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19-year-old Ontario student launches online PPE business amid coronavirus pandemic

After Cole Starkman was sent home from Wilfrid Laurier University in March, he launched an online PPE business. Supplied

When universities across Ontario cancelled in-person classes in March at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, 19-year-old business student Cole Starkman was sent home from his residence at Wilfrid Laurier University.

With the summer job market drying up, Starkman knew he wanted to make the most of his four months off and didn’t want to just sit idle during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Read more: Presidents of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier universities offer plans for fall semester

“I sort of thought, ‘Let’s start a business,'” Starkman said. “Obviously, in quarantine, in COVID, something actually physical and brick-and-mortar won’t really work, so I thought, ‘OK, e-commerce.'”

Then it came down to figuring out what he wanted to sell.

“I thought, ‘What’s going on right now in the world?’ Obviously, the pandemic,” Starkman said. “How can we utilize that and work with that? And so I thought, ‘OK, well, let’s do PPE (personal protective equipment).'”

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After that, Starkman had to set up a website and source his inventory, which he said was the biggest challenge at first. He ended up making a lot of calls and emails to build connections with people in the industry, while also learning about the necessary laws and regulations that came with setting up a PPE business.

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After all was said and done, PPEonDemand.ca launched at the end of April.

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“The biggest struggle at the start was finding it a proper and high-quality supply chain, and my preference was local, obviously, but that was sort of much more difficult a couple months ago,” Starkman added.

“Now we have a supply chain in place, and it’s more solidified, and most of our suppliers are Canadian-based.”

The e-commerce website sells everything from three-ply disposable masks, to face shields, hand sanitizer and KN95 masks. Starkman runs the business out of his home in Toronto and out of his family’s cottage in Muskoka.

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“When we did start this, it was meant for small businesses and still sort of is, but we absolutely sell to anyone,” Starkman said, adding that his company is now receiving consistent and larger orders.

“It was a little bit of a struggle at the start, but it’s now really built up and it’s going smoothly.”

Read more: Layoffs loom at Conestoga College in wake of coronavirus pandemic: president

The business student said he now works between 16 and 20 hours a day managing the company’s daily operations, reaching out to clients and businesses, checking inventory, and packing and shipping the PPE supplies to customers.

He said the company’s been able to turn a profit so far and is even looking to hire a few more employees.

“It obviously has a lot of room to grow, but I would say it’s definitely been a big success so far,” Starkman said.

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