TheBulletin.ca

Young entrepreneurs who won’t mind their own business

Hamza facilitating a BITS workshop in 2017. Courtesy of BITS.

Hamza Fasih is a young man with a dream and a desire to never work for anyone else. A fitness enthusiast, Hamza started Altius Fitness with nothing more than a Twitter handle, a single client and an idea.

“It was my company, but I didn’t know what I was selling,” Fasih said. He would depend on Business In The Streets (BITS) to help refine and flush out his company, his product and his vision.

Fasih joined BITS in 2017 after hearing about the program from his brother. As a fitness professional, he knew he had the exercise, education and nutrition skills, but didn’t have the business skills. BITS offered him the fast-track to the essential business skills he needed to succeed.

“Through BITS I got a very practical skill set,” Fasih said, “I also had a connection with peer mentors which helped me flush out my product.”

Fasih credits the peer mentors and the environment at BITS for his success. Always an academic learner, Fasih benefited greatly from the “softer”, interpersonal learning that BITS was able to offer him.

“The mentorship isn’t in a hierarchical structure,” Fasih said, “They’re approachable and young, but experienced. They’re a couple steps ahead of you in their businesses which makes them a valuable resource.”

The most vital takeaway for Fasih was the networking and opportunity to learn alongside, and from, people who were in the same position as him. BITS taught Fasih what entrepreneurship really involves, giving him a look at the path he was on and allowing him the opportunity to learn from those who were a few steps ahead.

A skeptical young man, Fasih wasn’t sure BITS would be able to live up to the promise they make: “taking your business from ideation to execution.” After spending time in BITS, Fasih says he sees that promise is more than a slogan, it’s a mandate.

“My expectations were vastly exceeded as I got attention for the specific problems I faced with my business,” Faish said, “The reason I wanted to stay involved with BITS is because I felt I could do the same for others.”

Altius Fitness has a unique approach to diet and exercise. Founded with the belief that people can get extremely fit and healthy without expensive personal trainers or nutritionists – Altius instead believes in the power of education. Clients that go through the Altius program are taught how they can take ownership of their own diet and exercise, and how they can maintain both habits long term.

“Really what I do is create fitness solutions for busy people,” Fasih said. “I make fitness fit their lives, not the other way around.their lives fit the fitness.”

Fasih credits BITS for creating his business. He entered the program with an idea and graduated with a refined product and a business plan. Since finishing the program in July 2017, Fasih has accelerated the trajectory for Altius Fitness.

“Options for long-term fitness solutions aren’t great. I wanted to help people achieve their fitness goals without spending money on personal trainers and dieticians,” Fasih said.

A deep sense of gratitude and a belief in BITS as an impactful organization lead Fasih to continue working with BITS as a peer mentor and facilitator. Almost one year after completing BITS’ programming, Fasih is helping the next cohort of entrepreneurial youth solidify their businesses.

BITS’ mission is “building people and communities through the power of business”. The commitment to this mission is evident from a quick walk through its Dundas St. office. Young people, participants, and employees mix and mingle, learning and working, building people, and communities.

“Youth today are hyper-creative, they’re growing up in a world that is shifting rapidly and thereby have a different relationship to innovation and change,” said BITS Program Director Kyle Monczak. “They see themselves as catalysts in the process and are eager to act. BITS is here to help them do that.”

Monczak has been with BITS since 2015. He has overseen a ramping up in efforts and outreach, and an office change. The new office is bright, spacious and provides a collaborative workspace for BITS employees and program participants to work and grow.

“When BITS first started, we were happy to get seven youth in a program, these days we receive over 30 applications per cohort,” Monczak said. “All of this activity points to a growing interest youth have in taking control over their careers.”

With a focus on two programs, Youth Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (YCEO) and Boot Camp, BITS takes participants through a crash-course in developing and operating their business. YCEO includes eight three-hour sessions, peer mentorship, exposure to local business owners and expert guest speakers. Boot Camp is more intensive. Nine group sessions are held and one-to-one mentorship from a designated entrepreneur is provided. Boot Camp concludes with a pitch presentation. Participants pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges and business experts.

“The pitch presentations provide a space for inspiration, criticism, and connection – all important ingredients in the entrepreneur’s cookbook,” Monczak said. “Through pitching, youth receive crucial feedback from experts they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

Youth have the opportunity to apply for funding for their business, up to $5,000,  following their participation in BITS programs. This funding is unique as it is provided in the form of combination loans and grants, with at least half of the funding coming as a grant. The fund is managed by Alterna Savings and provides youth the opportunity to learn how to deal with a bank, apply for loans and manage their money in a low-risk environment.

“Poor financial literacy can leave youth in precarious circumstances. Besides, providing access to start-up capital, BITS Bucks teaches young people how to manage the funding they have strategically leading to smarter decision-making. There’s added impact, too – of the five entrepreneurs we’ve been able to evaluate through our BITS Bucks program, credit scores have increased an average of 43 points. This means lower interest rates and easier access to capital moving forward.”

BITS sees that youth will need to the driving force of the Canadian economy and sees that high youth unemployment rates are a chronic and structural issue. BITS believes the solution lies in youth-driven, practical training in order to provide transferable skill sets and expanded professional networks.

Since 2012, BITS has supported nearly 400 entrepreneurial-minded youth and has provided more than $140,000 in funding to support 40 business ventures. To learn more about BITS or to get involved, please visit www.businessinthestreets.com.