These entrepreneurs recently completed a free 13-week program delivered by Toronto Community Housing called Be.Build.Brand. (B3). The program offers mentorship and capacity-building opportunities to equip tenants with skills needed to turn their ideas into viable business ventures.
Community Services Coordinator and B3 program lead Olu Villasa says, “I am blown away by the creative, conceptual thinking our youth bring to the table and impressed that a lot of their ideas are linked to social change.”
The B3 Pitch Competition was held at George Brown College, the venue sponsor, on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. The competition is a culminating event that offers students a chance to pitch their idea to an esteemed panel, in hopes of winning the funds to propel their venture to the next step.
What participants said
When gun violence left him injured, Francis faced a long healing journey and found that there was no structured support or guidance to help him get back on track. That is when he founded Athletic Academic Project (AAP), a company focused on assisting high school athletes transitioning into postsecondary varsity athletics.
“My business is an information package for high school athletes looking to continue with their talents and passions. It aims to provide exposure for athletes, tutoring services before exams and tests, training and nutrition advice and lastly, help delegate potential opportunities or offers from coaches and universities/colleges.”
Francis says he heard about the B3 program when a friend saw some postings for applicants in the community. “What I found most valuable about the B3 program was their ability to force me to redefine the value structures of my business and most importantly, where to begin. Throughout the program I was consistently editing my mission, vision and values in a very constructive way!”
“The next step for me is launching my information package online with the intention of reaching athletes in the GTA. Moving forward I will assess what athletes and parents find most valuable about my package, edit accordingly and add a second tier to my package--possibly expanding the reach of my target market!”
Niasha is the founder of Delicious Decor, a catering and customized crafts service providing clients with baked goods and customized novelty items. She took home the $500 prize.
“One day while speaking to a friend, I was telling her about my business idea and she mentioned B3. The next day I got the information and decided that it was a good opportunity to learn what I needed, to at least start my business.”
Niasha says the B3 experience gave her “insight to what was needed to run my business as an individual and in the future, with employees. I also learned about making a pitch deck and what it’s used for, that has been very beneficial.”
“At the moment, I am planning to officially launch my business on social media and host a launch party in the summer. Ultimately, my end goal is to own an event centre where I can offer all my services in-house. It will allow my clients to save on their events and hopefully, I’ll be able to expand even more.”
Darius is the founder of Black Diamond Athletics, an apparel business that provides quality and affordable compression shorts for athletes at a lower price point.
Darius had a lot on his plate but was determined to pursue his goals. “For me, it was college/study and then straight to the B3 program, get home late then right back to college/study in the morning and then a part-time job on the weekend.”
He says it was all worthwhile because “B3 taught me about business in general and most of the aspects of owning a business. The aspects were also explained in deeper terms, specifically to our individual business.” Darius, who has been working towards his goals little by little since he was 18 says, “It taught me about passion and perseverance.”
“To keep networking and setting up meetings to finally be able to get my products and sell them. I don’t have my products yet but I’m working, I’m trying. My end goal is to sell sports clothing to overweight and/or oversized athletes and broadening to other sizes and products. Also, creating a platform for designers so they can create their designs and be able to showcase them to the public.”
Alesha is the founder of The Eagle program at The Phoenix House, a non-for-profit organization geared towards the rehabilitation and social re-framing of at-risk men coming out of prison and young mothers entangled in children’s aid. Alesha took home the $1,000 prize.
“B3 sort of fell into my lap as I explored another business venture and caught the attention of one of its founders, Olu Villasa. Not knowing that the program would be the perfect opportunity to refine and present this project.”
Alesha says the B3 program set her up for success. “B3 has been more valuable than words. I began with a rough, uncertain idea that I could only partially express. But the team pulled it out of me and helped build my vision, allowing it to become a perfect reflection of my passion and give me a hope for success!”
“I plan to pursue training to become better equipped while simultaneously building a network and ultimately, a team that can train with me to get things off the ground. I'm working on my logic models and will be building a board of directors as soon as possible.”
The winner of the 2018 pitch contest was Ermias Nagatu whose business idea touched the hearts and minds of attendees including his fellow competitors. “I created a virtual reality experience using hand-held goggles that immerse the viewer in that setting.” Ermias says the goal was to grant dying patients last wishes which he found were often to feel a sense of normalcy. "I thought they would choose thrilling experiences but it was actually wishes like sitting at their favourite park or in a classroom.”
Ermias had been testing the low-cost goggles on patients at Sick Kids Hospital and even his own family. He says the joy it brought to people only motivated him further. He took home the $2,000 grand prize.
“Being part of the Be.Build.Brand program was an invaluable experience not only to my professional development but also for my personal wellbeing and community. The program helped me establish my vision and connected me with a network of individuals committed to my success. Their mentorship and commitment has directly contributed to the achievements my start-up has had since beginning the program.”
“The potential to push their ideas forward”
Director of Strategic Planning and Stakeholder Relations Hugh Lawson served as a panelist and expressed deep admiration for participants. He said, “Presenting a pitch is never easy. I was most impressed by each competitor’s delivery and undeniable passion for their business and for people. Regardless if they were awarded money that night, each one demonstrated to me that they have the potential to push their ideas forward and surmount any challenges they might face.”
Notable attendees included keynote speaker Michael Gezahegn, better known as “Failwhale34”, a well-known online content creator and a B3 alum who credits his success to key learnings from the program. Plus, event host Jordan Veira, a Jamaican-Canadian poet, author, arts and equity educator.
Manager of Community and Economic Development Nadia Gouveia explains, “We recognize the talent within countless young people across our communities but also, the many unfair barriers they face. B3 is just one way we are investing in our youth and helping them realize their own potential.”