Local entrepreneurs benefit from Starter Plus program

Successful start-ups - From left, Marissa Burley, the EODP co-ordinator with PELA CFDC, entrepreneurs Tess Girard and Mariko Reilly, and Small Business Centre consultant Sandy Abbott mark the entrepreneurs’ successful completion of the Starter Plus program. Girard is expanding her Fifth Town Films business with an equipment rental program, while Reilly is starting an osteopathy practice in Wellington. (Adam Bramburger/Gazette staff)

Small Business Centre program offers training, funding for osteopath, filmmaker to grow businesses



Two Prince Edward County entrepreneurs are among the first in the region to successfully complete the Small Business Centre’s Starter Plus program.

Launched last year, the provincial program provides training for entrepreneurs starting or expanding a business to bring a new product or service, process, or market to an area. Participants successfully completing the training also have a chance to apply for grants from $2,000 to $5,000.

Sandy Abbott, the consultant staffing the local Small Business Centre satellite office and Marissa Burley, the Eastern Ontario Development Program co-ordinator at the Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Community Futures Development Corporation (PELA CFDC)— a program sponsor — recently handed out $5,000 to Tess Girard, of Cherry Valley’s Fifth Town Films and $2,000 to Marika Reilly, a manual osteopath setting up shop in Wellington.

According to Abbott, the program is the result of research into federal and provincial training programs and incentives run in the past 15 years.

“The No. 1 need is actually training and guidance, rather than money, so the program is heavily weighted on the training side,” she said. “If you’re not interested in putting in quite a bit of work on the online training and the workbook don’t bother applying. That’s a huge part of it.”

Through that training plan, potential entrepreneurs must develop a viable business plan before being able to pitch their business to a grants committee. Funding is not a guarantee.

“We have 16 training spots for April to March of this year and we have 11 grants,” Abbott said. “Not everyone who competes in the training will get a grant.”

Reilly learned about the program from a contact in Belleville who knew she was looking into setting up a practice in the county.

Reilly has her degree in kinesiology and she learned about osteopathy after visiting a manual osteopath herself. She describes it as a natural medicine philosophy that aims to restore function in the body by treating pain and imbalance through a hands-on, non-invasive technique.

“It was really beneficial for me in my personal experience,” she said. “I wanted to get into it and I had a background of learning about the body as well.”

While Reilly had the opportunity to work with an established practice, she liked the idea of creating her own business.
“I get to show everybody what my values are and I get to have control over specific details and visions I have,” she said.

Reilly met with Abbott and discussed her plans for the business before committing to the training program. They worked through it and started developing a pitch for a grant.

She said she really liked the structure the program brought to her business early on.

“It’s been a really good experience. I actually like that it’s a commitment and I have to be accountable and meet with Sandy,” she said. “That part of running your own business is pretty difficult. Having that accountability and staying on top of details and projections is really important.”

She said while the business part of her business was “pretty scary and overwhelming,” the program allows a step-by-step examination and is good at putting business concepts in easy-to-understand terms.

With Abbott’s help, the well-spoken Reilly was able to pitch her concept in five minutes and she was able to sell the notion of working in an aging community and helping to strengthen seniors’ joints through therapy.

Reilly learned from practice pitch panels, then earned her maximum allotment when it came time to address funders. She’ll have a chance to earn another $1,000 if she meets her targets.

Girard moved to the county six years ago with partner Ryan Noth. At the time, she was worried about continuing to have an artistic career, but she says she’s been busier than ever since Fifth Town Films was established in the county.
While business is booming, a trouble in a contract-driven industry like filmography is finding consistent revenue.

“The huge problem with film is there are peaks and valleys,” she said, noting money can run short at the end of a contract and that’s a time when a creative person is investing a lot of time in search of the next contract and cash flow.

Girard talked about a need for creating a passive revenue stream to create stability. She came to the Starter Plus program with an eye on maximizing her investment in equipment by starting to rent it to other filmmakers.

“If we can invest in our equipment, bringing it to rental standards, we can rent it to other professionals in the community,” she said. “It’s something you’d otherwise have to drive to Toronto to get.”

The extra training has allowed Girard to bounce ideas off Abbott and to examine her business practices with fresh eyes.

“Sandy has been an advisor, but is more like a mentor. She has been available all the time for every silly question we have,” she said. “Just having this package and training, it’s been very good to look at my business from a business perspective. Usually I’m looking at it from an arts perspective. It’s good to look at it with fresh eyes from a bird’s eye view.”

The business planning process allowed Girard a chance to look at practical applications of contract management, insurance, and investments in routine repairs.

“The actually investment in equipment is huge to begin with, so we’re just bringing it up to standards,” she said. “For me, (equipment deficiencies) are annoying, but I can put up with it. To rent it to someone, you can’t do that. It’s like giving someone a car with a flat tire.”

Girard said since arriving in the county, she’s seen more filmmakers over time, some choosing to live here and others visiting to shoot. She’s taken part in networking events organized by groups like Quintevation and the County’s community development department, so she has a good grasp on her sector.

The pitch panel was impressed with her plan and also gave the maximum allocation.

Girard said she’s been really fortunate to also have a community of entrepreneurial people around her in the county, offering support and links to programs like Start Plus.

“I’m really thankful to have opportunities like this in our area,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s unique ot this area, but something I wouldn’t have had before moving here.”

Abbott said the program is run all over Ontario, but word of mouth helps as does collaboration between local economic developers. The federally funded PELA CFDC, for example, is the first to support the provincial Starter Plus through collaboration.

“Here, we’re all trying to spread the word,” she said.

Training spots are still available in Prince Edward County and Lennox and Addington County. Participants can complete the training at their own pace, but spots are available quarterly. For information on the program, contact Abbott at 613-47604240 or at sandy@smallbusinessctr.com.