Not everybody gets an equal shot at seeing their dreams materialize.
But an Ivey Business School micro-lending program, in association with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, looks to do just that for people with addictions and mental health challenges.
“I did not expect myself to be a business student,” said Dylan Hoover, a recent graduate of Western whose anxiety can get in the way of employment. “I found it such a pleasant surprise to see characteristics about myself that I’ve known for a long while are actually valuable in this type of business environment.”
Hoover and his classmates are a part of the first Rise Asset Development London Youth Small Business Program, an initiative by the Rotman School of Management. Since 2013, Rise Asset has offered small-business training to Londoners, in a partnership with the Ivey Business School.
Executive director Jodi Butts explained targeting people 30 years old and under made sense due to London’s high unemployment rate and struggle to retain its university and college graduates.
“Talking about our mission, sometimes it’s met with skepticism because people just don’t think that men and women with those histories would necessarily be ready to start businesses,” Butts said.
Financial or mental health challenges are the most cited reasons for not finishing postsecondary school, let alone attending in the first place, according to the National Centre for Educational Statistics.
Butts explained gaps in education or resumes make it difficult for people with a history of mental health to get hired, as well as stigma and stereotypes.
Justin Carter, the Rise London youth small business facilitator, says self-employment is the best way to get around such stigma.
“It doesn’t really matter as much if an employer out there has some sort of stigma against mental health issues because you are simply responsible for your own destiny in a sense,” Carter said.
Over the course of three months, September to November, students get a crash course in the latest small-business design tools. At the end of the program, they pitch their business plans and are eligible for a $500 startup loan.
“The course really pushes people to get out of their comfort zone – talk to people they’ve never talked to before, do things they’ve never done before,” Carter said.
Hoping the class number will double for the January sessions, Carter gives the class his undivided attention to help them succeed.
Hoover explained he wasn’t sure what he was going to do after university until he spoke with Carter.
“This man, and more particularly, the people associated with this program, are helping me to figure out how to take a ‘wild-and-crazy idea’ and turn it into ‘here’s how you could make this work,” Hoover said.
Sandra Rotman, of the Rotman School of Management, founded Rise Asset Development after meeting many talented people while receiving treatment at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Partnering her husband’s business school with CAMH enabled her to create the Rise Asset microloan program and recruit potential entrepreneurs.
“I’m impressed by the program in terms of skills, financial reward and in terms of just, what they catered to,” Hoover said. “I found their sensitivity toward mental health was wonderful. It was nice to see both the handling of the analytical side of business while still having that mixture of compassion and competition.”
With the goal of partnering with similar facilities in cities all across Ontario, Rotman’s program is changing the lives of the people in these programs. Grants from Ministry of Economic Development and funding from private donors such as Sandra Rotman, RBC and CitiBank Foundations help make Rise Asset Development happen.
“I’m feeling the program itself is a good fit, the lessons I’m getting out of this are at once hands on and high concept,” Hoover said. “And that I’m going to be connected with the right sorts of people who can help me focus the mad manic energy of my ‘pie-in-the-sky’ ideas.”