McMaster University Student Draws Up Her Own Summer Business

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Khanh Be’s ability to make sketches come alive drew attention ever since she was a young girl, but she never considered her art as more than a hobby until government funding allowed her to turn her passion into a profession.

“When the opportunity came up to start a business with [my drawings], I thought, how much luckier can a girl get being able to do what she loves, make some money off it AND in general, share her passion with the world,” says the 22-year-old sketch artists.

“I thought, how much luckier can a girl get being able to do what she loves, make some money off it AND in general, share her passion with the world.” —Khanh Be, McMaster University Kinesiology student and Founder of drawattention

Khanh started drawing around Grade 1 and it didn’t take long for her to realize that she was able to do much more than the average stick figures. A few years later, she received a drawing set for her birthday, sparking the beginning of her self-taught graphite art education.

As she grew up, she excelled in sports and focused on her education, keeping her artistic talents as more of a hobby. Half way through her kinesiology degree at McMaster University, Khanh was reading about successful young people and discovered that they all had something in common: they all earned their success by creating something from their passions. Inspired, she decided to take her drawing to the next level.

“Apart from the curiosity to see if I could make some extra cash off of one of my passions, it also came down to the fact that I really did want to share my art with the people I knew, and the people I would come to know,” she says.

Instead of searching for a job that summer, Khanh decided to start her own business. She investigated funding and applied to be one of the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation’s Summer Companies. The program is created for Ontario youths, aged 15-29 who are returning to school in the fall and want to start their own business for the summer. If accepted, students can receive up to $3,000 in funding as well as small business training and mentoring.

“They equip you not only with the money that you need at the beginning, but through some counselling with business leaders in your area, they really do strive to make you your own successful boss,” says Khanh. “At 20 years old, this is exactly what I needed to see my vision through.”

She launched drawattention in the summer of 2010 under the tagline “all great stories start with a pencil,” and began selling commissioned artwork around her hometown of Waterloo, Ontario.

“Through this art, I could help tell someone’s story, which for a romantic/sucker for cheesy stuff like me, was heaven,” she says. “Whether it was an electrifying smile between a couple, or a moment of embrace between a mom and her son from the 50’s, I was given the unique opportunity of bringing to light beautifully quiet moments.”

Things started slow and Khanh had her doubts. Was she really qualified to sell her work? Was she charging too much? Luckily, the young entrepreneur had the support of her the Summer Company advisors and with their guidance, she gained confidence in her service, her product and herself.

During the summer, she worked full-time creating art for families, special events and friends. Once September hit, she had generated enough demand that she continued to take on projects throughout the school year and even while on exchange in Germany, striking a careful balance between her business and coursework.

Marketing exclusively through her website, Facebook, Twitter and word-of-mouth, drawattention’s clientele expanded. Khanh used social media platforms to engage her growing following with galleries, time-lapse videos, and countdowns to the completion of larger projects – bringing fans into the process behind her business.

Her portfolio now includes 30 pieces ranging from ranging from simple one-person portraits to large, six-person family photos the size of a car windshield. McMaster University was so impressed by her talents and videos that their alumni association commissioned a photo of the university’s founder, William McMaster. Following that, Khanh was asked to create grad gifts for her 2012 kinesiology graduating class which will be framed and hung in McMaster’s athletic center on June 12.

Two years since drawattention first started, Khanh now plans on spending the upcoming summer months building her company’s brand and stretching out its online presence. The new grad will be heading to Ottawa in the fall to start her master’s in sports management, but she doesn’t plan on leaving her artwork behind.

“The pride that I get when someone opens up their drawing, and the tears that start to build up when they see a memory brought to life before their eyes, that alone is reason enough to continue doing this for the rest of my life.”

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About the author

Ishani Nath is a proud McMaster alum, aspiring writer and current journalism grad student at Ryerson University. When she's not hammering out articles, she can usually be found on a patio or nestled on a couch trying to keep up with those crazy Kardashians. She hopes to one day have a job that makes her excited to get up each morning, or at least one that gives her free food. Intrigued? Enthralled? Learn more by following her on @ishaninath.