A number of novice entrepreneurs are plunging into the business world at a time when COVID-19 is making the waters murky and uncertain.
The Summer Company program, which gives young people a chance at being their own boss and make money outside the more traditional student job route, is continuing its mission this year.
The program is funded by the province of Ontario and administered by the Economic Development division of the City of Sault Ste. Marie. It provides grants and mentoring while sparking an entrepreneurial flame in youth.
“In addition to the funding provided for start-up costs, students receive hands-on coaching, training and mentoring from staff at the City’s Millworks – Centre for Entrepreneurship as well as business leaders in our community,” said Jessica Maione, Economic Development Officer, Community Development and Enterprise Services, in an email.
Maione said COVID-19 threw a curve at the program, but it was still able make connections.
“As the program providers, we travel to schools in the Algoma district to promote and present the program information to potential applicants. Unfortunately, COVID hit in the middle of program outreach,” said Maione.
To overcome this challenge, the program worked with teachers across the Algoma District School Board and Algoma University’s Career Link program to provide a video presentation to students learning from home.
“As well, we have adapted to deliver the business training and mentoring portion of the program virtually in the interest of everyone’s safety,” said Maione.
One of the people Summer Company connected with is Gracie Pucci, who established a company called Borderline.
The second-year Guelph University psychology student’s company is working toward building a fashion and beauty brand.
Currently, Pucci’s focus is on making her own lip gloss. Recently, she also started designing bucket hats, which is in fashion among teenagers.
Pucci said COVID-19 actually provided the push to manufacture lip gloss.
In the past, she was able to work at her passion for fashion by doing hair styling, lashes and makeup.
COVID-19 meant she could not physically work on clients. That left Pucci wondering what she could do keep her hands in the beauty industry and the idea of making lip gloss came to mind.
“Lip gloss was the first thing that really caught my eye,” she said.
At first, she made about 30 sticks which she marketed on her hair design site and they sold out in 15 minutes.
She bought more products used to make gloss in bulk. She’s been consistently selling all that she produces.
“I’m hoping to move all my equipment to Guelph. It will be harder being a full-time student, but I don’t want to put my business on hold.”
Pucci said her future goal is to do something that helps people. She loves communicating and making contact with the public. Pucci sees what she’s learning in psychology and her passion for the fashion business as being very compatible.
She’s always had a desire to be her own boss and make personal connections.
“Since I was younger, I was always that kid that started a million little businesses. I used to try to make purses out of old jeans that I cut up when I was 10 or 11 years old.”
You can contact Pucci’s business at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The COVID-19 situation also nudged Algoma University Student Graham Slater into starting his business called Slater Woodworks
The company produces fine woodworking such as jewelry boxes, charcuterie boards and small decorative boxes.
Slater studies political science along with law and justice. He hopes to work as a paralegal, but also plans to continue woodworking on the side.
“I’ve been making stuff from wood for about five or six years now,” he said.
Slater was planning to work as a waterfront director at a summer camp, but COVID-19 put the brakes on that plan. He heard about the Summer Company program and took advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s going well. I produced a few things already and made some sales,” he said.
He will be marketing his work on social media and is looking to sell his creations at farmers markets.
Slater’s dad, who is an electrician, introduced him to woodworking. He makes use of his dad’s equipment in the summer business.
“I learned the basics from him,” said Slater. “A few years ago, I started doing a lot more with hand tools. People don’t use hand tools as much any more.”
The COVID summer is a good opportunity for Slater to work alone in the garage. He hopes for a rush of sales closer to the Christmas season.
He can make plenty of products.
“It doesn’t go bad,” he said.
Ben Appleton took a more traditional approach to being his own boss. His company, Ben’s Lawn Care, offers grass cutting and small landscaping services to his neighbourhood.
What makes him unique is his youth.
Appleton is going into Grade 10 at Korah Collegiate. He recently turned 15. Currently, he has about 8 to 10 clients, mostly within walking distance in the Millcreek area. When he can’t get to a job on foot his dad gives him a ride.
Appleton bought a trimmer and leaf blower with his start-up money.
The high school athlete certainly has the physical fitness for the job. He plays football, curling and badminton as well as baseball in the summer. Baseball has been cancelled this year.
He identifies marketing as one of the more challenging aspects of the job.
Currently, a lot of the promotion is word of mouth and promotional T-shirts.
The entrepreneurial bug has taken a bite out of Appleton.
“I think I’m going to continue this for years to come,” he said.
Appleton can be reached at email@example.com
The Summer Company 2020 program supports nine businesses.
“There were less applications compared to previous years, but we were impressed that these young entrepreneurs brought their creative ideas forward during these challenging times,” said Maione.