Building a Thriving Small Business Sector in Northern Ontario

Entreprenerus Wanted smallerOriginally published on www.northernontariobusiness.com, April 24, 2015

The importance of small business to Northern Ontario cannot be overstated.

Northern Ontario is a region heavily dependent on resource-based industry, from mining and forestry to steel. Our economies ebb and flow with the cycles of big business and industry.

Most of our cities and towns learned long ago, that relying solely on resource-based industry and traditional manufacturing is a recipe for disaster. Communities like Sault Ste. Marie have worked hard to diversify their economies for many years, with varying degrees of success.

While they are now much less reliant on these major industries, the fact remains that they still represents the bulk of private sector jobs in our communities. Just look at the impact of the latest recession on the forestry sector in Ontario, or the impact of low oil prices on Tenaris Algoma Tubes and other companies that supply the oil sector.

When these commodity-based sectors have economic challenges, jobs are often lost and communities can be devastated. We are left with the small businesses that call each community home. I think most people would agree that a thriving small business scene is an essential component of a healthy and happy community.

Small business drives innovation, leads job creation and builds wealth like no other economic engine in our nation. Over 98% of businesses in Canada have less than 100 employees, and small business employs almost 70% of the private workforce.

Small business helps to grow and strengthen our communities, and strong communities attract greater investment.

What can we do to encourage and support new business startups in Northern Ontario?

There are many organizations across the north that deliver small business support services and government funding programs.

Ontario’s Small Business Enterprise Centres provide business advisory services and assistance for new businesses, and are located in Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Thunder Bay and Kenora.

The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, NORCAT in Sudbury, the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre in Thunder Bay, IION in North Bay and the Productivity and Innovation Centre in Timmins work with technology and science companies to build those sectors in their perspective communities.

Small business incubators offer affordable office space, access to shared resources, training and more. Co-working spaces are popping up, where entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants, or anyone for that matter, can rent a desk for the day, week or month. These co-working spaces are often open-concept, and encourage collaboration and networking.

There is no shortage of small business resources available to both new and existing entrepreneurs in the north. There are also additional funding programs through NOHFC, Fednor, Community Futures Development Corporations and more.

It clearly isn’t lack of support that is the problem. Perhaps potential entrepreneurs are unaware of these resources. No matter how well these organizations promote themselves and their services, there will be those who never get the message.

In Sault Ste. Marie, we are trying to fix this. I founded StartUP Sault (part of the Startup Canada network) in early 2014, to help build a thriving startup community.

With the support of Startup Canada, our local community enterprise partners and an amazing team of volunteers, StartUP Sault works to connect local entrepreneurs via learning and networking opportunities, and events like Startup Drinks and Startup Book Club.

The goal of StartUP Sault is to provide regular meetups and build a sense of community among local entrepreneurs. By regularly coming together, we are enhancing the opportunities to collaborate, share knowledge and even partner on new business ventures.

We have found that StartUP Sault events attract younger entrepreneurs, as well as budding entrepreneurs of all ages – often a different demographic than other business or networking events. We are reaching people that perhaps need support the most.

We can connect those entrepreneurs with others who are willing to help, and also direct them to the appropriate community partners – whether they need help with their business plan, startup advice, or funding to get started.

StartUP Sault and the 19 other startup communities across the country are all volunteer-driven and led by entrepreneurs with a long-term vision of building an environment that supports new startups and the growth of existing small business.

In a recent visit to Sault Ste. Marie, Startup Canada CEO, Victoria Lennox connected with incubator clients at the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, spoke to business students at Sault College, met with our community enterprise partners and toured Mill Square, the former St. Mary’s Paper site now being redeveloped.

Before boarding her flight home, Victoria commented that great things are happening in Sault Ste. Marie and that StartUP Sault is making a difference.

Perhaps in the years to come, all of our northern cities will become thriving startup communities. All it takes is the will to make it happen, and a few entrepreneurs to drive the charge. I believe it can be done.

For more information about StartUP Sault, visit www.startupsault.ca.

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About the Author: Nevin Buconjic is a serial entrepreneur, author, consultant and Strategic Business Advisor with the Ontario government. Nevin is the founder and community lead for Startup Sault. Find him at www.nevinbuconjic.com

Anyone Can Start a Business – Why Not You?

Building a business is not rocket science; it’s about having a great idea and seeing it through with integrity.” – Sir Richard Branson

As the tremendously successful entrepreneur, Richard Branson states in the above quote, starting and building a business isn’t rocket science — in fact much of it is common sense, luck and the ability to see opportunities that others do not.

