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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gottingen Street's opportunities

Young people can become entrepreneurs

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 5:30 PM

Walking around Gottingen Street the other day, I was struck by how many empty storefronts there are---it’s hard to put an exact number on it, because there are potential retail spaces on side streets and upstairs, but I’d put the empty figure at somewhere around 20 percent. See the map above.

The vacancies don't make sense to me---with alll the new condos and apartments being built in the area, why aren’t more businesses opening up to cater to the resulting boom in neighbourhood population?

I put that question to Michelle Strum, owner of Alteregos Coffee House and Backpackers Hostel (2193 Gottingen Street, 431-3170). Strum explains that some of the vacancies reflect a relunctance on the building owners' part to rent, while others are because the spaces are too large for the kind of businesses that could succeed on the street---she mentions craft businesses, bakeries and second-hand stores as examples. I think a barber would do well on the street, or a neighbourhood bar, or a used bookstore.

The too-large-to-rent-for-starter-businesses argument seems plausible, especially when you look at, for example, this building:

Strum tells me that other empty storefronts on the street are over-priced. The old Viva's space, for example, rents at $1,500, she says, which would be a steal downtown but not on Gottingen.
Still, there are plenty of other empty storefronts that are small enough to house starter businesses, and there are at least 10 more new storefronts either just completed, or in the works.

All of this, says Strum, should be seen not as a problem, but as an opportunity: there's a growing and sophisticated neighbourhood around Gottingen, and downward pressure on rents for potential businesses.

It's likely that a lot of the young people in the neighbourhood are not aware of their own potential for starting businesses. Strum herself had exactly $0 in the bank when she started her business, but got the whole thing rolling while working as a bartender, with free labour help from her friends and financial help in the tune of $15,000 from the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development, which was matched by another $15,000 from the Canadian Youth Business Fund.

"They basically just loaned me the money because I had a good idea and was enthusiastic about it," she says.

The CEED and CYBF loan amounts have been upped to $20,000 each, and as Strum tells it, the money's there for the asking.

I asked the CEED folks for more information, and I've posted their response below. But there are still other forms of help available---Strum mentions the Black Business Initiative and the Centre for Women and Business.

Initially, the best resource for someone thinking of opening a business on Gottingen is Strum herself, who is more than willing to help walk potential entrepreneurs through the process, help them meet fellow shop owners and potential lending agencies, or just be someone to bounce ideas off.

For me, I've long been critical of the massive government subsidies to well-established businesses and the already-rich, so I'm quite pleased that there exist programs to help young people with no connections and no money get in on the ground floor. A culture of entrepreneurship is a good thing at the local level, and can bring diversity and character to the neighbourhood. If you've got that idea that's been floating around the back of your head, it's worth vetting it out, I think.

Here's the response I got from CEED:

At CEED, we believe entrepreneurship is more than starting businesses. Entrepreneurship is a state of mind and a skill set, to think creatively and identify opportunities. We have three umbrellas – Small Business Resources, Entrepreneurial Training & Education, and Social Entrepreneurship

1. Small Business Resources
CEED supported start up for 170 small businesses last year – which created close to 300 jobs

a) Financing
CEED offers three small business loan programs within Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford: Seed Capital Loan, Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) loan, and Students-in-Business loan. By applying for a loan through CEED, you will be granted access to ongoing support and guidance provided by the financing team, specifically to build your business plan.

b) Self-Employment Benefits Program (SEB)
The Self-Employment Benefits Program (SEB) assist aspiring entrepreneurs become self-sufficient through self-employment. This 40-week program is available to those who are Employment Insurance (EI) eligible and provides them with income and entrepreneurial support as they start a business. The program is comprised of mandatory workshops, and allows access to ongoing support from our SEB advisors and complimentary small business resource programs.

2. Entrepreneurial Training and Education
a) Entrepreneurial Training
We believe that everyone has the potential to become more entrepreneurial in their daily lives, regardless of background or career experience. We deliver customized entrepreneurial training programs to assist people broaden their minds and skill sets, such as: educators, business professionals, students, New Canadians and community members. Discovering and enhancing entrepreneurial traits have been proven to strengthen existing workplace, new business and individual employee success.

b) Entrepreneurship Education
CEED’s education goal is simple: to promote, support and share the benefits of entrepreneurship to as many teachers and students from elementary to university levels as possible. To accomplishing this goal, we work with educators and community partners to develop entrepreneurial tools that are timely, relevant and appealing to students and teachers. Developed in partnership with leading post-secondary institutions and various levels of government, our materials and resources promote entrepreneurship as a viable career path for students intrigued by a creative, self-directed career option.

3. Social Entrepreneurship
a)Youth Employability Project (YEP)
YEP supports youth, who are attached to the social services system, at various stages along their path towards employability. Using a participant-centered approach, youth meet one-on-one with YEP Youth Navigators who assist them in developing their employability skills, though entrepreneurial exercises. With YEP’s ongoing support, youth build upon the personal characteristics, skills, attitudes and resources to develop bright future for themselves.

b) Second Chance
The Second Chance program offers just that – a second chance for youth to redirect their lives after conflict with the law. With its tagline, “teaching the business of life,” the Second Chance program assists youth to set life goals through three streams: entrepreneurial, vocational and educational. Through entrepreneurial exercises, community projects and personal guidance, Second Chance participants evolve into more mature and productive citizens. Due to its popularity, Second Chance programs run in three locations across the province.

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