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Start your own business

Start your own business

If you’ve ever wondered about starting your own business, there are a number of important factors to consider. The good news is that there are plenty of resources both on and off campus, locally and beyond, to guide you in the process.


As of December 2015, there were 1.17 million businesses in Canada:

Is it for you?

Whether you are interested in providing goods and services, want to grow a business or wish to make a social impact, entrepreneurship can be an opportunity to explore and develop facets of your skills and abilities in a unique and rewarding way. Whatever your reason, research shows that people with particular personality preferences, values, skills and interests tend to be drawn to entrepreneurship.


Our personalities are unique to each of us. Data reveals that people with certain personality preferences are drawn to certain fields of work and are potentially better suited to those fields. This doesn’t mean that we are restricted only to certain roles; it just means that we may need to put more effort into working in areas we are less suited to. This applies to self-employment as well. Understanding your personality preferences can therefore help you gain insight in determining how to approach your entrepreneurial journey.

Those who are motivated by persuading and influencing others, enjoy discussing ideas, or are interested in managing people or projects might value the fast-paced, risk-focused challenge of starting their own business. Of course, those who are creative or more analytical can also be perfectly suited to entrepreneurship, depending on the environment, product or service offered.

You can delve further into personality preferences through assessments, activities and/or an appointment with a Career Advisor. Try one or both of the following:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): registration and information on cost available through the Centre for Career Development front desk
TypeFocus: Personality Assessment ( Access ID: uw74 – make up own password)

Were you surprised by the results? Did the outcome confirm anything for you? Digging deeper into your personality preferences can be helpful in determining what type of entrepreneurial work would be best for you.


Your career values represent the beliefs you have about what is worthwhile and important in your work, and what makes it meaningful to you. Alignment between your core work values and the type of work you choose is critical to your work satisfaction:

  • Are you profit-oriented?
  • Are you seeking work/life balance?
  • Do you want a sense of accomplishment or achievement?
  • Are you driven by humanitarian work?
  • Do you want to help others?
  • Do you enjoy competition?
  • Do you want to travel?

Get clear on what your high-priority motivators are: what are your “deal breakers” — the values you must have satisfied to ensure a sense of personal satisfaction? Which values are more flexible? Knowing your values and, especially, your deal breakers can bring clarity to your entrepreneurship goals.

Here are some activities to help you get started:

Values Activity — available through the Centre for Career Development front desk
TypeFocus: Values Assessment ( Access ID: uw74 – make up own password)


Our unique set of talents and willingness to grow in our abilities are important factors in entrepreneurship. Successfully starting, managing and growing a business calls on a wide array of skills like creativity, marketing, sales, numerical, technical, analytical, problem solving, leadership and communication. The drive to improve, learn and grow is a key component of the entrepreneurial process.

Take time to conduct an inventory of your skills (some activities are suggested below). Focus on which skills you have, which skills you need to develop, which skills you are strong in and enjoy using, and which skills you would rather avoid using. Be honest with yourself. With this information, you can determine where you excel, who you should partner with or hire to close any skills gaps, what type of learning you should pursue and what you are ultimately able to offer to your clients or customers. This knowledge can assist in developing a more effective business strategy and will guide your hiring processes, your professional development, your methods of management and your company structure.

SkillScan — online or card sort versions available through the Centre for Career Development front desk


Having a broad range of interests can also be beneficial in entrepreneurial pursuits. From being able to hire the best candidates by easily making connections to figuring out the multitude of facets involved in running your own business, a willingness to learn and grow is key, as is pushing yourself past boundaries and eagerly taking on new interests and challenges. You can explore your interests through a variety of activities and assessments. Here are some to get you started:

Career Cruising: Explore My Interests ( Username: uwaterloo Password: crc)
TypeFocus: Interests Assessment ( Access ID: uw74 – make up own password)

People management

Being a great manager requires a unique set of skills along with a positive and supportive approach to working with others. Excellent communication and organizational skills, delegation abilities, motivational or coaching talents, and flexibility and adaptability are important skills which can influence your teams’ success.

