Credit: Erich Saide

Frankie Cena, 28

Founding director, Fostering Debate Talent

Life Story: “My mom always says that instead of grabbing a hockey stick, I grabbed a microphone,” jokes Frankie Cena, who grew up in Burnaby. In Grade 7, Cena entered a mandatory public speaking competition and wound up snagging second place in the city. From there, he joined his high school’s debate team; when not working on his own skills, he volunteered as a coach. Cena remembers being shocked the first time a parent offered payment. “In the moment, I thought, How much do I charge? I was doing it for free, and for fun.”

For Cena, who lived in co-op housing with his mother and sister, hiring a coach for an extracurricular activity wasn’t an option. Even post-secondary education seemed out of reach until he earned a full-ride scholarship to UBC Sauder School of Business, graduating with a BComm in 2013. Cena began coaching for local schools and tutoring private clients while he completed his degree. He launched Fostering Debate Talent (FDT), the first public speaking and debate school of its kind in the country, in Burnaby in 2017.

Bottom Line: FDT, which opened a second location in West Vancouver, now has five permanent employees (including his mom and sister), 10 to 20 contracted instructors and some 300 students. The company hit $1 million in revenue last year. Most important to Cena, FDT offers full scholarships and works with families to ensure that its program is accessible: “We currently have a policy where we don’t turn anyone away.”

In the wake of COVID-19, FDT has converted to an online academy, retaining 95 percent of its previous students and enrolling 20 more. Cena has also launched a free nationwide public speaking contest that awards $10,000 in cash scholarships and donates $5 to Food Banks Canada for every entry.