Photo Credit: EO’s GSEA Competition

As a fourth year student at the University of Alberta’s School of Business, majoring in entrepreneurship, Michael Tessier decided to put his studies to good use by starting his own business, Good Roots Landscaping Inc., a landscape construction company founded in Edmonton, Alberta. Michael always felt his studies and business overlapped in many ways, which allowed him to actively apply the knowledge he obtained from school directly to his business.

Good Roots Landscaping Inc. started with $10,000.00 of their personal money that helped them buy their first truck, trailer and tools and after years of hard work, perseverance and valuable relationships, Good Roots Landscaping has grown to a full-scale landscape construction crew since being founded in 2013. Michael also recently was awarded the Student Entrepreneur National Champion by Enactus in May 2015.

We caught up with Michael to chat with him about what it has been like starting and running a business as a student. Here is what he had to say…

What made you want to start your own business?

When I was approximately 13, I was inspired by a number of successful entrepreneurs from the Edmonton area—convincing me to pursue business from a young age. I began by doing what I liked to call “professional Kijiji sales” at age 14, trading cars & vehicles before I was even able to drive. Upon graduation of high school, I worked for a commercial landscaping company in Edmonton for two years, where I built by skills and knowledge in the industry, unknowing that I would embark on a service-based business shortly after. At the end of the second season, two friends were discussing starting up a lawn maintenance company. Although this was an attractive opportunity, I convinced them to pursue landscape construction to utilize my past skills and create more potential to scale the business. Within a few months, we embarked on the journey of paving our own path as entrepreneurs.

Did you feel that as a student you were given the skills you needed to be successful in starting your own business or did you have to look to gain these skills elsewhere?

I believe there are invaluable skills, knowledge and experience gained from both academics as well as in practicing entrepreneurship. Certainly, academics give me some of the tools I need to make more sensible and strategic choices, but only once I practice the concepts in real life do theories become lessons. There are certain things that you simply cannot prepare for in school—tough clients, motivating employees, cash-flow management and decision making, to name a few. While networking, on the other hand, can be accomplished in a variety of ways through both school and work.

It is hard to accredit specific aspects of my success as a student entrepreneur, however I can say that the task of balancing student entrepreneurship has shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today by receiving both knowledge and experience. I have been lucky enough to be able to manage both, and would say that a student should look past their degree to find opportunities to enrich their learning experiences before graduation.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur or when you started school did you envision a different career path?

While traveling in Southeast Asia after my high school graduation, I reflected on my possible career paths before I fortified my choice to pursuing entrepreneurship. I had looked into a variety of paths in business, including joining my father in real-estate. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to have my own company, with my own responsibilities. I had seen how others used the attractive, yet risky opportunity to succeed as a business owner. With that, I searched out the top entrepreneurial schools in western Canada and applied for the University of Alberta while I was still away in the Philippines. I still believe to this day that the time off and experience gained while traveling played a major part in my ability to identify what was right for me at the time, rather than rushing into post-secondary.

What inspired you to get involved with Enactus?

After gaining some traction with my business and some success with a recent competition, I began seeking out more opportunities to compete. Out of the blue, a friend recommended me to an executive at Enactus Canada. He gave me a call and encouraged me to apply for the provincial wide competition to see if I could advance to the regionals. With some hard work and well-planned presentations, I advanced through the regionals and ended up winning the nationwide competition to be named the Top Student Entrepreneur in Canada.

Enactus provides awesome opportunities for entrepreneurial minds to come together and learn from each other while competing. Meanwhile, they offer keynote speakers, events and networking. I have had a truly great experience with Enactus and would encourage students to get involved either as part of a team or as a student entrepreneur.

What has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while starting a business and juggling school too?

One of the hardest parts of student entrepreneurship is your restriction of time. I have learned the hard way that it is amazingly important to schedule your time, and furthermore to value your time each day. With heavier workloads, your schedule gets filled a little quicker than you had hoped, so you simply try your best to not compromise your marks or your business performance. Sometimes work isn’t your first choice when your getting out of school on a nice day, you’d rather meet with friends or relax, but it’s a commitment you’ve made. On top of that, the stress can wear an individual down. However, there are certainly positives that come from it. I love the new challenges day-to-day that keep things interesting, especially when you achieve the results you strived for, and although sometimes I have had to learn things the hard way, I am always learning something!

Why do you feel it’s important for students to look at entrepreneurship as a viable career option?

Entrepreneurship is a crucial part of our economy and lives. I think it’s important that students look at it as a viable career path, as entrepreneurship offers unparalleled opportunities to develop yourself as an individual while pursuing your own dreams. While saying that, I think it’s equally important that students critically assess if they are the type of individual that would be able to depend on themselves, stay motivated and self-learn as an entrepreneur. For those that are able to identify their passion in entrepreneurship early enough, I would certainly recommend looking at what options are available to pursue it both through schooling, but more importantly through experience.

As a student, your degree is an incredible safety net for you to fall on if you are trying entrepreneurship. It helps even more if you are pursuing entrepreneurship in your studies as well.

What would be your one piece of advice for other students thinking of starting their own business?

Once you verify the potential of the business and do your homework, make sure you are passionate about your product or service. There are constant hardships and rejoices that will test your integrity. If your not passionate about what you’re pursuing, it is nearly impossible to make it through the tougher times. On that note, you have to ensure your partners and team shares that same passion and vision to remain effective. Everything aside, passion is what will allow an individual and/or team to persevere, especially during the startup phase. You have to want it.

Follow Michael Tessier on Twitter here.

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