Twenty minutes before doors opened, dozens of students lined in the halls, waiting anxiously outside TwelvEighty.

Inside, a pair of entrepreneurs were on hand to offer financial success advice. The first was Kevin Cochran, founder of enRICHment Academy. The other was Bruce Croxon, co-founder of dating website Lavalife, and a former judge on CBC’s hit show, Dragon’s Den

Croxon was the headliner. Before his talk, he calmly reviewed his notes on stage while onlookers in the audience snapped pictures. Having served as a judge for three years on Dragon’s Den, Croxon is a celebrity. He looked laid back and unfazed by the crowd, wearing a black t-shirt, dress pants, topped off by his signature greying curls.

Cochran spoke first. He was an engaging speaker; a natural salesman peddling a slick message honed from years of repetition.

He talked at length about of the curriculum taught in his video-based program, enRICHed Academy, aimed at educating students on financial literacy. A derivative program has been adopted by McMaster University, entitled Spectrum. The goal of both programs is to help participants avoid making the mistakes Cochran made in his youth.

Cochran recounted a story of his teenage years, in which he eschewed post-secondary education in favor of a string of menial jobs. At the age of 20, working a dead-end job as a mechanic, Cochrane found himself over $20,000 in debt. Something had to give.

For Cochrane, that something was his decision to take his future into his own hands. He retold a story of how he, on a whim, took a week off work, and called every real estate agent in the Yellow Pages - all sixty - in hopes of an internship.

Cochrane was turned down by all but one, an agent named Richard Robbins, who took an interest in Cochrane’s energetic attitude. The two struck an agreement; Robbins would assign Cochrane an assignment every two weeks. If Cochrane completed the assignment on time, Robbins would continue to meet with him. If not, the internship was over.

The assignments were simple - read a book. The first was Think and Grow Rich. Two weeks later, it was Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

Another week went by before Robbins approached Cochrane with an opportunity - vice-president of sales for Robbins’ new start-up. Cochrane, a young mechanic armed with no relevant education or experience outside of reading three self-help books, was on the fast-track to becoming a vastly successful entrepreneur. After four years, Cochrane went from being $20,000 in debt to earning $250,000 per year.

Cochrane went on to share a few of his tips - be punctual, don’t give up, get a mentor - a complete guide can be found in his enRICHed Academy videos, or at McMaster Spectrum.

Croxon took the stage after Cochrane. He emphasized the importance of personality. In Croxon’s perspective, it’s about the people behind the idea, not the idea itself - the triumph of humanity over technology.

“Increasingly, it’s less and less about ideas,” Croxon said. “Because the difference today, versus when I started a business 30 years ago, is that things change so quickly. When you look at an idea, there’s a very good chance that the idea you’re investing in will turn into something very different when it grows.”

“It’s about screening and looking at the people, and looking at if these are the types of people who can change? Are those the kind of people you feel good about and working with?”

Croxon also gave his share of tips -  work hard, being a team player, being open to change - before wrapping up his talk with a few stories about his time at Dragon’s Den, including a friendly jab at fellow Dragon Kevin O’Leary, who is best known for his abrasive persona.

“The question I get asked most often [about O’Leary’s personality]. Yes, he is really that much of an asshole in real life. I’ve come clean on that. He’s not someone you would want to go fishing with.”

Photo Credit: Christopher Wahl/CBC

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