Standing in the kitchen of Mama Mary’s, taking a breather from the Saturday morning breakfast crowd, I still clearly remember thinking it wasn’t supposed to be this damn hard.
For close to four years, the 40-seat breakfast-and-lunch eatery on the northwest corner of George and Sherbrooke streets was the centre of the universe for the Rellinger family. With Mary making good on her lifelong dream to own and manage her own restaurant, the kids and I went along for the ride. Alas, after close to four years, totally exhausted, we got out in pretty good shape. We made some mistakes along the way but they were our mistakes. We also made a few new friends who we are still close with. All said and done, it was a good experience. No regrets here.
So it is that when Michael Skinner advises anyone looking to start his or her own business to “do what you love,” we are well advised to listen and listen good.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’re looking at very long hours and a lot of work. If you’re doing something that you love, something that you’re passionate about, it’s not going to seem like work.”
Currently president and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster, Michael knows a thing or two about successful entrepreneurship. In 2001, he founded learning software development company Opritel and expanded it globally. He now owns Kawartha Entertainment Group Inc. (KEGI) and MAS Capital Investments. He remains no stranger to entrepreneurial success.
“There’s always a good time and a bad time to start a business (but) for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a lot of supporting agencies…organizations with volunteer boards of local entrepreneurs with a single focus of building a culture of entrepreneurship here,” notes Michael, listing Peterborough Economic Development, the Business Advisory Centre, Start-Up Peterborough and the Innovation Cluster as just a few examples.
“We’re also recognizing entrepreneurs and small businesses from an academic point of view. We’re seeing entrepreneurship studies being pushed at college and university. The idea of being an entrepreneur is much more obvious than it was in the past.”
“I think the one thing we’re doing as a community and doing very well right now is we’re recognizing success. I’m not sure we did that well before. That drives that message to people that this is a career path that people respect and it’s something I can do.”
Lindsay Brock certainly thought owning and managing her own business was something she could do. Last August, with her husband Joe Hay, she opened Amusé Coffee Co. at 641 George Street North (at Edinburgh Street). The menu at the French-inspired café features Paninis, pastries and, of course, an array of coffee and tea varieties.
Of note, Lindsay credits FastStart – a youth entrepreneurship training partnership between Trent University, Fleming College and the Innovation Cluster – with giving her the guidance and confidence needed to take things to the next level. Also in the mix was assistance from StarterCompany and Community Futures Peterborough.
“I won’t romanticize or sugar coat how hard it can be some days…the exhaustion, long hours, the imminent potential for financial or marital stress,” says Lindsay.
“I still wouldn’t trade it for being employed in the conventional sense. I love what I do and I adore our clients. And if something isn’t going as planned, I have the freedom to affect change as needed.”
“I am so grateful each day that I finally get to work for myself. I have worked in the coffee and beverage industry for many years and sought management positions because I thought that would be the most realistic manifestation of my life long endeavour to run a café. Little did I know that these positions were stepping stones, each giving me a unique skill set.”
“I knew I had enough passion, knowledge and business sense to branch out on my own but fear was a major roadblock. Being at the right place at the right time, along with the assets I had, it somehow came together.”
Lindsay’s courageous venture into uncharted waters, and the subsequent success of Amuse, is held up by Michael as “a great example of someone who loves what she does and was able to build a business around that.” He notes there are numerous examples of that same entrepreneurial spirit in action throughout the city.
For her part, Lindsay admits to sleepless nights related to her business – “I’m a perfectionist which gets the better of me at times – but the rewards number many, not the least of which is “being on the front-line, engaging with customers, and making yummy treats and beverages.” More than that, she has earned, in a very short time, the right to pass on advice to any budding entrepreneur.
“Recognize your strengths and what you struggle with and devise a strategy to run a tight ship, even if it means seeking some outside resources. Take care of your well-being. Beyond that, ask for help and never stop networking or making connections.”
“Peterborough really seems to be a fantastic place to start a business. The community is so welcoming and full of support. I feel so fortunate to be a part of our thriving entrepreneurial landscape.”