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TRSM students share business insight in Regent Park

Microbusiness Mentorship pilot program connects Ryerson students with aspiring entrepreneurs for one-on-one training
By: Will Sloan
November 16, 2017
From left: Mary Ann Kalalang and Joseph Pinho

Photo: Regent Park resident Mary Ann Kalalang works with TRSM student Joseph Pinho at the Microbusiness Mentorship pilot program. Photo by Clifton Li.

A new pilot program has students from the Ted Rogers School of Management helping Regent Park residents develop their startup ideas.

Running at Dixon Hall Employment Services Centre, external link until November 29, The Microbusiness Mentorship pilot program combines technical training with one-on-one counseling with aspiring entrepreneurs. Participants get a crash-course in everything from budgeting to drafting a business plan to the ins and outs of social media marketing.

In its pilot phase, the program brings together two TRSM students with six aspiring entrepreneurs on three teams. The program was spearheaded by TRSM community engagement co-ordinator Jessica Griffiths, and built in partnership with Dixon Hall and the real estate development company The Daniels Corporation, external link.

“There are a lot of small initiatives taking place in Regent Park, but many don’t have the acumen to establish and grow a business,” said Haris Blentic, director of employment services at the Dixon Hall Employment Services Centre. “We’re looking to really expand our offerings to look at the supports we can offer to emerging businesses in Regent Park, and offering them the support needed to grow and establish their businesses.

“The students bring in the business perspective, the startup perspective, and a lot of marketing insights. They’re really able to steer the conversation and customize their approach depending on the needs of the particular group. They structure how the sessions look and really drive the conversations.”

“The students can bring the theory and the context,” said Courtney Sweet, co-ordinator of community partnerships for The Daniels Corporation. “The model we’re using now allows the students to give the time and investment that front-line staff members might not be able to. There’s a lot of microbusiness potential in the neighbourhood—a lot of skills that aren’t at a professional business level yet—and this program can contribute to their development.

Mary Ann Kalalang, a Regent Park resident, restaurant worker, and client of the Microbusiness Mentorship program, is developing a community-minded business plan that involves making Regent Park’s public bake ovens, external link more accessible. “Through this mentorship, we want to develop a solid business plan that we can one day present to the City of Toronto and say, ‘Please give us more freedom to use these bake ovens,’” said Kalalang.

Of the mentorship program, she added, “They’re there to support us. They give us ideas. The first time I attended, they were guiding us: What do we need? What are our guidelines? What should we do to solve the problems we encounter? We discuss promoting on social media—a lot of my group is in catering, and they might not know much about promoting.”

The program has been a learning opportunity both for the clients and the TRSM students. “It makes me understand these concepts more thoroughly than before, because there’s no way I can teach them if I don’t completely understand them myself,” said entrepreneurship student Joseph Pinho. “It’s been such an experience getting inspiration from all the students there—just learning how to be a better facilitator and how to teach.”

The program also represents an opportunity for students to be more engaged in their communities. “We really need to interact more with the community in Toronto,” said Pinho. “From participating in this program, I’ve seen what it’s like in the Regent Park community, and how we can make a difference and help these business grow. There’s a lot of value to it.”

Back row, from left: Haris Blentic, Jessica Griffiths, Courtney Sweet. Front row, from left: Joseph Pinho and Jenifer Maney

Photo: Top row, from left: Haris Blentic (director of employment services, Dixon Hall Employment Services Centre), Jessica Griffiths (TRSM community engagement co-ordinator), Courtney Sweet (co-ordinator of community partnerships, The Daniels Corporation). Bottom row: TRSM students Joseph Pinho and Jenifer Maney. Photo by Clifton Li.

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