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Entrepreneur students gain wisdom from Windsor business leaders

The Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator hosted its 10th annual Entrepreneurs’ Summit on Wednesday, marking the first in-person return of the event since the COVID-19 pandemic began over three years ago.

Nearly five dozen high school student entrepreneurs from Assumption Collegiate Catholic High School mingled with half a dozen local business leaders to gain entrepreneurial wisdom.

“This is the first time where we can actually get the kids back on site face-to-face interacting with local business owners,” said business teacher Jeremy Bracken, who also serves as a board member at the accelerator.

Bracken said it’s refreshing to be back in person, hoping the summit can inspire resiliency in students while helping them identify successful business opportunities.

“Not every kid in their family necessarily has an entrepreneur that they can lean on and if we can open those doors and get kids forming genuine connections and you know, ‘add me on LinkedIn’ and ‘come to me for questions,’ because as a business teacher and business owner, I can only give them my own personal experiences and that's only a few industries,” he said.

“On a day like this, they’re exposed to six additional industries that I’m not even part of and we're hoping that those genuine relationships formed can last a lifetime.”

“If you want to live in Windsor and this is your home, entrepreneurship should be an option because you can have a great lifestyle,” said Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator CEO Arthur Barbut. “It's a beautiful place to be, it's an amazing location, it's still much more affordable than moving to Toronto or KW (Kitchener-Waterloo), so why not?”

Barbut said given the recent events surrounding the battery plant in Windsor, this summit highlights why there should be enhanced focus on supporting and growing local companies.

“I think for us if you want to change our and take more control of our economic future, we really have to invest in Windsor, in people, in companies that want to stay here want to build our region up,” he said.

According to Barbut, about 20 per cent of high school students surveyed after the inaugural summit in 2013 expressed interest in joining or starting a start-up business of their own.

“In 2019, when we hosted the last live one before today, it was 87 per cent,” he said. “So we're seeing a massive shift in that mindset in embracing that culture of like, ‘hey, you know, entrepreneurship is a valid career for me, or at least working for a start-up is not something that's as scary as it used to be in the past.’ So that's very, very positive.”

“Seeing what they've been during COVID is really uplifting and just it's such a good experience and such a good opportunity for us to learn from people already in the sector and implement in our own daily lives,” said grade 12 student Maya Mikhael.

“And just understanding all the different aspects that go into a business,” added classmate Shahnda Shaker. “Because obviously we have some understanding of it but we don't know everything that goes on behind the scenes. So I thought it was really interesting.”

Some students have already launched their own small business, like Reni Babs-Olorunfemi. “So my business is Virtual Tours 3D. So basically what I do is I go to real estate agents and offer my services which is creating 3D models of homes for them to sell.”

Babs-Olorunfemi told CTV News the main goal is to gain as much experience and knowledge as possible, while admitting post-secondary education will lead away from Windsor-Essex.

“For me, the city has done a lot. I immigrated to Canada with my family in 2015 and being here for like eight years now, it made the transition easier from Nigeria to Canada so I'm really grateful for the city. And being here gave me perspective on meeting so many different types of people because we are such a diverse city.”

Summit keynote speaker and Tepperman’s president, Andrew Tepperman, said there’s hope in the future, suggesting students would be wise to consider a return to the region should their education take them elsewhere.

“A lot of them are going to go to other universities,” Tepperman said. “The teacher was saying one of his students got into Stanford. That's excellent. You know, you have to be happy for that person. And I went away to New York. My brothers went away in the US for school too, but two of the three of us came back and that's where our home is, our roots, our families. So even if they're going to better themselves, there's a good chance they could come back too.”

He added, “It's not all rosy and fun. There's a lot of challenges and there's a lot of risks, but at the same time there can be a lot of rewards too.” 

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