Curtis Carmichael on his startup journey with Antler in Canada

Antler was founded on the belief that people innovating is the key to building a better future. In our content series—”It All Starts with People”—we spotlight the exceptional founders we have the privilege of partnering with around the world. Each story is a window into their passions, motivations, and vision—the reasons they are building and the positive dent they are aiming to make on the world.

This time we sat down with Curtis Carmichael aka CC who is an entrepreneur, educator, programmer, athlete, Forbes 30u30 in Education, and author, just to name a few titles that describe him. Today he shares with us a little bit of his story and the key milestones that led him to Antler.

klara-vitkova

Klára Vítková

In addition to her bachelor's degree from King’s College London, Klára has pursued her master's degree at WHU in Germany and the University of Toronto in Canada. During her studies, she gained experience in PE from King’s Investment Fund, the only student-led investment fund with real investments. Apart from that she is a skilled journalist with a focus on stock markets, VC, and startups. Klára is also a member of the board at Family Business Network where she supports more than 6,400 young business family members from 65 countries from around the world.

Klára is a skilled journalist with a passion for entrepreneurship and startups. She gained her experience at Forbes magazine and other economic publications in the Czech Republic and the UK where she focused on fiscal policy, economics, as well as startups and VC investments. She has a bachelor's degree in economics and finance from King's College London and is pursuing her MBA at WHU, Germany, and the University of Toronto.

First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?

I grew up in Scarborough, in the east suburbs of Toronto in a low-income community. My family moved here for the “Canadian dream” but the reality was very far from it. There are a lot of underfunded and overseen communities across Canada and I grew up in a tough neighborhood. I was one of the lucky ones to get into Queen’s University on a full academic and athletic scholarship. I was playing football and had a pretty good path into the pro career, and everyone knew I was set to go pro. Nonetheless, after my second concussion, I started thinking about what I actually wanted to achieve in life. Do I want to be an athlete and have short-term fame and an unknown future? Or do I want to do something bigger with long-term impact? So I quit. I sacrificed my pro-athlete track for a longer-term wider impact on society. I became a teacher.

I sacrificed my pro-athlete track for a longer-term wider impact on society. I became a teacher.

I soon realized that being a teacher is not exactly the right path either because I wanted to teach about entrepreneurship to young kids. However, as it is very cross-disciplinary, and schools require each subject to have a dedicated period in the timetable, it was impossible to add entrepreneurship as another subject. Entrepreneurship was something that schools would not be able to offer to young kids because there were not enough resources, practical expertise, and professional development training. So I shifted from being a teacher to actually consulting schools and principals to run their schools and to help teachers teach through STEAM education and entrepreneurship. I then founded Source Code Academy Canada with the aim of teaching really young kids about entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and technological innovation feeding into the future of work and the digital economy.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, traditional schooling is not adequately designed to nourish the right skill set required for success. Especially when you’re 12 years old and actively looking for guidance and mentorship from entrepreneurs who have done it.

Why is now the right time for you to build your own venture?

There is a real problem in the market: the global teacher shortage is massive and there’s a huge burnout rate for teachers. They are paid for 40 hours per week and work over 55+ hours per week. Where do they get these hours?! They work after school, over lunch, on weekends, they work in the summer - it is a myth that teachers get summers off… So, I knew that there’s this huge problem that needs to be solved and I decided to find the solution. It’s still forming, but that’s why I am here.

Why did you decide to build your company with Antler?

I knew I wanted to build a venture so I explored the whole ecosystem, not only in the US or Canada but around the world. I talked to my friends who joined different programs around the world for entrepreneurs. I was looking for a day zero investor who would give me not only capital but also expertise, access to the network, and most importantly potentially a co-founder. I was looking for a place where I could meet the brightest minds that I could work with on my idea. And that was Antler.

And because I come from Toronto and my roots are here it made sense to me to join the cohort in Toronto rather than elsewhere.

What surprised you the most so far after the first three weeks of the program?

I was surprised by how much I connected with people and how fast you can actually get to know them. I came in thinking there is no way that you can know these people so well after such a short time to build a company with them. I was wrong, we connected on a deeper level and got to know each other very well after only two weeks. You just need to trust the structure and the process.

What was the biggest challenge so far?

For me, it is around the idea and developing the moat. It is critical to create a deep moat - some kind of unique differentiating factor or hard-to-replicate practice that enables effective protection against threats from competitors. For me, it is around the idea and developing the moat. It is critical to create a deep moat - some kind of unique differentiating factor or hard-to-replicate practice that enables effective protection against threats from competitors.

It is critical to create a deep moat - some kind of unique differentiating factor or hard-to-replicate practice that enables effective protection against threats from competitors.

Secondly, AI is hot right now and it is changing the world and can make our lives easier if we know how to use it. So, what I am focusing on right now is to develop moat, with AI but not solely based on AI. We need to make sure that we are indeed having an ethical and responsible solution that is solving the problem and it may be based on AI but we should not just have an AI solution for the sake of having it.

What would you advise people who are thinking about joining Antler?

It can be a very intense environment, especially in the first two weeks. Be more open, relaxed. Don’t be afraid to talk to people from different industries even if you think you don’t want to build in that industry. A few weeks down the road you might change your mind, disvalidate your idea.

So, don’t be too married to your idea, not even industry. Even if you’re convicted. You will limit yourself from all the possibilities that are out there. You're a lot more receptive to what you’re hearing and the insights that are coming if you’re not married to your idea. I came here saying I’m not married but engaged to my industry.

Don't be married to your idea, not even industry. You will limit yourself from all the possibilities that are out there.

What or who inspired you to build your own startup?

A friend of mine, William Kamkwamba from Malawi, his story is actually on Netflix and there are best-selling books about him. He’s the boy who harnessed the wind, and he had a huge impact on me in becoming a teacher and social entrepreneur.

In a nutshell, he built a wind turbine to power his family’s village in Wimbe, Malawi to save them from famine. He used only blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in the local scrapyard. He was 13 years old and saw a problem. He built it with very limited resources. That inspired me to create massive change, it showed me what is possible with an idea, limited resources, and the power of deeply understanding who you are building for.

He was 13 years old and saw a problem. He sold it with very limited resources. That inspired me to create massive change, it showed me what is possible even with limited resources.

Where do you see yourself in one year?

With a cofounder, with a pre-seed investment from Antler, and increased and democratized access to education for everyone.

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