“Initially, it all started with dance studios. I am a choreographer by education”, says Yulia.
The couple came to the social entrepreneurship course organized by Nornickel with a specific goal – to develop the business project and open the center branch.
“We no longer fit the 250 square meters, as the number of visitors was constantly growing”, Yulia recalls. “And besides, we wanted to launch those areas that were especially in demand in our city in the field of sports, dance and intellectual training. At first, I didn’t quite understand what social entrepreneurship is. However, thanks to the training, I’ve clearly understood that I am a social entrepreneur”.
Over those months, Denis and Yulia not only received tools for competent calculation and building a business model. They learned a lot of new things: how to satisfy the acute demand of society that exists in the territory, what benefits are there for social entrepreneurs, how to find sources of funding, how to make their project competitive.
“What makes this idea unique?” Denis Nikolaev explained to investors. “Our competitors also offer all kinds of activities, but they are designed only for children, while our target group is both children and adults. We respond quickly to the needs of the population. We launch new groups, new drives. For example, parkour and circus studio. There is no such thing anywhere else in Norilsk. In addition, we provide for the possibility of conducting classes for children of special social categories. In particular, for the children from the boarding school”.
Nornickel supported social entrepreneurs with an interest-free loan in the amount of five million rubles. The premises, which the city administration provided them on an indefinite lease, required major repairs. The money went mainly for those purposes.
The following year, they again took a course in social entrepreneurship organized by the company. Now as free listeners.
“It is important for me to brush up on many basic things. Business needs to be learned the whole life. The course is small, nevertheless, you get a lot of useful information”, explained Denis.
As a result, the Nikolaevs opened four branches within a few years. The number of drives in their center has grown from 10 to 25, and during the difficult period of the pandemic, online programs were added to them. Although this turned out to be fraught with some difficulties.
“This was the first time we held classes in a distance mode. But it was very difficult for our pupils, since 50 percent of them are preschool children. The income of the center dropped sharply. It was necessary to pay the bills – for utilities, employees’ salaries”, says Yulia.
During this difficult period, social entrepreneurs were greatly assisted by the Nornickel company: they provided the entrepreneurs with bactericidal lamps for the treatment of premises. And most importantly, we didn’t have to pay for the services of a resource supplying organization for three months. This is a rather tangible item of expenses, given the large area of the premises. Social entrepreneurship, like any business, requires resources. Nobody canceled rent and wages, taxes and other expenses.
The managers of the Start center were also able to receive valuable advice for their business thanks to the Accelerator of Social Business Projects. The company launched this new direction of the World of New Opportunities charity program in early 2020.
“We want to open a specialized store named At the Start, where people could buy clothes and shoes for professional extreme sports and various dance styles, for figure skating, acrobatics, rhythmic, gymnastics”, explained Yulia Nikolaeva. “As practice shows, this is a problem in our city. We have no competitors in Norilsk”.
The social entrepreneur did not receive a loan from the company for the purpose, but this did not interfere with her plans.
“We started implementing our business idea on our own. On the basis of the center there are free areas that allow opening a store”, explains Yulia.
During the pandemic, the Nikolaevs decided to close two of the four branches of the center.
“This allowed us to keep our business afloat in a difficult situation”, says the entrepreneur. “And now, when everyone can return to normal activities, a problem has arisen: the remaining rooms cannot accommodate everyone.”
A solution was found quickly – at the end of December, the Aika sports hall was opened in the city, the construction of which was carried out at the expense of Nornickel. And there Yulia Nikolaeva was offered a room. In Aika the social entrepreneur has recently opened a new branch.
“Despite the middle of the school year, there are many calls from those who want to study with us. This means that we are in demand. And our task now is to develop further, to keep pace with the times”.
Text: Maria Sokolova, Photo: from the personal archive of the Nikolaev family, Nikolay Shchipko