A new business start-up program promises to help Northwest entrepreneurs launch their business plans toward success.
The region’s first business start-up accelerator, Costarter, was announced Tuesday at the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre on the Confederation College campus. The program is designed to provide investment and guidance to entrepreneurs looking to get business ideas off the ground.
Costarter program co-ordinator Terry Smith has previously seen the effects an accelerator program can have, and said it's like a shot of adrenaline to hopeful entrepreneurs.
“They need what every business needs, and that is access to money, time and space, and connections and resources,” Smith said.
Smith added that the program is looking for would-be entrepreneurs who are in the extreme early stages of their business start up. Many of those people may be looking at a one or two-year timeline before they can witness their first sale.
"We’re hoping to shrink that down to two to three months,” Smith said.
The program is going to select five start-ups for an intensive three-month development program to aid with product development, create a customer base, and grow their organization.
Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre manager Judy Sander said prior to Costarter, entrepreneurs would have to take a gradual approach to implement their business plan.
Often it would be years before the plans would come to fruition, which could derail the dreams of those working under tight finances or deadlines.
“What we’ve seen in other communities is a huge demand,” Sander said. “I do know of people who are out there and are a perfect fit. We want the best teams and the best ideas. We have five to build on, and we want five winners.”
Each entrepreneur will receive $15,000, and will be selected by a committee to help determine the viability of their plan, and get to work out of the innovation centre.
“There is a selection committee made up of all of our partners and they will choose based on their ability to be successful and we’re going to be judging that,” Smith said.
“Obviously it’s early stage so it’s hard to judge but we’re looking at the thoughtfulness of the idea, do they have a market, do they have potential customers, how are they going to reach them, and all of the things you see in a normal business plan.”
Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission CEO Doug Murray said the initiative is driven towards keeping people in Thunder Bay to pursue their plans instead of forcing them to move to another community.
He added the program can also diversify the economic portfolio of the region, and thinks communication technology and idea based plans will benefit.
“Somebody will have an interesting idea that we can now accelerate through and get them in that next phase where we have further programs to help them along,” Murray said, and added the city is hoping to catch up to other communities and create a start-up friendly atmosphere.
“We’re not talking about bricks and mortar for a lot of these businesses that will start-up. A lot of these are going to be idea generated and stuff that’s done on the Internet or services like apps on phones.”
Meanwhile, the investor community seems to be quite receptive to supporting the program.
Smith explained investing from the initial days of an entrepreneurial business gives investors a greater knowledge of the plan’s progress and chances of further success.
“From the investor community we’re seeing a really positive response because they love getting early access to these companies, and that’s something they don’t have right now,” Smith explained. “This program allows them to have early access to see if they’re hitting their milestones early on, hitting their goals and if they’ll invest in them in the future.”
Interested teams can apply online to www.costarter.ca throughout the month of October.
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