While 18-year-old Cole Starkman never expected to be sent home in the middle of his first year at university, it’s given him a unique opportunity: the chance to start his first business without the distraction of other responsibilities.
Starkman was studying in the Business Administration Program at Wilfrid Laurier University when COVID-19 shut down the campus, leading him to return to his family home in Port Carling. He wanted to do something over the summer that was productive and applied his newfound knowledge from business school while also helping the community. He figured personal protective equipment (PPE) was a perfect choice given the difficulty many businesses and people had securing it early on in the pandemic. His website, PPEonDemand.ca, sells hand sanitizer, face masks and shields, thermometers and other PPE with the option of added branding for business customers.
“When I started, everything was really hard to come by,” Starkman said. “I thought if I could be a good supplier and a reliable, consistent supplier for smaller businesses that maybe don’t have the time to source this stuff or the ability to, that would be a good mixture of applying everything that I learned and helping out people.”
Starkman started by reaching out to supplier directories to source the products for the website, aiming to use as many Canadian suppliers as possible. Once he secured the products and launched the website, the business was up and running.
Currently, PPEonDemand.ca runs out of half of a two-car garage. During the day, operations focus on customer service, connecting with suppliers and bringing shipments to Canada Post while packing orders and other inventory-related business happens after hours.
While the quarantine has had an overwhelmingly negative influence on the lives of many Canadians, Starkman said running the business while in school or even just not during the pandemic would have been much more difficult. Being at home not only inspired the business but allowed him to focus on the website while also receiving advice and mentorship from his parents.
“It’s definitely allowed me to have the time and opportunity to learn,” he said. “My dad has definitely been a big asset and probably the biggest guide through all this for me.”
Along with his parents, Starkman’s friends helped him out in the early stages by working for the business short term, but as orders continue to roll in, he’s looking to create a more permanent staff. By the end of the summer, he hopes to bring employees on board to assist with day-to-day operations, and since much of the work can be done remotely, potential team members can be from Port Carling, Waterloo or anywhere else.
“Whether that’s someone more established or whether that’s just someone from high school that’s just looking for a summer job, we’re always looking for people to help out in whatever role that they can bring to the table,” Starkman said.
In addition to building a staff, he hopes to expand the business by using a third-party fulfillment service that would take over the packing and shipment of orders as volumes continue to rise. Though he’s not sure exactly what the future of the business will look like, he looks forward to seeing his venture grow as he goes back to school in the fall.