Youth Programs: a win-win for youth and small business

Green Thumbs Up

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Andreas Zailo, owner and founder of ASM Innovations (pictured on the right) and Alex Coulson, employed through the Youth Effects program (pictured on the left), are hoping to break ground with their innovative year-round greenhouse that is designed to address food supply challenges in remote communities.

Two pilot youth programs launched by the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre in 2017 with funding from FedNor are helping innovative entrepreneurs grow their businesses while providing qualified young people with valuable on-the-job experience.

Youth Effects is modelled after a similar existing entrepreneurship placement program developed by Innovation Initiatives Ontario North in North Bay. With a FedNor investment of $199,400, it matches youth (aged 18-29) with business partners who have identified a specific project for them to manage during their 15-week placement.

In addition to the placement component, the Youth Effects initiative encompasses leadership training, peer-to-peer networking, and ongoing mentoring.  Andreas Zailo, owner and founder of ASM Innovations, recruited mechanical engineering graduate Alex Coulson in May 2017. Former classmates, Zailo enlisted Coulson's help to turn a project they had collaborated on at university into reality: building mobile, energy efficient, year-round greenhouses to provide nutritious and economical food options in remote northern communities.

"I was personally vested in the project since I had already done the theoretical work at university, so I jumped at the chance to build the real thing," said Alex Coulson, Youth Effects Participant. "Thanks to the program, I was able to parlay my experience in project management to move on and secure a full-time position with an engineering firm."

According to Zailo, it was a mutually beneficial association. "With Alex's help, I was able to tweak the design of my year-round greenhouse, submit drawings to meet patent requirements and ultimately reduce the structural costs of our prototype while maintaining its thermal qualities."

The Go Global program is helping to address a need that has been identified through the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre's annual client survey.

"The lack of sales personnel is an ongoing challenge for businesses wanting to expand outside of Northern Ontario," explained Kendall Kerbashian, Program Coordinator at the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre. "This program takes aim at providing qualified resources for business and market development."

The 15-month placement program pairs qualified youth aged 18-29 with a company seeking to expand its market. In addition, the Innovation Centre has enlisted the help of a seasoned sales mentor who meets weekly with the young participants to discuss their challenges and successes, made possible with $499,000 in FedNor support.

Dan Dampier, who owns and operates Wolfhead Coffee, a start-up specializing in smoked coffee and other smoked food products in Thunder Bay, says when he was a one-person show, some potential clients would fall through the cracks simply because he had too much on his plate.

Grinding It Out

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Owner of Wolfhead Coffee, Dan Dampier, and his Go Global employee, Bridget Postuma, are brewing up a marketing and sales strategy to grow the Thunder Bay boutique coffee business.

"Before I opened my business in 2015, I never would have dreamed that I would have had to put all my energy into marketing and sales in order to grow. Yes, I have a high quality product, but unless I can sell it, I can't grow," shared Dampier.

Since Dampier hired a graduate with a degree in Business Administration through the Go Global program, Wolfhead Coffee's customer's base has expanded within and outside of Thunder Bay.

"We have increased our sales month to month," says an enthused Bridget Postuma, Youth Go Global Participant. "Our product is now on the shelves in three large grocery stores here in Thunder Bay and one in Winnipeg. We want to grow gradually to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction."

According to Postuma and Coulson, both programs have been a great way to transition from school to the working world, jump starting their respective careers. Meanwhile, Kerbashian says the youth programs are producing positive results for businesses and are proving to be an effective way to foster a culture of entrepreneurship among youth. In fact, the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre has seen a marked influx of young people looking to use its services. To learn more about FedNor's programs and services, please visit fednor.gc.ca and follow us on Twitter @FedNor.

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