According to Dr. Michael G. Goldsby, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Ball State University, “Entrepreneurship is fundamentally about seeing what is missing from the world and then figuring out a way to make it better.  Great entrepreneurs see problems as opportunities.  The best way to create a successful business is to solve the problems of their customers.”

hand holds book of big idea

Successful entrepreneurs take risks.  They are not afraid to fail, and many entrepreneurs fail numerous times before becoming truly successful.  These “failures” are seen as opportunities to learn what not to do next time.  In Silicon Valley, the home of Facebook, Google and many others, entrepreneurs see their failed businesses as a badge of honor – and even investors view them as invaluable experience.

Although risk-taking is one of the qualities of successful entrepreneurs, you can minimize your financial risks by starting your business on a part-time basis and keeping your day job.  Often times you can operate a home-based business, until you prove your concept, or build your business to the point you are ready to expand.

This will allow you to grow your business slowly, keeping things manageable, and utilizing minimal resources.  I know a number of entrepreneurs who operate successful part-time businesses, including photographers, web designers, and consultants.

I run several businesses of my own on a part-time basis, and of the six businesses I have started in my life, only one of them started out as a full-time business.  I am a big fan of “bootstrapping” your business, which means starting and growing a business on a small budget, utilizing inexpensive and often free methods for marketing your business, and gradually growing and reinvesting in the business over time.  By not incurring debt to start the business, there is less risk involved and your biggest investment is your time and effort.

Some of you may have heard of the concept of “Lean Startup”.  While much of it applies to the software industry, the essential take away is to get your product to market as soon as possible for the lowest cost possible.  The idea is to launch a “minimum viable product” – one that isn’t perfect or ready for prime time, but one that works and you can utilize to get feedback from customers.

You will use that feedback to improve the product to one that is ready.

In other words, get to market as quickly as possible with a product and then improve the product from the feedback you receive.  We see this process occurring all the time online – where companies often release software or apps for free, build large user bases, collect feedback and improve the product over time.  Through this process, they prove their ideas are marketable, build significant user bases, and eventually release a paid version to generate revenue.

Startup Sault’s December book club featured Chris Guillebeau’s best-selling book, The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make A Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.  The book features interviews with thousands of successful entrepreneurs who have started microbusinesses — businesses they started for a couple of hundred dollars.  What he finds is that many of the entrepreneurs followed a similar pattern, “get started quickly and see what happens.”

Guillebeau is an advocate of this method, and adds that “there’s nothing wrong with planning, but you can spend a lifetime making a plan that never turns into action. In the battle between planning and action, action wins.”  So while planning is important (failure to plan is like planning to fail, as the quote goes), many entrepreneurs are moving away from developing full business plans before starting their business.

Many practitioners are promoting the concept of focusing on developing the business model rather than spending time writing a business plan.  Others are resorting to one-page business plans that answer the essential questions about the business, while skipping over much of the detailed analysis and planning.

Because a lot of new entrepreneurs find the thought of trying to write a full-blown business plan as daunting, these alternatives provide the opportunity to plan your business while not getting too bogged down before you even begin.

So don’t get discouraged if you don’t know where to begin.  “Anyone can come up with a great business idea if they are willing to take the time to learn the right skills and build the right toolkit to get it done,” says Dr. Goldsby.

And building the right toolkit is accomplished by learning everything you can about starting a business, and accessing the expertise and resources available to you at local organizations like the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation and Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre – both organizations provide business counseling and advice, access to training and resources, and even funding programs to start or grow your business.

Connect with other entrepreneurs by attending Startup Sault events like Startup Drinks and Startup Book Club.  The SSM Chamber of Commerce offers networking opportunities through Take Five.  You never know who you will meet at these networking functions – competitors, future customers, successful entrepreneurs, even potential business partners.

Take advantage of the available resources and do your homework – this will go a long way to set yourself up for success.

So what is your big idea?

Join us next time when we will talk about starting your business on a budget, and promoting your business using free or low-cost marketing tools and mediums.

About the Author: Nevin Buconjic is an entrepreneur, author, consultant and Strategic Business Advisor with the Ontario government. Nevin is the founder and community lead for Startup Sault. Find him at www.nevinbuconjic.com

Nevin Buconjic Represents Sault Ste. Marie in Ottawa to help Build Canada’s Entrepreneurship Community

As many of you know, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and small business, coming from a background of small business and economic development. In my free time I operate multiple businesses, and I have written two books on small business as well.