If you’ve decided to expand your workforce, it’s critical that you attract the right talent: what type and level of experience do you need? Defining what you are looking for in a clear, concise and intriguing way can be vital in securing strong candidates. There are many resources available via the Hire Waterloo website including how to write a great job description.

No matter which type of talent you hire, having great management skills along with a good grasp of what you expect and what your employees can expect will help to ensure both short– and long–term healthy operational flow.

Other considerations

There are several other factors to reflect on beyond suitability. Having a frank conversation about these aspects with key individuals in your life can be integral to your long–term success and well–being.

Time: Think about how much time you can realistically commit to this endeavour. Experts agree that most startup founders work 80 hours per week, which leaves you with 39 waking hours per week (or roughly 5.5 hours per day) to do everything else life requires. Being organized is therefore key. Using a notebook, planner or organizational app are great ways to keep track of your work and non–work time.

Work Life Balance: Neglected areas in our lives often disrupt the balance of what makes us effective in our jobs. Health, family, friends, creative and spiritual needs should be factored in. Being diligent about incorporating these aspects, even in small doses on a weekly or monthly basis, is helpful in keeping the balance in check. For example, committing to 30 minutes of exercise with family members, friends or pets on a daily basis is an easy way to meet several needs. Similarly, attending medical appointments, having dinner with loved ones on weekends, and taking time once a month to reconnect with our spirituality or creativity can often spark solutions to problems we may be facing at home or work.

Resources: These are defined as “a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.” They can also be “an action or strategy which may be adopted in adverse circumstances.” Taking time to identify, understand and plan for how to effectively gather your resources will ensure your company has a solid foundation. The processes and services mentioned throughout this document are a great starting point for identifying some of the main resources available.

Commitment: All of the components of entrepreneurship require an immense amount of commitment, therefore, it is important to be truthful about any limitations. Should this be a full time, all–in endeavour, or a part-time hobby? Ask yourself which people and resources will support you and how understanding they are. Are they willing to adjust some of their expectations of you? Ideally, working this out in advance with everyone involved will allow you to understand what you can commit to in a realistic way.

Logistics: Once you have a good grasp of the time, resources, commitment and work life balance requirements for yourself, the actual organization and implementation of your company is the final piece of planning out those “other” aspects of the entrepreneurial process. Reflect on what logical steps you need to take in order to make it go smoothly, effectively and efficiently. Once again, being task-oriented and prepared could mean the difference between success and failure.

Impact on long-term career planning: Despite our best efforts, it is not uncommon for entrepreneurial ventures to fail. The learning that results from such an event can sometimes be the most valuable part of the experience. If you decide to move out of the entrepreneurial space, transitioning to working for someone else can be challenging because while many employers appreciate a self–starter, others may be wary of hiring someone with entrepreneurial experience. In interviews, it is important to emphasize your adaptability, willingness to follow through on instructions and your long–term commitment to the new position and employer. Meeting with a Career Advisor to build a strategic plan towards employment could make this transition easier, should you ever need to act on it.

You don’t have to start your own business to be entrepreneurial. More and more companies are finding value in candidates who naturally identify and solve important problems, often with limited guidance. This is sometimes referred to as an “entrepreneurial mindset”. Having great ideas is key but being adaptable, flexible, collaborative and clear in your communication about these ideas ensures they are strategic and compatible with organizational goals.

This creative approach to finding and solving important problems can be extremely valuable if it is presented professionally to leadership or management teams. Although some ideas will be welcomed and others rejected, demonstrating an entrepreneurial mindset when the right opportunity presents itself can be a great career booster. You can read more about the concept of being an entrepreneurial employee on Career Hub or visit Professor Larry Smith’s online resource for students, alumni and staff interested in applying the entrepreneurial mindset at work.

Side hustles and other options

What if you work full time but want to supplement your earnings? What if you recently lost your job and want to find a quick, short term solution? The idea of an additional source of income, often referred to as a “side hustle” is becoming more prominent in the face of the gig economy culture. In fact, The Harvard Business review reports that “…approximately 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe have left the relatively stable confines of organizational life — sometimes by choice, sometimes not — to work as independent contractors.”

