Kootenay Employment Services LEAP! Coordinator Amber McGregor finds it difficult to tame her enthusiasm. “I’m excited to announce that Kootenay Employment Services and Simon Fraser University are collaborating for a third time to assist Creston’s creative and enthusiastic entrepreneurs.”
The Local Economic Accelerator Program (LEAP!) helps rural B.C. entrepreneurs evaluate their business idea, test their model, and modify it to create a sustainable business over a thirteen-week program. LEAP! was first piloted by Simon Fraser University’s Community Economic Development program in 2013. Since then, it has connected local entrepreneurs to free advice, potential investors, business partners, and customers. “While many entrepreneurship programs are classroom heavy, and participants are expected to slog through a lot of book work and theory, LEAP! is a boots-to-the-ground kind of program. You hit the ground running,” says McGregor. “You learn by doing.”
The LEAP! program offers evening classes, supported drop-in times, and a gala event that allows entrepreneurs to share their ideas with their community. “This is a fast-track program that gives Creston participants access to some of the best entrepreneurial content available,” says McGregor, “but it does require a lot of self-motivation and discipline. It requires a lot of independent work. Those in the program are expected to get out in the real world and talk to people, and interact, and test their ideas. There’s no hiding behind theory.”
A selection committee from KES and SFU review the candidates and select six participants to move forward in the program. “We prefer candidates who, in some way, can turn their idea into a social enterprise,” says McGregor. Social enterprises achieve some type of social, cultural, community, economic and/or environmental outcomes. “But it’s certainly not the only criteria. And most organizations become something beyond just employing one individual. There’s usually a greater vision than that.”
The entire training program, including all tuition and course materials, is valued at over $2000. Funding is provided by the Government of Canada through the Canada-British Columbia Job Fund and support from KES. There is also prize money awarded during the barn-raising gala, not only from the program itself, but also from other community groups. “The six chosen candidates pitch their idea in front of a hundred guests, and then the guests vote on which individual they feel is going to use the prize money in the best way,” says McGregor. “But I think most graduates of the program would tell you that the money awarded at the gala is just icing on the cake. The real prize is the program itself.” To date, 77% of LEAP! participants indicated a desire to start up their business after finishing the program. Province-wide, 28 businesses are now operating in the market.
McGregor stresses the importance of community support. “It’s always difficult to start a new business in a small town, and we as a community need to step up and show that we support new ideas and businesses. We need to provide a positive environment that allows for growth. Investing in our community as a whole means investing in small business. It really is a symbiotic relationship.”
The SFU website reiterates McGregor’s point. “LEAP! helps build a community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, directly driving economic growth and strengthening the local economy. Communities with strong local economies are more resilient, have a lower carbon footprint, and are better insulated against global economic ups and downs.”
Previous participants and award winners include Aaron Carter of On the Farm Welding, Jessica Piccinin of The Walking Olive Tree, and Ilana Cameron of Lark Coffee Roasters.
Classes at KES run from January 18th to March 29th. The program officially kicks off on January 18th but McGregor will be gathering the successful six participants together for the first drop-in evening on January 16th. The program ends on April 19th. To apply to the program, contact Amber McGregor at 250-428-5655. The application deadline is January 6th, 2017.