If you’ve ever struggled to remain employed because of mental health or addiction challenges, then you know what it’s like…

The stigma is overbearing. 

Your opportunities are limited (at best). 

And every time you try to keep or find a job, the rug gets pulled from under you because of all the battles you’re fighting inside. 

It’s a mess, and the barriers keep stacking up.

But what if you’ve been looking at it all wrong?

What if, instead of trying to fit in, you decided to stand out?

Build something of your own. Work for yourself. Stop relying on someone else’s validation so you can make a living.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

With the EnterpRISEing Youth+ program, you could be doing exactly that — turning your passion into a business and forging ahead self-employed. 

If you’re 16-29 years old, have struggled to keep a job because of mental health or addiction challenges, and have the desire to finally create something for yourself, this program could potentially change your life.

SOS Safety Magazine had the chance to speak with Kathryn Hotte, business advisor at Prospect Human Services, about bringing the program to Edmonton and what that means to help struggling youth succeed in the world today.

Read our entire interview with Kathryn below:

What exactly is Prospect Human Services and what do you define your mission as?

Prospect helps people who face barriers to employment. We work with everyone from recent immigrants to ill-and-injured military veterans to people with disabilities. We’re a not-for-profit organization, but our main motivation isn’t charity. We believe everyone who is ready, willing and able to work and wants a fulfilling job should have one.

Our mission is to reduce barriers and deliver sustainable solutions so that everyone, regardless of circumstance, can reach their employment potential.

We offer a variety of programs and services for job seekers and employers. Entrepreneurs with Disabilities is one such program and they’re partnering with Rise to bring EnterpRISEing Youth+ to the Edmonton area.

Who is RISE and what is EnterpRISEing Youth+?

Rise is a charity that works to empower business owners with access to low-interest business loans and business support. They recognize the interdependency of financial well-being to one’s overall quality of life and are committed to improving and investing in the lives of people who are unable to secure employment due to mental health or addictions challenges. 

EnterpRISEing Youth+ is a free, 7-week online entrepreneurship course for youth. More specifically, for youth who’ve struggled with employment due to mental health and addiction challenges. The program is aimed to help students turn their passion into a business, and prepare them in a way that’s uniquely suited to their needs and based on their passions and interests. Students learn core business skills, build confidence, and find ways to advance their careers and give back to the world.

Where did the idea for EnterpRISEing Youth come from?

With the help of a 2017 Citi Foundation Grant, Rise’s proven Youth Small Business Program made the move to a digital platform, with the EnterpRISEing Youth project. EnterpRISEing Youth+ leverages online tools to provide youth across Canada with the next level of support: online learning combined with local classroom-based workshops, resulting in an actionable, realistic plan to launch a business.

The dual phenomena of higher levels of youth mental health incidence, combined with success in reducing stigma, has resulted in a larger pool of youth facing barriers to empowerment, self-determination and participation in their communities. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental health challenge. Young people between 15 and 24 are more likely to experience mental illness/ substance abuse than any other age group, and 70% of mental health issues have their onset in childhood and adolescence. The annual number of people living with a mental illness is highest among young adults ages 20-30.

Access to employment is one of the top 4 priorities identified by the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Youth Strategy. The report further states that “barriers that keep people out of the workforce must be removed. At the same time, supports that help them obtain employment should be increased.”

Unemployment rates are as high as 70% to 90% for people with the most severe mental illnesses.

Simply put, it’s hard for young people in today’s economy to find fulfilling and stable economic roles for themselves and this is especially so for individuals who experience episodic or ongoing mental health challenges or an addiction.

Self-employment or entrepreneurship offers young people the opportunity to by-pass the scrutiny and limited opportunity of today’s job market and make their own opportunities. Moreover, they can do so in a way that is uniquely suited to their own needs and engages their own particular passions and interests.

EnterpRISEing Youth promises to prepare young people in a way that’s uniquely suited to their needs and based on their passions and interests. How was the platform developed with that in mind, and what kind of results have you been able to produce so far?

The program utilizes a Rotman Designworks Business Design™ process: a holistic and interactive approach that is ideally suited to these would-be entrepreneurs. The program concludes with a full-day session where each student delivers a 10-minute business presentation and receives feedback from an audience of fellow students and youth coaches.

This approach to business development is uniquely suited to our clients: cash-poor, early-stage businesses that are operating in competitive environments. The traditional approach to business has been more of an attitude of “if you build it they will come”. You make a great product or service, make a plan and get everything ready and in place, and then get out there and market to your customers. With a design thinking approach, the entrepreneur starts by getting to know and understand their customers, and to identify their needs in relation to the product or service. Then they design their whole business concept to meet those needs. They don’t draw up a plan and follow it slavishly; they test and iterate their ideas quickly and cheaply before they commit cash and significant effort to a plan. They are encouraged to look around and to brainstorm with their classmates to find different ways to serve their customers’ needs while working within the constraints of a start-up environment. Students are encouraged to look for cooperative and collaborative opportunities to create mutually beneficial relationships with other more established actors in the industry. Finally, we try to take the ideas off the page during the planning stage and to use different styles of concept mapping, visualization and prototyping as aids to creative thinking.

EnterpRISEing Youth+ accepts Canadian youth aged 16 to 29 who self-identify as having experienced a mental health or addiction challenge and who are unable to access traditional financing for business purposes. Most participants have indicated that they have been unable to secure employment or have been chronically underemployed in the past. A majority of students enter EnterpRISEing Youth+ on a form of government assistance. 

The purpose of our program is to give our students the tools and skills that will allow them to:

  • Research and develop a practical and actionable business plan
  • Create their own business with limited capital investment
  • Earn a sustainable income

Upon completion of the program and submission of a final business plan, participants are given a $300 grant towards their business.

What have you found most surprising about how students engage with your platform? Are there certain aspects you see being inspiring to those enrolled?

The online platform portion is 15 modules that lead the student through the business start-up process. It’s amazing to see the students move through the online portion and be able to utilize the many resources available and watch videos that explain in real terms. 

Combined with the in-class workshops where we feature speakers from our local partners, like Business Link for example, as well as an assigned mentor, it offers what most business owners today have never received –  a comprehensive program that takes them through everything they need to know about business start-up! 

Not only is the program free of charge, but they also receive $300 upon graduation that the students can use towards their business. When the students present their business on the pitch/graduation day it is clear that they have gained the knowledge and skills needed to get a business up and running.

What has been EnterpRISEing Youth’s biggest accomplishment thus far?

Rise has the EnterpRISEing Youth+ program in Sudbury, Edmonton, Victoria and soon to be Halifax – and so the program has had great success across the country with graduates able to start and continue to run their businesses. The move to the online platform mentioned above in question two, with the help of a 2017 Citi Foundation Grant, brings a well-rounded comprehensive program for participants.

Edmonton had its first launch of the program in the summer of 2019, with additional programs starting in January and March.

Do you have any projects/news/developments people should be looking out for? And where can people connect with your organization if they want to learn more?

For more information call Prospect Human Services at 780.705.9677 – ask for Kathryn Hotte or Dave Reid from Entrepreneurs with Disabilities at Prospect Human Services Edmonton. You can email either Kathryn or Dave at or OR email  

To register for the program the following link will take you right to the application