The rise of young entrepreneurs in Canada

Startup nation

It could be said that starting a business is a favourite Canadian pastime. One that begins during childhood with a pop-up lemonade stand.

Trying to sell homemade drinks to neighbours on a sweltering summer day quickly becomes a hard lesson in the art of the pitch.

While it may not be considered entrepreneurial at the time, it subconsciously teaches youth about supply and demand, customer service, and how lemonade – the product – isn’t for everyone.

Canadian startup story: Kerin John, founder of Black Owned Toronto

Early lessons in business

All across Canada, children are casually introduced to fractions of business development and those experiences can often shape the way youth look at the world. We see it happen every day.

A summer of grass cutting transforms into a full-fledged landscaping business.

 

Tinkering with computer software evolves into launching an app we can’t live without. The interests children have and the skills that they build can empower them to start their own companies once they begin to mature and refine their own talents.

More and more we’re seeing young people launch their own companies. Some big, some small. Some on purpose, and some accidental. It’s this robust foundation that places Canada as one of the most entrepreneurial nations in the world.

Canadian startup story: Charles Fortier and Nathalie Laroche, co-owners of Ferme Sanglier Des Bois

State of entrepreneurialism in Canada

A 2019 study prepared by the Economic Analysis team of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) indicated that one out of 430 Canadians started a business in 2018. This is a significant increase over what has been called a decade of stagnation.

You may be surprised to learn that Canada has more than 1.1 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

Combined, SMEs account for 90% of all private-sector jobs!

 

On top of that, SMEs employ 10.7 million Canadians … and this mighty workforce contributes roughly $1 trillion to Canada’s gross domestic product.

If that doesn’t deserve a standing ovation, I don’t know what does.

Small businesses are a mighty force that shapes Canada’s urban, rural and semi-rural communities.

Veering from traditional norms

Think of it this way. Over 40 years ago, women accounted for 11% of entrepreneurs. At the time of the BDC’s report, it was estimated to be hovering around 28%. This significant shift is just one of many.

Origami cranes hanging inside an art shop

There’s a new wave of entrepreneurs who are raising the bar and solving problems in innovative ways.

Just who are these entrepreneurs? In 2018, the BDC report revealed that:

  • 3.6 out of 1,000 newcomers started a business
  • 3.3 out of 1,000 young Canadians started a business
  • 1.8 out 1,000 women started a business
  • 1.4 out of 1,000 older Canadians started a business

Canadian startup story: Sara Koonar, co-founder of Platform Media

Diversity first and foremost

Canada is known internationally as a culturally diverse country. One that embraces newcomers and creates opportunities for business development. Peace by Chocolate, a Syrian-Canadian chocolatier business in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, is an example of one such company.

As the story goes, it was 2012 when Tareq Hadhad was forced to flee Syria due to civil war. His father’s chocolate company in Damascus, the family’s livelihood, was bombed.

After eight months of being in Canada, Tareq and family were able to start a new chocolate company in their new hometown. Today, Peace By Chocolate continues the family legacy and ships chocolate all around the world.

The BDC’s Index of Entrepreneurial Activity noted that such activity was twice as high among newcomers when compared to those born in Canada (2018). It’s a trend that’s predicted to grow, especially if 80% of Canada’s population growth is due to immigration.

Canadian startup story: Sameer Chunara, owner of St. George Physiotherapy Clinic

The art of the side hustle

According to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, millennials are reshaping Canada’s small business landscape faster than any other generational cohort — and they’re twice as likely to start a business.

Close-up of knitting needles with blue yarn
Photo: Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

While millennials didn’t coin the phrase ‘side hustle,’ they are the generation that openly embraced it as a way of life.

For many, the side hustle became an avenue to explore multiple passions outside the scope of a university degree or a college diploma. Generating passive income from a passion project made entrepreneurialism easy, as it was internally driven by personal motivation.

What made all of this possible were advancements in technology and the internet.

Easy-to-create websites with eCommerce functionality made it possible to start a business from home without actually having to own or rent a brick-and-mortar building. This significantly reduced the costs once required to start a business.

On top of that, the creative social economic culture boomed with the emergence of websites like Etsy, where creative-types can launch a shop alongside other like-minded businesses. Through product association, it made it easier for crafters, antique dealers and custom fashion designers to be discovered.

Canadian startup story: Kidisha Joseph, founder of Soi Official

Big cities and small towns

It’s only natural to think of Canada’s largest cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – as the epicentres for entrepreneurism. They have well-educated workforces, are ripe with natural resources, have strong tech scenes, and embrace people from all over the world due to their international appeal.

What’s often overlooked are the rural and semi rural regions outside of each mega centre, and all of the provinces and territories in between.

Just this year, Startup Canada announced a partnership with Rural on Purpose.

 

Person writing the names of cheese samples on a board

The goal for both organizations is to, “champion, connect, and support rural entrepreneurs across the country in order to create a more inclusive Canadian startup ecosystem.”

It is through strategic partnerships such as this that Canada is able to thread an entrepreneurial frame of mind throughout the country. One that spans generations and embraces newcomers.

There’s no shortage of resources and mentorship opportunities for youth. Be it a casual side hustle at a local artisan market or launching an online second-hand clothing boutique, the supports are in place to assist youth with developing their startups.

Two parts hard work, one part luck

As BDC mentioned in their 2019 report, one third of new businesses fail within five years. Of those, one in two remain open after 10 years. While these statistics may seem grim, serial entrepreneurs know that failing is part of the path to success. Trying, and trying again, is part of the alchemy of any business owner’s success.

Editor’s note: Got a great idea? Put it online this weekend with Website Builder (truly no tech skills needed!) or let the pros at GoDaddy build it for you.

Ashliegh Gehl is a creative multimedia marketing and communications professional who specialises in art direction, strategy and story. Her writing has appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Quill & Quire, Women's Post and a handful of Canadian community newspapers. When Ashliegh isn’t dreaming up creative campaigns, she’s travelling and writing works of fiction.