‘Explore to be your own boss’: Markham’s entrepreneurial community enables small businesses to thrive – Yahoo News Canada

What do a high school student, an art teacher and a restaurateur have in common? They are all entrepreneurs and part of the City of Markham’s small business community.
Last March, local award-winning Markham artist and art teacher Sylvia Chan was approached by Johnny Chan, a local Markham restaurateur. He was looking for someone to design a mural that would cover the walls of his restaurant in downtown Toronto, Poke Guys, while creatively displaying their brand.
“Markham is a great place for small business owners because of the vibrant community and growth potential,” Chan said. “Everyone is connected in some way, and the benefit of working with other entrepreneurs is that we never give up and we are always willing to help each other.”
That's when Sylvia got an idea. Why not ask one of her art students to take on the job?
Ashlyn Wong is a student who recently completed grade 12 at Unionville High School and is now attending Emily Carr University of Art + Design for their first-year Foundation program.
In 2021, as a participant of the Markham Small Business Centre’s Summer Company program, where youth get up to $3,000 to start a business and hands-on training and mentorship, Wong started Shoops & Letters, which provides unique customer lettering and artwork services.
When asked about why she started her business, Wong said, “I started a small business to turn my passion for lettering and calligraphy into something that could be shared and benefit the community.”
The Summer Company program helped to make Wong's plan come true with practical tips that guided her through growing pains.
She later learned that her art teacher was also a recipient of one of MSBC’s grant programs, Starter Company (now Starter Company Plus), back in 2016. The $5,000 and business advice and mentoring she received allowed her to found her art studio, Sylvia Chan Art.
She also opened her art school, Creative Genius Academy, a few years later.
“MSBC helped pair us with a mentor, along with going through the financial forecast and creating the business plan, which was very helpful, especially for new businesses,” Sylvia said, adding that this assistance has allowed them to create a foundation for the business.
Now, Sylvia is giving back to the community by encouraging her students to pursue entrepreneurship and being a mentor to those now in the Starter Company Plus program.
“It truly takes a village to support an entrepreneur and Markham has been the perfect ecosystem to foster innovation across all verticals,” says David Kwok, associate director of entrepreneurship at YSpace, York University’s startup incubator in Markham, which also helps deliver MSBC’s Summer Company program.
Chris Rickett, director of the City of Markham’s Department of Economic Growth, Culture and Entrepreneurship, believes that it is important for business owners in Markham to have access to the right people and resources that will not only help start their business but also take it to the next level.
“We are proud that the Markham Small Business Centre exists to empower entrepreneurs to bring their business ideas to life through our small business grant programs and wide range of workshops and seminars,” he said.
This year, the Markham Small Business Centre had nine students who successfully ran their own Summer Company and will have eight Starter Company Plus grant recipients. In the past five years, MSBC has been responsible for distributing over $620,000 in grants to support small business owners bring their ideas to life.
Learn more about the Summer Company program at markham.ca/SummerCompany or the Starter Company Plus program at markham.ca/SmallBusinessGrants.
Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun
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