Another 24 entrepreneurs in Peterborough & the Kawarthas will soon be equipped with the knowledge and skills for small business success when the Starter Company Plus program returns this summer and fall.
Applications for the summer intake of the popular program, offered by the Peterborough & the Kawarthas Business Advisory Centre (BAC) with funding from the Ontario government, open on May 17 and close June 13. For entrepreneurs not ready to apply this summer, applications for the fall intake for the program will open on September 1 and close September 26.
Not only will all the successful applicants to the program receive business training at no cost to them, but half of them will each receive a $5,000 microgrant based on the strength of their business plans and business pitches to a panel of community judges.
Anyone aged 18 and older not in school who is interested in either starting a new business with the City or County of Peterborough, or expanding an existing one that’s been operating for five years or less, is eligible to apply. The full eligibility criteria can been found at peterboroughed.ca/starter.
Since Starter Company Plus was first offered in Peterborough & the Kawarthas in spring 2017, 163 entrepreneurs have benefited from the program, resulting in the launch of 84 new businesses and the expansion of 49 existing ones.
Even more impressive is the $1.2 million in funding and financing subsequently secured by entrepreneurs who have participated in the program.
During each intake of Starter Company Plus, which runs for five weeks, 12 successful applicants will participate in virtual sessions covering a wide variety of topics including market research, digital marketing, small business financing, and hiring practices.
VIDEO – Starter Company Plus 2021: Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development
“On the very first day we go around the room — the Zoom room — and everyone introduces themselves and tells everyone why they’re here and what their business idea is or, if the business is already open, what their business is,” explains Hillary Manion, the BAC Entrepreneurship Officer who leads the program.
“From there we start working on what we call their elevator pitch — what you tell people in 30 seconds when they ask what you do. From that first day of introducing themselves, they work up to a 10-minute video at the end of the five weeks. At the beginning a lot of people struggle to talk for 30 seconds but, by the end of the five weeks, most of them have a hard time keeping their video to 10 minutes.”
As valuable as that business pitch is, the big takeaway is the development of a comprehensive business plan based on the Lean Model Canvas, a proven strategic management template used for developing new business models and documenting existing ones.
“A business plan is a road map,” Manion says. “It helps you set out all of the steps you need to take. It helps you set your goals, and it also helps identify the resources you need to reach those goals.”
“But it’s not something you write once at the beginning of the program and forget about. It’s something you need to review regularly, especially if you are a start-up. Your business is a living, breathing thing — it’s something that’s going to change.”
For the participants in each intake of Starter Company Plus, the strength of their business plan is also key for a potential financial reward at the end of the program that will help them launch or grow their business. After successfully completing the program, each entrepreneur will submit their final business plan and pitch their business to a panel of community judges for a chance to receive one of six $5,000 microgrants.
Katelin Turcotte is a graduate of Starter Company Plus who received one of those microgrants. In the late summer of 2019, she was opening Wilde Beauty, a home-based preventative foot care and education business that sees her monitor high-risk clients via regular foot care maintenance. She applied to Starter Company Plus and was accepted.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Turcotte admits. “I knew I was going to be with other people starting businesses and there was going to be lots of support but, as I dove deeper into it, I found it to be very useful. It made me feel a little more normal, like I wasn’t just having my own mini-panic attack about starting a new business.”
The business plan and pitch components of the program, adds Turcotte, were invaluable.
“The pitch part pushes your knowledge and reveals if you put the time in to figure everything out. Are you really passionate about it? Are you doing it because you really want to, or just because you want to make money?”
Like all businesses, Wilde Beauty has been adversely affected by the pandemic, forcing Turcotte to adjust her original business plan — something she knew how to do thanks to Starter Company Plus.
“During the first lockdown, I shifted everything to an online store and started doing virtual consultations,” says Turcotte, adding “There are a lot of feet out there that still need helping.”
To those who are considering applying for the upcoming Starter Company Plus intake, Turcotte’s advice is to “go for it” — pandemic or not.
“It’s easy to say ‘I’ll wait until things get better’ but really this is the perfect time to do it,” she says.
Like the entrepreneurs it helps, the BAC has also changed the way it offers its services because of the pandemic — pivoting the Starter Company Plus program from an in-person model to a completely online one. According to Manion, the shift to a virtual model has resulted in some clear benefits.
“It has given us an opportunity to expand the offering and expand the training,” she says, noting the upcoming intake will be the third one held virtually.
“We’re able to bring in guest speakers and experts in their field. Having Zoom calls is a little bit more flexible for everyone. In terms of the information we’re able to share, we’re able to cover a lot more topics. We talk a lot more about digital marketing now than we did a year-and-a-half ago.”
Manion adds that the program now also includes a stress management and wellness aspect, “because entrepreneurs often don’t take care of themselves as well as they probably could, especially in the beginning stages because they’re trying to handle everything on their own.’
The pandemic has also led to a new focus for Starter Company Plus participants: resiliency and flexibility in their business models.
“When our last intake graduated in November, we thought everyone was going to run out and start their businesses — and then we ran into another lockdown,” Manion recalls. “A lot of those businesses have had to fall back on their business plans and find ways to continue going forward.”
Noting that between 30 and 50 applications are reviewed for each intake, Manion says those not accepted into Starter Company Plus are invited and encouraged to benefit from the other support services offered by the BAC.
“Our team reaches out to every applicant,” Manion explains. “We are more than happy to work one-on-one with anyone who applies for the program.”
“Whether you are accepted into Starter Company Plus or not, you can still become a client of the Business Advisory Centre. Our services are free and confidential. A lot of the topics we cover in Starter Company Plus are also available in our live online workshops or through e-learning.”
On a personal level, Manion admits to becoming “very emotional” when she reflects on how Starter Company Plus has been a springboard to small business success for participants.
“I’m like a proud mama bear at the end of the program, especially when I see those participants who struggled with their 30-second elevator pitch on the first day become so confident and well spoken when delivering their business pitch at the end of the program,” she says.
“I grew up in a small business. My parents were entrepreneurs. I know there are so many people out there who would be strong entrepreneurs but just need that help to get going. If I can be part of the team who gives them that start, that’s very satisfying.”
For more information on Starter Company Plus and to apply for upcoming intakes when applications open, visit peterboroughed.ca/starter.
This story was created in partnership with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development.