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Simple initiative connects students and professionals over a cup of coffee

Photo by Sean Penhall

For many students, a coffee date is a way to chat with friends. But Ten Thousand Coffees, a new initiative out of Toronto, is turning coffee dates into a method for young people to connect with some bigwig Canadian professionals. The program is dedicated to linking students and recent graduates with leaders and industry professionals so they can meet up and chat over coffee.

“We realized that CEOs were going for coffee with people, but they were going for coffee with their friends’ kids and people they already knew,” says Jessica Dell’Aquila, director of media relations for Ten Thousand Coffees. “What we’re really trying to do is show that young people will take opportunities when the opportunity is there.”

By logging on to the Ten Thousand Coffees website, individuals are able to browse a selection of experts and send them a message pitching why they should meet for coffee. While a face-to-face meet-up is encouraged, Skype, email, and phone conversations are other options to connect both parties.

Ten Thousand Coffees launched in January 2014 with 300 experts, including Rick Mercer, Justin Trudeau, and Chris Hadfield already on board. Originally, it was asked that these experts have a coffee date every couple of months, but Dell’Aquila said many have gone for eight or nine coffees in a span of just three months. She has found the experts learn just as much from the students.

“It gives the experts a chance to have a conversation with somebody from a different generation and get insight from them on what they think their company could do to reach their demographic,” she said.

Ten Thousand Coffees has made its way to the University of Ottawa. Third-year global studies student Maddy Orr had a virtual coffee date with Chrissy Benz, the competitions coordinator for Volleyball Canada, and has two more already planned.

“It was a bit of a strange experience at first, talking to someone over the phone whom I’d never met before,” says Orr. “But we ended up having a really great half-hour conversation about working in the sports industry, travelling, and discovering interests and skills that we didn’t expect to have.”

She advises students who have booked coffee dates to attend fully prepared. “If people are planning on taking part in this initiative, which I highly encourage,” she says, “I’d advise people to consider their questions carefully before they meet the expert and to drop the expectations at the door.”

Dell’Aquila notes that it’s important to follow up after your coffee date, especially if an expert gave you some helpful advice.

“If they say you should really read this article or really read this book, make sure you include that in your follow-up,” she said. “Show you’re actually taking the advice that they gave you and you’re building your core from that.”