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This success story recipient got funding because they took the first step and contacted our Centre to learn about their funding options. Although we cannot guarantee you will get funding, the more you know about others experiences the better your chances.

Friends Start Up Toronto Fitness Studio with $15,000 Young Entrepreneur Loan

$15,000 CYBF charity loan for leasehold improvements to launch fitness studio
Retail Trade/ Services
Recreational/ Adventure Tourism
Toronto, Ontario

Small business dreams are fit for success thanks to financial assistance

Mimi Au and Lindsy Colling met while working together at a large women's fitness chain in Toronto. Disillusioned by the relatively low compensation for the high level of service they were providing, the two brainstormed how to stay in the fitness industry while earning a better living. They initially hit on opening an "outdoor boot camp" using City of Toronto parks for outdoor fitness classes. Although they thought using the great outdoors would save them money, the cost came as a surprise. For four hours, four days a week, they were looking at $13,000 for six months. "When we learned that number, we thought, ‘instead of trying to save money and then open a studio, let's just open a studio first,’" says Colling. "It was just a few hundred dollars more per month, and that just made a lot of financial sense."

In mid-February, they left their jobs to devote themselves full-time to starting Urban Playground Fitness. "Mimi and I collectively had enough money to get things going, and we also got a small bank loan with TD Canada Trust," says Colling. "We opened a business account, we gave them our business plan and financials, and they gave us some money -- they give out money pretty easily."

Business plan is key to accessing government backed loan

Meanwhile, they had their eye on a promising space on Church Street in downtown Toronto that currently housed a hair salon and an apartment, and they realized they needed more substantial funding for leasehold improvements. After turning to the Centre for Small Business Financing, they began to work with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) -- a charitable organization -- on getting a $15,000 loan.

The first thing they discovered was that their business plan needed work. "They gave us lots of info and they were very straight up with us when our business plan did not meet their expectations," says Au. "She told me you need to change this, this and this -- and this wasn't strong enough." The CYBF also wanted more from Au and Colling.

"The main issue was that they did not want us to submit the application until we had a location," says Colling, who says they weren't ready to commit to a lease unless they knew they had the loan lined up. "That part felt completely backwards for us."

"How am I supposed to sign a five year lease, putting down $10,000, when I don’t know if I'm getting a loan or not?" says Au.

But in the end, the two bit the bullet and signed the lease at the beginning of April. They began renovations almost immediately, even as they continued to put finishing touches on their business plan.

Overall, they found the CYBF good to work with. "They were very, very easy to deal with, right from the beginning," says Au. "They were there to answer any questions, and after we revised our plan and made all the changes she told us to, it took a few more weeks after that."

Two months of intensive renovation work on their new location followed. "We did what we could by ourselves to save money as much as possible, but we did have to bring in an electrician and professionals in certain areas," says Colling. They also called on family members in the trades to help out. By the beginning of June, they had transformed the space into two open fitness studios, ready to open their doors. The paint had barely dried when they welcomed their first clients, but they quickly began to build a group of regulars for ongoing sessions and monthly features, including kickboxing and Zumba.

Under the CYBF financing program, entrepreneurs are paired with a mentor, an experienced business person who can share insight and advice. And when the mentor CYBF had matched them with didn't work out, Colling and Au discovered they could actually choose their own. They turned to a family friend who has run a successful catering company in Mississauga and Oakville for thirty years. "With a little buttering up, I was able to get him," says Colling. "It's been great so far. Even though it's a completely different industry, it's the exact same type of business when it comes to servicing people. And so far it's been a lot of fun learning his start up stories and hearing what he has to say."

She advises potential entrepreneurs to be prepared -- and be prepared to work hard. "Do your research. Start teaching yourself everything; use every possible resource, every person you know, everything just to get a little information."

She continues. "It's not something that's going to come easily. You can't say, 'I want to start a business,' and poof, there's a business. You have to be willing to put in the work, and you have to love it, or it's not going to be any fun."

"Be prepared for barriers and obstacles, because they come unexpectedly, and you just have to deal with it," adds Au.

"But if you think you have the will power and good responsibility and skill, then you should go for it," says Colling. "It's definitely worth the risk -- even the emotional ups and downs. It's worth it in the end."


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