The nuts & bolts of starting a business

Two Queen’s students find their niches and riches in the job market this summer

Gilbert Tong, ArtSci ’10 (centre), started his own business when he couldn’t find a summer job.
Gilbert Tong, ArtSci ’10 (centre), started his own business when he couldn’t find a summer job.
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When Gilbert Tong, ArtSci ’10, couldn’t find a job this summer, he decided to cash in on a nutty idea.

“I was looking for a job this summer and it was a bit rough,” he said.

One day, he brought walnuts and honey over to a friend’s house and baked them together, he said. His friend told him it tasted delicious and suggested he start a gourmet snack business.

The rest is history, Tong said.

“Now I buy, roast and sell nuts at the Kingston Farmers’ Market,” he said.

Tong received a $1,500 grant from the provincial government under its Summer Company initiative, which helps students start their own businesses.

He’s registered as G’s Fine Roasted Almonds, Walnuts & Pecans.

Tong borrows his friends’ cars and drives to Toronto to buy nuts from an international trader to cut down on shipping costs, he said.

He’s managed to pay off all of his start-up costs, he said.

“I invested my tuition deposit into doing this,” he said. “That was kind of risky, but if you put the effort into it and have a bit of faith, then normally things work out.”

Tong said he’s learned that owning a business isn’t as intimidating as he used to think.

“Now I know I can never be unemployed again,” he said. “I can be my own boss.”

Working for himself was economics student Andy Yao’s reason for starting his own furniture company.

“I just wanted to get the feel of what enormous power feels like,” he said with a laugh. “You’re actually reaping what you sow, so to speak.”

Yao, ArtSci ’11, began collecting furniture this summer to sell on his website, froshfurniture.com.

“The people I know, international students, all share the same pain,” he said. “You know, buying a couch and then having to throw it away when they leave.

We figured we created a service for students like us who want cheap furniture.”

Yao received a $3,000 grant from Summer Company. He spent most of it buying furniture, renting a storage unit for the items and paying a designer to create his website, he said.

In order to save money, Yao hires a truck once a week to transport his furniture. He and the driver deliver the items themselves.

“Have you ever tried lifting stuff up a flight of stairs?” he asked. “That’s when I said, ‘Okay, a $10 delivery fee isn’t enough.’”

Most of Yao’s items range from $30 to $100 and he charges $15 for deliveries.

“I have a Tetris arcade—the giant, bulky ones—for $700,” he said, adding that he recently sold a pinball machine for a similar price.

Economics associate professor Sumon Majumdar said he seldom hears of students who start their own businesses while still in school. Because of the current business climate, statistics on small businesses surviving is low, he said.

“I don’t know if in the short term, financially that will really be very profitable, but in the long term, from a career perspective, rather than just show it’s a summer where you did nothing, to show that you were an entrepreneur—that already, I think, shows a lot of spirit.”

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