The Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute (REI) is a university-wide program, initiated by the Office of the Provost, to motivate students to actively discover new innovations and act on them to create new businesses, non-profit organizations or community programs. The goal is to provide students with a rich experiential and transformative learning experience and empower them with a philosophy of entrepreneurial thinking, passion and action that they can apply to their lives, their jobs, their communities and their own new ventures.

Steve Gedeon, the Chair of REI, optimized limited funding to hire six Ted Rogers Co-op students to form a student consulting group. The purpose of the group was to help small-medium businesses that were struggling during the pandemic. This initiative would be beneficial to both co-op students and small business owners who were significantly impacted by COVID-19, compared to corporations. As a result, the Ryerson Business Innovation Hub (BIH) was founded.

The BIH helps small-medium businesses by providing risk-free innovative solutions. Their business model differs from traditional consulting groups because they do not charge for their services, but they do ask for a charitable donation to Ryerson University to keep this initiative sustainable.

Here is what 4th year Global Management Studies co-op student Katherine Tran said about working at the REI this summer and the important skills she learned during her time there:

When I received my offer to join the Ted Rogers Co-op program almost two years ago, I was excited about starting a new chapter in my undergraduate career. I was expecting fancy suits, networking with CEOs, working in a high rise corporate office and hour long lunch breaks that I didn’t have working in retail.

Some of these expectations may have been exaggerated, but after accepting the offer, I immediately went shopping for business professional attire. Like the rest of the world, I was not prepared for what 2020 had in store, and I was not prepared to lose my first co-op placement this summer due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, I was not the only one; a large cohort of co-op students had also lost their placements and their source of income. I had to scramble to find another job at the last minute, and I was lucky to land the role of a SME Business Consultant for the Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute (REI).

SME Business Consultant role

When I applied for the SME Business Consultant role, the only responsibilities listed were initiating projects and managing deliverables. I thought this was broad and simple enough, and I would be doing VLOOKUPS and writing data reports from 9 to 5. However, the REI provided a unique co-op opportunity.

The SME Business Consultant role encompasses the responsibilities of a Project Manager and a Sales Lead. I was given full autonomy to structure my work day, and I was able to be selective with clients and projects. My daily tasks varied everyday. One day I would have sales calls with prospective clients for six hours, and another day I would be conducting market research using Google Analytics. While I enjoy structure, it was refreshing to work on something new every morning.

This co-op placement taught me numerous skills over the course of three months, primarily technical skills. I learned how to use multiple applications from Adobe’s Creative Cloud to refine branding and marketing strategies, including designing a logo, producing an animated ad video, video editing and production and other content creation. Furthermore, I developed successful digital marketing strategies utilizing social media, and analyzed sales strategies to increase outreach, therefore growing revenue and productivity. I also learned how to manage SEO to drive traffic and engagement to websites.

Working from home

Working from home is a relatively new concept as big corporations in the past have required employees to come into the office for optimal productivity and that has been the norm for as long as I can remember. I have never worked from home before and I was looking forward to being able to do so, as I have previously enrolled in online electives to save commuting time and costs.

I went through a steep learning curve, however, and had to adapt to a new environment and unexpected issues. I came to the realization very quickly that I heavily relied on my past managers telling me what to do, and when and how to do them. This was a bad habit I had to unlearn. I had to improve my organization and time management skills because I did not have a manager always looking over my shoulder to remind me of tasks or upcoming deadlines. I had to be able to manage myself and my time effectively. I also had to work on my communication skills when working from home to strengthen relations, avoid conflicts, compromise and make better business decisions.

Lessons Learned

This experience has been rewarding and has helped me grow and develop as a student, a professional and most importantly, as an individual. I learned several valuable lessons and my key takeaways are:

  • Be flexible: Connectivity issues and background noise from family members/roommates are to be expected and unavoidable when working from home during a pandemic. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not going to be penalized if your neighbour decides to mow their lawn at 9 in the morning!
  • Take breaks: Sitting in one spot for hours on end can strain your body and your mind, so ensure that you allocate time to walk around, eat and relax.
  • Persevere: That’s easier said than done, especially during these uncertain times, but you are not alone. Many people are in the same situation as you and share similar feelings. Ryerson has many helpful resources to support their students.

Posted by Debra Rughoo

Debra Rughoo is a Writing and Content Specialist at the Ted Rogers School of Management.