MONCTON – Melody Munro started the Wee College brand in 2005, but she’s been an entrepreneur in the childcare sector since 1994. She’s happy with what she’s achieved so far as an entrepreneur, but she wishes she had something that NBCC’s OASIS program provides to entrepreneurs today: a place to ask for guidance.
“My journey has been my journey,” she said. “But If I could believe in myself as a younger person earlier, that would’ve been great – and not second guess myself and really believe in who I am.”
“Back then it wasn’t as available, and I wish it was – to ask for help. Today, in business, if you don’t ask for help, you’re not doing yourself or your business any good at all.”
Munro’s business has undergone organic growth over the years, not only in franchised facilities but also the sales of Wee College’s proprietary client management software for daycares.
Her team is now working to set up a bigger franchise system as the brand prepares to expand across New Brunswick and in Asia. There are seven childcare and learning facilities in Moncton – one of them owned by Munro, while six more are planned for New Brunswick and P.E.I. through 2020.
Munro now mentors entrepreneurs through the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area, the Wallace McCain Institute and the OASIS program.
“The OASIS program for me is about giving back. It’s about whatever knowledge, skills, whatever my stories are, so they can help support someone else and sort of take them away from that incubator of isolation that people have as an entrepreneur,” she said.
The program started in 2014 because the community college found 11 per cent of its graduates become self-employed four to five years after completing their diploma. Many of them are in traditional trades like welding, woodwork, and early childhood education among others.
“Those are the people going on to start their own business and don’t necessarily receive a lot of entrepreneurship training in their curriculum,” said program coordinator Clarissa Harris-LeBreton. “So we decided to start this program. It was identified as a kind of value-add and a give-back to our self-employed alumni, that OASIS would be developed.”
Since then, the free program has become a small-business mentorship program open to all, not just NBCC alumni. It also provides professional development workshops and seminars. The typical mentee would be the owner of a small business – with one or two employees – that’s already up and running. The 12-week program matches entrepreneurs to mentors that have the skills they lack.
“We’re matching need to skillset. We’re not matching daycare owners to daycare owners,” Harris-LeBreton said. “For us, this program is really important because those traditional small business owners have found a home. And a lot of times entrepreneurs, once they hit a wall, they don’t have a whole lot of choices.”
The program will turn five in June, and so far, nearly 140 entrepreneurs and 63 mentors have taken part. Currently, three 12-week sessions take place at NBCC campuses in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton, while Miramichi has two sessions a year. The program just expanded to Woodstock and will reach the St. Andrews and St. Stephen area in the fall.
Many of the mentors and mentees have maintained long-term connections. Munro, for instance, is still in touch with her former mentee Jessica Goguen, a nail artist and beauty educator in Moncton who is now a mentor herself.
Goguen has been an owner-operator of her nail business since 2015, first in Sackville and later in Moncton.
She uses the space of Pamper & Polish salon alongside two other self-employed beauticians, and she teaches in most of the beauty schools in the Maritimes and independently.
The NBCC business and administration diploma holder said she’d always been “naturally entrepreneurial” and jumped at the chance of becoming her own boss.
As she’s planning to further grow her business, she said mentorship through OASIS was a crucial part of her success because of the one-on-one access to mentors. Goguen has also taken part in other programs, such as business training through CBDC.
“[Having a mentor is] so important because you get to, as an entrepreneur, not only bounce your ideas [off someone], but you also have a soundboard. You have someone you can count on when you’re, at times, insecure,” she said.
“Running a business is scary at times. It all goes hand in hand with the blood, sweat and tears that a business requires. But if you have a mentor, it’s like a safety blanket. You get to wrap yourself in their advice, in their recommendations that are usually sound because they’ve been through it.”
Pam Wheaton, the owner of Heartbreak Boutique in uptown Saint John, was a mentee in OASIS about four years ago. She said the program provided her with the opportunity to learn through its professional development workshops, and also build a community with other participants.
She has since become a mentor four times through the program, something she really enjoys.
“I get really excited talking to people that have been in various stages of their business. And also talking to other people about their passions and their business and talking about how it can grow. Just alleviating some of the stress, you know? Trying to say these are mistakes that I made, trying to help them avoid those. It doesn’t always have to be that difficult,” she said.
“And it’s exciting to see new businesses come alive in the community.”