Small Business Centre helps students be their own boss

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Windsor Star/Alex Brockman

Eighteen local students spent their summers starting their own business, getting the chance to develop business skills, make some money and avoid the dreaded boring summer job.

Armed with a $1,500 start-up grant and mentoring services from Windsor’s Small Business Centre, these young entrepreneurs took the business world by storm, starting businesses as varied as their personalities.

On Saturday, they showed off their projects at the Downtown Windsor Farmer’s Market, earning another $1,500 grant from the provincial government for completing the Summer Company Program.

“Owning your own business is tough,” said Noah Walker, the owner of a company selling Triple Target, a body spray tackling foot fungus, preventing  lice and healing cuts.

“It was hectic, I thought it’d be easier than it actually was,” she said. “I enjoyed it though. I got a lot of help with mentoring and support. It’s been a good experience.”

Walker is going into Grade 12 at Tecumseh Vista high school. Her mom is a pharmacist and helped her develop a unique product. She admits things were tough initially, but sales picked up over the last few weeks.

“I was expecting it to be more successful than it actually was,” Walker said. “It took me a while to get my name out there and start marketing the product. Sales started rolling in August. July was mostly marketing and advertising.”

The program’s organizers said these types of first-hand learning experiences help young people get a chance to try out entrepreneurship while still having a safety net watching out for them.

“This is a great practical way to test out business,” said Sandra Vasquez, the youth entrepreneurship co-ordinator at the Small Business Centre, which is under the umbrella of the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation.

“It definitely changes their perspective, having to go out with their own money to buy something and work hard to sell a product,” Vasquez said. “There are a lot of practical life skills gained.”

Vasquez said traditional summer work is great but students often end up working for someone else. By having a chance to test the waters of entrepreneurship, they’ll know whether they want to keep going.

“We’re not discouraging them from continuing their schooling, going on to a master’s or a PhD degrees, this program just gives them something they can keep in the back of their minds,” Vasquez said.

She said the program’s been operating for the past 15 years and plans to include more students next year.

Vu Ngo, who’s entering his first-year student at St. Clair College, said he’d like to use his summer company to kick-start his dream of running his own fitness company.

This summer he started an apparel company called Ferocity Lifestyle. He produced T-shirts, hoodies and athletic gear branded with his signature lion logo.

“I made this brand to motivate others to achieve their goals,” he said. “Life is filled with obstacles and limitations but you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.”

As he gets set to start post-secondary school, Ngo said the entrepreneurship program has given him the business sense and tools to succeed.

“It was a good experience being independent, there were some ups and downs, but it was a great learning process throughout.”

Sabrina DeMarco, the executive director of the Small Business Centre, said Windsor and Essex County will benefit by having more people exposed to owning a business.

“In order for the region to prosper and grow we need to develop an entrepreneurial culture,” DeMarco said. “Opportunities like (the summer company program) go a long way in ensuring our young people can thrive and stay in Windsor and Essex County.”