Stats: 25 years old; graduated from Queen's University with an honours bachelor of commerce degree in June 2009. Awarded the runner-op prize by ACE during the 2009 national student entrepreneur competition. Currently operates Big Red Works, a student-run maintenance company he founded, which services the Georgian Bay area.
After five years of spending his summers working at Georgian Bay Landing, a marina in Honey Harbour, Ontario, Scott Metherell was surprised when he got a call from the marina's new management. They said they wouldn't need him the following summer.
I was a little upset. I had a job up there all my life and I wasn't interested in getting a job in the city.
Not being one to let life just happen to him, the Queen's University grad decided to take his future into his own hands. He started up BigRedWorks, a student-run maintenance company servicing the Georgian Bay area.
When we started, it was just my brother and I. We bought the boat, it had red pontoons, so eventually we called ourselves BigRedWorks. We were just hoping to work three, four days a week, and make as much money as we were making at the marina. But by the end of our first summer, we had six employees. We bought a barge, two work boats, and we've just grown from there. Going on six years now, we're up to three barges and five workboats, and we've started to keep a staff of around ten.
When asked what makes his business stand out among the local competitors, Scott was quick to answer with three key points.
1) Use local knowledge to your advantage
First, the thing about Honey Harbour is that you really need to know the waters and where you're going. There are no street signs or road maps on the water. But having worked at the marina for five years, I knew the water like the back of my hand. So when we started, and word of mouth started to spread, people could phone me and say, ÔÇÿWe're the blue cottage beside the green boat,' and I would have a pretty good idea where that was.
2) Recognize your opportunities
Second thing, having spent so much time working as a water taxi driver, talking to people, I knew what most people up there weren't happy with. One, the contractors around here were always too busy to do the little stuff. They were too busy building million dollar cottages or one hundred thousand dollar tennis courts. They weren't interested in building a ten thousand dollar deck or delivering five hundred dollars worth of gravel.
3) Be accessible to your clients
Finally, many of the local contractors were very hard to get in touch with. Not very many had a website. Pretty much no one had an email address. And you were lucky if you even got an answering machine. So when we came on the scene, we had a website, we had Blackberries, email, we returned voicemails within 24 hours. These simple things really blew people away.
We started with just a few basic things, but those were so important. People were used to getting this level of service in the city, but never up here in cottage country. That's what made all the difference.
After sharing this success story, Scott added what satisfied him most about being an entrepreneur. The biggest thing is that you're in charge of your own destiny. If you want to work hard, and set some goals and achieve them, you can make it happen. You run on your own schedule and make your own rules. The freedom, that's what I really love.
And when it comes to advice for would-be student entrepreneurs, Scott didn't mince words. Now is the best time in your whole life to start a business. You don't have a wife (or husband) and kids. You don't have any expenses and you've got your parents to fall back on. Best of all, you've got a whole faculty of professors who are willing to help.
The free advice and mentoring I got from my professors was just so invaluable. I mean, if you're 35 and you want to start a business, then sure you can ask for their advice, but you have to pay for all those services. But when you're a student, professors are so excited that you're young and you're taking this initiative that they love to help. So many people helped me out to get started, it was amazing. I'm very grateful.
So all I'd say is to just do it now. Do it while you're young. You don't have a whole lot to lose and you won't believe what you'll learn and who you will meet by taking on the challenge.