Nfld. & Labrador

These students won a trophy for failing — and they're proud

Four international students at Memorial University say a trophy for a failed entrepreneurial idea has helped them develop other ideas they hope will keep them in St. John's.

They say the very best prize of all would be to stay in St. John's

Mehnaz Tabassum, Mahmudul Islam Shourov, Saif Ahmed and Adib Rahman were the inaugural winners of the Fail Tale Cup. It's awarded by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship in St. John's for a business idea that tanked. (Eddy Kennedy )

Four students at Memorial University say they've been working away enthusiastically at other projects after winning an award for a failed business idea.

The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship in St. John's named the first-ever winners of its Fail Tale Cup last summer.

The idea is to encourage students to expect lots of flops on the journey to create a solid venture.

"To succeed, there's going to be a lot of failures along the way," said Mehnaz Tabassum, an international student and one of the inaugural winners of the cup.

She said her team is working hard to get successful business projects off the ground because they hope to stay in St. John's after they graduate.

'There's a difference between being a failure and failing'

All four students are from Bangladesh. The failed idea that got their team's name engraved on the big shiny Fail Tale trophy was the notion of using a community-minded enterprise to push for free post-secondary education in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Members of Team Astha are the inaugural winners of the Fail Tale Cup, awarded by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship for a failed business idea. It comes with a prize of $1000. (Eddy Kennedy )

It was a concept that Tabassum's mother had been working on in Bangladesh.

However, when Tabassum shared the idea here, she said she received constructive, but negative, feedback.

Locals told her it was a complicated issue, with little hope of succeeding anytime soon. They also pointed out that well-established organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Students were already focused on reducing education costs.

So the four members of the team abandoned the idea.

Saif Ahmed, Mehnaz Tabassum, Adib Rahman and Mahmudul Islam Shourov are all from Bangladesh and all studying at Memorial University in St. John's. Here they're serving Bengali food at a 2017 event at the Holiday Inn in St. John's. (Submitted )

They found out about the inaugural Fail Tale Cup at the last minute last June, and decided to enter the competition. Winners of the cup get $1000.00 to explore other concepts.

Many people are afraid of failure- Florian Villaumé

Florian Villaumé is the director of the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship.

He said the goal was to establish a culture at the centre where failing is authorized and where it's understood that fresh ideas are always waiting. Plus there are lessons to be learned.

"Many people are afraid of failure," said Villaumé. "The thing is that there is a difference between being a failure and failing."

Other projects rolling out

The four Bangladeshi students are a tight-knit group who not only brainstorm together, but also live together.

The oldest, 23-year-old Saif Ahmed, is studying to be an engineer. The others are doing business administration. That includes his 21-year-old romantic partner Mehnaz Tabassum. Her brother, Adib Rahman, is just 18. Their cousin, Mahmudul Islam Shourov, is 20.

Mehnaz Tabassum, Saif Ahmed, Adib Rahman and Mahmudul Islam Shourov are studying at Memorial University. They hope to immigrate to Canada from Bangladesh after graduating, and stay in St. John's. (CBC )

After winning the cup, Tabassum said they decided to focus on a couple of projects.

One is their company, Astha Marketing and Communications, which does promotional work for other firms, but also branches out into the area of community-building.

Last summer, the four students organized an event in St. John's for International Youth Day, rounding up 30 volunteers. Many of them spent the day working at Empower's Take Two thrift store in St. John's.

The plan is to greatly expand the number of volunteers on this year's date in August.

"What we did was, with the failed idea, we managed to merge it into something that would succeed in the long run," said Shourov.

The four also received $750 in seed funding from the Feeding 9 Billion challenge, which gets teams of university students working on sustainable food supplies.

The team is not ready to give away all the details of that plan yet, but it involves being able to order local ingredients online, as well as to reduce food wastage.

Liking fish and chips more than curry

Tabassum said that she hopes all four can stay in St. John's after they graduate. They are hoping to secure start-up visas for entrepreneurs who create jobs.

All four juggle school, jobs and the group's business projects. They must study full-time as a condition of their student visas, and all four work part-time to help cover living expenses.

Adib Rahman at one of his favourite places to eat in St. John's — a fish and chips shop. He's an international student from Bangladesh studying at MUN. (CBC )

Tabassum's partner has come to prefer local fish and chips over curry. Her brother is dating a local woman. All four said they enjoy hiking, and the province's spectacular scenery.

She says she's never forgotten her second day in St. John's. She was just 17, trying to find a government office. She and Ahmed had just stepped off a city bus, and were lost.

Tassabum said a stranger stopped to help them find the building.

I would like to live in a community where we have these kind of people- Mehnaz Tabassum

"That person helped us to do shopping and then later dropped us at our home. So I would like to live in a community where we have these kind of people," said Tabassum.

It would be her idea of success. That, plus a family-run small business in St. John's.

The students plan to apply for permanent resident status in the near future.

As for this year's Fail Tale Cup, student entrepreneurs can submit applications to the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship during the first two weeks of June.


Ramona Dearing has worked as a reporter, host and producer at CBC's St. John's bureau.