Welcome to another installment of the Student Spotlight.
Each installment highlights the cool things a current or past Stukent student is doing. Use these stories as motivation for reaching your entrepreneurial and marketing goals.
Meet Yathu Radhakrishnan
Radhakrishnan studied marketing and earned a bachelor’s degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He started a self-funded nonprofit, Shelter Umbrellas. He sells umbrellas then donates the profits to the Lookout Society, and he hopes that this project inspires others to give aid to the homeless crisis in Vancouver.
Radhakrishnan shared insights on running Shelter Umbrellas. You can read his interview below:
Tell Us About Yourself
Q: Why did you want to study marketing?
A: I went into marketing because I felt it would let me strengthen my creative and analytical skills. I also like to work with people, so marketing felt like a good, social space.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: I enjoy reading, kickboxing, and hitting the gym. I really enjoy going to art events such as open exhibits and live performances. Traveling is really important to me, so I try to get around as much as I can.
Tell Us About Your Cool Venture
Q: Why did you start?
A: I started this project because I was tired of not being able to do [more] to help the homeless besides giving out change or buying food for them every now and then. When I worked on Granville and Robson I saw the homeless on a daily basis, so I always felt bad when I couldn’t do more. I truly believe that homelessness is the biggest problem we have to today on a community level.
Q: What is unique about what you do?
A: What I find unique about Shelter Umbrellas is the merging of two events that are synonymous with Vancouver: homelessness and rain. I have heard from colleagues and customers that the name and symbolism strongly resonated with them. Nonprofits rely strongly on storytelling and symbols, so that was crucial in the development of this project. I chose umbrellas because they are commodities in a city like Vancouver.
Q: What has been the hardest part of running your business?
A: This has been a one-person operation, so it is hard to find time to do all the things I want to do with Shelter Umbrellas. Going through the legal processes and filing the right papers was a process. This is the first nonprofit I have pursued, so I am learning through trial-by-fire.
Q: How are you marketing your business?
A: Most of the marketing done so far has been via social media and word-of-mouth. I have displays setup in Book Warehouse Main St. (the store that I sell my umbrellas at). I am looking to increase Shelter Umbrellas’ store presence to gain exposure. I am working on increasing my social media presence as well as Shelter Umbrellas’ presence in different stores and even [at] pop-up events.
Q: What advice would you give to a college student looking to start down a path similar to yours?
A: Your dream project is not nearly as hard as you think it is. Once you have an idea on paper and you start researching the resources available to you, you will see how doable it all is. I am lucky enough to have the support of Book Warehouse, but I am sure that if you needed the help of a local business, all you would have to do is ask. I am a huge believer of “ask and you shall receive.”
Q: Do you have a favorite book, website, or online tool / service that you’d recommend for Stukent nation?
A: I am a big fan of books like “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, “Originals” by Adam Grant, “The Code to the Extraordinary Mind” by Vishen Lakhiani, and “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris. [These] are books that really helped me shift my mindset when it came to entrepreneurship and direction in life.
A book that changes how you see the struggle of the homeless in Vancouver is called “Fighting For Space” by Travis Lupick. This is a book I recommend if you need some inspiration to start your own nonprofit project or if you want a first-hand look at the struggles that those who want to help the homeless go through.
Q: Is there anything else we should know about your venture?
A: Doing this on my own won’t be sustainable, so if you are interested in this project and want to gain some experience in your field, I would [like] to give you some volunteer opportunities. Email Shelterumbrellascan@gmail.com if you would like to get in touch.
You can also make donations at www.shelterumbrellas.com!