Dana Stephenson
Credit: Lindsay Siu

Dana Stephenson, 29

Co-founder and director of academic partnerships
RIIPEN

Life Story: Growing up in Vancouver, Dana Stephenson helped out with his dad’s car-repair business, but he moved on from transmissions to tech. Today he runs a web-based service that brings industry, educators and post-secondary students together for experiential learning opportunities in the U.S. and Canada. Stephenson and Riipen co-founder Dave Savory conceptualized the business when, as part of a UVic entrepreneurship project, they discovered that many of their classmates were struggling to join the job market. “We started to think, ‘What more could we do to prepare ourselves for the transition to the workforce?’” Stephenson says. “What it came down to for us was more real-world experience.”

After graduating with a BComm in 2012, Stephenson worked as a sales manager for a roofing company while helping run Vancouver-based Riipen on the side. The platform, which struggled with an initial strategy of enrolling businesses, lost both of its software developers after the first year.

Stephenson and Savory quit their day jobs and began targeting post-secondary institutions, where priorities are shifting to experiential learning. “We realized if we use professors as the catalyst and the school’s name to attract the companies, all of a sudden it would work,” Stephenson recalls.

Once Riipen had signed up 16 schools, it raised $180,000 in seed capital on FrontFundr, a Vancouver equity crowdfunding platform, and rehired a developer. In 2017, the company secured $1.8 million in its first financing round. Now working with 150 post-secondary institutions across North America, it plans to expand to Australia, New Zealand and Europe this year.

The Bottom Line: Academic institutions pay Riipen $25,000 to $100,000 annually, based on student enrollment. Industry partners are charged $500 to $1,000 per project, or they can buy a package for $15,000 to $50,000. Riipen generates 75 percent of its revenue from industry partners and the rest from schools. Revenue climbed from $100,000 in 2016 to $740,000 last year, and Stephenson reckons it will reach $2 million in 2018.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Leadership is not about how people experience you; it is about how people experience themselves in your presence.

Your favourite book is…
The book that had the biggest impact on my journey as an entrepreneur is everyone's favourite, The Lean Startup.

Who is your role model or mentor?
My mentor is Mohamed Mansour, chair of Riipen’s board and lead investor.

What’s your biggest regret?
Not taking the leap of faith and quitting my day job to jump into Riipen full-time earlier. When you’re young, it’s easy to succumb to the pressures of society to get a stable job when, in fact, this is the best time to take risks and explore opportunities that may not be as easily available to you when you are older and have many more responsibilities.

A little-known fact about you is…
I cry in movies...a lot.

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