Opinion: A candy-coated lesson for young entrepreneurs

As has been the experience of many an entrepreneur, Stewart Walsh was peppered with questions about his business plan after approaching a potential financier for acquisition capital.

But one slick PowerPoint presentation and a slew of good answers later, Mr. Walsh and his business partner closed their deal. It wasn’t for a large sum. They would soon receive a cheque for around $16,000, which they then used to acquire a local candy vending machine business.

That was a little more than three years ago, when Mr. Walsh was around 11 years old.

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Today, as a wizened 14-year-old negotiating his way through the hard-knock school of business, the Orleans resident is philosophical about a local hard candy empire that involves 58 machines scattered in break rooms of KPMG and various Loebs, Metros, Wal-Marts and other businesses across town. 

“(My dad) found an article in the paper about someone selling vending machines, and we thought it would be a good idea,” he says. “So, we started the business.”

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. But as Stewart’s father John Walsh explains, things got complicated fast after making the initial decision.

“The first trick was to get a loan to purchase the business, because at the time we didn’t have any spare cash,” says the elder Mr. Walsh, an agent with the Mortgage Alliance Company of Canada. “So we called on the ‘Bank of Grandma,’ and she came through.”

Since those first steps, however, Stewart Supreme Vending has evolved into a going concern and Stewart an experienced businessperson – if you can consider any 14-year-old “experienced.” Still, many seasoned entrepreneurs in Ottawa could likely learn a thing or two from ol’ Stewart – his company took home a gold medal at the OCRI/Exploriem Bootstrap Award last month, for fastest growing 20-and-under bootstrapped company of the year.

As Stewart explains, his business is actively searching for more venues in which to sling its sugary inventory. “We typically just walk in off the street,” he explains of his sales pitch.

Though – like any good entrepreneur – he’s already thinking exit strategy, albeit one in the mid- to long-range future. “I think we’ll keep it for another couple of years or so,” he says. “I want to pay off the loan, for one, and maybe make some money after that.”

The elder Mr. Walsh says the business takes home a modest $450 in profit each month, which is instantly fed back into the Bank of Grandma’s coffers. They’re around six to eight months away from paying off their financier, he adds.

As for Stewart, he says the experience has hooked him on the world of entrepreneurship.

“I’m probably going to stay in business my entire life, but I’m not going to stick around the vending business,” he says. “This is just to teach me how to do business, and learn the principles of business.”

The student at St. Matthew Catholic High School says he’d eventually like to get involved in an industry he’s really passionate about – something to do with computers, perhaps.

But definitely something involving his own business.

“It always makes me feel good to not have a job, but to still be making money,” says Stewart.

Something tells me he’s going to fit in to the entrepreneurial world just fine.

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