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Startup: Winning awards by sowing fields

Getting the chance to speak to professors and speak to mentors and realizing that I could make farming interesting and make it my own, said Brett Sheffield, a business management major at the University of Manitoba, on his inspiration to go independent. Seeing the different things you're able to do and using that has really brought out my inner entrepreneurial spirit.Despite there being farms all across Canada, many young people are not aiming for agriculture. But where others wavered, Sheffield saw opportunity.

I honestly think agriculture is booming right now, he said. There are businesses that are competing to try to find students that are coming out of agriculture. The jobs, the pay that you're getting in the agriculture industry is phenomenal right now.

For Sheffield, farming has been a way of life, including its ups and downs. My parents were cattle farmers before mad cow disease basically ruined them, so I decided to go the grain route and the past five years have been phenomenal.

Different than products in technology or other fields, in grain production, clients come to him. Customers really come to me and big companies will come and purchase it from me rather than having to go and find it myself. He says he never has a problem selling his goods. There's always a market for it but the price fluctuates depending on the markets.

Knowing the ins and outs of crops is one thing, but funding an entire farm is another. Sheffield played it smart when he was starting out. To start, I just rented a piece of land. I went to the bank and got an operating loan. I got cash advances from the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Canola Growers. That allowed me to put my first crop in. I rent the majority of my land so that allows me to keep my costs down so I can expand through rented land and I can increase my working capital without typing up all my money in purchasing land.

Like any business owner, Sheffield had to learn and adapt as his business grew. I learned a lot from increasing in size. Managing and seeing what was going on was easy just because it was a small size. He reiterates how difficult operating a growing business can be and the importance of management and up-to-date technology. I actually missed fertilizing a field because I hadn't increased my management and my bookkeeping.

And Sheffield's innate business savvy doesn't end on the farm. I also purchased a 24-hour fitness centre in my small community last year. It was mostly just to have for the community but I was also able to get 100 per cent return on investment in the first year.

Because of his entrepreneurial drive and success, Sheffield recently won the 2012 Student Entrepreneur National Competition, an annual award given out by Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE). I think they like to see that I not only have one successful business model, but two, he said. The community aspect and my determination to try and help create green practices and increase productivity throughout my farm, I think they found that was interesting.

When asked what advice he gives to students thinking of starting their own businesses, Sheffield says go with your passion. Do what you're passionate about and stick with it and, in time, success will come. I really find it unique that I'm able to do the two things I'm most passionate about everyday, which is agriculture and fitness. And not only do I get to wake up and do the two things I love most, but I'm also able to make money with it and pay my bills with it and support my family.