About a year ago, I took the initiative to apply on behalf of Sault Ste. Marie, to join Startup Canada – a pan-Canadian network to provide entrepreneurs with a single doorway to enter their local entrepreneur community to access mentors, space, funding and support to start and grow their businesses and to connect with other startup founders.

Startup Canada, and its 19 Startup Communities are volunteer organizations and are led by entrepreneurs, not government. We are grass-roots and inclusive, with the goal of building more entrepreneurial communities across the country – in an effort to connect and strengthen the infrastructure for new startups and existing businesses.

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Requirements for becoming a Startup Community include building a team of volunteers and entrepreneurs, forging partnerships with community organizations that deliver programming and resources to the business community, and drafting a clear vision and plan of action.

Sault Ste. Marie was accepted and joined 16 other communities – 3 more were just recently announced in November — Toronto, Charlottetown and Halifax.

We formally launched Startup Sault in March 2014 with our first event – Startup Drinks, a casual networking opportunity to connect local entrepreneurs and business owners. Over 30 people attended the first event, and it proved a great opportunity to meet new people, discuss ideas, and hopefully collaborate on future projects.

Startup Drinks is now held every two months, and recently we introduced our latest program – Startup Book Club.

Startup Book Club participants read and discuss the latest business-related books (as well as classics) to glean tips, models and strategies to take their business to the next level. Startup Book Club creates an opportunity for local entrepreneurs, students, small business owners and others to discuss not only the content of each book, but their own strategies and experiences as well.

The first book choice was “The $100 Startup”, by Chris Guillebeau and the next choice for February 5th (6:00-8:00PM) at Q Café & Bakery is “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age.”

Startup Sault continues to be involved in other events through our community partners, including the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, SSM Chamber of Commerce and the Community Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie.

In May, Startup Sault offered a 5-day training session from the Canadian Entrepreneurship Institute via live streaming. The training featured keynote lectures by world-leading innovators, entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers; attendees gained the knowledge, tools and network necessary to make a meaningful impact in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship in their community, as well as their own business or organization.

MP HayesJust recently, I represented Sault Ste. Marie in Ottawa, meeting with Members of Parliament (including Sault MP – Bryan Hayes), Senators and Ministers as part of Startup Canada Day on the Hill.

Startup Canada Day on the Hill is a collaboration of Canada’s entrepreneurial community and partnering political and government leaders. Drawing nearly 1,000 attendees throughout the day, including some of Canada’s top entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders, media personalities and government decision makers, the program is filled with meaningful government roundtables, media interviews, fireside discussions, TED-style keynotes, entrepreneur bootcamps, on-site mentorship, and an evening ‘Startup Soiree’, showcasing entrepreneurs and their products from across Canada.

15742921278_2d73084880_oI spoke on stage to share perspectives of entrepreneurs from the community and to the impact that Startup Sault Ste. Marie has had over the last 12 months in fuelling economic development through entrepreneurship. I also worked with public servants and industry leaders to educate them on how they can work with grassroots, entrepreneur organizations like Startup Canada to accelerate entrepreneurial growth in Canada.

The two days of events were jam packed with meetings, events and networking. I had the opportunity to meet and work with my colleagues from other Startup Communities across the country. Not only was it a team building exercise, but we all worked together to impress upon our federally elected officials – even Prime Minister Harper — the importance of supporting entrepreneurship, and supporting the Startup Canada movement.

Prime Minister PicIt was an incredible experience.

In just two short years, Startup Canada has grown to become the leading entrepreneurship organization in Canada with more than 85,000 entrepreneurs, 400 partners and 300 volunteers.  We continue to build on this momentum.

Startup Sault also continues on its mission to strengthen and build a more entrepreneurial community in Sault Ste. Marie, and other Startup Communities across the country do the same.

Startup Canada’s goal is to reach 100 Startup Communities over the next two years, truly connecting entrepreneurs across the country — driving competitiveness, innovation, job creation, and economic growth along the way.

I hope you will join us in our movement. Together, let’s take risks, generate big ideas, and push the economy forward.

About Startup Sault:

Startup Sault connects new entrepreneurs with the small business resources available in the community, and provides the support of existing entrepreneurs who are building successful companies.

For more information about Startup Sault, visit www.startupsault.ca.  Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/startupsault) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/startupsault) to keep up to date on Startup Sault events, startup tips and other useful information.

