“Apparently I’m on posters on busses in Toronto and Vancouver so that’s something new and exciting,” laughs Jesse Robson, the 2012 winner of Start Something with Alesse, an initiative that provides guidance and financial support for ambitious young men and women to make their dreams a reality.

Now into its third year, the contest provides two successful applicants with a $5000 grant to help finance their projects. Contest winners are also paired with mentors to help guide them to achieve their goals. Runners up will each receive an iPad to help them develop their ideas.

Robson’s vision, the Centre for Arts Exchange, generated a lot of positive media attention after winning the award. “I found sort of the biggest part of the award is the publicity that was generated around my project and the excitement of all the people that were voting for me to win the contest,” she says. “When you are starting a new project it can be really difficult to make people take notice and to see that your project has value because there really a lot of community based projects and it’s hard to set them apart.”

Robson says that the voting process forced her to become more active online and become part of the online community. “It was great for me because I think I’m a bit of a shy person. I hadn’t been talking about my project a lot or telling many people about it or even in my personal life, I mean I didn’t have facebook or twitter or anything like that and all of a sudden, I was in this contest where I had to encourage people to vote for my idea online. [Start Something with Alesse] really forced me to become a part of the online community, which has been great to get our organization to have a prominent web presence. It was great as well to really try to connect with people and get my idea out there to try and get as many people excited about it and voting for it as possible,” Robson says.

She says that she was shocked to see how many people from her home province of Newfoundland were voting for her, such as her kindergarten teacher and even her piano teacher.

While pursuing her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at McGill University, Robson, a lifelong dancer, began to realize the importance of physical activity for preventing mental decline in older adults.

“I thought that it might be interesting and fun to try piloting a dance program for people of particularly high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Robson says. “I developed a dance program for older adults who were recovering from surgery in the local hospital and the idea for the Centre for Arts Exchange grew from there.”

Robson who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in physiotherapy at the University of Dalhousie has also founded a non-profit organization called “Happily Ever Active,” located in Halifax, N.C., which provides a variety of fun physical activities such as hip hop dancing to seniors living with chronic health conditions. She thanks her creative volunteer core for helping her run workshops based on their interests such as cartooning, photography, and even a junk orchestra.

She says that participating in Start Something with Alesse was a great opportunity for anyone wanting to further their projects. “I think that even if you don’t win, the publicity and the excitement generated around your project, if you’re a finalist is wonderful and really helpful.”

Robson concludes that anyone trying to pursue their dreams should be prepared to make a lot of mistakes and learn from the experiences. She also urges young entrepreneurs to “be creative and connect different parts of your life. I never thought that dance would be in any way connected to neuroscience but its turns out that I was wrong. Focus on building connections within the local community and generate as much of their support and interest as possible. Try to find people who share your interests and your passions and see how they might be able to join you as a partner or supporter and help your project grow.”

Entries will be accepted until Oct. 31 at 11:59:59 p.m. and are judged based on the criteria listed in the official Rules and Regulations located at <www.startsomethingwithalesse.ca>.

The six finalists’ projects will be posted online starting Jan. 7, 2013. The two winners will be determined based on votes earned through online voting by the general public, from Jan. 7, 2013 until Feb. 17, 2013. Voting is limited to one vote per day.

More information and helpful tips and information from past winners can also be found at <www.facebook.com/startsomethingwithalesse>.

To learn more about Robson check out  <www.happilyeveractive.org>.

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