A pair of young entrepreneur programs are leading to numerous business startups and expansions in the Sault Ste. Marie area. Summer Company provides grants and mentoring for high school and university students to operate a firm during the summer months. Starter Company offers enhanced training and potential access to funding for youth between the ages of 18 and 29, who are not returning to school, to start or grow a business.
Funded by the Province of Ontario, the two programs are administered in the region by the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation. Both programs have generated a number of success stories in recent years. Jeff Greco is a prime example.
While studying for a computer science degree at Algoma University in 2011, Greco decided to wet his feet in the world of entrepreneurship. He signed up for Summer Company and began operating a website marketing businesses. A few years later, when his firm, Cavera Inc., was incorporated and established, he enrolled in Starter Company. This support helped the business grow and thrive.
“The Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation has been a big part of where my business is today,” said Greco. “It’s because of their assistance and the programs they offer that I was able to find success as an entrepreneur. I would strongly encourage anyone with the slightest interest in owning a business to take advantage of the Corporation’s services.”
Today, Cavera Inc. is a full-service creative marketing agency. With its business and clientele nearly tripling in each of the past three years, the company moved to a larger building at 875 Queen Street East in early-2015. As well, the firm recently added two more marketing and communications experts to its workforce. One of the new hires spent the past decade working as a branding and public relations specialist in the United States before moving back to Sault Ste. Marie a few months ago.
“The most exciting thing for me as the business owner, in terms of growth, is the ability to employ the right people and pay competitive wages,” said Greco. “The reason that we’re able to deliver the great services we do is because everyone has their job and we complement each other so well.”
For future plans, Greco hopes to continue expanding his clientele and staff team. “I see the importance in organic growth – growing too fast or forcing growth can sink the ship,” he said evenly. “We see huge potential in diversifying our services and targeting clients from outside of Sault Ste. Marie.”
Meanwhile, since 2010, 72 students in the region took part in Summer Company. Some of them, like Greco, turned their business into full-time, year-round operations, which speaks to the value of the program. Also, since it was unveiled in 2014, 32 young entrepreneurs in Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma District have enrolled in Starter Company, with business startups and expansions including Knight Legal Solutions, Contained Space, and Jax&Hail SugarBrig.
“Providing support and opportunity for young entrepreneurs continues to be a priority for the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation,” said Andrew Ross, the organization’s General Manager of Enterprise Services. “Assisting youth in their business endeavours helps position them for a lifetime of success in entrepreneurship, which ultimately supports the long-term economic viability of the community as a whole.”
While aiding young entrepreneurs, the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation also works to attract external businesses and investment while assisting clients in manufacturing, lottery and gaming, transportation, forestry, and other key sectors. Over the past five years, this activity generated 167 business startups and expansions, which helped create or retain more than 1,600 jobs in the community.