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How Entrepreneurship Gave this Young Tea Master Another Shot at Life

December 14, 2015

DECEMBER 2015 – This past October, PCRBN teamed up with Daniel Lewis—founder of the thriving specialty teashop TbyDaniel—to deliver an exciting panel discussion to over 100 young people at PCRBN’s Youth Entrepreneurship Launchpad in Rexdale, hosted in partnership with the City of Toronto and MicroSkills. Daniel is not only an amazing role model for aspiring entrepreneurs – he represents a growing number of young people who are pursuing alternative pathways to employment in the face of high unemployment rates.

He grew up in a neighbourhood with few opportunities. He didn’t complete school. His resume includes sorting screws and nails in a factory. He has past involvement with the youth justice system. Taking these things into consideration, many would write Daniel Lewis off as unqualified and undesirable for the world of work.

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Despite these challenges, the ambitious 27-year-old entrepreneur was determined to turn his life situation into an opportunity. Today, he is impacting thousands through his creative tea business and public speaking engagements across Canada.

“When I was 21, I went through an incident where I almost lost my life. I was a victim of a stabbing that left me for dead,” explains Daniel over a cup of his famous Lion Chai. The time he spent in the hospital shifted his perspective on life. “I became focused on the way that I impact people – for good and for bad. My goals and aspirations shifted to wanting to positively impact people’s lives. I knew that with my own tea company, I could do it my own way.” That’s when TbyDaniel was created.

The Road to TbyDaniel

Owned by Daniel and his wife Renata Lewis, TbyDaniel is a modern, award-winning tea company touted as a local favourite among Brampton residents. Most recently, Daniel launched MillionEarsClub as a response to growing requests for public speaking engagements.

Before discovering his entrepreneurship potential, Daniel held a number of jobs, including a decade in the music industry, factory work, and a job at a pizza shop.

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“Entrepreneur is not a title; it is a way of thinking. It is a switch that has to happen in your mind, and it can happen at any time – even when you are working for someone else.” For Daniel, that switch happened when an opportunity to franchise a pizza shop presented itself.

He quickly realized however, that franchising would come with a number of roadblocks. “I used to have all these ideas about what we could do with the pizza shop but kept getting shot down because of franchise rules. I realized I was full of creativity, but was not seeing anything come to life. Then it hit me – I began to ask myself why don’t I make something that’s mine?”

Unpacking Entrepreneurship: A Solution to Youth Unemployment

For many, the word entrepreneurship is a vague and unfamiliar concept, never mind a viable career path. For young people, the idea of taking the entrepreneur route may seem even more daunting.

“School doesn’t encourage or teach people how to be an entrepreneur. It presents a narrow path: you to go to school, you build that resume, and you get a job. But life doesn’t always work out that way. There are things that can happen along the way that will end up excluding you from the very opportunities school prepares you for. That’s when entrepreneurship kicks in. An entrepreneur takes all things into consideration and says, ‘Out of all of this, here is what I am going to do, here’s what I am going to create, and this is going to be a solution.’”

But with little information about what entrepreneurship entailed, Daniel had to lean on his pen, paper, and inquisitive personality to figure out the ins and outs of self-employment.

“Entrepreneurship is like being on a cliff. The cliff is your creative idea and you are looking out on the edge at the ‘city of opportunities’. But in between is the depth of risk. That’s when questions come up like, ‘What if this doesn’t work? What if I risk my health or family? How can I start my own business when I don’t know anything about business’? Considering all the risks, entrepreneurs make that jump.”

A Community of Supporters

Daniel assures that there are steps to take to minimize the risk of taking this leap of faith, ensuring the jump is not ‘suicidal’. For Daniel, those steps included a lot of research, connecting with like-minded business owners, and tapping into free skills training offered by his municipality and community organizations.

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In an increasingly competitive job market where over-inflated job requirements disqualify many, unemployment is becoming a real problem for young people in the GTA. But more and more people are paying attention to how entrepreneurship can provide an alternative to the traditional job market.

“People are starting to talk about entrepreneurship as a ‘possible solution’ to youth unemployment and it absolutely is a solution. People are realizing that they have another shot in life given their situation or surroundings.” For Daniel, his company has not only been his solution to an inaccessible job market, but an opportunity to impact thousands of people for good, one tea at a time.

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