Over the past few years there have been a flurry of online posts about how Canadian millennials are making the move to self-employment. Some are calling it the “gig” economy, in which young people are freelancing or providing contracted services to a variety of clients. Others are pointing to those millennials who are starting or running major companies.
Since 1996, a nonprofit organization called Futurpreneur Canada has been helping aspiring business leaders start and build their companies through a combination of financing, mentoring and support services that have helped an estimated 12,400 business leaders launch 10,300 businesses in Canada.
Having a dream is easy. Turning it into a viable business takes hard work, ambition, motivation, and perseverance. It’s not for everyone, but many young entrepreneurs are turning their ideas into viable ventures.
“Millennial entrepreneurs are the next generation of industry disrupters and game-changers making real impact in their communities and beyond,” says Paul Roman, Vice President & General Manager, Global Commercial Payments, American Express Canada. “They are not just the leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders today.”
As they say, an entrepreneur is someone who’s glad to work 80 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40.
Take Vancouver entrepreneur Chrystal MacLeod, who founded the healthy beauty, body and home company Harlow Atelier about six years ago after a career as a makeup artist. At the time she wanted to create a natural alternative to products found on shelves. Once she launched her website and opened her store, people took notice. She’s even been featured in British Vogue.
She seems to love being an entrepreneur, saying that “Setting my own schedule and having no day be the same is beyond interesting and the most fun experience — to others planning on starting their own business, I say just do it!”
Brian Paes-Braga is another young Canadian entrepreneur who launched his first company while still in his 20s. Lithium X, a venture through which Paes-Braga and his mentor Frank Giustra mined lithium for use in rechargeable batteries, became successful and eventually was sold for $265 million. Since then, Paes-Braga has taken leadership roles in a variety of other companies while continuing to serve as principal and head of merchant banking at SAF Group and founding Quiet Cove Foundation, which supports organizations providing disruptive solutions to a range of issues worldwide.
Although he experienced both ups and downs with Lithium X during the two and a half years, he’s quick to note that that’s common with every new business venture.“As with any entrepreneur getting their start in business, it is extremely easy to get discouraged when something doesn’t go as planned,” he says. “And that’s where self-doubt creeps in. I think it is how you overcome self-doubt that sets you apart from failure. Having a good support system is key. Finding friends and business contacts who know your goals and support your ideas, as well as a mentor who can objectively contend to the direction of your business helps along the journey.”
One thing that’s helping many millennial entrepreneurs succeed is social media. They realize its power and potential as a marketing tool and use it in a variety of ways, from building buzz and spreading the word to creating awareness of their products and services through influencer marketing. Because there are now so many platforms, it’s easy to target potential customers based on demographics, lifestyle criteria and other attributes.
“Social media is a game-changer for entrepreneurs and business owners,” says Logan McLellan, a financial advisor from Prince Edward Island. “If you aren’t already, you need to be executing on your social media now, as it is only going to get more expensive as time progresses. Social media gives you capabilities that word of mouth cannot: you literally have the potential to reach millions of people for little to no money. With any other type of advertising, reaching the same amount of people would require large amounts of capital.”