Applied dreams came true for six Niagara College entrepreneurs on August 11.
Representatives from the City of St. Catharines, the College, as well as the community, family and friends gathered on the second floor of 9 James St. in downtown St. Catharines to celebrate the grand opening of their new studios. Hosted by ncTakeOff, the open house event was held between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The proud occupants of the new business spaces included NC Business – Marketing student Safiya Aboaen of Hair by Safiyaa and founder of Mazaaji – an artisanal, socially conscious clothing company; Sharon Curley (NC Esthetics grad) of R and R Refinery – which offers esthetics, microblading, cosmetic tattooing; Evan and Serena Hernder (former HR student) of Young Glass Photography; and Victoria Goertz-Unger (Social Service Worker grad) or Morning Light Photography, and Kevin Unger (Sales and Marketing grad) of Kevin Unger Photography and Morning Light Photography.
While she is still a second-year business and marketing student Safiya Aboaen is already a hairstylist and proven entrepreneur – with more than 49,000 followers on her Instagram account ‘hairbySafiyaa.’ She was excited to launch her new studio where she will base her hairstyling business while at the same time run her new kimono business Mazaaji, which means ‘my mood’ in Arabic. In April, Aboaen won the Perfect Pitch business competition — held by NC’s entrepreneurship hub ncTakeOff, and Meridian Credit Union – for her business idea for Mazaaji which sells kimonos made in Canada by Syrian refugees.
“I always knew I wanted to run my own businesses, and I also want to benefit people and change the lives of others,” she said.
For Sales and Marketing (2016) grad Kevin Unger, opening his own studio was a dream come true. He and Victoria learned about the available studio space through his friend Aboaen and after viewing it their friends Evan and Serena Hernder (of Young Glass Photography), they signed the lease the following day.
Unger feels his experience at NC helped him prepare for the challenge of running his own business. “I see too many creatives who are great at creating but don’t know how to run a business. I am so thankful for the Sales and Marketing program,” said Unger. “NC TakeOff has also been a great help in spreading the word, and having me take part in so many community events.”
Project manager of ncTakeOff Rachel Crane, who organized the grand opening celebration, noted that the College’s entrepreneurship hub has the honour of supporting NC students at various points along their entrepreneurship journey.
“When ncTakeOff learned about the opening of the six studio openings, we wanted to help shout the story from the rooftop of 9 James St.,” she said. “We are so proud of their successes as young entrepreneurs, artists and employers in Niagara. So, on Aug. 11th, we invited community leaders and members to help celebrate these remarkable students and grads and remind them that they are surrounded by a system of support.”
NC president Dan Patterson kicked off the event by wishing the six young entrepreneurs the very best, noting that the celebration fits with the college’s mission of enriching lives and fulfilling dreams of its students. “Our tagline is applied dreams and here are your dreams becoming fulfilled,” he said.
“What I think is so exciting about this project is that it’s in St. Catharines and education is taking on a whole new meaning: not just the bricks and mortar of a particular campus, but how institutions can adapt to change the nature of the learner and the changing nature of our region.”
“We are a region of small- and medium-sized enterprises and this era is really defined by the creativity and ingenuity of individuals and organizations. This is bringing that creativity and ingenuity to life. We’ll do as much as we can.”
St. Catharines mayor Walter Sendzik congratulated the young entrepreneurs and awarded each of them with certificates. He noted that their new businesses fit into the fabric of the downtown area. “You are the future of our community,” he said. “Being able to walk into the facility here today and see six new ideas come to life, that’s what really makes me proud to be from St. Catharines.”
He applauded the success of the young entrepreneurs as well as their education at the College.
“The six of you here today from NC who have experienced what the College does for applied learning … this is the result. Now you are hitting the ground running,” he said. “It wouldn’t happen without the College. The College plays a very important role not just in the city but in Niagara.”