Caroline Richard | Desjardins Group
After finishing her degree in industrial design, Claudia Croteau decided to start her own business. With no experience or funding, she drew on her unparalleled resolve to create m3béton and make it grow.
She owes her success in part to the organizations and assistance programs that supported her during the start-up phase. Claudia is adamant that entrepreneurs shouldn't be shy about looking for help and support at the very beginning. "Help is out there--you just have to find it!"
Claudia and her brother Guylain, an experienced concrete artisan, joined forces to create m3béton in 2007. The two young entrepreneurs fully mastered their craft through careful research and development, buoyed by their limitless motivation and guidance from their father, an engineer. In 2008, the siblings discovered Ductal©, a new type of concrete. This unique, high-quality material has an undeniable advantage over its competition in Quebec: it's not affected by freezes and thaws.
The business grew, moving from custom work to institutional instalments in the first few years. They now focus on street furniture, including ping-pong tables, games of chess and park benches.
Here is some of Claudia's advice for new business owners.
1. Don't be afraid to knock on doors
By looking online, Claudia found a host of organizations and programs that provide support and assistance to young entrepreneurs.
This research acted as a springboard, propelling m3béton to its next step. First, Claudia discovered CDEC, now called PME Montréal , an organization that provides entrepreneurs with information, advice and financing as they start their business.
In turn, this organization led m3béton to Créavenir, a solidarity finance program that gives young entrepreneurs--who often don't qualify for traditional commercial financing--the boost that they need. With its low interest rate and 1-year loan repayment holiday, this program helps businesses take off. They also offer grants, which Claudia is grateful for. "Grants are such a precious gift for entrepreneurs. They really give you a hand," she says.
In addition to the assistance provided by CDEC and Créavenir, m3béton also received support from Emploi-Québec, which covered 50% of their administrative assistant's salary for 6 months.
2. Make use of mentorship programs
The owners of m3béton quickly felt the need for guidance. Réseau M, the mentorship network for young entrepreneurs created by the Fondation de l'entrepreneurship, stepped in to provide assistance. This made it easier for Claudia to develop a business plan, look for financing and make major decisions, such as when to move to a new location. "Mentorship is good for your business," she states.
M3béton also chose to surround itself with other experts. This included developing a relationship with Joceline McCarthy, an advisor at Caisse Desjardins De Lorimier Villeray. She offered them a line of credit when they were in their early days. "This money from the caisse was just a phone call away. It's practical--it let us move ahead with our purchases and take action more quickly. Having a line of credit is reassuring. It supports our growth, which is so important!"
"Learning to listen to other people's ideas was also important, it creates a different dynamic," explains Claudia.
3. Never stop learning
As an entrepreneur, it's important to make continued education a priority. Claudia and her employees took co-development courses offered by the CDEC and a training session on time management offered in collaboration with Emploi-Québec. The resources exist, so why not make the most of them?
4. Don't let financial concerns sap your resolve
Claudia knew that she was meant to start her own business, even if all the keys to success weren't in place at the beginning. "Don't skip anything. Just move forward one step at a time, using the funding that you have." Support organizations will be there every step of the way and will make sure to provide assistance tailored to your needs.
The early days for m3béton were difficult, as neither Claudia nor her brother had experience working with Ductal© concrete. "Frustration can set in when your business doesn't advance at the pace that you'd like, but that phase is necessary. It gives you experience, deepens your knowledge and creates business ties that quickly become invaluable."
5. Pay it forward
The company, which has been receiving assistance from various organisms and programs over the last 9 years, is eager to pay it forward. They offer internships, let woodworking students use their premises, buy local and collaborate with artists. Claudia believes that all entrepreneurs should get involved in their community, no matter how old they are or what their business is worth--everyone walks away a winner.
Owner: Claudia Croteau, designer and cofounder
Business name: m3béton
Industry: Studio specializing in products made from Ductal©, an exclusive concrete.
City: Montreal, Rosemont─La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood
Year established: 2008
Revenue: $ 300,000