Western, London ‘Rise’ up for economic opportunity

Allison Moyer is not one to mince words.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said the 31-year old, discussing her mental-health challenges.

A budding entrepreneur, she had failed repeatedly to secure financing to grow her vintage clothing idea. But with the help of Rise Asset Development, the brainchild of philanthropist Sandra Rotman, wife of Western chancellor Joseph Rotman, Moyer’s life has turned around with the opening of Tickety Boutique in downtown Toronto.

In 2009, the Rotman School of Management in Toronto and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) founded Rise; it has since assisted more than 400 budding entrepreneurs.

“I was living on disability for a number of years and I didn’t know if I had it in me,” said Moyer, a Toronto resident. “With the funds, I brought my online hobby into a brick-and-mortar facility – vintage and vintage-inspired items. Without Rise, I don’t think the notion of self-employment would have entered my mind.

“I had been given something to live for. It has allowed me to be free again, get out of the house and interact with the public, like a normal person.”

Now, that opportunity has arrived in London.

Through collaboration between Western’s Ivey Business School and multiple community agencies in London, Rise Asset Development launched a new avenue to economic independence through entrepreneurship for people who have mental health or addiction challenges.

At its heart, Rise provides small-business loans and mentorship to individuals interested in pursuing self-employment. Rise uses four micro-financing programs to target specific audiences:

  • The Individual Lending Program allows an individual to access up to $25,000 in financing, with an average initial financing starting at $4,000;
  • The Youth Small Business Program targets individuals age 16-29 with a free course where participants develop entrepreneurship skills, while converting their idea into a viable business plan. Those who successfully complete the program may be eligible for $500, for start-up costs of their business as well as may be eligible to apply for Rise financing;
  • The Group Lending Program works with groups of three-six borrowers and connects them to business mentors and industry experts in the community. Rise also hosts monthly group sessions with the group members and mentor. Loans start between $300-$1,500, and then increase depending on the business need, repayment history and group consent; and
  • The Event Lending Program provides loans up to $1,000 to pay admission to at a convention or festival where the individual can showcase and sell their products/services. Entrepreneurs must use the sales from their event to immediately pay back their loan before covering any other costs.

London is the third community to benefit from this innovative project, joining Rise Toronto and Rise Ottawa, which started earlier this year.

The Rise London model was designed to meet this community’s specific needs. It was informed by an advisory group of senior leaders from several London-based agencies who provide social and employment services for youth and adults. Those agencies include WOTCH Community Mental Health Services, Goodwill Industries, United Way London & Middlesex, Sisters of St. Joseph, London Small Business Centre, Emerging Leaders, mindyourmind and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. These organizations will continue to shape the design and roll-out of the program in the coming months.

“Rise has been instrumental in improving the lives of its clients by helping them start up, grow or re-start their entrepreneurial ventures,” said Rotman who, as an outpatient of CAMH, became aware of many creative men and women who could not obtain meaningful work.

“Employment in large corporations and other traditional work places can be problematic, and the path to entrepreneurship comes with some obstacles, too,” she added. “Traditional bank loans are not available, plus I assess the need for mentorship and coaching support as important as financial support.”

That mentorship and coaching support is how Ivey alumni will step up to the plate.

More than 1,400 alumni from the London region will be there to assist in getting ideas off the ground, said Anne Snowdon, chair of the International Centre for Health Innovation at the Ivey Business School.

“Meaningful employment is an important pillar in a person’s well-being and identity; however, people with mental-health issues or addictions often face barriers to the traditional job market,” Snowdon said. “This program improves the lives of this population, empowering them to become successful entrepreneurs through access to financing and business mentorship from the local business community and our business school alumni.”

She added the program is about connecting and engaging Ivey alumni with creative entrepreneurs and creating a path forward.

“Rise is a tremendous asset to our community for both social and health innovation. It’s a helping hand, not a handout,” she said. “It is the creation of meaningful networks of support that enables, empowers and inspires to get over the hurdles, the tough days and celebrate those wonderful successes.”

While the catalyst behind the Rise program, Rotman is quick to deflect the accolades.

“I want to thank the entrepreneurs who trusted us to help you help yourselves,” she said. “I’m delighted entrepreneurs in the London region facing employment problems as a result of mental health or addiction challenges will now be able to benefit from the mentoring and financial support provided by Rise.

“With that guidance and financial support, these men and women can realize their potential and become entrepreneurs, and the impact could be enormous – enhanced self-esteem, community involvement and independence.”