There are those in St. John’s who insist the entrepreneurial ecosystem here is thriving and that with the sheer number of startups and small businesses being established, the city is in the midst of an entrepreneurial renaissance.
But that’s not to say they don’t need supports from others within that ecosystem — what has become a challenging economic landscape.
“With the economy where it is, we need to help everybody succeed and with these small businesses, if the (St. John’s) Board of Trade can do something to help them get their name out and tell their story, I think it’s important that we do,” says Brandon Copeland of project management and consulting firm The Urban East and a member of the Board of Trade.
As part of the trade show component of its annual business development summit, the board established an entrepreneurship pavilion at its business development summit trade show this week, allowing space for six small businesses who otherwise would not have been there because, as Copeland explains, the cost of attending can be a financial burden they’re unable to bear.
“Entrepreneurs are strapped for cash, they’re stretching every penny and as much as the face time may be valuable, it’s also expensive.
“We wanted to find a way to offset that.
Once they identified the goal, they had to find a sponsor for the space, and Copeland says the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) was quick to buy into a plan to provide free booths for the businesses.
“One of the things that we struggle with a bit in Newfoundland and in St. John’s is telling the stories of the new businesses that are building,” says Copeland.
“It’s really easy to tell a story when someone gets a boatload of funding, but there’s stories of these small companies that are up and coming and the face time with the larger business community at an event like the trade show is an excellent opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of these stories.”
The idea came together only a week before the trade show, but still received 15 applications. Copeland says in evaluating the applications, they made sure to work with organizations within the ecosystem that work with the entrepreneurs on a day-to-day basis — organizations like Common Ground, the Genesis Centre, Futurpreneur and the BDC.
Among those selected were Ashley Smith’s Fundamental Inc., a consulting and design firm that specializes in energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions for residential, commercial and municipal clients.
Having real estate at the trade show was great for Fundamental Inc., a company not yet a year old, in that it allowed Smith to establish contacts with potential investors.
“The BDC itself, I would never have actually thought would be interested, but I spoke with a fellow from their capital ventures side and I had an idea for a micro utility, which would be a larger project that requires some venture capital in order to partner with Nalcor, and he was like, ‘That’s exactly what we’re looking for,’” said Smith, who has 16 years in construction management experience.
And when it was slow at the pavilion, Smith was able to visit other booths in search of potential commercial clients.
“I would never have gotten access to them at all if I hadn’t been here. That was definitely valuable,” says Smith.
Dr. Armin Strobel of AS Works didn’t expect the trade show to line him up with clients for the fully autonomous drone technology he has created, but the networking opportunity allowed him to connect with people who can point him toward potential customers.
One such connection was made with Mark Gillingham, vice-president of SkyHawk Telematics.
“He was offering to help me and meet in regular intervals, and that’s really invaluable,” says Strobel. “You can’t get better than somebody who actually has experience in a similar field, does all its own technology and has similar customers.”
Other companies featured at the pavilion included iDesign Ltd., Big Fry Productions, Perfect Minute Games and DOODLE Lovely.