I’m very sorry to write that Justin Policarpio passed away last night, having lived graciously and courageously with cancer.
Justin was a key community builder, entrepreneur and leader in the Hamilton startup community.
I first met Justin when he was running Women Entrepreneurship, an event series focused on celebrating female entrepreneurship, and working on his Campus Helper education company. He next co-founded and led edtech robotics startup Roboteurs as CEO.
His work with Women Entrepreneurship and his startups was already impressive enough, but where I feel he left a major positive mark on our community was his work with Spectrum / The Forge.
It wasn’t very long ago at all that people talked about a divide between the McMaster community and the Hamilton startup community. There was a “gap” in the pipeline between innovative McMaster students and the business community in Hamilton. There was also a “gap” in terms of support for student entrepreneurs on campus… there was no Velocity or Ryerson DMZ equivalent, and the existing efforts were more informal, sporadic, grassroots.
Justin was the manager of the new Spectrum program that started in 2014, intended to foster and encourage entrepreneurship on campus, and to act as a pipe into a formal incubator program (“The Forge”). This was a very important job, at a critical time. If the Spectrum program flopped, which was a real possibility given the state of things at the time, I don’t think we’d have the energy and number of startups that you see further up the pipeline today. Justin was the perfect person for this role, and he hit it out of the park. A slew of great events and regular programming, much of it done in partnership with others, made his work a complete success in terms of fostering entrepreneurship on campus and building a bridge from McMaster to the broader Hamilton community.
He was a great community builder in that way. He had an infectious positive energy, was wise beyond his years, kind and always eager to help other people, was a great listener, and knew how to make great things happen fast. I met with him before he took on the Spectrum role, and you could tell he really “got it” in terms of the bigger picture. He was really keen on partnering and working together with everyone. Beyond the programming he developed that supported startups, he would always find time to support various other initiatives happening around the city, whether it was a Startup Weekend or a new healthtech meetup group.
People from other communities have noted a collaborative spirit in Hamilton, they’ll say things like, “in Hamilton, you guys really work together compared to X”. Justin played a major role in creating that spirit and culture. His good work and good spirit will live on.
This is the second time I’ve written an article like this in the last year. I’m upset because Justin was so young. It’s really not fair at all. We should use the time we’ve got to make a positive impact the way Justin was able to do so.
And speaking of the time we’ve got, I was reading over some of Justin’s old posts, and I came across this video of life tips he gave to graduating McMaster students. I’ve posted the text of his life advice below, it feels like advice that’s relevant for everyone.
I’d like to take this time to talk about just that, time. It’s something we all have a limited amount of, we never get any more of, so in reality it’s our most valuable asset. That said, why would we ever want to waste it?
A lot of you are going to be graduating from McMaster or have graduated, and you’re starting to think, “you know, what do I spend my time on? Do my masters, my PhD? Do I get a job or travel the world?”.
And in reality you got to do whatever you want to do because it’s something that you want to do, and not something that you feel like you ought to do. And you’re going to get a lot of pressures from your friends, your family, your parents and society as a whole.
I look at the time I spend on my stuff, on my startup company, on this new initiative at McMaster that I’m spearheading called Spectrum for McMaster entrepreneurs and startups. I look at the countless hours I put into this stuff, and you know what? I love it.
It’s time that I feel is well spent because it literally makes me happy, and I see all the value I get out of it. So when I think about the time I spent I think of three main things, and I guess these can be my two minute tips for you.
One is have no regrets. Have no regrets on the time that you’re spending on the things that you want to do.
Two, you know, in a nutshell: be fearless. You’re going to come across a lot of obstacles, not just in your school, and not just in work, but also in life. And they’re going to hit you, but you’re going to have to get through them. So be fearless, be strong.
And three, you really just have to start. You have to start doing what you want to do, and that said you also have to finish it and get it done.