Self‑starter: Management student Kalab Workye's entrepreneurial spirit

- April 14, 2016

Management student Kalab Workye. (Nick Pearce photo)
Management student Kalab Workye. (Nick Pearce photo)

Most students come to school to acquire skills and knowledge they can apply in the real world. Kalab Workye, on the other hand, came to Dal’s Bachelor of Management program as a veteran of the business world.

The first-year student was the recipient of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year Impact Award. The honour is no surprise, considering that Kalab has been in business for himself since he was 17.

“I was delivering pizzas and I took my earnings and started a rickshaw business,” he explains. “I had four of them built and I wanted to sell advertising on them. I did a bunch of cold calls and met with a bunch of people and sold a couple of advertising spots.”

To secure these advertising deals, which included a $4,000 agreement with a local car dealership, Kalab had to present a level of professionalism well beyond his teenage years.

“I set up a meeting with a branding agency and I knew I couldn’t let them know I was 17. I had flyers and a package made up, I put on a suit and met with them and I was able to sell them on (doing rickshaw advertising).”

Seizing opportunity

Kalab has since let go of his rickshaw business to focus on Project Painters, a seasonal interior and exterior painting company that uses environmentally friendly supplies and materials.

“I looked for a business I could get into with minimal investment and make a buck in. I saw that this industry was highly fragmented and disorganized,” says Kalab. “I thought I could take advantage of that by presenting a more professional image.”

Kalab adds that offering ecologically conscious painting services helps him stand out in the marketplace.

“If you’re bringing a product to market that’s environmentally friendly, the most environmentally friendly product on the market, then as long as your pricing is right and you’re seen as competent, you’ll do better than the competition.”

Kalab’s keen business sense and hustle was forged in part by his upbringing. Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, he came to Canada at the age of eight and grew up in what he describes as a “tough neighbourhood.”

Starting multiple companies, he says, has helped him develop some of the social skills required for business success.

“I’ve learned to deal with people through my businesses,” says Kalab. “You have to work with people and be personable and professional.”

Building a skill set

Kalab says he’s added some new skills as a student in the Faculty of Management. He cites Microeconomics as his favourite course and points to learning Microsoft Excel as a critical skill he’s developed.

“It’s very basic but I’d never done it. It’s an amazing tool to keep track of everything.”

With the academic year ending and the painting season ramping up, Kalab will have lots to keep track of over the next few months. For now, he’s honoured by his Entrepreneur of the Year award and continues to hone his business savvy.

“I think I have that mindset of having a goal and figuring out how to go after it, whether it’s a sale or whatever it may be. That’s what it’s about for me.”


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