A hand up for entrepreneurs
November 29, 2011

Looking back at a successful two decades in business, Jim Mills started thinking about how he and his partners started Office Interiors and what made the difference to their company.

“It was tough, no doubt about it,” says Jim, who serves on NSCAD’s Board of Governors and chairs the Board’s development committee. “We had no resources and it seemed like we were running blind.”

Even so, Jim had a few things going for him in 1991—namely, solid experience with Johnson & Johnson (“One of the best run companies in history,” he says);  good advice and a listening ear from his brother Don Mills; and a willingness to work hard.

The business grew gradually from there; the small office in Halifax’s Brewery Market expanded to other provinces and other product lines. Today, Office Interiors employs 110 people in offices in Halifax, Fredericton, Moncton and Charlottetown and sells a range of products, from furniture to office equipment.

In pondering how to mark the anniversary of the company, Jim decided he wanted to lend a hand to entrepreneurs who are sitting where he was 20 years ago. Office Interiors is offering 20 prizes to 20 new businesses—each one comprising a suite of the latest office furniture and equipment. But that’s not all: included in each prize pack is mentoring and counsel by principals at Office Interiors, as well as the accounting firm Grant Thornton, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Nova Scotia Community College.

The offer may be of interest to NSCAD graduates. A study of NSCAD alumni conducted by Corporate Research Associates this summer revealed a significant number of alumni—40 per cent—are self-employed business owners in the creative economy.

The project will be launched in January; emerging entrepreneurs who hope to take advantage will be required to submit a concise application along with a short video. The 20 winners will be selected throughout 2012.

NSCAD has been a grateful beneficiary of Jim’s generosity; in March, Office Interiors delivered 50 task chairs for the Jewellery Design and Metalsmithing Department at Granville campus.

“We went from having chairs that didn’t have backs and were missing wheels to having these,” says Chantel Gushue, the technician for the department. Comfortable, safe and adjustable seats for students are necessary for everyday activities at the bench or design workstations. “They’re a major improvement and were desperately needed.”

Because of the donation, NSCAD was able to offer an additional course this fall—“Ceramic techniques for jewelers.”

“By freeing up our budget with the donation of 50 badly needed chairs, we were able to purchase a kiln to fire small-scale fine porcelain for the purposes of this class,” explains Pam Ritchie, professor.

“It is imperative that our department continues to warrant our reputation for excellence and therefore we are always searching for innovative practices," she adds. "Mr. Mills’ generosity has assisted us in our mandate to achieve these goals.”