Entrepreneurship in Canada is changing, and it’s Sarah Hashem’s job to ensure her organization changes with it. As director of programs for Futurpreneur Canada, Hashem guides the development of new initiatives to support young people looking to start their own businesses—or, increasingly, to expand them. “The traditional view of an entrepreneur is the person that has a dream and drops everything to work towards it,” says Hashem. “That’s a bit old-school view compared to the type of entrepreneurs we’re seeing today.”
Caught in a tangle of challenges including the tepid economy, substantial student debt and a risk-averse financing sector, the next generation of founders are often tiptoeing into entrepreneurship instead of diving in headfirst. “It’s the rise of the side-hustle,” says Hashem. “One of the things we’re seeing is that a ton of people start their business on a part-time basis while they’re working full time. They could be at it grinding for years before they make the switch.”
Changes like these prompted what had formerly been known as the Canadian Youth Business Foundation to rebrand itself in 2014. While its mission remains the same—to support entrepreneurs aged 18–39—Hashem says her job is to help keep the non-profit organization responsive to the actual needs of its constituency.
Until now, Futurpreneur’s main focus had been on helping get new ventures off the ground. To do that it provides education and mentorship, networking opportunities, and financing. But Hashem says the next frontier for the organization is post-launch support “As long as I’ve been working in this field, the conversation has been about startup entrepreneurs,” she says. “Now the conversation is changing to ‘Let’s keep them in business, let’s grow businesses in Canada.’ So I think that’s really exciting.”
Before she started at the CYBF in 2007, Hashem worked in commercial finance at HSBC. She was driven to switch gears in part by the risk aversion she saw in retail banking. “I really wanted to help [my clients] but I wasn’t able to because the banking systems were a bit stricter,” she says. While there’s been progress on that front, with mainstream banks growing their small-business offerings and (sometimes) showing a greater willingness to take on entrepreneurial clients, Hashem says there’s still room for improvement. She predicts that connecting going concerns with mainstream lenders will be part of Futurpreneur’s work in growing its post-launch services.
Hashem’s affinity for Futurpreneur’s clients has a personal dimension. Her entrepreneur father invented an industrial humidifier, an important innovation in the cotton industry in Egypt, where Hashem was born. The family later immigrated to Canada. “I was daddy’s little assistant in my teens, dressing up in a suit and going to bank with him because my English was a little bit better,” she recalls. Hashem and her brother later ran a booth at the Canadian National Exhibition, selling artefacts, glassware, and other Egyptian goods. Then business then moved to the newly-built Vaughan Mills Mall, where Hashed sold gifts leading up to the Christmas season. “I was in school full time, I was working 20 hours a week, and I was managing this booth,” she recalls. So she’s got a good understanding of the joys and sorrows of the entrepreneurial experience. “I’m a side-hustler myself.”