The Port Hawkesbury Start-Up contest wrapped up Nov. 23 with That Dog Place being chosen the winner.
This was a first-time contest designed to help an aspiring entrepreneur realize their dream of owning and operating their own business.
“It’s a partnership between the Town of Port Hawkesbury, ESREN (Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network) and a number of other stakeholders, most notably the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce and InRich (CBDC),” ESREN economic development officer Misty MacDonald said.
“It’s the first time we’ve put anything like that on; the contest was launched the first of July and the winner was picked on Nov. 23. So, from this point on, we have to work with the winner to get their business up and running.
“We’re trying to encourage entrepreneurship, an entrepreneurial culture,” she added.
MacDonald talked about the process which included taking in 20 video submissions by Sept. 1.
“We had three local judges who took those 20 submissions and picked 10 to move forward,” she said.
“So for the 10 that moved forward, they pitched, in presentations, to the judges and also provided them with a concept paper that explained, a little bit more, their idea. Then, from that 10, the judges narrowed it down to the three finalists who all presented last Thursday night (Nov. 23).”
As for what may have helped That Dog Place rise above the competition, MacDonald pointed out two of their strengths being expected longevity and filling a business gap in the area.
“They were all good selections,” she said.
“Many people have dogs so there is a demand for the service; dogs as pets isn’t something that is going away anytime soon. So I would say that was their biggest strength out of all three proposals.
“And we don’t currently have any dog daycares in Port Hawkesbury. I think there are two in Antigonish, but I don’t think there is anything between Antigonish and Sydney. So there were a lot of people in Port Hawkesbury who would travel to Antigonish, right now, with their dogs for that service.”
With the success of the Port Hawkesbury Start-Up contest achieved, MacDonald said it’s the hope of ESREN some other municipalities, they work with, might stage their own contest.
“It’s up to the town, up to the individual municipal units, who want to engage and help us put a package together that is viable and actually benefits a new business; saving them some costs or providing some in-kind support,” MacDonald said, adding a residual benefit of the contest is that some of the other entrees used the contest as a spring board and, despite not being selected as the winner, are still proceeding with their business start-up idea.
“Generally, getting that positivity and people’s minds set towards the fact they can open their own business, start to do something for themselves,” she said.
“A lot of people will sit around and wait for something to happen; this is a positive message that people can be in control of their own destiny a little more.
“Overall, we’re very happy, it has been a successful project, so far,” she added, noting the ‘so far’ references the fact they still have work to do with That Dog Place.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said it was an “encouraging and optimistic” experience for the town.
“I know, for the Town of Port Hawkesbury, our mandate going forward, as a brand new council, was to try new things and to figure out some creative ways to grow opportunities in our town,” Chisholm-Beaton said.
“And, as a result of the Start-Up Port Hawkesbury contest, we certainly went a substantial distance in cultivating a start-up culture in the town.
“Certainly, having 20 people step forward, wanting to open a new business in the Town of Port Hawkesbury, you can’t get any more encouraging than that.”
Chisholm-Beaton said she could envision the town taking part in another start-up competition in the future and hopes other municipalities use the template they created with this contest to host their own.
“From day one, we wanted it to serve as a model,” she said.
“So it could be Start-Up Port Hawkesbury this year but, next year, it could, quite easily, be Start-Up District of St. Mary’s or Start-Up Municipality of the County of Antigonish, Inverness, Richmond … we really want it to be a tool, a grassroots tool, that any community could use.
“All communities have different levels of capacity; so the incentive package we created for Start-Up Port Hawkesbury may look a little different for the community who may like to use it, as a tool, to grow their business start-up culture.
“I’m hoping they (ESREN) are going to be run off-their-feet by other communities wanting to do the start-up model in their own neck of the woods.”
Chisholm-Beaton also talked about residual benefits from the contest and one, in particular, being that it gave more awareness of support systems for business start-ups there are in the community.
“We do have a lot of organizations which can help businesses,” she said.
“Sometimes, there isn’t a great connect between the citizen, who has an idea, and having them plugged in to those services. So this was a great opportunity to showcase the many supports we have, locally, that really, authentically, want to do what they can to get people involved with entrepreneurship and help them grow our economy.”