Devon Girard, the new executive director of Community Futures Peterborough, has a vision for the not-for-profit organization that provides loans and financing for small businesses in the City and County of Peterborough.
She recently spoke with kawarthaNOW about her plans, which include strengthening partnerships with the area’s other economic development organizations, better communication and marketing of what Community Futures offers, and improving diversity and inclusion — all intended to enhance the ecosystem for Peterborough-area entrepreneurs.
A former long-time board member of Community Futures Peterborough, Girard’s vision is informed by her many years of experience in communications, government, not-for-profit, and media. She most recently led the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy program at Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC), where she oversaw the innovative financial technology lending platform for female entrepreneurs called DELIA — an acronym for Develop, Educate, Lead, Innovate, Accelerate — and founded StrikeUP Canada, Canada’s largest digital conference for women entrepreneurs.
“DELIA launched in fall of 2020 and then we put on our first StrikeUP conference in 2021,” Girard recalls. “We thought we were putting on a little conference to attract women entrepreneurs from southern Ontario into the ecosystem and, through the power of digital, it blew up into this global event with more than 3.000 women attending. It grew into an event that corporate partners wanted to invest in. It was a great opportunity to showcase what the path of connectivity can be for a woman entrepreneur and how they can be connected to both corporate support and government support.”
Making that path of connectivity clear for Peterborough entrepreneurs, according to Girard, means strengthening the “team approach” of the area’s economic development organizations.
“Peterborough entrepreneurs are really lucky with the services that are available,” she explains. “What I’m most excited to do is showcase and work with our partners to help make that ecosystem clear — helping to work entrepreneurs through what those levels of support are and how they can be connected. If you want to start a business, you should go here. If you want to grow your business, you should go here. If you want funding for your business, you should go here. Peterborough has an abundance of business resources for entrepreneurs that are free. I can’t wait to help grow and expand that message.”
That work has already begun, with Community Futures recently refreshing its existing website at communityfuturespeterborough.ca to make it easier for entrepreneurs to navigate and understand, with a brand new website coming later this year.
“The message should be clear to someone wanting to start a business, or to someone owning a business, who they can go to for what areas of support,” Girard says. “And we are that local funding and financing provider.”
“We’re actually starting a full rebrand,” she reveals. “We’ll have a new logo, we’ll have a new look, and we’ll have a brand new website to launch for our annual general meeting.”
It’s an ideal time to revisit how local entrepreneurs are supported, Girard says, with new leadership at both Community Futures Peterborough and the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce, where Sarah Budd took over from Stuart Harrison as president and CEO last year.
“The Innovation Cluster will soon have a new leader as well,” Girard points out. “Traditionally those organizations, along with the Downtown Business Improvement Area and Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development, have made a conscious effort to provide complementary services and supports to entrepreneurs, and ensuring the work we’re doing best serves the needs of our community.”
“Those conversations and meetings take place at the executive level once a month, and there’s also working groups at the staff level as well. We’re trying to show that interconnectivity and help shape the entrepreneurial journey so that it’s clear to entrepreneurs. That’s something we hope to help communicate clearly out to the public — through some fun campaigns in the future — about how they can navigate these services and best use these services.”
That includes clearly defining the role of Community Futures in the ecosystem for supporting local business, Girard says.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, we are that local lender who is able to provide you with financing and with support,” she notes. “We should be top of your mind. It should be really clear in the entrepreneurial community that we are the first choice.”
Another one of Girard’s goals for Community Futures is improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE & I) for Peterborough-area entrepreneurs.
“What I’ve grown in the women entrepreneur ecosystem in Northumberland will be applied to all that I do here,” Girard says. “We took a small regional approach which grew into a national conference and a national loan fund. I have a vested interest in ensuring women — as well as people of colour, Indigenous, and LGBTQ — have the same opportunities. I think all organizations are looking through a new DE & I lens, and that’s something that we will do for sure at Community Futures Peterborough.”
Girard’s fresh approach resonates with Terry Guiel, executive director of the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area, who says he is thrilled to have her join “Team Ptbo” — a collective that includes Guiel, Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sarah Budd, and Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development president and CEO Rhonda Keenan.
“Devon is amazing,” Guiel tells kawarthaNOW. “She brings such creativity to the role and she is not afraid to explore unique opportunities and strategies. I feel really positive about this team.”