There are many options and versions of side hustles and they are always changing; from DJ–ing to Disney trip planning, to dog walking, the possibilities appear endless. Regardless of what you choose, experts suggest finding something that really sparks your interest or aligns with your passions since you will be committing your free time to this work. Not sure which type of side hustle is right for you? Here is a list of 50 ideas to get you started.

Another option worth considering is Direct Sales. These are typically established small businesses providing products or services to customers away from a fixed retail location. Commonly, a small monetary investment in a “starter kit” is required, with no limit to the income you can generate once you get going. Review a list of direct sales companies in Canada or the USA as well as some of the guidelines associated with this type of business for more information.

Entrepreneurship Assessments
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC): Entrepreneurship potential UCEDC Entrepreneurship assessment tool

Meet with a Career Advisor
Book a 1:1 Career Planning appointment:

On–campus resources
Workshops: (free and unlimited)
Velocity is a leading entrepreneurship program at UW and includes a startup incubator, science labs, workshops, coaching, funding and workspace for students.
Accelerator Centre is an award-winning startup accelerator dedicated to building and scaling sustainable, globally competitive companies through a 2 year, milestone based program.

7 steps to starting a business

If you’ve decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship, congratulations! There are seven basic steps that you can expect to address if you are starting your own business in Ontario. Information for other provinces in Canada is provided in the “Additional Resources” section.


Deciding whether you are running the business on your own or with others will determine the structure and licensing process. If you are an individual who values working in a team and is inspired by the ideas of others, you may want to consider a partnership. If you prefer to work on your own with occasional input from others, you may want to explore the sole proprietor option. Most business types require a mixture of both independent and team-based skill sets to varying degrees.

There are several forms of business organizations:

  1. Sole Proprietors are individuals running their own business ventures. These are generally easier to operate but owners are personally liable for all business debts.
  2. Partnerships often involve two or more parties or other agreements between individuals, corporations, partnerships or other business structures and can be quite complex.
  3. Corporations are owned by shareholders as separate legal entities.
  4. Co-operatives are organized and controlled by their members.
  5. Social Enterprises maximize social or environmental impact through business processes and can take many forms.

No matter which type of business structure you select, each has its advantages and disadvantages and will need to be registered and licensed appropriately. Service Ontario provides links and information to these processes as well as information about any fees you may incur.

Planning and managing finances is a key aspect of successful business operations. An aptitude towards numbers and calculations can be helpful but there are also various supports in place that can assist you. Options for financing your business can include banks, credit unions, trusts, loan companies, insurance companies and venture capital companies. If your business qualifies, government departments and agencies also provide financing through grants, contributions, subsidies and loans. Some additional funding sources are:

  1. Futurepreneur Canada: provides loans for business owners ages 18-39.
  2. Industry Canada: provides financing, loans, grants and contributions.
  3. Business Development Bank of Canada: helps small and medium-sized enterprises.
  4. Export Development Canada: assists exporters and investors expand internationally.

In some cases, you may have to rely on money from your customers rather than from typical funding sources. This is commonly referred to as “bootstrapping” which is defined by the Business Dictionary as “a type of business funding that seeks to avoid relying on outside investors”. The Bootstrapper’s Bible by Seth Godin is a good quick read about this alternative for getting your business off the ground.

Assessing the cost of establishing your business will determine the amount of capital you need to get it off the ground as well as the best approach to your cash flow forecast.

Business plans are documents created specifically about your business to ensure that you and any partners understand the idea, product or service being offered in a concise, clear and professional way.

If organization is not your strongest skill, business plans can help with keeping everything and everyone on track by answering key questions about what is being offered, who the customer is, how the business will move forward, and what the cash flow forecast will look like. They are an essential part of the entrepreneurial process. Below are links to examples of different types of business plans. Once you have created your plan, show it to family, friends and other successful business owners to get their advice and any suggestions for revisions.

