Students Help Unemployed Start Businesses

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Windsor Star/Dave Hall

A student run program at the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business is on the front lines of helping people find employment by starting their own small businesses.

Working with the City of Windsor’s employment and social services department, City Thrive is in its fourth semester of teaching people the basics of starting their own businesses. It is an initiative of the University of  Windsor chapter of Enactus, which promotes entrepreneurship.  It is also supported financially by Capital One Canada.

So far, 22 people have gone through the program, 18 have graduated and five have started new businesses allowing them to shed their reliance on social assistance.

Kelly Jones, who started Kelly Custom Clean in May, said she was tired of working at dead-end temporary jobs and wanted something more permanent and rewarding.

“My employment counsellor hooked me up with this program and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” said Jones. “Cleaning has always been a weird passion of mine and now I get to do it full time.

“It’s also great to be my own boss and set my own hours, although they’ve been pretty long hours so far,” said Jones who specializes in residential, business and commercial cleaning. “You can’t clean some businesses until they close at 8 p.m. so there’s some late hours involved but it’s been great so far.”

Scott Kersey, who has a background in construction, was also between jobs when he entered the 12-week City Thrive program. He now operates Kersey Handyman Services, which specializes in home renovations, drywall, tiling and small plumbing repairs.

“The program is fantastic and I’d recommend it to anyone who is thinking of starting their own business,” said Kersey. “There’s a great deal of in-depth information passed along about accounting, how to handle taxes, writing a business plan and marketing.

“There’s a lot of hours involved but when you’re working for yourself, it doesn’t seem to matter as much.”

While Enactus is a Canadawide program, City Thrive is unique to Windsor where the need is greatest because of the region’s unemployment rate and economic challenges, said local Enactus president Kristy McLean.

We were able to reach a partnership arrangement with the City of Windsor and I think it’s benefited a number of people already,” said McLean.

Project manager Siddique Sheikh, who also acts as a mentor, said the program helps with financial literacy and offers one-on-one mentoring and counselling to answer questions and provide advice.

“After people graduate from the program, we maintain contact with them and continue helping them reach their goals,” said Sheikh.

Both Jones and Kersey said their businesses are doing well and their clients lists are increasing.

“It’s mainly been through word-of-mouth and I’ve even had to pass some jobs along to other people I know,” said Kersey. “I’d like to see the program expanded because I’m sure there are more people who want to start their own businesses and just need a little help and encouragement.”

Jones said she’s already thinking of hiring someone to handle residential cleaning clients, leaving her free to concentrate on the larger construction and commercial cleaning opportunities.

“I can honestly say this program has made a huge difference to me,” said Jones. “It’s not easy to get off social assistance. As a single mother, it’s sometimes easier to sit back and get paid but I wanted to do something with my life. This has given me an opportunity I never thought I’d have.”