Of course, my story has been one of those. You've seen it unfold a little bit from a professional development perspective, but here's the long and short of it:
- Moved here. Had no defined job prospects but knew I loved the city and had professional networks through friends and family (therefore, I'm a very lucky sample study).
- Took awhile applying to things that weren't right for me and getting to know people. Went to lots of events and meetings.
- Decided to do contract work.
- Since October, have had a handful of small contracts and an equal number of large ones. Most of my work is in visual communications, research, and launching things (concept, branding, design, outreach).
- The year has been a full range of challenging, demoralizing, rewarding, frustrating, delightful, and lucky lucky lucky the whole way through. Maybe it's just the sunshine speaking, but I think I'm finally getting to a decent place.
- Gradually approaching the point where I might be able to afford to go to the dentist. I don't think there's anything wrong with my teeth, but being able to afford a checkup is on my list of goals. (By the way, can anyone recommend a good health insurance policy for a sole proprietor?)
So that's me if you're interested in how that went down. More interesting is this video. It shows the stories of seven young people I worked with this summer who are making their own jobs. You may rememberI described one of my work contracts earlier this year was to develop an entrepreneurship program. Well, months later I'm proud to present our first Foundry cohort. Our goal was to provide opportunities, funding, and guidance to launch a business for people who do not fit into the typical venture-backable startup world. I'll be releasing profiles I've written on each of them (published in the paper here) so you can hear their stories. Many have videos that I helped film and sometimes edit :) We'll kick it off with Danny below.
Business: Beyond Saigon (Vietnamese Street Food)
Danny’s application to the Summer Institute’s Foundry program was deceptively simple. He wanted to start a restaurant that sells Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.
It was almost too simple for the selection committee, until they saw the potential of this business. “At first we thought, ‘This guy wants to sell sandwiches? We need something bigger than that.’” recalls Dr. Dhirendra Shukla, who created the Summer Institute. “But it became clear this was bigger than sandwiches.”
To Danny, the idea was crystal clear. Banh mi is similar to a submarine sandwich but fresher and tastier (if I may say) so it’s not a big jump for conservative eaters. Banh mi is growing quickly in popularity elsewhere but has not yet gained a foothold in Atlantic Canada. Danny saw an opportunity to claim a market, franchise a growing business, introduce a favourite food to his new home, and help other immigrants find their bearings in Canada. Speaking to Danny, he mentions all of these factors casually, but the story is actually quite profound for a maritime economy desperate for more people and new ideas.
“I’ve always wanted to be a business owner,” he explained to me, “but I especially want to help my family grow and help my mother work again. When we moved here, she sacrificed the most.”
In Vietnam, Danny’s mother had a high-profile and high-responsibility job in the medical sector, but her credentials and experience did not transfer well to Canada and so finding another job has been difficult. Starting Beyond Saigon has given his parents a chance to work together and launch a second career in older adult life. His mother has enjoyed the challenge of creating a menu and helping run the business.
But why a restaurant? Danny wistfully explained that children in Vietnam would have banh mi every morning on their way to school. “I just love banh mi,” he says. “When you eat it you feel fresh and healthy, and I wanted to bring that to Fredericton.”
Over the past three months of the Foundry program, Danny has indeed brought banh mi to Fredericton. His Beyond Saigon stall at the North Side Market has sold out two weekends in a row and he has catered over 500 sandwiches on special order. His next step is to roll out bicycle lunch deliveries to downtown locations.
“I like the bike delivery because it’s different and distinctive. It fits with our story of starting small and nimble.”
Danny’s small beginnings are the perfect example of a “Lean Startup” - build the smallest working version of a business, measure how it performs, and let those findings guide the next investment. Beyond Saigon may be a small business for now, but it’s a smart business and that’s worth a good deal.