by Kevin Grant
originally published in the May/June 2010 Issue
The growth of entrepreneurial spirit is an important factor in turning around economic downturns. The crucial ingredients for Canada’s successful Self Employment Benefit (SEB) Program are the multi-layered support and the highly relevant focused adult education, which it provides to budding entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are critical for economic recovery because they innovate, take risks, pursue new markets, and generate jobs even in the worst of economic climates. Small businesses represent the vast majority of firms in Canada, collectively employ almost one-half of the workers in the private sector and contribute significantly to job creation. Most important, the entrepreneurial spirit is one of the most important sources of renewal and dynamism, helping our economy to adjust to a rapidly changing world.
I found myself under-employed after a twelve-year career in the Internet industry. I was offered contract positions with no benefits and little stability. It was 2007 and I was feeling the early onset of a deep economic crisis that loomed on the horizon.
Working for industry leaders like Microsoft and Bell Canada was not opening doors for me. I had seen the entrepreneurial spirit first hand from working on challenging Internet subscription service projects.
The trademark of my old career life was long hours commuting and working in a downtown office cubicle. There was a risky alternative that I began contemplating, a world in which I called the shots, faced the risks, set my own schedule and experienced the benefits of my actions on the front line.
After meeting with a career counsellor at “Career Foundations” (a government funded career planning agency in Toronto), we worked collaboratively to develop a “back to work action plan”. The career planning process began by assessing the challenge of finding meaningful work by investigating issues such as age, educational background, job market trends, career interests, and by completing a comprehensive career assessment.
I was accepted into the Self Employment Benefit Program (SEB), funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.* The program began with ten weeks of concentrated practical business training at the Toronto Business Development Centre. The Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC) was established in 1990 and has successfully launched over 4,000 businesses. By offering one year of UI benefits, the SEB program helps budding entrepreneurs focus on the task of starting up and planning their new venture without having to worry about collecting a paycheck
After the 180 hours of interactive classroom time, attendees produce a full business plan, present the plan to industry experts, and plan the strategy that will allow them to implement that plan effectively.
Building a viable business plan is only the tip of the iceberg. The next stage is to execute the business plan by selling products and services, managing the financials, keeping records, networking and conducting marketing and public relations campaigns. These are typically challenging skills for entrepreneurs who have great ideas but need to learn the discipline of laser sharp business planning, daily operations, and record keeping.
Sally Wilkie, an experienced business advisor at the Toronto Business Development Centre, has seen first hand how support from a variety of sources is integral during the incubation period of successful entrepreneurs. “Our program offers support through one-on-one business advisors’ meetings, training by industry professionals in the classroom, peer support, and networking events”, says Sally. As I spoke to Sally in more detail it became clear that the multiple sources of support is one of the main reasons for the program’s success.
One of the SEB Program’s success stories is my company SmartAirMedia, a mobile media company producing innovative mobile strategies and solutions for the emerging smartphone market. The URL is smartairmedia.com.
Starting my business was the single most challenging experience of my life. Entrepreneurship has always been fundamental to my existence and the Toronto Business Development Centre gave me the tools to focus my energy and build new skills that guaranteed success.
Becoming an entrepreneur requires a fundamental shift in identity, lifestyle, and work habits and success hinges on many kinds of support through this lifechanging process. The shift from having a career to owning a business requires a person to step up to the plate and undergo a promotion to CEO, almost overnight. I am convinced that successful entrepreneurs learn how to channel their energy by converting their passion into tangible action.
Entrepreneurs will always be a unique breed and are essential to conquering tough economic times and developing new global markets. It will be the entrepreneurs of Canada that will pave the way for Canada’s continued economic growth. Providing entrepreneurs with access to the support and resources required to succeed will ensure Canada continues to compete and prosper globally as we emerge from these challenging economic times.
Kevin Grant is President of SmartAirMedia. SmartAirMedia creates smartphone and mobile communications solutions and strategies.
*SEB is now funded by the Ontario government and called the Ontario SelfEmployment Benefit Program (OSEB)]
Toronto Business Development Centre www.tbdc.com
Mobile Media for Business Workshop www.tbdc.com/schedule.php