Online entrepreneurs make a Fast Start

Daniel Forsythe and Lindsey Jeremiah at Fast Start in the CFCE building. Photo credit: Keisha Slemensky

Millions of Canadians spend their money online – the e-commerce market is at an all-time high and predicts it will keep growing.

According to Statista, an online market research and statistics portal, Canadians spent just under 37 billion dollars in online shopping in 2017. The number is expected to grow up to 54 billion by the year 2022.

With numbers like that, it is clear online shopping is booming in Canada. But why?

Lindsey Jeremiah is the Entrepreneur Coordinator at Fast Start, located in the Centre for Collaborative Education (CFCE) building at Durham College.

The program helps student entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life by offering mentoring and generating ideas, building company websites, as well as designing their logo. They also give students the opportunities to sell their products through pop-up events on campus.

Jeremiah says the reason the amount of online shopping and the number of online vendors has increased is because the Internet makes things easy.

“E-commerce is easy for the consumer,” she says. “It gives them the ability to buy things by the click of their phone. It seems to be the way things are going and that’s certainly reflective of student companies that we’re seeing at Fast Start.”

She says Fast Start specializes in e-commerce. They help student entrepreneurs gain an online presence through social media.

“A strong social media strategy attached to a beautiful website, that’s usually the recipe for success,” says Jeremiah, who was hired to run the Fast Start program at Durham College in 2015. She says the beginning stages of the program took a lot of education.

“Students weren’t really thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs. It was either I’m a student or I’m working,” says Jeremiah. “Now there’s different dynamics where you can be a student and also be on the Enactus team and have their own business.”

Enactus is an organization that allows students to create teams that act on community development projects.

Daniel Forsythe is a second-year student in the Social Service Worker program at Durham College. He is the first student in his program to do a placement with Enactus.

Forsythe works in the social entrepreneurship field.

“It differs a little bit from traditional entrepreneurship because it has what is called a triple bottom line,” says Forsythe. Instead of focusing mainly on profit, social entrepreneurs focus on the social and environmental benefits to their business.

Forsythe spent time building social entrepreneurial companies before he came to Durham. He founded Forsythe Farms Community Shared Agriculture, which sold produce at local farmer’s markets and delivered produce to doorsteps.

He also founded The Giving Garden to aid people who go hungry in Durham Region. The garden was located on an acre of land where volunteers could tend to the garden and harvest food to give to those in need.

Despite his roots in agriculture, Forsythe says online appearance is really important for marketing.

DC Alumni, Carole McDonald, also has experience running multiple businesses. McDonald currently runs two online specialty clothing shops. Black Rattle creates made-to-order cosplay outfits and supplies. Tea and Treadle creates Lolita dresses, based on a Japanese fashion subculture inspired by the Victorian era.

McDonald graduated from the Business Administration course from Durham College. She came back to DC a few years later for the Photography program. She is currently in the Fine Arts program.

She describes her experience selling online as “really, really interesting. A lot of trial and error.”

McDonald has been selling her wares full-time since 2007. She says the process of building a customer base online is “slow and painful” mainly because she changed who her customer was.

Lolita inspired dress created by Carole McDonald Photo credit: Keisha Slemensky

McDonald started out making bridal dresses, then moved on to making Lolita dresses and then to cosplay, two years ago.

McDonald says about 55 per cent of her time isn’t spent sewing but rather answering customer inquiries, updating websites and ordering products.

She says it takes more than a good product to have a successful online shop. It starts with a good website. McDonald urges new entrepreneurs to purchase their own website domain and ensure it is attractive.

In her experience, she has noticed customers “follow a trail.” A lot of the time they start by visiting her Facebook page to see how active she is and to view other costumer’s reviews. They move on to her website where they will make a judgement on whether or not they will buy from her then customers will circle back to the beginning and spend time on other social media sites like Twitter and Instagram to clarify any judgements people have made.

McDonald offers tips for beginner entrepreneurs.


McDonald says, ultimately, selling online versus in-store depends on the product.

For students who are interested in starting their own business, Fast Start accepts anyone who walks in and has a free program on DC Connect called IdeaEngine. The program is the first step of Fast Start and is available to every student.