Knowing who your idea, product or service might attract is critical to the sustainability of your business. Be prepared to conduct extensive research: understanding the industry and market your business will operate in is vital to predicting and satisfying the ongoing needs of your target population — as well as your competitors.

If researching the market is not a strength of yours, you can accomplish the work through a third party you hire or other market research resources in Ontario.

The marketing plan stems from what you know of your market research and encompasses six key factors: price, product, place, promotion, packaging and positioning. You can read more about the “6 P’s of Marketing” to establish a clear understanding of your company’s marketing approach and to determine how you want to tackle this important aspect of entrepreneurship.

The marketing plan is a “living document” that will change as your business gains traction and more challenges or opportunities present themselves. Reviewing a sample of a combined business and marketing plan will help you gain a better understanding of what this document might include.

Websites, social media and mobile applications are also essential and need to be compelling in order to attract and increase customer interest as well as potential sales or growth. These should incorporate elements of your business plan, marketing plan and their respective strategies.

The E-Business Toolkit is a series of 17 booklets that outline key e-business topics that can increase success in your online presence.

Domain names are also incredibly important and should include words that clearly describe your business. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority lists certified registrars and some web hosts that can help launch your website.

Laws and regulations can come from federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as other regulatory bodies. Depending on the type of business you have, certain laws and regulations will apply. A service provider near you can help identify which are relevant for your business.

Some of Ontario’s key laws and regulations for small business owners are listed below:

Employment Standards Act (ESA)
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)
Payroll deductions to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)
Food Service/Preparation Regulations via the Health Protection and Promotion Act
Food and Drug Products Regulations through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
Patents/Trademarks/Copyrights via the Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Trade Certification
Food Product and Consumer Safety Product including labelling regulations

Depending on the location, legal structure and type of business you own, different taxes will need to be charged, collected and remitted. Links to this process are provided below:

  1. Obtaining a Business Number or HST Number
  2. Charging sales tax outside of Ontario
  3. Paying Employer Health Tax (EHT)
  4. Municipal Tax Rates

In addition, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights focuses on commitments and rights that may apply to you as a small business owner.

Reporting, filing and keeping records of self-employment income, corporate income, hiring and payroll deductions are the responsibility of the business owner and should be managed with precision as they may need to be made available to the CRA and Ontario Ministry of Finance, if requested.

Fortunately, there are some specific services available to assist you:

  1. My Business Account which provides access to everything related to your CRA account
  2. ONT-TAXS gives access to specific information and support for taxes in Ontario

Launching a startup

A startup is essentially a small business, with a few differences. As a result, the process for launching a startup has some additional facets beyond what is required for a small business. Innovation supports like the National Research Council (NRC), the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) and the Digital Accelerator for Innovation and Research (DAIR) specifically focus on assisting tech startups navigate the process. For example, if your startup focuses on advances in chemical, medical, scientific or laboratory settings, specific regulations need to be followed, including obtaining necessary licences or permits and ensuring you have secured Intellectual Property protection. Additional information on starting a technology or innovation business in Ontario is provided in the “Additional Resources” section.

Ready for the next step?

Once you’ve considered some or all of the above, there are many supports available for budding entrepreneurs to continue their pursuits. Some of these are provided in the following Resources sections.

Resources for startups

If you are particularly interested in startups, specific resources are listed below. In fact, Waterloo Region is known for its startup scene!

On–campus startup supports

Off–campus startup supports

  • Communitech is a private-public partnership to help tech companies start, grow and succeed and has offered significant support to Velocity.
  • Waterloo Region Small Business Centre assists entrepreneurs with the development of new or existing businesses.
  • StartUpHereToronto offers an online directory to connect to funding, mentors, advisors and places to build a product.
  • Ontario Centres of Excellence accelerate innovation through research leading to commercialization and launches of the next generation of products and jobs.
  • MaRS brings together educators, researchers, social scientists, entrepreneurs and business experts to bridge the gap between what people need and what governments can provide.

Find an accelerator or incubator near you

Resources for small businesses

University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development