Pandemic progress for young entrepreneurs
Small business owners and entrepreneurs continue to persevere through monumental change. In the rural economies of southeastern New Brunswick, the challenges can be particularly great.
Mount Allison University works to support communities and entrepreneurship is a focus of the University’s academics and real-world learning. The Reisman Internship program was created in 2016 by the Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Foundation and provides Mount Allison students with entrepreneurial ideas with start-up grants, mentoring, and other supports.
We checked in with current and former Reisman Interns to get their pandemic stories and thoughts on what they see as coming next.
Anthony Maddalena (’17)
Anthony Maddalena started Bagtown Brewing as a class project while a Mount Allison Commerce student and grew the craft brewery into a business thanks to his Reisman Internship. In early 2020, Maddalena was renovating his current location on Main Street in Sackville, NB, after moving from a smaller building across the street. His plan was to open mid-March, but the pandemic changed everything.
“We began offering curbside pickup when inside seating was restricted, expanded our patio seating, and hosted trivia nights outside,” says Maddalena.
Bagtown also partnered with other craft breweries in the province to begin cross-marketing and selling products.
Social media played a big role in Bagtown staying in touch with its loyal customers and attracting new interest. Maddalena says he started using social media to engage more with customers, creating online conversations and getting feedback on his beers and ciders.
Maddalena offers several signature brews throughout the year as well as various seasonal and limited-edition drinks, such as his Pumpkin Ale and Hot Sugar Winter Warmer. Recently, he created the Donald, a stout named after a local cat frequently spotted around the town. Someone has even set up a Facebook group where people share sightings of Sackville’s famous feline traveller. It turned out Donald’s owner was a loyal Bagtown customer and welcomed the idea of Maddalena creating a stout in honour of his cat. The Donald was a hit with customers and generated media attention for Bagtown.
“Anthony’s perseverance is indicative of the path and challenges that face many young entrepreneurs, especially those in smaller communities,” says John Wishart, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton. “The easier path would have brought him and others to a dead end. But this new generation of rural entrepreneurs found new ways to connect with customers, used their social media savvy and other tools to actually grow their customer base during two years of pandemic.”
The chamber has offered pandemic-specific supports and resources to its members. Maddalena has attended several chamber seminars and says it’s important to network and feel like you are not alone during this time.
Maddalena says diversification and versatility have been key to Bagtown surviving the pandemic. He is also grateful for Bagtown’s loyal customer base — when Bagtown re-opened after the most recent mandated closure in January, customers braved walking through a snowstorm to visit the brewery. It’s the kind of thing that helps Maddalena feel confident business will grow in the months ahead.
“This past fall, with restrictions lifted and students returning in full force to Sackville, I was starting to get ‘regulars’ and a what I can only describe as a great vibe, especially on Friday afternoons as professors and students gathered together,” says Maddalena. “I’m looking forward to getting that back.”
Maddalena’s work ethic was recognized by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton’s 2021 Business Excellence Awards, where he was runner-up in the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category.
Maddi Pond (’21)
Maddi Pond, another former Reisman Intern, opened Amp It Up dance studio in May 2019.
“Classes came to an abrupt stop in March 2020 and my next in-person class was not until July 2020, but with limited numbers,” says Pond. “Since then, we have been shut down and made to go virtual twice more.”
Located in the village of Salisbury, NB, (population just under 2,300), the studio offers a variety of classes for ages 2 to 18. From the start, Pond was determined to set her studio apart from the competition by tackling body image issues. Amp It Up has no height or weight requirements and no gender specification and is built around principles of inclusivity and creativity. It’s these values and brand of personal commitment to students that Pond thinks has helped her studio innovate and even grow during the pandemic.
When the studio moved classes online, almost all its students continued to participate. At any given time, Amp It Up now has more than 100 students enrolled in classes, and the studio has tripled its enrolment since May 2019.
It has been far from easy, says Pond, with Public Health-required closings and restrictions causing her to constantly re-think and pivot both her dance choreography and business plans. She feels lucky to have clients who are passionate about dance, believe in her business, and want to work with her to make classes available, adopting whatever space restrictions are required.
In 2020, Pond was named a Top 30 Under 30 Innovator by Atlantic Business Magazine, and in 2021 was nominated for the national RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones to Watch. Pond’s five-year plan includes opening a second studio in southeastern New Brunswick.
For other Reisman Interns and young entrepreneurs, the pandemic has also been an opportunity to cultivate new skills with business potential.
When the pandemic was keeping everyone at home, artist Libbie Farrell decided to try rug hooking — popular in the Maritimes, it was an artform Farrell first learned of when moving to New Brunswick from Alberta for school. She loved it, applied for a Reisman Internship, and by fall 2021 Farrell had launched Rugs By Libbie and was attracting international clients with her custom offerings.
“I also reached out to other local artists and found a welcoming community,” says Farrell. “I’ve collaborated with other artists on shows and co-creating designs. I like the idea of small business supporting small business, especially now.”
Artist Sophia Lawrence, owner of Marigold Studio, also used the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new artforms and materials.
“My art style has changed and developed,” says Lawrence. “I became more creative and open to new designs.”
Lawrence started selling her original art greeting cards under the banner Marigold Studio when she was just 13 years old. Her Reisman Internship in 2020 was the first opportunity for the now 21-year-old Lawrence to focus fully on Marigold Studio. She created an online store, and when the pandemic closed regional art and craft shows, she used the downtime to get creative and expand the types of art she would sell.
Lawrence says the pandemic has also proven to be a valuable time to explore social media and make Marigold Studio more active online.
“I used social media to guage responses to my work, and I also saw an immediate correlation between my social media posts and visits to my e-commerce store,” she says.
“Sophia, Libbie, Maddi, and Anthony are all wonderful examples of facing adversity with ingenuity and perseverance,” says Rivers Corbett (’85), who was recently appointed Mount Allison University’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence and has more than 20 years of experience leading businesses.
“When I meet with young people at Mount Allison, I’m hearing a wealth of ideas and ambitions that respond directly to current economic and social realities, as well as really trying to innovate what comes next,” says Corbett. “It gives me a great sense of hope for the future, and I think it’s important we support Reisman Interns and others in their journey of growing ventures. The outcomes will support our local rural economies and communities elsewhere.”
The Reisman Internship Program at Mount Allison University was created in 2016 by the Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Foundation. The program has supported 25 internships with grants of $10,000 or $15,000 each, along with invaluable coaching and mentoring. The next group of interns will be announced soon.