Program that guides budding entrepreneurs reaching wider audience online
It was around the time Michelle Leclair was expecting her first child when she hatched an idea.
That was two years ago, when words like "COVID-19" meant nothing to the Winnipeg entrepreneur who dreamt of opening her own shop in the city. All she had on her mind was how to get her meticulously crafted business plan up and running.
The only problem was she’d never done anything like it before.
"And that’s where Futurpreneur came in," the Wolseley Kombucha owner and founder told the Free Press Thursday.
"Had I not attended it," she said, "I wouldn’t have been able to see the brewing success and growth I’ve seen since then — especially during the pandemic when so many local businesses have suffered so much."
Kickstarting this week, Futurpreneur Canada’s annual workshop series for emerging entrepreneurs is going digital. It’s a complete revamp of the national program, says the organization’s CEO Karen Greve Young, which is now focusing on providing attendees with essential skills to cope with the economic impact of COVID-19.
The non-profit is also hoping to provide cash prizes of $10,000 to at least eight entrepreneurs next June, with funding from the Royal Bank of Canada.
Starting by helping business owners nail down their entrepreneurial ideas with a viable plan of action, the program will then provide advice about creating company profiles, market strategies and operational knowledge of how start-up costs and cash-flow can be managed. Each workshop will be led by experts based in different regions across Canada, held over multiple days from October to November.
"In a way, it’s sort of been a silver lining," said Young. "We’re planning to see more people attend this way because our in-person events would only be held in major cities for every region before this year. And now they’re free for everyone to access digitally — from Whitehorse to Winnipeg to Quebec City."
More than 1,800 young entrepreneurs have taken part in the Rock My Business programs since they began in 2017. Young said she expects those numbers to rise significantly this year, with registration already filling up to around 300 business owners per region.
“It’s an incredibly difficult time to be running any business ‐ particularly one that you’ve just started and then have to quickly adapt to save during a global pandemic. But we know that entrepreneurs are inherently resilient. And we’re hoping by attending these workshops and having access to these awards, they can continue to show that resilience.”— Futurpreneur Canada CEO Karen Greve Young
"It’s an incredibly difficult time to be running any business — particularly one that you’ve just started and then have to quickly adapt to save during a global pandemic," she added. "But we know that entrepreneurs are inherently resilient. And we’re hoping by attending these workshops and having access to these awards, they can continue to show that resilience."
Startups across Canada are now entering a transformational environment which, according to recent RBC numbers, will be down by more than $500 billion in output until at least 2022. And figures from Statistics Canada show about two-thirds of the nearly million businesses that have closed this year are those that just started before the pandemic.
For co-founders Roman Militsyn and Alexander Ibenski, those numbers "are scary — but not debilitating."
After attending Futupreneur’s workshops in 2018, the two opened their Winnipeg-based car-servicing business called Safe and Smart Drive Canada. This year, they said they’ve seen rapid growth during the pandemic since their services are now based entirely online.
"We received the grant when we attended the workshop and honestly, we really could not have been able to develop our website and our overall operations without that," said Ibenski.
"More than the funding itself," said Militsyn, "we also benefited from the mentorship from the experts we were able to partner with through Futurpreneur. They have continued to work with us to find the right partners and access the right tools within our community."
This year, six out of eight funding awards will go to businesses led by 18- to 29-year-olds, while one will be designated for a Black entrepreneur; and another for a business owner aged 30-39. Entrants for the awards must attend two workshops by the end of March before submitting business plans and cash-flow statements by the end of May to become eligible.
Felicita Ovadje, who attended the workshops last year for her beauty business, says it’s "affirmative action" like making sure at least one award goes to a Black business that’s "been a long time coming."
“The one thing the workshops definitely did for me was they allowed me to run my business as a bold Black business that it is, without being confined as one just for people that are also Black.”— Felicita Ovadje, owner of Felicheeta Artistry
"Personally, I wasn’t made aware there were any awards at all when I attended," the Felicheeta Artistry owner told the Free Press. "But I’m super glad they have one that’s specifically for people like myself now — it’s so important."
Recent numbers from Statistics Canada show companies run by people who are Indigenous, Black or other visible minorities have suffered up to 41 per cent more than those that are not during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ovadje said that’s because businesses that are run by people of colour are "often pigeon-holed" as only catering to those within their communities. The pandemic, she added, "has brought out that sort of unconscious bias within people to only shop in certain places."
"The one thing the workshops definitely did for me was they allowed me to run my business as a bold Black business that it is," said Ovadje, "without being confined as one just for people that are also Black."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.