Entrepreneurship is an interesting thing. It’s described as the process of setting up a business and entrepreneurs are described as innovators and a source of new ideas. In Huron County, good ideas can earn you $5,000 if you take part in the Starter Company Plus program.
That sum is what originally attracted me to the latest group of entrepreneurs taking part in this initiative of Huron Economic Development, where coaches share their knowledge and participants synergistically lob ideas back and forth.
My first idea was to start a cottage cleaning business to meet the needs of cottage owners requiring those services. I imagined a fleet of vans, colourful uniforms and a bunch of excited young people eager to clean. However, as I delved into the Starter Plus webinars and fleshed out the business model, I started feeling stress. I realized with current labour shortages, it was going to be very difficult to find those happy, vibrant cleaners. Ultimately, it would be me cleaning if someone didn’t show up for work and that did not jive with my busy life.
Then I sat down and assessed my skills and assets. What did I already have? What gave me joy? What gave me purpose? What would be profitable? This job was one but I also had the cutest little cottage, a van, social skills, knowledge of the area and a love of all things rural. I decided to launch Little Bluestem Cottage and Tours and created a business plan, financial projections, spreadsheets, marketing campaigns and launched a website.
Though I had been a dairy farmer in the past, I never felt like an entrepreneur. Maybe because it was an established business that we purchased from my parents. Little Bluestem Cottage and Tours is new. It was borne out of hard work, investment and my own ideas. I felt empowered turning my own ideas into money. Couched with business training and support from the Starter Company Plus program, I was able to strengthen weak areas. Plus, there was tremendous encouragement from coach and “business cheerleader” Genny Smith, Huron Economic Development’s Entrepreneurship and Business Program Coordinator. Her co-workers – Tamara Minns and Alecia Anderson – were equally supportive with marketing and business ideas.
Smith established Monday night networking meetings where I met Julie Grimminck, who grossed us out with before and after photos of her work as a foot nurse. She was launching Sole Purpose, a mobile foot service. We met Vicki Rao, owner of Changing Gears Adventures who was launching a bike tour company, curating bike tours on the G2G. There was John Weber of Weber Appliance Repair who can fix just about anything; Kim Buttineau who makes and delivers healthy meals with her company To Your Table; Gabriella Parejo of Crichet Handmade Designs who has a store marketing eco-friendly products and meaningful gifts from local artisans; Nick Vinnicombe, a videographer and Sharina McPherson who restores and sells antiques. No business was alike and yet, we all had that entrepreneurial spirit and quickly became a team, supporting each other’s businesses with ideas and encouragement.
It was amazing. At 52, I’m not a young entrepreneur and yet I felt excited and hopeful about all that I could do to improve the bottom line of my business while finding fulfillment in offering a place that gives people joy. It was wonderful.
All the coaching, learning and support culminated in a pitch delivered to three judges. We had to describe our business, promote it, share financial projections and make “the ask” to explain what we would use the $5,000 for.
I felt I nailed my pitch with the confidence garnered in my business and myself as an entrepreneur from taking part in the program. I earned a round of applause after my presentation. Did that translate into winning the $5,000? It did not. The disappointment was real but I whole-heartedly applauded winners —Sole Purpose and Weber Appliance Repair — on their achievement. They totally deserved it.
I encourage you to read about Sole Purpose in this issue. If you are a budding entrepreneur, I highly suggest you join the Starter Company Plus program yourself. Even if you don’t earn the grant, you gain confidence, knowledge and support to run a successful business. I had never considered myself an entrepreneur yet sometime during this five-month program I came to believe it. I had newfound trust that my ideas had value, my work ethic could make those ideas happen, and I could manage a sustainable business.
For the county, the investment of time and coaching means there are 10 new businesses adding to the economic prosperity of our area. These businesses will provide jobs and attract new people to Ontario’s west coast.
I want to encourage Huron Economic Development to create a Company Plus: Stage 2 for those of us who have moved past the “starting” phase but could still benefit from coaching. How can we take our business to the next level? Will you provide funding to help us do that?
I am going to miss those Monday night networking sessions. It’s further proof that people are better together. Encouragement is the fuel of life and I’m still zooming full-speed ahead on my business thanks to this experience.◊