What made you decide to launch JRS College?
As an immigrant from Sri Lanka, I came here unfamiliar with the country and customs. Later on, I got a job as an RRSP administrator but I was laid off. After that experience, I started talking to more people and realized that immigrants within our community have many barriers when obtaining education in Canada, one mainly being language. I wanted to combat that issue and provide education to those immigrants as they have skill and potential but nowhere to go. In the beginning, at JRS college we provided weekly basic computer classes for free to seniors or those who wanted to gain a basic knowledge of technology. This allowed many people to gain a jumpstart in their educational journey. Ultimately, I wanted to create a safe space for immigrants to be able to better their lives in an unfamiliar country as I once stood in those same shoes not knowing what direction to go in.
How did you come up with the name? What makes JRS College different from your competitors?
We wanted to come up with a name that incorporated the services we offered at our college. JRS stands for jobs, research, and studies. We felt this acronym was catchy and easy to say, yet represented our college well.
Before starting this college, I did my research about the various colleges offered in Canada and noticed a few issues. One main issue was the lack of support immigrants had when it came to obtaining a good education. At JRS, our main focus was and is to ensure proper aid is given to our students in all different aspects. Our employees go above and beyond to help students with filling out forms, contacting different agencies, finding new jobs, and more. We ensure we never just do the bare minimum for a student. Our Tamil community has faced a lot and many of us have immigrated to various countries for a better life. As someone who is part of that community, I believe the least I can do is be a reliable helping hand for them to start their new life here.
How do you attract new students? What is the business model (ie. how does JRS college make money)?
Attracting new students in the beginning was done via word of mouth. But once we started gaining more traction, attracting new students became much easier. We noticed our best results came when we ensured our students were taken care of well. Our staff would walk along every student’s learning journey, which led to staff going above and beyond. Word of mouth, for us, went from just another new private college in town to a trusted name people felt safe coming to. Over the past 12 years, JRS College became well known within the community for the right reasons. From feedback we got from our students we were able to make improvements according to what they wanted to see changed. Catering to our students’ specific needs was our business model. Not generalizing all students into one category and understanding that different students had different niches became our forte. We were able to sculpt our reputation to become our biggest asset. Recently, our new team has indulged in social media marketing which is another way we are attracting our students as well.
What is the difference between JRS College and a publicly funded college?
JRS College has goals that are focused towards bettering the community. We focus on making sure our students are well taken care of. Over the years our team has constructed a plethora of ways to aid our students to ensure they are getting the best education. For instance, we have provided multiple scholarships and bursaries for those with little to no qualifications in order for students to be able to get a financial aid. At JRS, we stand by Education for Service, we don’t see our students as just clients, we connect with them and create family.
What did you do before you started JRS College in terms of full-time work? Did you quit your full-job job to start JRS College?
I was working as an RRSP administrator at a bank shortly after arriving to Canada. I was laid off from the job before starting JRS College. Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I continued as a RRSP admin, career wise.
How did you think your childhood or your formative teenage years play a part in you becoming an entrepreneur?
Growing up in Jaffna, witnessing the war and facing the hardships that followed with that experience, I’ve always simply wanted a sense of safety and freedom. Once I got the opportunity to come to Canada, I knew I wanted to make the most of it. I have always dreamt of being successful but at the same time I wanted to ensure the success came from the right place. Seeing the struggles faced by my parents at a young age was another driving force which has led me to where I am today.
What role has your family & friends played in the choices that you’ve made in your life so far?
My family has always been a pillar for my success. They were there to support me for any endeavor however, they would ensure I am going in the right path. Whether it was giving me the right advice or connecting me with the right people. My family and friends also happen to take on the role of my marketing team, unknowingly. They spread the word about JRS within the community and that is the main reason it gained traction in the beginning. I honestly do not think I would be a private college founder today if it wasn’t for the immense support I received from my parents. And I want to be the same kind of parent for my kids in the future!
What’s been a failure (or “learning lesson”) you’ve experienced in the last 3-5 years and what did you learn from it?
I have learnt to master the art of patience over the past few years as that seemed to be a flaw of mine. I think taking a step back from where you are and analyzing situations will allow you to become more patient. This patience can really help from an entrepreneurial perspective. Whether it is dealing with a difficult client or completing a task for the ministry, handling any/every situation with patience really helps you see all the details in front of you. When you rush you miss out on a lot of the small details which could have made a big difference.
What do you do outside of work for fun?
I am an avid movie watcher, especially when it comes to Tamil movies. During the winter I spend majority of my time watching Tamil movies and, in the summer, you will find me at any waterfront!