Sault Ste. Marie has a long history in manufacturing and harnessing natural resources to produce everything from steel, forest products, and even renewable energy.
Our community learned long ago that relying solely on resource-based industry and manufacturing has its challenges. Sault Ste. Marie has worked hard (through initiatives like Destiny Sault Ste. Marie) to diversify its economy over the last several decades, with varying degrees of success.
While we are still dependent on major employers such as Essar Steel Algoma and Tenaris Algoma Tubes, Sault Ste. Marie’s economy has grown to include renewable energy investments, a burgeoning IT sector, a growing forest sector (post St. Mary’s Paper closure) and other potential growth engines.
Post-secondary education has experienced significant growth over the last decade. Both Sault College and Algoma University are attracting more and more international students, and students from outside the Algoma region. Including Lake Superior State University, the twin-Soo’s boast over 2,000 post-secondary graduates a year and nearly 6,500 full-time students.
This presents an immense opportunity on several fronts. With our low population growth and aging population, students and young professionals represent an important demographic for the future. We need to focus on keeping these graduates in our community. One way we can do that is to encourage and support entrepreneurship and new business startups.
Post-secondary students, and even high school students, should be encouraged to start their own business or explore opportunities to collaborate with other students and entrepreneurs to enhance their skillsets. Our post-secondary institutions should find more ways to expose their students to entrepreneurship, local support services and resources, as well as funding opportunities.
A culture of entrepreneurship within our institutions must be created – one that will feed the development of new ideas, technologies, innovations and startups.
Other communities and institutions have done this successfully, most notably the Waterloo region.
The Small Business Connection
To develop a thriving small business sector, we need more entrepreneurs, and as a community we need to support our risk-takers and creative-thinkers.
Small business helps to grow and strengthen communities, and create opportunities.
Small business drives innovation, leads job creation and builds wealth like no other economic engine in our nation. Over 98 percent of businesses in Canada have fewer than 100 employees, and small business employs almost 70 percent of the private workforce.
Small Business Services
There are several organizations in Sault Ste. Marie that deliver free small business support services, advisory services, government funding programs and access to capital. The following organizations help to build a connected network of service providers to support new entrepreneurs:
The Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC) provides free business advisory services and assistance for new businesses, as well as delivering workshops, events and the Ontario government’s Summer Company and Starter Company programs.
The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC) works with local technology and science companies to build those sectors within the Algoma District. YouLaunch, (a program of SSMIC) provides targeted services and programs to support elementary, secondary and post-secondary students — engaging them in various entrepreneurial activities.
Social Entrepreneurship Evolution (SEE - a program of Algoma University’s NORDIK Institute) supports the development of social enterprises in the Algoma District.
The Community Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie and Area (CDC) provides business counseling along with business financing. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) also provides business financing to new and existing businesses.
Funding programs are available through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund (NOHFC), Fednor, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and more.
The concept of business incubation improves the odds of survival and success for new businesses. Sault Ste. Marie entrepreneurs have access to this type of support.
SSMEDC is opening a mixed-used small business incubator (Millworks) in the Machine Shop building at Mill Square, providing 5,000 square feet of office space, and collaborative co-working space as well as targeted programs designed to educate and support local startups and entrepreneurs.
SSMIC’s business incubator operates in 4,250 square feet of space on the Algoma University campus, providing support for startups with a focus on innovative products and services from the technology and science sectors. SSMIC also operates an Accelerator Hub downtown, supporting high-growth companies.
Two years ago we launched StartUP Sault (part of the Startup Canada network), an entrepreneur-led, volunteer-driven movement to help build a thriving startup community.
With the support of Startup Canada and our local community enterprise partners, StartUP Sault works to connect local entrepreneurs via networking opportunities and events like Startup Drinks and Startup Book Club. We also connect entrepreneurs with the existing resources available in the community.
Our goal is to build a sense of community for our members. By regularly coming together, and meeting new entrepreneurs, we are enhancing the opportunities to collaborate, share knowledge and even partner on new business ventures.
We have launched several tools to help the business community including a Startup Ecosystem Infographic and a Startup Roadmap outlining all of the community resources available for entrepreneurs at the Idea, Launch and Growth stage of business in Sault Ste. Marie. Both tools are available at www.startupsault.com.
Together with our community partners and existing resources, we believe we can help build a thriving and supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem. One that promotes and enables the creation of more startups in the community.
For more information about Startup Sault, visit www.startupsault.ca. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/startupsault) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/startupsault) to keep up to date on Startup Sault events, startup tips and other useful information.
About the Author: Nevin Buconjic is a serial entrepreneur, author and community builder. Nevin is the founder and community lead for StartUP Sault. Find him at www.nevinbuconjic.com