Business be booming

Manitobans are most optimistic about new business ventures

Illustration by Justin Ladia

A poll conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses says Manitobans are the most optimistic about starting up small businesses in Canada. 

But where does this optimism come from? Does Manitoba’s community and economy truly make this a sweet spot for ambitious entrepreneurs?

“I think there’s a lot of support at what I call the grassroots level,” Rosalie Harms, instructor and chair of the business and economics department of the University of Winnipeg (U of W), says.

Harms says there’s a lot of commitment from programs like Futurpreneur and Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, as well as incubator projects like the Eureka project and a government website with a list of resources to assist individuals aspiring to start a business. 

“Because we are a smaller centre (relative to other centres, like Vancouver, Toronto or Calgary) and more tight-knit as a community, we really have a vested interest in everyone’s success, and I just see people pulling together to ensure that,” Harms says. 

The U of W is working on a Memorandum of Understanding with Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA). The plan is to launch a 10-month pilot project where Marshall Ring from MTA will help new entrepreneurs develop their business plans by offering free consultation services.

Entrepreneurs are beginning to integrate more of their personalities and values into their businesses, Harms says, and there has been a move into more sustainable markets, moving from throw-away or low-investment products.

“We see a growing movement towards entrepreneurship ... particularly for young people. They see this as a career option,” Harms says. “They can find a new or different way of connecting to community and economy in a way that is meaningful and a way that works for them, so I think that’s a really big part of it.”

Harms sees markets shifting into the local sphere. She says Manitobans want an option to buy goods besides big box stores, and they are beginning to realize that by investing money back into their economy and supporting emerging, local businesses, those businesses stay viable.

Nathan Bezoplanko and Brendon Friesen are co-owners and operators of Wilder Goods, a company they started six years ago. They make small batches of seasonal products, usually with leather and canvas. Products include backpacks, belts, aprons, bags, totes, duffles, wallets and more.  

“Our original intent was to start making backpacks, because there was a lack of durable packs on the market that didn't lean to the frilly or the techy backpacking aesthetic,” Friesen says. “I don’t think we were over-concerned with being successful or anything.”

Friesen says his business administration schooling at Red River College taught him that Winnipeg has a small but diverse population – making it a great test market for businesses. 

“Lots of people told us that manufacturing locally was a bad idea and we’d have to manufacture overseas eventually,” he says. “Who knows, we’re not raking it in or anything, but ... being a bit naive can be an asset at times, as long as you couple it with hard work.”

He says the feedback they gain from local customers is an asset to their operation.

“If things stay close to home, you’re bound to bump into your products sooner or later, and it's easier for people to voice their opinions,” he says. “The community has been extremely supportive and almost determined to make sure we succeeded. Winnipeggers want to be proud of where they come from.”

Published in Volume 71, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 9, 2017)

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