Not too many business operators would subscribe to a revolving door philosophy.
For Sarah Morin, project manager at North Bay’s new downtown business incubator, Genesis@204, a high turnover rate is exactly what she’s striving for.
“We want to get to the point where there is turnover in the businesses here — one out, one in — so that others have the opportunity,” said Morin. “Our immediate plans are to fill this place and be a bustling little retail and office space.”
The idea for the incubator was hatched more than two years by the North Bay and District Multicultural Centre as a way to assist newcomers to Canada get started in small business.
But it appears to be drawing community-wide interest from home-grown North Bay residents as well.
Located in a two-storey building at the corner of Main and Wyld Streets, Genesis@240 (alluding to its Main Street address) is divided into ground-floor “Boutique” retail space for walk-in traffic, and the more private “Business Loft” on the upper floor with secure access.
The ground floor offers naturally lit kiosk space with a supplied shelving unit and work table. The loft provides private office space and semi-private, the latter being a basic cubicle in an open concept work area.
“People seem to be catching on to the idea,” said Morin, who moved into the refurbished building last March.
Genesis@204 follows the standard incubator concept in offering cheap rent for first-time entrepreneurs under a graduated pricing structure, providing a fully wired space, and business support and networking opportunities until they build their confidence and the capital to venture out on their own and move into larger digs.
Part of the membership agreement is that tenants participate in workshops on topics such as accounting, banking, marketing and work-life balance from guest speakers or one of the incubator’s corporate partners.
Members get access to a boardroom, photocopier, onsite manager support, and a key to the building for tenants to come and go as they please.
Unlike big city incubators, which tend to be geared to high-tech startups, the doors in North Bay are open to anyone who needs a desk, a phone and a place to work.
“We kind of run the spectrum of businesses here,” said Morin, “which is why we’re happy to do this.”
Since last spring’s grand opening, two retailers have set up shop — another will arrive in October — and three companies moved into the Business Loft.
Upstairs includes a marketing agency, Social Science Digital; Natural Health Classes, offering classes to help people manage chronic illnesses; and Terrafact, a forestry inventory mapping and GIS analytical firm, a division of R & B Cormier of Sault Ste. Marie.
In the retail space are Dirty Girls Farm, a vendor of all-natural soaps and cleaning products, and Toni Callaghan, owner of Beyond the Fold, a maker of hand-painted greeting cards.
It’s been an eye-opening experience to turn her scrapbooking and paper crafting hobby into a business.
“I didn’t ever see myself here as an artist or a business person,” said Callaghan, who works part-time as a teacher. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind. I got the opportunity to come here for a month and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Rather than distributing her cards to shops on consignment, what’s most fulfilling is meeting customers who appreciate her work.
“I’ve made a commitment to myself to be here for at least six months. My husband and I are starting to work on our business plan and I’ve set some goals.”
Morin said the incubator received government funding for the first two years, after which it must be sustainable on its own revenues.
“Our projections were fairly conservative. We want it to be one-third full by the third year, and we’ve just about reached that for the upstairs. By October, we’ll reach that for the downstairs.”
Morin, a North Bay native who studied human resources and worked for a southern Ontario insurance firm before coming back north, describes her experience working with enthusiastic first-time entrepreneurs as “awesome.”
“Any entrepreneur or any small business that I’ve come in contact with, they all want to learn, they want to be better and grow their business,” she said.
“They want to see what’s out there to diversify their business and how they can get into a new market, which is a really exciting thing to see. Businesses are growing in new ways in North Bay.”