College ‘accelerates’ youth entrepreneurship across GTA

The Accelerator for Centennial Community Entrepreneurs and Leaders (ACCEL) at Centennial College hopes to empower youth across the GTA with the skills to start and grow their own business.

The program, launched last November, is aimed toward young entrepreneurs, including Centennial College students, ages 18-29. Funded by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Centres of Excellence, ACCEL works with participants over a three-month period to “enhance their personal skills, while accelerating their businesses to achieve their milestones.”

“The goal is to incubate and accelerate the business. If a young person comes to us and says, ‘I have a business and I’m struggling. I didn’t get business training, or my business plan is weak,’ we take that on and try to accelerate them so they can get to a stage where they can do it themselves,” program manager Donovan Dill said. “We also provide mentorship and free consultation, so they’re able to go for those loans and infrastructural tools that they need to be successful.”

For Ahmed Bawah, founder of Mama’s Life Products, a Toronto-based, natural beauty company, the program is a great way for up-and-coming entrepreneurs to interact with knowledgeable business owners.

“I would say to anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur, go out and seek mentorship, and find someone who is doing what you would like to do, or who is at where you would like to get to. Instead of trying to climb the ladder, why not think about creating your own ladder, or even owning the ladder?”

Bawah was introduced to ACCEL while doing research for the variety of shea butters, black soap cleansers, lip balms and shampoos his company produces.

“We were working out of the Applied Research and Innovation department [at Centennial], and ACCEL is also being housed out of that same department,” Bawah said. “So far, [in the program] we have had a guest speaker that is a successful business owner, who came in and gave us advice and some of his story of where he is, and how he got to where he is. So that was very valuable to connect with that individual, just to hear about some of the resources that he was able to share with us.”

Before starting Mama’s Life in 2007, Bawah aspired to one day create his own business.

“I have always had an entrepreneurial mind. I’ve always sought out ways in which to make money; as a kid, I was delivering newspapers on the local paper route. Out of school I had the understanding that there weren’t many jobs out there waiting for us. So, while I was in school, I was growing my business. As a student, I was looking for opportunities to use some of the skills that I was learning and apply them to my business.”

The first ACCEL cohort is beginning this month, and Dill encourages prospective entrepreneurs to come out and see what the program has to offer.

“We see that it is working already. It’s just a matter of getting the word out, and letting people know that they need to get online and register. To let us know how we can help them, and by allowing us to connect them to people who can help them right away,” Dill said. “We still have space available, and we invite people to openly apply.”

Anyone interested in applying for the program can visit accel.centennialcollege.ca for more information.