Gay Wise Entrepreneur in (Virtual) Residence

Ashley Degraaf

Experience and stories form words of wisdom for students seeking advice from Shawnigan entrepreneur Gay Wise.

The 72-year-old was recently appointed as Royal Roads University Entrepreneur in Virtual Residence (EiVR).

And although Wise hasn't performed any formal speaking engagements as part of the appointment, she's been sharing tips of the trade with folks studying at Royal Roads.

"Essentially I’m available to people studying in the undergrad business program," she said, explaining that she is taking a break from her business, Wise Financial Services, based out of Shawnigan Lake.

Assoc. gaculty member in the Royal Roads University School of Business Geoff Archer says that the EiVR scholarship program is based on common practice in the venture capital community where seasoned business people are brought into a company to help mentor start-up leaders.

Wise said, "A lot of participants are asking me what it’s like in the real world.".

And she has tons on her plate to share, including nitty-gritty details of blooming, booming and failing businesses.

From an accounting firm, to a bicycle store and an interior design franchise, Wise has been around the block more than a few times and knows how to roll with ups and downs.

She's also currently furthering her education through Royal Roads' Master of Buisiness Administration in Executive Management program, as well as keeping up with her most recent venture, Wise Financial Services.

But before that, Wise founded an interior design company as well as partnered in a bicycle shop after she fell in love with riding at age 32.

Her bike business comes up quite often with students.

"Especially with the guys, I guess because of the mechanical end of it," she said.

"It grew from being a mom-and-pop shop to one of the first bike companies to have cross-Canada mail order services," she said, noting the firm's first catalogue was homemade.

"I was an enthusiast, but an amateur enthusiast," she said, explaining the reason she picked up expertise on the mechanical side from a friend who became her business partner.

"In the mail ordering end of things, we soon noticed one trouble area came from the supply end and finding custom built bike frames," she said.

After much research, they formed their own bicycle building services.

But unfortunately this came just before the financial crisis of the 1980s, which eventually saw their demand take a nose-dive and consequently their business went bankrupt.

But none of that has ever dismayed Wise.

A financial agent for the provincial liberal candidate, an active member of the South Cowichan Rotary club, and a board member of the Rotary club's foundation as well as the south-end chamber of commerce, Wise said one of the many keys to success is enthusiasm.

"I always had lots of energy and an unrealistic view of what I can actually accomplish," she said, chuckling at how many hats she currently wears.

"I take singing lessons every Tuesday morning and I ride a bike," she said.

Most students come to Wise to chat her ear off about experiences rather than fundamentals, which they are already loaded with in class.

"The best advice I could give if you’re going in to business for the first time, is to see if you can find a really good mentor to bounce your ideas off and get advice from as you go along," she said. "We all gather information and based from that information make decisions, but when you’re inexperienced you may not be gathering the right information or enough of it."

Wise began the Master of Business Administration course at Royal Roads in early August and has about a year left of studying.

"The course is something that will evolve for me and my business," she said.

It's really about fine-tuning what she's already accomplished with Wise Financial Services just as much as it's strengthening her passion for business.

"I really enjoy sharing what I know and my stories with the students," she said.