Young entrepreneurs can carve their own paths to success, and learn a ton along the way. Here are some real-life stories and resources on how to really be your own boss.
Ah, the familiar sights of summer—birds in the trees, flowers blooming… students scrounging for money.
Forget beaches and barbecues. For most students, summer is an opportunity to score some cash with a summer job. But if the thought of flipping burgers and babysitting leaves you longing for a final exam, why not be your own boss?
That’s what Donovan Parsons, proud owner of Putter’s Paradise in St. Anthony, Nfld., did. “It’s not really easy to find a summer job around here,” says Parsons. The town of about 3,000 is on the Northern Peninsula, about as far from the provincial capital of St. John’s as you can get on the island. And if there are few jobs for teens, there is little else to do either, says the Grade 10 student. So last summer he and his friend Robert Gear each pitched in $75 to buy Putter’s Paradise mini-golf course. They put in long hours on hot days and they didn’t make a lot of money. “It’s not as easy as we thought, especially having to get up,” says Parsons.
But at the end of the summer they had $500 in their pocket and won a $200 award for customer service through the province’s Youth Ventures program. The program, sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, offers students help in financial planning, organization and marketing. There are similar federal and provincial programs across the country for high school and post-secondary student entrepreneurs.
Over the years, Youth Ventures has seen everything from hotdog carts to art, says program coordinator Gwen Mahaney. Some businesses have been more successful than others. One Youth Venture earned $68,000 over the course of a couple of years. “And we’ve had students who have made as much as $13 a summer,” Mahaney says. “Some businesses do well and some don’t. It ultimately depends on the student and the amount of work they put into it initially.”
In February, the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 24 was 13.2 percent. Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest youth unemployment. For Hilary Oram, 17, there weren’t many options in Glovertown, 270 kilometres northwest of St. John’s. So she brewed up a batch of her grandmother’s homemade soap and founded Newfoundland Essentials. Her line of handmade bath products now sells in 21 retail outlets across the province and the Grade 12 student recently launched her own website.
This year she plans to market her natural Newfoundland berry botanicals across the country. “Nine to five is nothing compared to what I do,” Oram says with a laugh. “I have a hard boss. She’s a slave driver.” She says she hasn’t made much money for the time she’s put in—“like three cents an hour or something”—but she’s paid off the startup loan from her parents, and profits improve every year.
For Dan Murza of Saskatoon, what started as a hobby has helped pay his way through university. He’s hopeful it will pay for much more after he graduates this spring and devotes himself to it full time. Through Sandow SK Classic, Murza sells replica hockey jerseys to collectors all over the world. The jerseys, reproductions of 1970s-era World Hockey Association designs, defunct teams and national team jerseys from classic series, sell on EBay for about $150 US each. A big sports fan, Murza used to buy and resell original jerseys for a profit. A few years ago, the commerce student at the University of Saskatchewan got into the replica game.
After graduation this spring, the 22-year-old wants to expand his business to web sales and retail stores. “I’ve been limited because I’m still a student, so I can only pour so much time into it,” he says. “Hockey season is my busy season, and it’s unfortunate that that is basically the school year.” So far he’s sold a few hundred shirts a season, mostly to American collectors, but some have been shipped as far away as Japan, Australia and Sweden.
And he has collected about $20,000 in award money from student business competitions all over North America. The cash is not the only payoff for his hard work, says Murza. “It feels good that [with] the work I put in, I realize the benefits and get the satisfaction rather than if you’re working, employed under someone,” he says. “I feel a lot more satisfied when I do well.”
Need help planning, developing and, most importantly, financing your summer business plan?
Check out these websites:
Community Futures Development Corporations: Help in business planning, development and financing in Western Canada.
Alberta’s program, which provides loans up to $3,500 and guidance.
The Ontario government’s student venture program offers startup loans of up to $3,000.
Loans to young entrepreneurs in rural areas of Quebec.
Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency gives advice, training and financial aid for students between 18 and 29 years of age in Atlantic Canada.
New Brunswick’s government provides interest-free loans up to $3,000 for summer businesses through its student entrepreneurship program.
Nova Scotia government gives interest-free loan guarantees up to $5,000; scholarships also available.
Newfoundland’s Youth Ventures offers advice and guidance for returning students to start their own summer business.
Indian and Northern Affairs has a First Nations and Inuit youth program that gives advice and seed capital to explore or develop a business opportunity.