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Student businesses soar through York Region summer program

Nine new businesses from youth launched through York Small Business Enterprise Centre

Michael Wang had a vision for an organization that could cross all borders.

The St. Andrew’s College student sought to build up a non-profit Smiles Without Borders, an international student letter exchange program.

Thanks to the help from the York Small Business Enterprise’s Centre summer business program, that vision is becoming a reality, with hundreds of letters getting exchanged between Canadian, Kenyan and Ugandan students so far. 

“It’s going as well as I can imagine, and I’m really excited about what the future has to hold,” he said, adding that the program “helped me get off the ground without having to put me in a debt situation.”

The York Small Business Enterprise Centre celebrated another successful flight of students in its summer business program on Aug. 25, with a display of their success at 17150 Yonge St. The program invites nine students from secondary or post-secondary schools in York Region to start up their own businesses, receive skills development, mentoring and up to $3,000 of financial support.

Small business consultant Ammar Rizvi said this year’s program went exceptionally well, with the participants having some outstanding business success.

“It comes with a lot of responsibility. You wear multiple hats throughout the day. You are your own marketing person. You are your own salesperson,” he said. 

Kathleen Stawski is heading into Grade 12 at Dr. J.M. Denison Secondary School in Newmarket. She started a swimming business called Little Fishies Swim School, teaching lessons out of her backyard pool at Holland Landing.

“It helped me kick off my swimming lessons on a more professional level," she said of the program, adding it helped give her “more confidence and people skills. Talking to parents and trying to resolve conflicts.” 

Santhosh Rajmohan, an Aurora resident studying business management at Toronto Metropolitan University, started the AET Basketball Association. The non-profit seeks to teach the sport to disenfranchised children.

Rajmohan said they have been able to put together multiple teams competing at rep tournaments throughout York Region, while also starting summer camps for kids to play daily.

“It got a lot bigger than I expected,” he said, adding it was an idea he had for a while. “I got lessons in marketing and how to network and how to deal with customers and clients … this company program made me do it every single day and keep me on track.” 

St. Andrew’s College student Noah Savage started a power-washing business called Grime Stoppers and said he was able to get some good business.

“I definitely got some more discipline and self-motivation. Starting your own business really motivates you,” he said. “You’re on your own to do everything.” 

Tyrus Harper, attending Queen's University for economics, started a lawn care business called Tyrus' Turf Care and said the program provided good mentoring.

“That helped me to keep the business going and work through the program. Just the ins and outs of running a business.” 

Rizvi said they have started to get those mentors from previous program participants, which bodes well for the initiative's future. 

Wang said his business has been in demand, with people reaching out wanting to start chapters of Smiles Without Borders at their schools. It is something he intends to keep expanding.

“Having a strong passion really helped me push through those hard times,” he said. “If we get more participants than what we have, I think it will be really easy to take it to the next level.” 

The next intake for the program will start in the new year. You can find more information about it at