Cornwall, Ont. entrepreneur who sold business for $16M set to inspire next generation

A Cornwall, Ont. entrepreneur who sold his online business for millions is set to speak at a youth event in March with the aim to inspire a younger generation to follow in his footsteps.

When Marc Lafleur attended Holy Trinity Catholic High School, he wasn’t the greatest student.

“I was probably one or two classes away from failing out of high school,” Lafleur told CTV News. “The things that I was required to learn in school I just didn’t really get excited about so I wasn’t really trying.”

But when he joined the school football team, it helped to ground him, setting off a new path for his life.

“That was the motivation and the purpose I needed to actually apply myself and turn everything around really in high school,” he said.

“When I found football it was the first time I actually found something that I deeply cared about, and ironically in Canada, if you don’t play football in university, you’re really kind of screwed. There’s not that many other leagues to play in at a really competitive level,” Lafleur said.

Motivated to continue playing, Lafleur was accepted into the Universtiy of Waterloo, where he co-founded two startups.

While they both failed, his third try paid off, an online meat subscription service called truLocal, which was sold in 2020.

“Built the company to about 60 employees across the county and then we were acquired for $16.7 million dollars,” he said.

Now Lafleur is trying to tell a younger generation that anything is possible, speaking at a youth event in March put on by the Cornwall Business Enterprise Centre (CBEC).

“The numbers speak for themselves! Six-hundred youth!” said CBEC Supervisor, Business Consultant Shauna Baggs. “It’s the biggest event that we’ve ever had here at the centre so we are very excited about that.”

Baggs says the idea with the event is to plant a seed with people between 15 and 29 who are thinking about becoming their own boss, and one day own a business right in their community.

“It’s all those small business owners that really create a vibe in the community and really have that culture and that experience that attracts other people to the area,” she said.

“Marc is very inspiring and he’s very motivating but he is also really realistic,” she said. “You don’t have to be a student, although the event is geared towards 15-29, because it is our formal launch of our Summer Company program which we offer here in the summer months for the CBEC.”

“Speaking at an event like that is the most exciting thing for me because if I could have just been in that seat, you know, seen someone like I identify with, be like wow, this person can do it. Well, then that would have inspired me even earlier to get after it,” added Lafleur.

He recently released a book for aspiring entrepreneurs called True Founder and enjoys speaking publicly to the next generation, excited to see what ideas they might come up with.

Lafleur also touched on his success as a Black entrepreneur, coming from a rural area like eastern Ontario.

“For the first year of high school I was the only Black kid in the school, and then by the time I graduated, I think there were four or five of us,” he recalled.

“We’re used to being told no, whether it’s blatantly obvious or its subtle,” he said. “If you’re a minority you’re probably being told no more often then you’re being told yes and when it comes to business, having that mentality of assuming you’re going to get a no is really valuable because then you kind of just keep coming back and keep coming back and keep coming back.”

“It’s almost like some of the challenges that minorities are facing are setting them up for success in business and entrepreneurship, so I love to talk about that,” he added.

“When you look at any minorities, I think it’s a shame there aren’t more in business, especially considering, I think, that it’s not just a place that we belong, it’s a place that’s made for us,” Lafleur said.

When asked for what advice he would give up and coming entrepreneurs now, he says keep tinkering away.

“2023 is the easiest time in the world to make money,” he said. “You can start up a business, you can spin up a website over a weekend and now of course everyone is getting excited about these AI tools.”

“If you’re in school and you’re trying to find a way to get into entrepreneurship, just start tinkering with things, use these tools, build something,” he said. “Whether it makes a lot of money or not, just get used to using these tools and understanding what it’s like. Des this product work for whatever problem I’m trying to solve? You don’t have to have wait for permission.”

The CBEC is hosting the event at the Aultsville Theatre at St. Lawrence College, with limited seats still available.

Registration can be done on the CBEC website.

“For me, I didn’t even realize that entrepreneurship was an option until I got into university, and I was able to accomplish a lot by the age of 30,” Lafleur added.

“I always wonder what I could have done if I even knew that entrepreneurship was an option in high school.”