Small Business Forum 2010
In Canada, 99 per cent of new businesses created are classified as “small business”, defined as privately-owned and operated companies with less than 500 employees and having total annual revenue between $30,000 and $5 million. With thousands of new businesses starting each year, the Canadian economy depends on small business for its growth and strength. Statistics Canada data suggests that five per cent of all businesses employ fewer than five employees and 95 per cent employ fewer than 50. The sector contributes 80 per cent of all new jobs in the economy and generates roughly 45 per cent of Canada’s economic output, meaning Canada’s small-business sector represents the majority of Canadian business.
There are many agencies that are organized to help Canadian small businesses do their best and keep the heart of the economy pumping. On October 19 in Toronto, Enterprise Canada, a public and private sector alliance acting as an amalgamation of the many independent agencies created to assist small business, held the 10th annual Small Business Forum at the Toronto Metropolitan Convention Centre.
Dream Up: Let your customers take you there. That was the imparting message for attendees of the all-day event. Michael Williams, General Manager of Economic Development and Culture, described the forum best when he said, “The event brings together entrepreneurs and business development experts in an effort to help take businesses to the next level…presenting opportunities to learn, discover new technologies, network and celebrate some of our most exciting entrepreneurs.”
The Small Business Forum attracts a crowd as diverse as the 90 companies represented. From teems of university students, to a collection of experienced entrepreneurs, the attendance looked like a cross section of Canada’s small business community.
Harnessing the web
The day started with a keynote presentation from Country Director of Google Canada, Chris O’Neil. Although Google definitely does not qualify as a small business, it’s an important tool for entrepreneurs who wish to capitalize on the dynamic and expanding world of online business. In his speech, O’Neil outlined that more than a staggering $100 billion is being spent online in Canada alone, and cautioned the audience that there are more Canadian consumers online than there are businesses, and inspired entrepreneurs to ensure that Canadian businesses make the most of the potential of the World Wide Web.
Technology was the overarching theme of the event. O’Neil’s speech was followed by the opening of the Digital Room, which showcased new technology and presented the opportunity to try them out. There was a Twitter feed projected onto huge screens throughout the many rooms on the main floor of the Convention Centre where people could post a tweet, perhaps for their first time. Many attendees took advantage of the social media tutorial who had never before incorporated Facebook or Twitter into their business strategy but now recognized it as an important, if not imperative, tool.
Government agencies had a visible presence at the Forum. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade had a booth manned by staff ready to disperse information and answer questions to the lineup of people. They, too, had a major emphasis on social media marketing, encouraging entrepreneurs to use it as a tool to promote products and services as well as build social and business networks and communities. Tutorials were given on Web 2.0 and the potential for interaction and collaboration of these new tools to reach a large or targeted audience. For those who have been reluctant to use the web as a business tool, or for those who were intimidated, these tutorials and information sessions provided valuable incentives to do so.
On hand were more panels and seminars on topics ranging from how to pitch a new idea, to marketing tools, management, capital raising and growing a sustainable business. But again and again, social media was a prevalent topic even in the variety of topics. Erin Bury represents a company called Sprouter. As an advocate of community-building and web 2.0 technologies, she was one of the busiest women at the Forum and had a constant crowd around her booth while she explained why and how it is important to be the voice of one’s brand. We spoke in depth with Bury and will be running a feature on Sprouter.com in the next issue of CBJ.
Angel investing also had a high profile at the event. Thrust into the mainstream with popular shows such as CBC’s Dragons’ Den—which was accepting applications at the forum—and Shark Tank, angel investing is third-party capital investments for to propel start up businesses in exchange for ownership equity in most cases. Representatives from the Canadian Angel Investment Network were on hand to assist in joining start-up businesses with the investors they need to advance their business.
The Small Business Forum was undoubtedly a success. Attendees crammed the booths and conference rooms well into the evening. There was a tremendous amount of information exchanged and a sense of community did fill the air. People in attendance had a goal: either to help entrepreneurs and small business, or to find out how to take advantage of the many opportunities in the government, private and public sectors for small business. It was invigorating to see that small businesses are thriving and that the entrepreneurial spirit on which the economy is driven has not been dampened in the recent downturn. On the contrary.