“…The challenge is to remain an artist after you grow up,” said Pablo Picasso. The quote holds true for Shahid Mawji, a grade 12 student from Brampton, who’s plunged into the world of adults by starting his own science club, the Brampton Edisons. Mawji took the help of Brampton Small Business Enterprise Centre that contributes to the growth of local economy by fostering long-term sustainability of micro and small businesses across all sectors.
Shivani Sharma caught up with the young entrepreneur and talked about his dreams and aspirations. Here are excerpts of his interview with Generation Next:
How did you learn about The City of Brampton’s Small Business Enterprise Centre (SBEC)? Who introduced to the program?
My elder brother’s friend did the program. I took inspiration and entered the summer company program.
What ignited the spark in you to start a business venture?
I started teaching grade eight. I got confidence and thought of starting my business. None of us had any engineering experience in high school, and so I thought of starting our science club. WE help each other out in experiments with engineering, outsourcing and networking engineering process. We gradually gained success and realized the market potential it has.
What program did you choose and why?
I chose the Summer Engineering Program for students from grade eight to grade 12. Reason being when I was in middle school, I had a bend towards research. I spent time in research (in addition to the school syllabus) and realized that I wanted other people to experience it too.
How do you go about marketing your business?
Marketing is the most difficult part in a business. Proper social networking, a proper website, and making sure you update pages so that people continue to be hooked to them is very important. People don’t tend to take students of my age seriously. Make sure you do not do anything that looks unprofessional.
Is your family in business too?
No. I have two elder brothers. One of my brothers has been quite supportive. He inspired me to become an inventor. There is a lot of independence at home and with that I’ve always learnt to be responsible.
What were the difficulties you faced in making your business
The biggest challenge was the high overhead cost, because you don’t know if the business is going to be successful. That’s where the help from Summer Company came in. They gave me $1500 which was good enough to cover up all my start-up materials cost. I was able to reinvest all my profit in my business as my expenses were taken care of.
What did you learn from your mentors in business?
Communicating with people professionally was a big thing that I learnt from them. They also have demonstrations, workshops, presentations and group interactive sessions. They talk about things like how to answer phone calls and even how a voice mail should be. The connections department also provides contacts in order to get rentals and advertisements through libraries.
Do you want to be an entrepreneur in future and in what field?
For sure, after doing this program we are planning to develop a four-week program. I am planning to get my first employee now.
How does your family view your desire to be an entrepreneur?
They are very supportive. It’s something my parents wanted to do, start a business but they didn’t have the skill set. They help me out in every way to get me the resources.
Do you have fears that it may not turn out to be profitable?
The first session went fantastic. During the second session, however, I started marketing late. So a lot of our returning students are on vacation already. I realized that I might not have enough participants and I still have to pay for the rent. It was scary. It was a good push to make me realize what I need to do. So this time, I started my marketing weeks before so I am all prepared.
Do you follow up on news about global economic conditions like in Europe or
I always believed that when it comes to harsh economic plans, people always want to know more. They want to make sure they have better jobs.
Would you like to do business outside Canada too?
I would like to teach engineering concepts. Kids today are quite creative. They may have resources but not right knowledge. I actually want to set up this kind of a program in northern India).
How did you overcome your shortcomings?
When it gets hard to run a business you get frustrated. My brothers always told me that this is your business; you can deal with this if you want to. I realize that I have to do this else I won’t have a business.
What are you doing this summer?
Along with the Summer Company I am going do Summer Engineering Program which is a four- week program. Here they get a chance to learn creative thinking as well as do projects. If you have creative thinking we are going to open your prospective or teach theory where we learn about how bridges work, rockets fly. I tell them this is what you need to build, find a way to do it. I can help you if you do not know how to use a particular tool. The whole point is that they come with an idea that even I do not know.
Did you get any reward?
I was accepted at the program and given a grant which helped with all the new expenses that you don’t expect for registering the company.
How do you see the future of young entrepreneurs?
I think it’s fantastic; I see a lot of passion, interest. With programs like these, we get active resources in Brampton and Mississauga.
What three pieces of advice would you give to high school or college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
I would say start now, plan and have confidence.