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School's In

A student finds the best way to learn about business is by running a College Pro franchise.

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Julien Bigras planned to start a business after majoring in entrepreneurial management at Ottawa University, spending two years as an employee and getting his MBA. But those plans took a slight detour last November when a representative from College Pro Painters came to Bigras' school to recruit franchisees. Interested, the then-17-year-old Bigras set up an interview to learn more about the painting franchise.

"They talked to me about running my own business," Bigras says, "and that clicked. When they said 'experience [provided] in management and in business,' I was interested."

Since that meeting, Bigras, a university sophomore, has worked hard to find the perfect balance between being a student and an entrepreneur. "I make my schedule for the whole week; I block schedule everything," he says. "Suppose I put studying on Friday at 2-when Friday at 2 comes around, I do exactly that. I have plenty of other things to do and, if I put one thing off, nothing gets done."

Fellow students are impressed with Bigras' ability to run a business while going to school. "My friends think it's great that I run the business all by myself at such a young age," explains Bigras.

Bigras closes his painting franchise in October, as the need for exterior house painting slows down considerably during the Ottawa winters. He spends January through April soliciting new accounts and giving estimates.

Business is back in full swing at the end of April, after Bigras completes final exams. Then he commits his days to looking for clients, checking in on jobs and managing his staff of five to seven painters from the office Bigras keeps at the house he shares with parents and younger brother. "My family is proud of me for what I've done and they really like my perseverance," he says.

During the summer, after Bigras' alarm goes off around 6, he eats breakfast, then heads off to the paint store for supplies. Visits to job sites and clients start at around 8 and last until 11:30 a.m.

After a quick lunch, Bigras spends a few hours estimating future jobs and working on current problems. A final trip to all job sites lasts from 3 to 5:30, then it's a quick supper before heading back to the home office to tackle paperwork.

Though running a business is a little more serious than most extracurricular activities, Bigras is excited, not overwhelmed, by the responsibilities and possibilities. "I like making my own schedule," Bigras says. "Basically I like running things my own way and knowing, if I make a mistake, it's me that's responsible and no one else."