Living in Cabbagetown, Michael Hartman and his neighbours were wary of the residents south of Gerrard Street East, and the sprawling social housing experiment gone awry, Regent Park.
Instead of continuing the chorus of harrumphing, the assistant dean and managing director of executive programs at Joseph L. Rotman School of Management decided to cross the street. He took his business skills with him. He found people with ideas, eager students for the Rotman Entrepreneurial School, a six-week course held in the spring for residents of Regent Park to learn how to create their own small businesses.
The school, now in its second year, accepts about 30 students and is run with the Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative.
Volunteer professors and students from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management help the residents refine their ideas, create a plan, learn about accounting and marketing and then present their fledgling businesses for critique. In the future, the program is looking to find sponsorship, or to connect with resources so its students can find investors willing to back the entrepreneurs.
The free course hasn’t yet created working businesses, but for Anjali Shah, it’s been invaluable. She says she’ll be turning the lessons learned in the gym of the Nelson Mandela Public School into her job teaching yoga – a small business she says she plans to expand by selling a vegetarian food product for families on the go.
A veteran instructor in recreation centres in the Middle East, Shah says she can now point out the mistakes she made when she started teaching yoga from her home.
Shah says she didn’t have the network she needed to make the business a success. Her advertising was limited to flyers; she didn’t yet know about the community centres and churches that could help her out.
Two years later, Shah took a day job but continued teaching yoga a few times a week on the side.
Eager to present her new product plan at the end of this month, she says the business plan her Rotman teachers helped her create is “fool-proof,” a natural extension of her call to incorporate the teachings of yoga into everyday life.
Though she plans to start out small, selling her spice and vegetable mixture at bake sales and cooking in church kitchens, she imagines it will expand into a lifestyle line for the yoga community.