As Shopify’s COO, a Dragon on CBC Television’s Dragons’ Den: Next Gen Den and a board member of the not-for-profit Canadian tech-enabler C100, Harley Finkelstein has made remarkable progress in a very short period of time.

At 33, Finkelstein is already one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs. Although he owes a lot of that success to his innate curiosity and growth mindset, higher education has played an integral role in his prosperity. “I didn’t go to law school to become a lawyer. I didn’t do my MBA to become a business consultant,” says Finkelstein. “I did them both to become a better entrepreneur.”

Like many innovators, Finkelstein used university as a petri dish for entrepreneurship. He did what entrepreneurs do best: identify a problem and fix it. Finkelstein saw the poor-quality shirts that his university was distributing to students and knew he could do better, starting a clothing company that would eventually compete globally.

“I was building my T-shirt company as a student, and what I did was leverage my environment: my professors became my advisors; my classmates became my beta testers; the campus became my work space. So it [higher education] is absolutely valuable — not necessarily because of what you’re going to learn in the classroom, but because of all the things around it.”

Now is the time

The same T-shirt business that spawned Finkelstein’s entrepreneurial career in university was also one of the first companies to utilize Shopify’s online platform. This meant that Finkelstein already had in-depth knowledge of Shopify’s technology, and after a 2009 meeting with Tobias Lütke, the company’s CEO, he was hired as Shopify’s CPO. Although many factors were involved in Finkelstein’s hiring, his technological flair was undoubtedly one of them, and it’s something he feels is imperative to any modern-day entrepreneur. “We all have to be tech-savvy. It’s no longer a nice thing to have, it’s a must-have,” says Finkelstein.

To follow the Finkelstein route to success, one needs a healthy mix of creativity, technological acumen, higher education, and enough confidence in each to actually begin. “Starting a business 10 or 20 years ago was incredibly challenging. Nowadays, you don’t need resources, you need to be resourceful. You don’t need capital — you need to be creative. If you’re considering starting a business, just start. If it doesn’t work, the cost of failure is so close to zero that it doesn’t really matter.”