in Canada, we have to focus on widening the base of that pyramid by believing in the countless young people who are currently at home unsure about what to do with their future. They’re ready to do something, we just need to tell them that they can. 

Feature image courtesy Mauricio J Calero for BetaKit.

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