By: Emma Mulholland
With the end of the academic year approaching, students are beginning to look for summer jobs and employment opportunities in places ranging from retail to research. The government of Ontario, however, wants to give students the opportunity to become entrepreneurs over the summer, through a program known as Summer Company.
“The goal of Summer Company is to introduce students to the world of entrepreneurship … to [help students] turn a hobby into a business idea … [and] to provide training and mentoring to the students so that they get a greater understanding of the business world,” said Dragica Lebo, Business Development Officer with the Hamilton Small Business Enterprise Centre.
Students apply to the program with a potential business idea and can receive up to $3,000 of funding from the provincial government to support their business. In the application process, students state how much money they initially require to start their business. According to Lebo, “no matter what the business is, all students have the same rules and regulations … the province will only give $1,500 so anything beyond that has to come from the student … if a student needs more … they will need to supply it themselves, or prioritize what they need … they have up to $1,500 [though], so we really try to help them take advantage of the whole $1,500.”
“Most of our students who participate in this program have never taken a business course before. Most of them just have a hobby or an idea … and want to see if it can be a viable company.”
After successfully completing the program, which requires students to attend training sessions, meet with local business mentors and properly keep track of receipts and invoices, students can receive an additional $1,500. Whether or not students decide to continue their business after the program ends is usually dependent on the situation, says Lebo. Many students who participated in the program in Hamilton continue part-time during the school year, and then pick it up again the following summer.
Several McMaster students who went through the program have also continued their businesses, either full time or part time. “The most helpful part was probably the connections that [Summer Company] helped us to establish … they put us in contact with people that could help with the legal aspects [of the business],” remarked Dylan Kiteley, a former participant who used the support of the program to establish a permanent retail location for his company, Oracle Nutrition.
In addition to providing financial support for students, Summer Company also aims to provide students with mentorship and business literacy skills. Summer Company itself sees a wide variety of business plans, but a common theme is that many students applying to the program do not have business backgrounds.
“Most of our students who participate in this program have never taken a business course before. Most of them just have a hobby or an idea … and want to see if it can be a viable company. This program gives them the opportunity to test the waters out,” explained Lebo. Bi-weekly meetings with community business leaders offers students everything from moral support and encouragement, to practical advice on navigating the business field. “[The mentor’s] role is to assist and guide the students from beginning to end of their companies within the program … to encourage the students in the world of business … and to help them through each phase and ensure that the [students] are on the right track,” said Lebo. Several prominent community leaders from a variety of fields, including McMaster professors, have volunteered time during the summer to work as mentors in the program.
Summer Company has been running in Ontario since 2001, and while it is open to students from age 15 to 29, Lebo notes that an interesting demographic shift has been taking place in the past few years. “About five years ago [the program] was very college or university [student] dominated … but in the past few years it’s been very 50/50 [between high school and post-secondary students] … I think that the entrepreneurial bug is embedded in students in a younger age … there are more business classes in high school than before … a lot of [high school] students are showing interest … they see that they can apply what they know, try something different, and see what it’s like operating a business.”
As classes come to an end and the hunt for summer employment begins, with a little help from the Ontario government, some students will be spending the summer hoping to break into the business world.
Photo Credit: Kareem Baassiri/ Photo Contributor