Sarah Moore had trouble finding work while she was in high school.
“I dropped off my resumé at hundreds of places, but there weren’t any jobs,” she says.
Moore’s friends couldn’t find summer jobs either; some didn’t start working until July, leaving little time to make money for post-secondary school.
Moore’s job troubles affirm Statistics Canada’s report that 15 per cent of people ages 15 to 24 were unemployed last year. Employment for the same age group fell 10% from October 2008 to October 2009. These dismal statistics have prompted some students to create their own jobs instead, to make money.
Luckily, Moore, a fourth-year psychology student at Ryerson University, was hired in 2006 as a painter at College Pro Painters, which trains students to be franchise managers who go after painting jobs in their area. Painters carry out each project, with College Pro taking a cut of the profits.
Moore worked under former franchise manager Jonathan Sarafinchin and stuck with him when he started his own painting business.
Sarafinchin, who studied police foundations at Humber College, was College Pro’s highest earner in Ontario, and became the third highest revenue generator in North America. He made $1 million in paint services during his four years at the company.
Sarafinchin, 26, planned to become a “lifer” at College Pro. He became a general manager in 2008, and relocated to Boston with his girlfriend. However, Sarafinchin lost his job due to the recession, and lost his girlfriend as well.
“That was my rock bottom,” he says. But Sarafinchin didn’t stay down for long. “I cried for two minutes and that was sort of it.”
He moved back to Canada, started working jobs for painters he met through College Pro, and eventually founded Encore Painting in late 2008.
Encore is now thriving, thanks to Sarafinchin’s previous experience at College Pro, as well as Sarafinchin’s hands-on approach.
“He spends more time training [painters] to do the job properly,” says Moore, who works as Encore’s production manager. “He basically had to start from scratch so he’s had his hand in everything.”
University of Ottawa student Alex Anka has also had success at College Pro, although her first summer didn’t go very well.
“Even though it wasn’t the most profitable [year], it was definitely the most enriching experience. I was able to pay for my tuition and I bought my painting van,” she says.
A former psychology student, Anka originally planned to work a regular psychology job to make money before opening her own restaurant. Thanks to College Pro, however, she will realize her dream sooner, as she switched to a business major.
Anka says entrepreneurship has spoiled her. While she loved her old job as a server at The Keg, she says she would never go back.
“I don’t think I could see myself being an employee again,” she says.
Despite Sarafinchin and Anka’s successes, Sarafinchin says roughly three to five of Toronto’s 18 College Pro franchises fail every year.
“They fail because they don’t bring the effort,” he says.
Even though getting his company off the ground took a lot of work, Sarafinchin says he’s glad he stuck with it.
“I’m a smart guy, why would I want to clean hostels at night? I’d rather run my own business,” he says.
Ryerson media management and entrepreneurship professor Charles Davis says more people are starting to think like Sarafinchin. He says students benefit more from working for themselves doing something they love, than working a normal job they hate. Davis also points out that microenterprises (companies consisting of fewer than five employees) and owner-operated businesses are on the rise.
And although starting an entrepreneurial venture seems daunting, Ryerson entrepreneurship professor Steven Gedeon says everything from freelancing to dog-walking count as forms of entrepreneurship.
“A lot of students don’t think of that as entrepreneurship. They think that entrepreneurship is [just] starting your own business,” Gedeon says.
Davis adds that students are slowly warming to entrepreneurship.
“I think the recession is helping a lot of people learn that having an [entrepreneurial] idea is not a bad thing,” adds Davis.
This is certainly true for Sarafinchin, who loves working for himself.
“It’s quite nice to be the boss,” he says.