Micro-loans, training help jump-start businesses

Simon Fraser University program targets skill development for young entrepreneurs

Simran Arora, marketing manager for Enactus SFU’s Bright Ideas program, works with Surrey high school student Jaspreet Nijjar | Nicole Mak

While many people grow up asking themselves, “What will I do with my life?” that age-old question for the youthful business mind is slightly different: What type of business do I want to start?

Enactus SFU, a student entrepreneurial group at Simon Fraser University, (SFU) has launched a program aimed at helping answer that question. Called Bright Ideas, the program gives Surrey high school students micro-loans to start their first business ventures. Students are given $100 and an SFU student mentor to create an enterprise of their choosing.

Bright Ideas marketing manager Simran Arora, who is an SFU Beedie School of Business student, said the program has been successful right from the start.

“Sweet Sensations, the winner of last cycle, had the idea of using decorative mason jars and filling them up with dry cookie mix,” Arora said. “They offered two flavours: chocolate chip and oatmeal chocolate chip. In just two weeks of selling, they were able to generate a total revenue of about $475 [after repaying the initial loan].”

The makers of Sweet Sensations also donated some of their profits to the BC Children’s Hospital. Arora said she wishes her high school had Bright Ideas come through when she was growing up.

“I say that to the students every time I go to speak to them at the high school,” she said. “Because when I was in high school I did not know what I wanted to pursue. And a lot of participants … not only did it teach them business skills, but since they were exposed to all aspects of the business, it gave them a sense of what concentration within business they might want to pursue.”

The eight-week program is designed to teach fundamental business skills, but it also gives SFU students a chance to interact with their younger peers. Arora said the learning goes both ways.

“We thought it was essential to start the program because we found that when we asked students, they didn’t feel confident in starting a business, or [felt] that they had [no] opportunity to start a business,” she said. “So this was really a chance for them to learn new skills and apply the knowledge they’d received, and meet people and network as well.”

Winona Bhatti, president of Enactus SFU, which has about 200 student members, said Bright Ideas is one of about a dozen programs it oversees.

“There’s a real buzz among these students once they see how good ideas have very real potential,” Bhatti said.

Enactus SFU also oversees Count on Me, a financial-knowledge program for at-risk youth, and Banner Bags, which helps teach high school students how they can be more environmentally friendly. There’s also Refresh, which goes to local grocery stores and takes blemished fruit, which would otherwise be thrown away, to be dried.

Enactus SFU also oversees Axis Consulting, a student-run consulting organization that provides pro bono consulting services for organizations that help their communities. Axis is working with the HomeStart Foundation and is seeking more non-profit organizations in need of consulting.

Sarah Lubik, SFU’s director of entrepreneurship, said the programs reflect the university’s strong business culture.

“Entrepreneurship education, social innovation and community engagement are in the DNA of SFU’s innovation strategy and culture,” Lubik said. “We’re very proud to see our students proactively take those values out into the community to find challenges and make an impact where it matters to them.”