jerome-downey

Claim to fame

Ran for City Council in Halifax, and has been nominated for Top 40 Under 40.

Heroes

Doesn’t look up to individual entrepreneurs. Instead, his mentors include successful business families, such as the Rogers, Shaw and Sobey dynasties.

Hobbies

He spends his downtime playing with his one-year-old husky-beagle mix, and supports the YMCA Strong Kids charity within his community. He’s also a huge Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs fan, even though he currently resides in Ottawa.

Jerome Downey knows what it’s like to fail.

At 24, when most people are trying to land full-time jobs, he launched Downey Mortgage & Financial, a Nova Scotia-based brokerage offering discount financing.

What he didn’t know was how challenging it would be.

He pulled $40,000 in equity from his home to get the company going; and approached the Canadian Youth Business Foundation with his business plan, which landed him another $15,000 loan. And, he borrowed $50,000 from Credit Union Atlantic. “I was a young entrepreneur, I had all this money, and I was all alone,” says Downey, now 28.

The firm expanded too quickly. Before he knew it, he’d hired six people and didn’t have the resources to sustain operations.

Opening shop just after the financial crisis magnified the challenge—people weren’t buying homes, so he wasn’t making money.

To try and salvage the business, he got rid of overhead, including the office and staff, and became web-based. But that wasn’t enough.

“Because of capital strain, I had to retool, settle financial obligations and refocus the purpose of the company,” he says. “We’re currently on hiatus and will be re-launching in 2014.”

Downey admits establishing the business so young was risky. Although he had worked as an account executive at HSBC, he was too inexperienced to manage a financial firm.

He regrets not having someone to guide him. “I went through the trenches and got beat up financially because I didn’t have the right type of investment advisor,” he says. “It was too easy for me to get money. I look at that business plan now and I wouldn’t have given myself the money.”

Downey drew on his experience as a college football star—he played linebacker for the Mount Allison Mounties—to bounce back from the loss and start again.

“It affects your emotions, ability to deliver on your responsibilities, and relationships,” he says. “You have to believe in your vision and have confidence. You learn from failure.”

To gear up for the re-launch, Downey is working with firms like RBC, ResMor Trust Company and Purpose Capital (as well as government agencies, including the Atlantic Opportunities Agency and Aboriginal Business Canada) to move his business into the social finance sector. In early 2014, he’ll be launching a $5-million social finance bond for education and housing for institutional and retail investors.

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