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The new capitalists.

Ash Mohda and his business partners -- brother Prashant, Rai Bahl and Amit Bahl-- at Winnipeg's glittering international success story, Mondetta Clothing, are all under 30. Their business success is a remarkable and classic example of highly successful entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Starting from scratch five years ago they have beaten the business-failure odds by a long shot. This year the company racked up $10 million in gross sales on spectacularly simple and clean-lined teen clothing. Mondetta has developed a 200-item inventory, most sporting embroidered flags of numerous countries of the world.

With 10 people operating the distribution centre in Winnipeg, the company farms out all production, contracting to the needle trade here and in Ontario, with special orders going to Hong Kong, China and recently Korea.

Says 24-year-old President Modha, "I see it (the designs) like an imaginary United Nations. We're trying to bring people together. I love to see a Canadian kid wearing a Brazilian sweat top -- we think that's unity."

This idea of international flags springs in part from the family background of the four company founders. The Modha family fled dictator Idi Amin's Uganda in 1973 and after one year in England came to Winnipeg. Mr. Modha is a senior accountant for a Winnipeg trucking company and his mother is the general manager of Sooters Canada. The Bahls' parents left Kenya in the late '60s and came straight to Canada, winding up in Winnipeg. Mr. Bahl is a lawyer for the City of Winnipeg.

Sales of the Mondetta label are on retailers' shelves in Canada, the mid-western United States, Washington State, New York and Florida. That success is substantial in terms of the bottom line. Annual growth rates are predicted to be 20 per cent a year. Modha cautions that he wants to avoid over-expansion but in the same breath mentions that the new company headquarters, with a 20,000-square-foot warehouse, can handle up to $20 million in volume.

Says Modha, "We're in a fickle market but we don't look at this as a local thing or as a Canadian product. We look at it globally. If we looked strictly at the Canadian market, we would be dead in three years."

The company shareholders are Ash, 24, his brother Prashant Modha, 26, Raj Bahl, 26 and his brother Amit Bahl, 27. Ash, Prashant and Raj all graduated from the University of Manitoba and Prashant, the vice-president of finance, has an MBA.

In 1987, while still in university, the boys started selling promotional goods such as university sweatshirts and monogrammed T-shirts. They worked out of a basement on Stafford Street, but quickly decided there had to be more than slavish imitation of others' success. They came up with a slogan -- Mondetta (which means, small world in Italian), Spirit of Unification -- and tried to capture the essence of that slogan by embroidering a big flag onto a shirt. At the time, the competition was selling tie-died clothing -- which is slap-dash and cheap -- so retailers balked at buying sweats priced at $40 wholesale, $80 retail. The four entrepreneurs urged the retailers to give it a try and the initial run sold out in less than a week. Mondetta had found a way to unify casual clothing with a handsome financial return and their initial ambition has created its own rewards.

While the Mondetta entrepreneurial story is global, Corinne Dyck, the owner of Design Studio, is local. Dyck clears up a persistent misconception of what she does. "Being an interior designer is not just selection of the pretty little details; it's space planning, structural knowledge and creation of a whole environment."

Dyck, 27, started her company six years ago after graduating from the University of Manitoba. Almost since opening day, she has been busy working on residential jobs, medical clinics, and in 1992 designed the Idea House for the annual Home Show. In her business, designing a space can often get carried to great lengths -- clients want advice on where to hang art work, and tips on what color towels should be purchased to match a room decor. "People should feel very comfortable in their homes," says Dyck. "I like to create space in such a way so people can feel different moods and emotions."

One emotion absent from Dyck's business start-up was worry. "I had no fear of failure when I was going out on my own because I saw that my parents made a go of it." The family history of entrepreneurship meant advice and support was readily available. In university virtually none of her fellow students considered starting their own business, but for Dyck there seemed to be little other option. "I wanted to do as much as I could with my time and my energy while I was young, so later on I'd have a clientele developed in case I have other responsibilities."

For Darcy Stoddart, 25, a client list was far from her mind. Three years ago, during her final year of studies for a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Manitoba, she realized her degree would not land her a job. So she created her own job by turning her cooking hobby into a company. Today, her three-year-old Tuxedo Affairs Catering is handing out hors d'oeuvres and dishing up dainties all over the city. During the pre-Christmas season the company averages six to eight functions per week and even in the slow times of the year the firm handles three to five events a week. The average price for what Stoddart refers to as... "the full thing -- a buffet for 50 people, with full service and a bar" -- is between $1,000 and $1,500.

Stoddart says she wasn't bothered by the jitters which usually afflict those setting up shop for the first time, but then having networking land her the Royal Bank, the University of Manitoba and Powell Equipment as initial customers has a way of calming the nerves.

"Age was my biggest problem; actually making people believe I could do it," says the 25 year old. "A lot of people have the idea that if a woman is a cook she should be over 40." Tuxedo Affairs has opened a pastry and frozen food shop and continues to gather one to two new clients following each function; people like what they see and call Stoddart when they want to host a party of their own. She plans to spend three months in the U.K. next year getting her chef's papers and when she returns wants to expand by opening a restaurant next to the shop and perhaps extending her catering operation to Vancouver and Calgary.


Gilles Verrier, president of the Winnipeg Chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs organization (YEO), knows what drives company founders.

"An entrepreneur has to believe in himself and be willing to sacrifice everything to get his idea to fruition," he says from experience. The 37-year-old Verrier opened one of Winnipeg's first video equipment stores in 1979 and within four years had 11 franchises. By 1988 he had sold the video operation and concentrated on computers.

YEO is an exclusive group. To join you must be under 40, have founded your own firm by the age of 30 and your company must have gross revenues exceeding $1 million. The annual membership fee is $495 U.S. -- the Winnipeg chapter has 25 members.

"YEO gives me a sounding board, someone who can finally understand me as an entrepreneur. It can be very lonely at the top and there's only so much you can tell your friends. YEO gets the same age group together who can help their peers because they can relate to them."
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Title Annotation:includes related article; entrepreneurship
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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