Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Stefanie Curtis, CEO at Pace Creative Group, graduated from the Sauder School of Business in 2006 during a period of recession. While studying at the University of British Columbia, she won many advertising competitions and loved being part of extracurriculars. However, upon completing her degree, she did find it difficult to get a job, partly because of the lack of opportunities and partly because employers were looking for people with more hands on experience. So, her and some fellow grads decided to take their future into their own hands and start their own marketing agency.

“I was young and naïve and made a lot of mistakes the first 9 years of my career. But the more mistakes you make, the more you will grow. Each mistake teaches you valuable information that will help you succeed in the future.”

Being Strategic

Strategy is her mantra when it comes to entrepreneurship; it is important to think and act strategically, have a plan and execute. She believes in doing things right the first time even if it may take a little longer and she implements this mindset when choosing her potential clients.

She has started two prior marketing agencies before creating her current company: Pace Creative Group. Pace Creative is a strategic marketing agency specializing in content and digital marketing for B2B. The agency works mainly with Biotech, Fintech, Energy, Education and Manufacturing companies. While starting her companies, Stefanie learned that it is essential to know two things: your strengths and your weaknesses. It is important to identify what you are good at early on and capitalize on it. On the flip side, it is also important to discover where you may need support.

“As an entrepreneur, you can’t do it all, it’s necessary to identify your gaps and then hire experts to fill those gaps. It's important to stay humble and admit when you can’t do something and get help, this will make you stronger in the long run.”

5 tips for pitching

1. Format

When it comes to pitching a business or business idea, Stefanie does not follow trends, she follows best practices. Her first piece of advice is to keep it short: around 10-15 slides and up to 20 minutes.

2. Flow

Her second piece of advice is to start your pitch by identifying a specific pain point or problem that you are solving. Despite this being extremely important to address, she has found that it is often forgotten or overlooked.

3. Market Research

Her last piece of advice and arguably her most important: do your research! She has often found that people think they have a unique idea but they don’t. This is a result of not having done enough market research to understand their global competitors. There is no problem with having competitors, but it is essential that you understand how your vision is different and how your idea adds value to your target audience(s); a value that has not been yet offered or addressed. The more research you do the better! You will be more prepared for answering potential questions and provide the best information in your pitch.

“When doing your homework [the research] you will find opportunities.”

4. Asking and Receiving Feedback

Stefanie explains it is important not to be afraid of failure or receiving negative feedback during your pitch. This is where you get the opportunity to learn and improve; the more feedback you receive the more you will learn and the better your company will be.

5. Learning from Mistakes

Keeping an open mind when it comes to setbacks will be a useful tool as there will be many bumps in the road on your journey to success. Even Stefanie herself, who has a very successful marketing agency, has had her fair share of failures and setbacks. She was open to sharing some examples of her past mistakes which include choosing the wrong business partners and neglecting to establish a clear company culture and set of values. She has learned that along with having a strong vision, developing a company’s culture with a set of values, focusing on keeping employees engaged, and keeping an open and positive working environment is key to running a prosperous company.

“Surrounding yourself with the right expertise, such as business partners, team members, mentors, coaches, consultants, a board of directors and investors helps with being successful. The entrepreneurs that figure this out early on will have the most success.”

  • UBC eProjects

Humaira started Locelle a mentorship platform for working women in tech two and a half years ago. She has two young daughters and as an ambitious working mom herself, she has realized the importance of finding like-minded women to connect with and share valuable experiences and knowledge. Her mentorship platform is for any woman who is looking for a mentor in the workplace that can provide help and advice for women who are aspiring to one day become leaders themselves.

“There are currently many programs for women in leadership but there isn’t much out there for women who want to get there - and that is a major challenge for women in the workplace.”

While generously offering her time to participate in eProjects’ CEO Speed Dating Event , Humaira found that one question from students really stood out to her: “I’ve been told that my first startup will fail, so why even try?”. The statement that “your first startup will most probably fail” is a very true one. Even successful entrepreneurs such as Humaira have experienced this as she had previously run her own marketing agency before Locelle. But she also questions what failure even is? It looks different to different people but the one common thing arising from failure is learning.

“Even if you think you will fail just look at that as a learning opportunity. There is no school and no person that can teach you the valuable experience you will learn from running your own company and failing at it. It’s like MBA on steroids”.

When asked what her most valuable piece of advice was Humaira explains the importance of knowing how to sell. If she could redo her experience starting Locelle, she would have built a more basic prototype and seen how customers responded first before building a more complicated website. She explained that when you do your customer discovery first, it provides numerous valuable insights such as who you should target if there is a strong market for your product and how to best position yourself. However, it is also important to be wary when conducting customer research as she states “don’t just ask your friends and family - they won’t tell you the truth”. Reaching out to people who you don’t know well in the community will provide unbiased opinions.

“Before you spend a lot of time, energy and money on trying to build something, first get out there and try to sell your idea. If you can’t sell, it won’t work.”

And lastly, who best to give advice on networking and finding your own mentor than Humaira herself? She states that when looking for a mentor or to the network you must be really intentional. It is important to identify 3 key factors: why you are looking to network, what your goals are from it, and why they should give YOU their time. It is essential to be respectful of their time and ensure you follow up with a thank you!

“Remember, don't try to reach out to everybody. Be intentional and you will likely hear back if you are.”

  • UBC eProjects

Stephanie is a first-generation college student, born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Growing up, she was the youngest in all her classes graduating from high school at the early age of 14! Although this may seem like an advantage, it actually led to some of the hardest challenges she has faced in her life. Most of her high school classmates were 3-4 years older than her, which represented a mindset gap. She suffered from bullying for most of her high school experience. Despite the difficulties, these years taught her invaluable lessons on how to be confident in her own skin, how to be a strong woman, how to always believe in her abilities and to never let anyone destroy her dreams.

She came to the United States 5 years ago because she had an interest in accounting and wanted to attend a good college. She applied to 6 universities and got rejected from all of them. She believes the reason why she got rejected was because she didn't speak English at the time. She looked at this failure as an opportunity to put in the effort to learn English by going to public libraries daily to teach herself English. This paid off as the next year she got admitted to her dream school!

However, getting into school was just the beginning of her journey. As she went through university, she began taking the time to do research and apply to her dream companies only to once again face rejection. History repeated itself as she persevered and finally got admitted to an amazing job.

“If there is something that I learned about rejection, it’s that from 1,000 doors that close, there will be 1 that will open. You only need 1 yes to change your life.”

Once at her new job, she soon realized that this was not enough to fulfill her. She discovered that her true passion was helping others develop their potential. This is how Max Up was born: a startup built to maximize people’s potential. Starting her own company wasn’t always a smooth ride. In the early stages, she received a lot of negative comments from people who she thought were going to support her. She chose not to let those things become an obstacle.

“You are the owner of your destiny and you get to write your own story. Start today and don't give up. Things will get harder as you progress, but that will only help you develop into a better you.”

When asked for any advice she has for students who are hoping to get good internships in these unprecedented times she responded with “Check out Max Up!”. They’ve created a spreadsheet with more than 250 recruiters, 50+ job posting, recruiting timelines per industry and much more. There is a misconception with the pandemic: companies are still hiring. Yes, they are doing it on a smaller scale, but they are still hiring! So keep connecting with those individuals on LinkedIn, attend virtual career fairs and conferences, and develop your personal brand by educating yourself with the workshops being offered by organizations on LinkedIn!

“Don't let rejection or failures define you. What defines you is who you are and what you stand for. This will help you in any area of your career, whether it is when applying for a job, or connecting with others.”