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9th Mercier Seminar Series – Do What You Love

On January 28, 2021, BEST Program virtually hosted the 9th Mercier Seminar featuring keynote speaker, Susan Niczowski, Founder and President of Summer Fresh. Susan presented to over 200 York University students promoting the vision of “Love What You Do”.

Susan received a B.Sc. in chemistry and mathematics from York University. She started Summer Fresh over 24 years ago and has grown it into a leading International Food Manufacturer of hummus, dips, salads, sauces, and more.

Susan and her company SummerFresh have been recognized with numerous awards, including RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur, W100 Top Women Entrepreneurs, and Canada’s 50 Best Managed companies 10 years running.

She is a firm believer in “Love What You Do” stating that “If you are passionate about what you do it feels like you’re playing. Those 7 days of a week feel like it’s only one day”.

30 years ago, Susan identified there was a need for ready-prepared salads that were good for you. in 1991, she went to RBC to get a $50 000 loan. She sat down with the account manager and she told them her plan. The account manager had asked her for a business plan – she didn’t have one. The account manager then asked for collateral and was told that the $3,000 and her Honda Accord were not enough collateral and she would need a co-signer, but to her surprise, her dad refused. Years later her dad told her that it killed him to say no but it resulted in her learning a valuable lesson “if you don’t have it, don’t spend it”. Susan started Summer Fresh from her home kitchen, just down the street from York University. Within a few weeks, her business had grown that they had to move to a new facility.

When Dr. Andrew Maxwell asked Susan how she decided to launch new products, Susan described how 30 years ago she asked her friends and family judge her products. She would also wake up at 4 am in the morning to go to the food market to get critiques and feedback on her products. Today things have changed ad she has a marketing team that does a lot of marketing research (panels, taste tests, and more) to find out if the new product they are launching will do well.

During the seminar, Susan provided students with advice on what to do if they have an idea that they want to turn it into a business. Susan emphasized that students should stick to their core and know what they are selling without diverting from it. Business is not always easy but doing what you love entails plenty of hard work and sometimes means working 20 hour days 7 days a week, but when you love what you do, it never feels like work.

She recommended that students start by creating a business plan, and putting a structure and budget in place. She also stressed that networking is important and suggested that students reach out to someone who has expertise in the industry that they are trying to break into.

Thank you to Susan and everyone who attended the seminar for making it a huge success.