Toolbox program offering low cost support to entrepreneurs

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Todd Stone is B.C.'s transportation and infrastructure minister, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA and self-proclaimed accidental entrepreneur. Speaking at Business Start-Up Night, he told budding entrepreneurs to say yes to opportunity.

Todd Stone is B.C.’s transportation and infrastructure minister, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA and self-proclaimed accidental entrepreneur. Speaking at Business Start-Up Night, he told budding entrepreneurs to say yes to opportunity.

Today’s history major might not seem like tomorrow’s business owner, but with the right support, one of them could be the next accidental entrepreneur. Enactus is looking to provide that support and hopefully curb businesses suffering from improper expertise and closure.

Recently elected MLA Todd Stone calls himself an accidental entrepreneur – one of the successful ones, considering his company iCompass Technologies Inc. is celebrating 15 years of business. Stone devotes much of his recent success in politics to the experience he gained as an entrepreneur and struggling business owner in iCompass’ startup years, a time when he said there was very little support or guidance.

Stone talked about days when the office was a one-bedroom apartment with two employees or a time when failure to meet payroll was a serious concern.

“These are the kinds of stories every entrepreneur has,” he said. “The sad reality is how few businesses make it passed 10 or 15 years, let alone 30.”

Enactus Thompson Rivers teamed up with BDO Canada to offer the Toolbox program, now in its third year of operation, to offer mentorship and guidance to entrepreneurs. Its first-ever Business Start-Up Night introduced the revamped program on Jan. 16. The program used to focus on tradespeople looking to start their own practice.

“As our program grew we realized there were so many other entrepreneurs in town that wanted help but there was no program like Toolbox available for them,” Enactus president Acacia Schmietenknop said. “So we decided we were going to grow Toolbox so that it was open to everybody.”

Starting in February, Enactus will run four weeks of Toolbox workshops with its partnering organizations, the Canadian Home Builders Association, Venture Kamloops and Community Futures, each hosting a night and teaching accounting, finance, marketing or human resources. In between workshops, student consultants work with entrepreneurs to apply their new knowledge to their business. Workshops are free to attend, while consultation is a small fee.

“So, they are constantly being able to work on their business. They aren’t just going to a workshop and then thinking what do I do now?” Schmietenknop said. “It’s more like you learn this, we give you an opportunity to try it out for yourself, ‘where are you having problems, okay now let’s apply it.’”

Colin O’Leary, business retention and expansion manager at Venture Kamloops, said the majority of job creation in Kamloops comes from within, which is why entrepreneurship is so important in the community.

“Our job is to do everything to make sure business is thriving in Kamloops,” he said, adding that he has seen around 170 entrepreneurs in the past year.

He said it’s important for new business owners to not only access expertise, but also implement it.

BDO Canada’s Brian Callander said amidst critical voices it’s important for entrepreneurs to have support and access to expertise at a low cost. Schmietenknop recognized that the Kamloops Innovation Centre also works with entrepreneurs, but Toolbox is the only program that offers free workshops.

“It’s easy to get discouraged from your vision if everyone’s going to mail you thousands of dollars of bills every time you turn around,” Callander said. “Enactus gives them that ability to get the expertise.”

Jonathan Bowers emphasized the potential of a single good idea with successful entrepreneurial stories, like Airbnb. Bowers is one of the organizers of Startup Weekend Kamloops, a 54-hour program that sees entrepreneurs creating a business model and seeking business validation. Programs like Startup Weekend work to solidify an idea and figure out if it’s worth pursuing.

Business Start-Up Night left around 50 attendees with several messages of encouragement from leading business owners in Kamloops.

“It’s about recognizing the opportunity, being prepared to seize it and then strapping in,” Stone said.