Another 12 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 for 2022.
Applications for the spring intake of the popular program, offered by the Peterborough & the Kawarthas Business Advisory Centre (BAC) with funding from the Ontario government, are now open until Sunday, April 17th. For entrepreneurs not yet ready to apply, another intake will take place in early September.
Not only will all the successful applicants to the program receive business training at no cost to them, but half of them will also 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 or expanding an existing one that’s been operating for five years or less within the City of Peterborough or Peterborough County is eligible to apply. The full eligibility criteria can been found at investptbo.ca/starter.
VIDEO: Starter Company Plus with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development
Since Starter Company Plus was first offered in Peterborough & the Kawarthas in spring 2017, 194 entrepreneurs have benefited from the program, resulting in the launch of 104 new businesses and the expansion of 52 existing ones. Even more impressive is the more than $1.2 million in funding and financing subsequently secured by entrepreneurs who have participated in the program.
During the five-week Starter Company Plus program, the 12 successful applicants will participate in virtual sessions each Tuesday in May covering a wide variety of topics including market research, digital marketing, small business financials, and hiring practices.
“On the very first day we go around the virtual room and everyone introduces themselves,” explains Hillary Manion, the BAC Entrepreneurship Officer who leads the program. “We learn about what their businesses are, what they do, and most importantly what their business goals are. We do this exercise at the beginning of every workshop.”
“At the beginning many struggle to fill 30 seconds with information about themselves and their businesses but, by the end of the five weeks, most of them can’t stop talking,” she adds. “The confidence that comes with practice is just one of the hidden benefits of Starter Company Plus.”
A big takeaway for each participating entrepreneur 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. A business plan is a living, breathing thing — it’s something that is going to evolve and change as your business does.”
For the participants, 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. When she was opening Wilde Beauty in 2019, 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 was adversely affected when the pandemic hit in early 2020, 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.”
“It’s easy to say ‘I’ll wait until things get better’ but really this is the perfect time to do it,” she says.
In-class training is delivered virtually, providing more flexibility for the participants and allowing the participation of guest speakers and experts in their field. Along with the virtual training, participants also have opportunities during the five-week program for in-person one-on-one consultations with the program facilitator.
A recent change to the training has been the addition of a stress management and wellness aspect.
“Entrepreneurs often don’t take care of themselves as well as they probably could, especially in the early start-up stage because they’re trying to handle everything on their own,” Manion notes.
Another recent change has been an increased focus on the resiliency and flexibility of the business plans of participants — something especially important for entrepreneurs launching or expanding a business during the pandemic.
“Many of our Starter Company Plus graduates have referred to their business plans more than they expected over the last two years,” Manion says. “As restrictions and expectations changed, businesses with a solid foundation already set with their business plan have been able to quickly adapt and continue to thrive.”
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, visit investptbo.ca/starter.
This story was created in partnership with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development.