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Rye’s student-run businesses: How quarantine created unprecedented opportunities

By Michelle Takacs

Are you interested in starting a side-hustle of your own or looking to support your local Ramily?

There has never been a more crucial time to support each other than right now. Take a look at these stories from seven small businesses, owned and operated by Ryerson students, to find out how they’re thriving amid a pandemic that has left established businesses struggling to stay afloat. 

MPowered — Brianne Luke

Instagram: mpowered21

TikTok: mpowered21

Two candles, in the shape of the feminine body form
Photo: Brianne Luke

Brianne Luke, a fourth-year performance production student, brought her thesis to life through MPowered: a small, Black-owned business that sells handmade candles shaped to mimic the human figure as well as hand painted terracotta vases. Luke plans to diversify her candle offerings by forming “human figure candles that represent different body shapes and skin tones” (pictured above is her maternity candle line). She also plans to expand her offerings to include silk-lined hats which are designed to “protect curly hair, especially for people of colour.” 

Luke’s advice for starting a business is to focus on product differentiation, inclusion and the environmental impact of your creations.

Hypebio — Andrew Lindsay

Instagram: hypebio

TikTok: hypebio

A man on stage in a concert arena.
Photo: Andrew Lindsay

Andrew Lindsay, a third-year marketing student, founded media company Hypebio in 2018. In addition to creating original content as a concert photographer and videographer, Lindsay operates an Instagram page which features “everything hype,” covering all things sports to pop-culture. 

In light of COVID-19, Hypebio decided to focus on its shareable creative content, by shifting its focus to TikTok, said Lindsay. Within three months, Hypebio grew its TikTok following from 6,000 to 55,000, while boasting a total of nearly two million likes. 

Prior to pandemic lockdowns, Hypebio created original content for several Toronto artists, including Killy, Pressa and 88Glam. 

Lindsay said adapting the Hypebio business model has allowed his business to not only remain relevant but also increase its following and reach an international audience. His advice for starting a business is to “shift gears, even temporarily,” recognizing that the pandemic has produced endless opportunities of growth for content creators. 

Suslove — Alexis Riley

Instagram: shopsuslove


Photo: Palacio (Instagram: @_palacio)

Alexis Riley, a fourth-year criminology student, co-runs Suslove with Alexis Whelan, a student at the University of Toronto. Suslove is a loungewear-focused apparel brand motivated by sustainability and ethical practices, and with a focus on inclusion and customization. 

Launching amidst the height of the pandemic, the pair found success in the movement against fast-fashion, with increased audience engagement on their socials due to lockdown orders.

They use their Instagram platform to educate their followers on sustainability and display their devotion to ethical business practices—for example, using a sustainability assurance officer to oversee their wholesale services.

For Riley and Whelan, “sustainability is more than having sound practices, it’s about who you’re making your product for.”

According to Riley, Suslove’s cranberry set from its fall line sold out within 30 minutes. Their snowdrop spring collection is set to drop on March 13.

Creatdbyi — Ilsa Baig

Instagram: creatdbyi


Photo: Ilsa Baig

Creatdbyi was founded by Ilsa Baig, a fifth-year marketing student who paints wearable items. Baig’s most highly-sought after item is her customized Air Force 1’s, which feature designs ranging from portraits of shoppers’ favourite anime characters and sports figures to unique colourways.

Baig credits her continued success throughout the pandemic to “the shift towards supporting local businesses and additional free-time” that lockdown orders have granted. Currently, she’s designing up to 20 pairs of sneakers a month.

iramsweets — Iram Cheema

Instagram: iramsweets

Photo: Iram Cheema

Iram Cheema is a second-year business technology management student who made the bold decision to open up a business selling customizable treats this past November after receiving an influx of support for her creations through Instagram.

“What started as a quarantine hobby soon became a business,” said Cheema. She added that “knowing your worth” and establishing a clear pricing scheme is critical to success when starting a business.

Her favourite creation? Naked floral cakes, which she describes as her trendiest product at the moment.

Sugar Rush Cupcakes — Saudah Samrodia 

Instagram: sugarrushcupcakesco

Photo: Saudah Samrodia

Saudah Samrodia is a fourth-year global management studies student who turned her passion for baking into a business during the pandemic. Samrodia’s Instagram showcases customizable cupcakes and treat boxes, where her followers note her immaculate attention to detail and impressive colour palettes.

Samrodia encourages those looking to sell customizable desserts to just go for it,” where she was overwhelmed by the support she received when first starting out. 

“You’ll be surprised by the amount of positive feedback,” said Samrodia.

She also advises bakers to be prepared for holidays—Samrodia completed 20 orders alone on Valentine’s Day. 

Mental Health Memo — Tsvetty Kolarova


Youtube: Mental Health Memo

Instagram: mentalhealthmemo

Illustration: Tsvetty Kolarova

Tsvetty Kolarova, a fourth-year social-work student, created the Mental Health Memo. Originally a blog which has since been expanded into a YouTube channel, Kolarova shares her knowledge that she has gained through her studies, as well as what she has learned from her own experiences with stigmatized mental health issues. 

The pandemic demonstrated an area of opportunity for Kolarova, given a “significant proportion of the population struggled with mental health issues” during lockdown. She went on to say that the alarming rate of mental health issues created a need for increased access to support services.

Kolarova has been able to monetize her work through the use of affiliate links. She also plans to release her first product this year, a course on mental health and wellness. 

For those interested in starting or monetizing a blog, Kolarova highlights the importance of patience in growing your traction and the value in conducting preliminary research, as different blogs will require varying approaches in terms of visuals and monetization. 

As the pandemic has pushed many to turn to alternative forms of income, more resources have become available to help entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Last month, the Toronto Public Library launched Business Inc., an eight-week online program for supporting entrepreneurs. Startup Canada, an online network for Canadian entrepreneurs, offers both free and paid webinars. For the month of March, they will be offering free webinars that focus on women entrepreneurs, and an upcoming e-commerce webinar on March 18.

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