Let’s take risks, generate some big ideas

SONY DSCThe importance of small business to our country, province and community cannot be overstated.

Small business drives innovation, leads job creation and builds wealth like no other economic engine in our nation.

This space, every other month, will be used to provide you with the resources you need to start a business, grow an existing business, and help drive an entrepreneurial culture in our community.

Did you know that 98 percent of businesses in Canada have less than 100 employees, and almost 70 percent of the private workforce is employed by small businesses?

Small businesses created over 75 percent of all private jobs in Canada over the last decade.

Sault Ste. Marie has done a good job of diversifying its economy since the 1990’s.

Through Destiny Sault Ste. Marie, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and other initiatives, the city has been able to grow various sectors including Information Technology, green energy, education, and more – lessening its reliance upon the steel and forest sectors.

Along the way the small business sector has developed and changed, and Sault Ste. Marie has been recognized nationally as a top 100 Entrepreneurial City in Canada (ranking as high as 23rd in 2012).

There are numerous resources available to entrepreneurs and small business in our area, including Business Sault Ste. Marie – a division of the Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC), the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC), the Community Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie & Area (CDC), Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC), and more.

These organizations provide business startup assistance and other resources to new and established businesses in the community.

They provide an essential role in our small business community.

But there is more we can do as a community to ensure we build an entrepreneurial community within Sault Ste. Marie that is strong, supportive, vibrant and inclusive.

An entrepreneurial community led by entrepreneurs.

Startup Sault is doing just that.

Startup Sault is a volunteer–led movement to bring together entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and small business service providers in Sault Ste. Marie to create a supportive and knowledgeable environment where business startups can flourish.

We are part of the Startup Canada network – a pan-Canadian network to provide entrepreneurs with a single doorway to enter their local entrepreneur community to access mentors, space, funding and support to start and grow their businesses and to connect with other startup founders online and on the ground.

Startup_CanadaStartup Canada is a national entrepreneur-led undertaking to enhance the nation’s competitiveness and prosperity through uniting and strengthening Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and promoting a vibrant entrepreneurial culture to create a unified brand as a rallying point for Canadians.

Startup Canada has the support of more than 85,000 Canadians, 400 partners and 300 volunteers across the country and in its network of over 20 thriving startup communities. To learn more about Startup Canada, watch this video.

With the support of this national movement, and our amazing team of local entrepreneurs and volunteers, Startup Sault will help build a strong and spirited entrepreneurial community in Sault Ste. Marie.

Since our launch in March 2014, Startup Sault has held a number of unique networking events including Startup Drinks, a casual, fun networking opportunity to meet and hangout with other entrepreneurs.

In May, Startup Sault offered a 5-day training session from the Canadian Entrepreneurship Institute via live streaming.

The training featured keynote lectures by world-leading innovators, entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers; attendees gained the knowledge, tools and network necessary to make a meaningful impact in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship in their community, as well as their own business or organization.

On October 9th we held a Startup Drinks event at the Water Tower Pub, and our fall line-up of events includes the next Startup Drinks, November 20th, as well as our newest program – Startup Book Club, October 29th (kick-off ) and December 3rd.

Startup Book Club participants will read and discuss the latest business-related books (as well as classics) to glean tips, models and strategies to take their business to the next level.

Startup Book Club will create an opportunity for local entrepreneurs, students, small business owners and others to discuss not only the content of each book, but their own strategies and experiences as well.

I hope you will join us in our movement.

Together, let’s take risks, generate big ideas, and push the economy forward.

About Startup Sault:

Startup Sault connects new entrepreneurs with the small business resources available in the community, and provides the support of existing entrepreneurs who are building successful companies.

Our community enterprise partners include the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC), Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC), Community Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie (CDC), and Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce.

For more information about Startup Sault, visit www.startupsault.ca. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/startupsault) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/startupsault) to keep up to date on Startup Sault events, startup tips and other useful information.

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About the Author: Nevin Buconjic is an entrepreneur, author, consultant and Strategic Business Advisor with the Ontario government. Nevin is the founder and community lead for Startup Sault.

Startup Sault Interview

Nevin Local2 InterviewOne of my new and latest projects is Startup Sault – which is a local entrepreneurship group dedicated to building a more entrepreneurial community in Sault Ste. Marie by bringing together entrepreneurs and small businesses to network, learn and help each other start and grow our businesses. We held our first events on March 27th — Startup Drinks and it was a great turnout and super fun. Check out my interview from a local news website: http://www.local2.ca/ssm/viewarticle.php?id=14732

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