(This story is sponsored by Futurpreneur Canada.)
When Anita Gee and Audrey Hui met a decade ago, they became instant friends and knew that one day they wanted to work together. As the years went by they embarked on their separate career paths but they remained close. Gee is a nurse by profession and worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at B.C. Women’s Hospital. Hui, meanwhile, has dedicated her time to teaching and gained her Montessori certification in 2012. But they never forgot their dream.
When it came to making plans to start their own business a few years later, working with children seemed like a natural choice.
“We initially wanted a daycare but there were way too many logistics around it so we revised the concept,” explains Gee.
That concept was to open a play café, which combines a comfortable seating area with an indoor, interactive play and learning environment for young children and their caregivers. The idea, although quite common in Europe and Asia, is relatively new to Canada, but the pair felt confident there was a space for it in the market.
“There is definitely a lack of children-friendly spaces that you can bring a crying baby to and not be stared down,” says Gee.
Their instincts proved accurate and they are now the founders and owners of Treehaus Teahaus, a play café in North Vancouver.
But their path to this point was not an easy one. While both women were able to draw on their vast experience in childcare, the business side of things was far more challenging. In the beginning, Gee admits that she had to fight hard to overcome self-doubt.
“I constantly asked myself why I was even thinking of starting a business when I only knew how to hold babies and cut paper,” she recalls. “I’m not great with numbers and wasn’t exactly sure how far passion and a dream could take me.”
One of their first hurdles was trying to obtain the investment capital. Through Small Business B.C., they learned about Futurpreneur Canada, which has been helping young people across the country build and grow successful and sustainable businesses since 1996. Futurpreneur recognizes that it can be difficult to get funding when you’re a young person without a lot of assets. By offering entrepreneurs collateral-free loans of up to $45,000 toward launching or buying a business, Futurpreneur supports and opens doors for people with great ideas—in ways that other financial institutions may not. Futurpreneur is able to finance up to $15,000 per business and its partner, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), can provide additional financing of up to $30,000.
Gee and Hui enrolled in a couple of Futurpreneur’s free courses, where they were able to improve their business acumen and meet with Yudi Soennichsen, who supported them through the grant process.
“Futurpreneur had the biggest part to play in helping get the initial idea off the ground—getting the funding, connecting us with a mentor, and helping us build a business plan,” says Gee.
The pair credit Futurpreneur with making the entire process less scary so that they could build their confidence and meet their goals. For them it was much more than just another financing option, since they were able to take advantage of a full suite of online and in-person business services including the support of their dedicated mentor, Mitasha Sewpersad.
“We had several sessions with her in-person, via email, and on the phone…She really made us see how successful a woman-preneur can be. We connected and aligned on many levels,” says Gee.
Research shows that 70 percent of small businesses with owners who receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the success rate of those run by those without that support. And from Futurpreneur’s perspective, entrepreneurship matters to the health, vibrancy, adaptability, innovation, and economic activity of our communities. It’s for this reason that it looks to alleviate the barriers that might prevent young people like Gee and Hui from starting their own business.
Treehaus Teahaus opened its doors in November, which has given the pair the chance to reflect on how far they’ve come.
“It’s been a learning curve,” says Hui. “You can’t be afraid to make mistakes with certain things. Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith without being too scared or else nothing really moves forward.”
Of course, going it alone didn’t come without having to make some sacrifices. Upon returning to Vancouver after seven years in Hong Kong, Hui turned down the opportunity of a steady income from the family business so that she could pursue her dream of owning her own. And Gee was juggling life with her newborn while trying to get their plans off the ground. In hindsight those hurdles were blessings.
“Something about motherhood and entrepreneurship seems to go hand-in-hand because I didn’t see myself going back to a full-time position after my maternity leave,” says Gee. “I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my son, while doing what I love and without the restrictions of a 9-to-5 job.”
Treehaus Teahaus is a passion project that’s been in the making for 10 years, but Gee and Hui are rightly proud of what they’ve been able to achieve with the support of their families, friends, Futurpreneur—and each other.
“To start this business from the ground-up, it was like conceiving, carrying, and labouring a baby,” says Gee. “Especially as a start-up, we did not have a template to work from and really did do everything from scratch. And looking at Treehaus now, it’s rewarding to know that Audrey and I played a part in everything about it and to remember that whatever happens in the future, we’ve given it our best and hardest.”
To learn more about Futurpreneur and how it could help you get your idea off the ground and start your own business, visit the website.More