Celebrating the student entrepreneurial spirit

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

By Brandon Gillet - Valerie Charbonneau - Mike Foster - Johanne Adam

Global Entrepreneurship week kicked off this week and uOttawa wanted to mark the occasion. The Gazette called out to students on social media to see if there were entrepreneurs among them. Many responded to the call. Discover some of the student entrepreneurs on campus.

Looking to capture perfect moments of your engagement, wedding or other special occasion? Just call Shelby Lisk and Simon Stiles.

This photography duo, Shelby + Simon, brings a unique perspective to capturing life’s special moments. They seek out clients who seemingly “defy the conventional” with their unique tastes and ideas and steer clear of, for example, clients holding a traditional church-style wedding.

While Lisk is in the fourth year of her BFA here at uOttawa and director of Gallery 115 on campus, Stiles does commercial photography full time. It all started for Stiles when he was a musician playing at clubs in Ottawa. To save money on photographers, he began shooting his own shows, which has evolved into seven years of photography experience.

During one job with short notice, Stiles found himself without a second photographer, so he brought along Lisk and a friend. This shoot led serendipitously to what is today Shelby + Simon. The duo has since amassed an impressive portfolio, receives many referrals and boasts numerous repeat clients. The team also has a blog featuring different video episodes, such as Meet the Artist.

What’s next for Shelby + Simon? After Lisk graduates and they complete a booked-solid summer of weddings, the two plan to tour North America in their van and capture the adventure on film. They’ll return home with an even more impressive portfolio and lots of new business connections from around the continent.

Fira Soft is a company founded by three friends who were students at the University of Brasilia, including 25-year-old Felipe de Moraes Modesto, who’s currently pursuing a PhD in computer science at uOttawa and incorporating the company in Canada.

It started as a small, personal project but grew as the three took a course in entrepreneurship in 2011.

Fira Soft focuses on entertainment and advertising aimed at teenagers and young adults. “During our first year,” says Modesto, “we won a few game development competitions in Brazil and that helped us gain the visibility we needed. As our portfolio and experience increased, we got our first business client and registered as a business.”

Two years later, they had 16 people working at their branch in Brasilia, were expanding to Canada, and had multiple projects running at the same time. According to Modesto, the company is very profitable today and has grown to the point where the team had to move to a new office.

“We’re six partners now, which means my shares decreased from 33% to 20%, but also means that I get to talk to big corporations,” he says.

As a creative director, Modesto’s role is to lead the team in making sure that the games they are developing are entertaining. “I’m responsible for the game design, game story and playability. I make sure that the game is what we want it to be and that it tells the story we want it to tell. As a programmer, I implement elements of the gameplay, ranging from buttons to Facebook integration to game physics.”

Nicholas Guérin, 20, a third-year psychology student with a minor in business, is founder of his own Quebec landscaping firm, Eco-Tonte.

He’s been cutting lawns since age 13. Today, he runs a two-man crew, cutting grass, trimming hedges and laying down mulch. With 50 or 60 customers, he’s able to pay salaries, expenses and cover the costs of his uOttawa tuition, he says.

“You need to be someone who is extremely organized. Every minute of the day counts. My day begins at 7 a.m. Then I go to class at nights and in the evenings. My schedule is proportionally inverted. As the summer season winds down, the work at school goes up,” says Guérin. “May and June is the money-making time. It is a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs. It is like having a child — you always have to feed it. The main thing is to keep your clients satisfied. And my customers have been so loyal.”

Rebecca Thérèse Bradley, 21, a fourth-year commerce student specializing in accounting, founded Pink Bow Tie, a boutique that sells women’s accessories, jewellery, purses, pottery and Christmas gifts in Vankleek Hill.

Bradley says she dedicates around 16 hours a week to the business, which has four employees, as she pursues her studies. It all began when the pottery outlet she was working for expanded and left Vankleek Hill. Through the Ontario government’s Summer Company program, Bradley decided to set up a boutique.

“I ended up running it after the summer,” says Bradley. “It allows me to express my creative side. It is fun but it is definitely more stressful than a regular job. Even when I am not here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I leave it all behind me. It does not mean you show up and get paid; the sales need to be there. You need the right people to be part of your team.”

A handful of uOttawa students have created a new social app called Spootr, which allows users to share their thoughts with other uOttawa students candidly and anonymously.

The app integrates with Facebook and Twitter and displays your identity only when you like or comment on anonymous posts.

This allows for sharing truthful, “unedited” opinions you can talk about among your peers on campus.

“People tend to use their Facebook profiles to share photos and good moments in their life,” says Spootr co-founder and CEO, Basir Ali. “Our application is designed so people can express their true thoughts and feelings about university.”

Ali, an international management student at the Telfer School of Management, started working on the app in May and sought out others with specific skills to join his team. The group formed a company, which consists of Ali and six other members—Karan Thakker, co-founder and chief technology officer; Prathamesh Morde, Android developer; Sera Erthan, marketing coordinator; Yash Shah, database developer; Mustapha Zine-El-Abidine, programmer; and Jawed Shukury, business advisor.

The Spootr website is up and running, but the group plans a number of changes prior to the projected product launch date in January 2015. Initially, the app will be available only to University of Ottawa students, but the team hopes to expand to campuses in other Canadian cities, in the US and around the globe within the next three years.

From an early age, Elizabeth Audette-Boudreau dreamed of having her own business. The opportunity to do so finally came along when she was 18 years old. Today, the third-year student in management and entrepreneurship at the Telfer School of Management owns not one, but two companies.

“I had played ringette since I was a little girl, and a point came when I had the expertise to be able to offer private clinics for young players. After a while, I had enough customers that I could create summer and winter camps. Eventually, I started running private clinics through the ringette associations in Quebec and Ontario,” says Audette-Boudreau.

At the young age of 21, she already manages a team of 10 employees. Her company, Camp Pulsion, has also developed training programs for coaches and goalkeepers. “There were significant shortcomings in the training available for goalies,” she explains.

Despite an already busy schedule, she was keen to take on new challenges. That’s when she created Ambi Collection, a company that distributes sportswear and promotional items.

“There was definitely a lack of suitable women’s sports clothing, especially for hockey,” says the businesswoman.

Elizabeth intends to develop her business further once she graduates and has plans to create her own line of sports clothing.

There are no two ways about it: the right social media practices can make or break your new business. Just ask Lukas Hardonk, owner and founder of Hardonk Marketing, who started the company last summer when he was just 19 years’ old just before beginning his first year of study in communications at uOttawa.

He had been working for Bonn Law for three years when he approached his boss with some suggestions about their social media presence, primarily because they really didn’t have one. In a previous job as a sports writer, Hardonk had developed a passion for social media and he was soon asked to build and monitor the law firm’s online presence. To expand this opportunity, he started a company so that he could take on multiple clients when the time was right.

“I just have one client for now,” said Hardonk. “I have to get accustomed to university, so the company [work] is between full and part time.”

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