Save the date, Edmonton! Small Business Week™ returns on October 21 for a week-long city-wide celebration of local business owners and entrepreneurs.
Initiated in 1979 by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) as a means of recognizing entrepreneurs and the important role they play in our communities, Small Business Week first began in British Columbia’s Lower Fraser Valley. The event was so successful that it continued again the following year, and in 1981 the BDC officially launched Small Business Week across Canada.
“As the only bank devoted exclusively to entrepreneurs, our mandate is to help businesses grow and diversify. Our partnership with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce (ECC) is one way to do just that. ECC helps us reach out to the local business community and address current challenges such as diversification and international expansion,” explains Rob Lajoie, vice president of financing.
After 40 years, BDC continues to be the presenting sponsor for Small Business Week, partnering with local chambers and associations to plan thousands of events coast to coast for entrepreneurs. This year’s theme, Canada: A Nation of Entrepreneurs, focuses on showcasing the people behind the businesses and examining what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.
“Expanding outside borders is always a challenge for small business owners, so it is very important that the BDC encourages and supports them in looking beyond Edmonton, Alberta and even Canada’s borders,” says Lajoie.
The support is much needed. While small businesses may not be big in size, collectively they play a large and vital role in our local economy.
“There are close to 48,000 businesses in Edmonton. Almost 95 per cent are small to mid-sized enterprises,” says Janet Riopel, president and CEO of the ECC. “They are at the core of everything we do at the Chamber and it is our mission to create an environment where they are able to succeed and thrive.”
This year’s BDC’s Small Business Week will feature a networking event at the new JW Marriott and a panel discussion on Growth Expansion and Trade at the Sutton Hotel. Lajoie will moderate and members will hear opinions from Keenan Pascal, CEO of Token Naturals Ltd; Kathy Leskow, owner of Confetti Sweets; and Judd Kruger, director of Finance for SureHire Inc.
Michael Denham, president and CEO of BDC, and Pierre Cléroux, chief economist, will also be giving presentations across the country as they celebrate the BDC’s 75th anniversary.
ECC’s lineup for the week includes an exciting e-commerce seminar featuring Shopify.
“It is a fascinating business model,” says Riopel. “Understanding social media is critical to the success of a business, and no one knows how to navigate it better than Shopify.”
“Growing a business online creates opportunities for higher revenue, direct communication with customers, and easier access to global markets,” adds Lajoie. “In our most recent study, we found that although being online fuels growth, only 4 out of 10 small- to medium-sized enterprises in Canada with an online presence sell, receive and take orders online! Consequently, 60 per cent of Canadian SMEs are missing huge growth opportunities.”
“It was, and continues to be, intimidating to grow my business,” confesses Brooke Riopel, owner and operator of 35ltd, a graphic design studio and shop featuring handmade and laser cut designs. “Learning how to keep up with the industry is an ongoing challenge but Small Business Week provides resources to help business owners, including networking opportunities, which builds a more supportive business community.” With 10 years of experience as a graphic designer, Brooke Riopel opened her business in 2016 as a way to spend time with her children while still developing her skills, maintaining her creativity, and generating income.
“There is this illusion that when you start a business, everyone will flock to you, but the reality is, it can take years to build up to being a fully operating business,” says Coreina Hubert, team leader at CorePro8, a business management consulting firm, launched at the beginning of this year and completely designed for the new entrepreneurs to get through those critical moments when starting up a business. “A lot of new entrepreneurs struggle to increase their client base without spending much money. Small Business Week is a great starting point for them to expand their network and learn the best practices to grow in the first year.”
“As a small business owner, the chance to network and have conversations with like-minded folks is really important,” says Todd Rutter, founder and co-owner of A Cappella Catering. “It’s also quite inspiring to hear local success stories and learn how second or third generation family business owners are evolving mom ‘n pop shops and growing in a digital space.”
Rutter definitely knows a thing or two about evolving a business. He began his entrepreneurial journey in Edmonton 32 years ago and has successfully adapted to the city’s changing landscape. After gaining valuable kitchen experience working at Earls original location on Jasper Avenue, Rutter opened a pizza stand in Room At the Top (RATT), a beloved bar and grill in the University of Alberta’s (U of A) students’ union building, in the spring of 1987. He had actually worked at RATT as a server and bartender while he was a student at the U of A six years prior. It was where Rutter first fell in love with the with the fast-paced, friendly and fun atmosphere of the hospitality industry. Shortly after A Capella Pizza grew into a restaurant – A Cappella Café. While Rutter became completely enamored by the whole process of running a kitchen, it was also very difficult.
“The first 5 to 10 years of operations consisted of 18-hour days and continual financial stress,” says Rutter. “I began taking catering orders to supplement restaurant sales and made the decision to close the café and transition to A Cappella Catering full-time in 1991.”
Rutter now shares ownership with his two long-time key employees, Kim Mahoney, COO; and Mich De Laive, executive chef. The trio has diversified their revenue streams by creating hotel food service programs, cafeteria operations and CURBSIDE food truck in addition to catering local events. Stay tuned for A Cappella Catering’s new look, coming soon!
“Small Business Week is a great opportunity for a small business owner to interact and connect with amazing entrepreneurs,” says Maggie Barton Baird, owner of MB&COMPANY.
Barton Baird definitely faced her fair share of challenges when she launched her own full service event planning firm in 2013. The hardest piece to overcome was balancing the back end of the business with the influx of clients.
“I’m not a serial entrepreneur. I went to school for fine arts, and I was too busy planning events to research how to run a business well. That’s why I love Small Business Week. It allows entrepreneurs to build supportive circles, both personally and professionally. People in Edmonton want to see small businesses succeed so they are willing to help you out and lend a hand. All you have to do is ask.”
For more information and the full event lineup for BDC Small Business Week, go to BDC.ca. You can also learn about ECC’s Trade Accelerator Program for entrepreneurs at www.edmontonchamber.com.