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Building a small business sector in the North

The importance of small business to Northern Ontario cannot be overstated. Northern Ontario is heavily dependent on resource-based industry, from mining and forestry to steel. Our economies ebb and flow with the cycles of big business and industry.
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Nevin-Buconjic_Cropped
Nevin Buconjic, Sault Ste. Marie-based entrepreneur, author and community builder.

The importance of small business to Northern Ontario cannot be overstated.
Northern Ontario is heavily dependent on resource-based industry, from mining and forestry to steel. Our economies ebb and flow with the cycles of big business and industry.

Most of our cities and towns learned long ago that relying solely on resource-based industry and traditional manufacturing is a recipe for disaster. Communities like Sault Ste. Marie have worked hard to diversify their economies for many years, with varying degrees of success.

While they are now much less reliant on these major industries, they still represent the bulk of private-sector jobs in our communities.

When these commodity-based sectors have economic challenges, jobs are often lost and communities can be devastated. We are left with the small businesses that call each community home. I think most people would agree that a thriving small business scene is an essential component of a healthy and happy community.
Small business drives innovation, leads job creation and builds wealth like no other economic engine in our nation. Over 98 per cent of businesses in Canada have less than 100 employees, and small business employs almost 70 per cent of the private workforce. Small business helps to grow and strengthen our communities, and strong communities attract greater investment.

What can we do to encourage and support new business startups in Northern Ontario?

There are many organizations across the North that deliver small business support services and government funding programs.
Ontario’s Small Business Enterprise Centres provide business advisory services and assistance for new businesses, and are located in Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Thunder Bay and Kenora.
The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, NORCAT in Sudbury, the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre in Thunder Bay, IION in North Bay, and the Productivity and Innovation Centre in Timmins work with technology and science companies to build those sectors in their respective communities.

Small business incubators offer affordable office space, access to shared resources, training and more. Co-working spaces are popping up, where entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants, or anyone for that matter, can rent a desk for the day, week or month. These co-working spaces are often open-concept, and encourage collaboration and networking.

There is no shortage of small business resources available to both new and existing entrepreneurs in the North. There are also additional funding programs through the NOHFC, FedNor, Community Futures Development Corporations, and more.
It clearly isn’t lack of support that is the problem. Perhaps potential entrepreneurs are unaware of these resources. No matter how well these organizations promote themselves and their services, there will be those who never get the message.

In Sault Ste. Marie, we are trying to fix this. I founded StartUP Sault (part of the Startup Canada network) in early 2014 to help build a thriving startup community.

With the support of Startup Canada, our local community enterprise partners and an amazing team of volunteers, StartUP Sault works to connect local entrepreneurs via learning and networking opportunities, and events like Startup Drinks and Startup Book Club.

The goal of StartUP Sault is to provide regular meetups and build a sense of community among local entrepreneurs, enhance the opportunities to collaborate, share knowledge and partner on new ventures.

We have found that StartUP Sault events attract younger entrepreneurs, and budding entrepreneurs of all ages — often a different demographic than other business or networking events. We are reaching people that perhaps need support the most.

We can connect those entrepreneurs with others who are willing to help, and also direct them to the appropriate community partners – whether they need help with their business plan, startup advice, or funding to get started.

Perhaps in the years to come, all our Northern cities will become thriving startup communities. All it takes is the will to make it happen and a few entrepreneurs to drive the charge. I believe it can be done. 




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