Youth: Be Your Own Boss

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by Consuelo Solar

Through the windows of a seventh floor of the building where Youth Employment Services (YES) is located, in downtown Toronto, you can see several buildings under construction. They will become the renovated face of the city’s financial heart and the future home of its businesses. In the YES meeting room, young fashion enthusiasts are taking their first steps towards entrepreneurship, maybe hoping that someday their company will be housed in one of those new buildings outside.

These girls are attending an information session for “Passion for Fashion”, a joint program between YES and Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) that encourages young people to start an independent career in fashion.

Gabrielle Zilkha, project manager of the program, stands in front of the girls and asks them to form groups. She then passes among them a small, flat box. “Think of what could it be and how could you sell it,” she tells them. Five minutes later, every group is selling a product. That is how it all begins.

Are you ready to be an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs follow fresh ideas to start new businesses, or reshape old organizations to make them fit with current market conditions. They are faced with challenging, demanding and stressful undertakings, and they are exposed to a high level of frustration.

“Before I started working at YES I thought an entrepreneur was somebody who knew how to pitch a product, like a salesman, or somebody who invented a great product that everybody loves and wants,” Zilkha explains. “But then I started seeing it as a way to make a living for people who don’t adapt to structured regular jobs or who don’t want to work for somebody else.It’s about personality.”

Generally, entrepreneurs are expected to be sociable, adaptable, natural leaders, self motivated, confident, creative, organized, and willing to handle multiple tasks at a time. Above all, they need to be passionate.

Self-made millionaires abound in the business world. Some of them prepared for years in the art of business administration, others started their own business right after high school, and others decided to change paths later in life. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are often used as examples of successful entrepreneurs without any formal “background in the field.” They didn’t even finish college. However, a solid background can be helpful to succeed.

Aspiring entrepreneurs need to keep in mind that they will need help, and some business skills may come in handy for them. That is why there are many programs and organizations ready to guide them. They need all the information they can get on how to obtain financial help, how to develop a business model, how to promote their business, and how to reach and increase clientele, among others.

The Government of Canada, through Service Canada, offers a series of programs for those willing to start their own business. Visit Service Canada’s website to get plenty of information about programs, loans or self-employment. Their Business Start Up Assistance tool could guide you throughout the process.

The Government of Ontario and almost every city in the province also provide support through different programs, including training opportunities, mentorships, and financial assistance. The Entrepreneurs site of the Government of Ontario is a great place to get information on how to start a business (Visit it here). It provides resources to bring new ideas to life, including information about funding and partnership opportunities.

Another good place to start is the Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services (, which offers information in financing, exporting, e-business, taxation, and many other areas, in a way especially tailored to new business-people’s needs.

The Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) is a non-profit organization that provides financing, pre-launch coaching, and online business resources to Canadians, between the ages of 18 and 34. It also runs a mentorship program that matches young people with mature entrepreneurs who have extensive experience and are prepared to talk to them about the “dos” and “don’ts” of starting a company. According to its website, “the success rate of the CYBF program is 95 percent and since its beginning in 1996, it has invested in more than 2,900 young entrepreneurs, whose businesses have generated millions in sales and taxes revenues, and created thousands of jobs”. More information at

In times of high youth unemployment, the option of self-employment is becoming more appealing to those entering the workforce. According to CYBF, 41 percent of small business owners will retire within the next five years. At the same time the future of Canada relies heavily on new companies and entrepreneurs, a cornerstone of the economy, because it drives innovation and creates new sources of jobs. Somebody has to carry the torch.

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