THUNDER BAY – The Northern Ontario Angels are responsible for pumping $77 million from 350 investors into nearly 200 companies, creating 1,500 full-time jobs while maintaining another 500 across the region.
Their ability to assist developing and expanding Northern Ontario enterprises either evolve from a concept or continue to grow was given a boost through new funding of $1.26 million over three years from Ottawa from FedNor, as announced by Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu on Thursday.
Mary Long-Irwin, executive director of the Northern Ontario Angels, said the geographic challenges of Northern Ontario can lead to challenges for prospective entrepreneurs and business owners to access financial backing. The non-profit organization has arranged more deals in the past five years than any other angel investment matchmaker in Canada, she added.
“Those very investors understand how hard it is to get money to start a business, how difficult it is and how many challenges our local businesses have trying to raise that capital,” Irwin said.
“Not only do they provide the investment, our investors also provide the mentoring which is critical. They’re right there, they’re lending their finance person, their (human resources) person, they’re using their networks and contacts to make sure these businesses are successful.”
Irwin said the new funding will allow the Northern Ontario Angels to provide increased seminars, training and networking opportunities as well as enhance their presence in Northwestern Ontario by opening a part-time office in Kenora. Of the total investment, $43.7 million has gone into Northwestern Ontario enterprises.
Chapters are currently operated in the five largest Northern Ontario communities – Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins.
In many cases, the support and business expertise provided by the investors is just as valuable as any financial capital, Irwin added.
“Those investors typically are former company, business owners themselves and they really believe in business but more importantly they believe it’s their contribution that they have to support the local businesses here in Northern Ontario because that’s where they made their money,” Irwin said.
While the businesses and accredited angel investors involved in the deals typically remain confidential, Irwin said many of the backers have firsthand knowledge and experience about being successful in Northern Ontario.
Hajdu, who is also the federal government’s minister of employment, workforce development and labour, said fostering start-up businesses is a significant way to foster economic innovation and diversity.
“We can’t rely on one industry. Gone are the days when we could have one industry support essentially a whole town,” Hajdu said. “The more diverse an economy, the more resilient it is to various different shocks to sectors.”