Creating their own job

Entrepreneurs make their own way with Douglas College’s Self-Employment program

By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor

Amongst the vast number of programs and courses available to students at Douglas College, one of the most popular and promising opportunities available is the Self-Employment program.

The Self-Employment program has helped over 3,000 businesses get started, with students learning things from developing business plans and transitioning strategies to being their own boss. Their track record is quite impressive: 95 per cent of the businesses started through the program are still up and running after one year, and 72 per cent of the businesses opened are still in business after four years. The program has been offered since 1995, and has since become the largest self-employment program in the Lower Mainland.

Michelle Jickling, a business advisor with the program and CEO of Hummingbird Translations, says that the self-employment program provides aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools to get a business off the ground.

“It’s never been easier to start a business,” she says, adding that, “this doesn’t mean that starting a business is easy.”

The first step to any successful business venture, she says, is a “sound business plan”—the fundamental document that is required of entrepreneurs for a number of business issues, such as funding.

“When you are starting a business without a good, sound business plan, it becomes difficult to manage your business day-to-day once you get it up and running.”

One of the first things participants in the program do is put together their business plan, including a two-year earnings forecast. They then present their business plan to a Dragon’s Den-style review panel, consisting of business owners who are familiar with the business plan, for feedback.

The first phase of the 48-week long program consists of intensive theoretical training, including workshops on sales, operational effectiveness, marketing, and social media. After the classroom training, participants run their businesses with coaching and mentoring from the program’s business consultants.

The program is accessible to the general public, not only Douglas College students.

“The program is open to anybody with a viable business idea. The first step would be to go to an orientation to see if the program is viable. We don’t want people to lose their shirts; we want them to be successful,” says Jickling.

The entire program costs $2,750, but Jickling says that it’s an “incredible value” based on the training and mentorship being given to participants.

“Our goal is to provide real training for real entrepreneurs. Participants [for most of the duration of the program] are out running their business; it’s not like they’re strapped to a chair in a classroom.”

When asked what the biggest challenges are for new entrepreneurs, she said that fear of failure often comes into play.

“One of the things they struggle with the most is with perfectionism, and they use it, without really knowing it, as a form of procrastination,” says Jickling. “There is such a huge leap between being managed, be it by teachers, your boss, or your parents, to managing yourself [and it] presents a real challenge for many entrepreneurs.”

The program has benefitted a wide range of people: both youth and people in their sixties alike have seen success in the self-employment program.

The program’s marquee event, the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, will take place on October 23 at the Executive Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre in Coquitlam. Tickets are $20 and are still available online at

“The success stories from the program are far greater than those who start their business on their own. Everyone [at the award gala] would attribute the success of their start to the program,” says Jickling, adding that, “anyone wanting to come to the dinner would likely get inspired and empowered to look at the Self-Employment Program.”