Looking for a job? If you’re a young student with an entrepreneurial spirit, why not hire yourself and start your own business?
Student entrepreneurs looking to get an early crack at starting their own businesses during the off season can get a helping hand – and $3,000 cash – from the provincial government through the Summer Company program, an initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services and affiliated with Waterloo Region’s Small Business Centre.
Through the program, full-time students from 15 to 29 years of age get advice, coaching, mentoring and support from the Small Business Centre and associated members of the local business community, to turn a fledgling business idea into a reality.
Students whose business plans are approved receive $1,500 upfront to help cover the costs of licensing fees, equipment, and advertising. They then have to work and “journalize” a minimum of 35 hours per week, take 12 hours of business training and attend biweekly mentoring sessions in which students are paired with mentors such as experienced lawyers, accountants and industry experts. If they successfully complete the program, they then receive an additional $1,500 at the end of the season. All the profits they raise are theirs to keep, of course.
Business training is provided by the centre and by external guest speakers as well.
“It gives them some hands-on business training and the chance to operate a business and actually taste what it’s like to be an entrepreneur,” said Rob Clement, small business advisor at the centre.
“The purpose is to give students who are interested in entrepreneurship a very safe venue to try out their ideas to get some experience in actually running the business.”
The program not only helps students learn the basics of running their own business, it also helps them get their foot in the door by exposing them to mentors from the community.
“I learned a bunch of stuff that I wouldn’t have learned just starting it up on my own,” said Wellesley’s Derek Brick, who enrolled in the program last year, and set up his own landscaping business. Though he cannot enroll in the program again, Brick’s business – Derek’s Lawncare – will be in action again this summer.
“The courses and that definitely helped me understand how to run a business. …You learned enough wide-scale stuff so you could learn how to open up another business,” said Brick, noting that he combined the $3,000 with his own savings to purchase equipment, including push mowers, a zero turn mower, a blower, a landscaping trailer, and a small car, which he lends his father in exchange for access to his pickup truck in the summer months.
Last year, Derek’s Lawncare looked after approximately 25 different properties in the area, and then took on a variety of landscaping jobs (including flower bed, stone and walkway work) in Wellesley and other areas including New Hamburg, St. Clements and Tavistock.
This summer, Brick is looking to grow the business even more, and eventually, he wants to study landscape architecture at the University of Guelph.
“It’s all what you want to make out of it,” he said.
Since its inception in 2000, the program has helped some 350 Ontario students start their own businesses each year. In the region, every summer anywhere from six to 18 students enroll in the program and start their own businesses – from lawncare and water sanitation to purse-making and computer work. Some businesses continue to grow well after the conclusion of the program.
In an environment where the creation of new jobs is paramount, such a program is vital, Clement said.
“It’s absolutely important to the province: this is sort of the crown jewel of the ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services programming, or at least their youth programming. It’s a cliché, but small businesses are the backbone of the economy; everybody knows that more and more youth are getting interested in being entrepreneurs and running their own business.”
The application deadline for the program is May 4, but applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible as the program is based on a first-come, first-served system. For more information, call the employment hotline at 1-800-387-5656 or visit www.sbe.gov.on.ca.