School is hard enough as it is when you’re juggling a few courses and a job, but can you imagine pursuing school and your own business? These students featured in this series are student entrepreneurs who attend or have graduated from the University of Windsor. They are all a part of the EPICentre, an innovative, modern and collaborative space for young entrepreneurs across various disciplines. Read about their unique businesses and how they balance being a student and an entrepreneur.
Parker started his own business two years ago called Pep Corporation, PepCo for short, which specializes in automation and 3D printing and 3D printing for different supply chains manufacturers and automotive manufacturers. PepCo prints anything from 1 part to up to several thousand parts for automotive companies such as Volkswagen.
The name PepCo was inspired by Parker’s nickname that his little brother gave him, Pepper, because he couldn’t pronounce Parker.
Parker got into 3D printing back when he was in high school. His grade 10 drafting teacher got a 3D printer through a grant. He taught himself how to use the 3D printer, creating designs and sending it to the computer to tell the printer what to do.
3D printers cost $4,000 which is why Parker decided to make his own.
“I couldn’t afford a 3D Printer at the time because you know — high school student. So instead I opted to build my own, and this was probably a year later or so. People started approaching me asking me if I could print parts and that’s how it kind of started,” said Parker.
It takes about a week for all the parts of the printer to come in and Parker and his team can build one printer in under ten hours. Parker currently has ten printers that make parts.
He says that making the printers has its benefits.
“The biggest benefit is, we can do our own repairs. We can buy parts really cheap. A majority of the printers are actually printed on the printers. We buy all the electronics, laser cut the frames, and then all of the parts are 3D printed themselves,” said Parker.
Since Parker is constantly working at Pepco, he doesn’t make much time for school.
“School is just kind of there. Honestly, it’s like 10 percent of my time is school, 60 percent is the business, and the rest is sleep or eat. That’s basically it,” says Parker. “I am doing well in my classes, but I could definitely be putting more effort it.”
The EPICentre has really helped Parker and his business due to the rented space, networking and mentorship they receive.
PepCo is doing so well that in a year Parker hopes to buy his own warehouse or office space. Right now they primarily make production parts for people, but they have plans to launch four different online platforms within the next year. Parker hopes to increase his team to at least 20 people within the next three years.
“This is definitely not just a hobby. This is something I do plan to pursue for the future,” said Parker.
Ashley’s business is called Drama as a Second Language (DSL) and it is a social enterprise. A social enterprise is an organization that applies business strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being. DSL’s mission is to empower new-comer youth and their social development through drama education workshops and programs.
Ashley has done four different programs so far and is also conducting research for the programs. Herself and her partner are trying to see if drama education can influence social development in newcomer youth specifically. The research was funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant.
They have held programs at the new Canadian Centre of Excellence, Catholic Centre High School and for the international students at the University of Windsor who are enrolled in the Centre for English Language Development. The newcomer youth are mainly from the Middle East, northern Africa and China.
“We have basically seen that the youth find that they are able to build relationships and new friendships. They are able to develop their English skills and have more confidence speaking, approaching others, and communicating with other people non-verbally” said Ashley. “It also helps develop a positive development in their social identity and boosting their self-esteem.”
Ashley speaks on the different methods used to help the youth.
“We do different drama techniques and one of them can be improvisation, scene development, characterization, and role play. We like the idea that theatre is real life,” said Ashley.
The newcomer youth are put in scenarios such as ordering at a Tim Hortons. Through these scenarios, they can see what the barriers might be such as communicating verbally or non-verbally.
DSL was started due to Ashley’s own experiences growing up.
“I was found belonging in my extracurriculars and groups”, said Ashley. “That helped me feel more apart of my school community. It helped me develop socially in a positive way.”
Balancing school and developing a business has been tough for Ashley.
“It was figuring out how you’re going to manage your time. When you’re going to schedule certain things and what days you’re actually going to work on your business and what days you’re going to focus on school,” said Ashley.
“I think the best way to balance your school life and your business endeavors is to actually be mindful of how you structure your school life to be able to nurture your business projects and ideas,” said Ashley.
Clarke Gallie’s business is a residential property management company called WindsorRent. What they do is manage real estate investments on behalf of landlords. They manage duplexes, triplexes, and single family apartments buildings. They also take care of accounts, tenant complaints and the maintenance of the property.
Clarke has worked with other real estate investors who purchased properties. He realizes that a lot of real estate investors didn’t care about the tenants in the property, they were more focused on how much money they were going to make.
“I kind of thought this was a problem. The tenants, they make this their home, it’s where they see themselves going about their day, making friends and making memories inside this place. I felt there was a lot of distance, so I built a property management company to kind of give power to the tenants,” said Clarke.
Landlords in Windsor and even as far as China hire WindsorRent to manage the property and the tenants. The tenants never see or communicate with the landlord as the tenants then only have to communicate with WindsorRent. They will send the landlord property reports so they can see how their investment is performing.
Clarke says that every business comes with its challenges. One of the biggest challenges for him was ensuring him and his team is communicating with tenants. Without his team, Clarke says he wouldn’t be able to do it on his own and he appreciates their support.
“We try to have a fast response time, whether its leaky toilet, leaky roof — the maintenance guys will go there in a few hours. If the furnace is out, we will go there and put a replacement heater to make sure that the tenants stay is as good as it can be,” said Clarke.
Clarke is a full-time student at the University of Windsor. From Monday to Friday, he tried to spend four hours on school-related work and another four hours on the business. He’s grateful that the EPICentre is only a few steps away from his classes.
Clarke was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario.
“Let’s make Windsor a good place to live. I love this city! I want the landlords and the tenants to love this city as well. Let’s makes sure that everyone cares,” said Clarke.
When Li Zhang was still a student, he used to go to the wineries in Windsor because it was his personal hobby.
Li’s friend suggested to him one day to sell the local wine made in Windsor to China, and that is how his business, Jiayiftz, started about two years ago.
For his business, Li negotiates with people in China, advertises the Canadian wine, and exports and imports different wines from Canada to China.
“We hope that the Chinese people who live in Canada can tell their friends about the original wine from Canada,” says Li.
In the wine industry, there is a lot of competition that Li faces.
“The first challenge is competing with other business owners from Niagara and British Columbia selling wine to China as well. Another thing is advertising in Toronto and British Columbia as it is very competitive,” says Li.
Since Li has graduated, he now works full time on his business. He also hires students and co-op students from the University of Windsor.
Chen Huang, who also goes by Amy, works part-time for Li. She is responsible for selling the products to China and communicating with customers. She also manages some of the contributors.
“Li is a really grateful person. Working with him is very enjoyable and he has taught us a lot of things like how to communicate with the customers in China and how to sell the products to them,” said Amy. “This experience has helped me a lot.”
Li says that the EPICentre has given him a lot of support and helped reduce spending costs for his business.
To promote the wine that they sell, they invite people from Windsor and tourists from London and Toronto to a BBQ at Peele Island.
“Every summer we set up a tour to the Peele Island and people can go there and enjoy the wine and enjoy the live music,” said Li.
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