Contest aims to assist new businesses

PORT HAWKESBURY: Aspiring business owners may soon have the opportunity to launch a new business in a rent-free space within the town boundaries.

Following a pitch from the Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN), Port Hawkesbury Town Council has agreed in principle to donate an available space within the town to the winner of a contest that is designed to see would-be entrepreneurs making their pitch in front of a panel of judges.

According to ESREN executive director John Beaton, the “Start-Up Port Hawkesbury” initiative would see the contest taking place this September if all goes according to plan over the next two months.

“The idea is that this has to happen in Port Hawkesbury, and it has to stay open for at least two years,” Beaton explained during last week’s regular town council meeting.

While Beaton stressed that the winning contestant would still have to pay utility costs, the new business would receive such financial assistance as a $20,000 loan from InRich Business Development Centre (BDC). During the council meeting, Beaton also responded to a question from Deputy Mayor Trevor Boudreau with assurances that REN staff can assist potential contest entrants in preparing their pitches for the panel of judges.

“We’re going to provide support such as training, counseling and mentoring, and we’re going to connect entrepreneurs with the necessary resources,” Beaton pointed out.

The proposal drew immediate praise from town councillor Hughie MacDougall, a past board chair for the ESREN’s predecessor, the Strait-Highlands Regional Development Agency (S-HRDA).

“I can remember when I first came here [to the council table, in 1994] and was the chair of the RDA, and I’ve been on a number of committees over the years – ECBC, RDA, ACOA – I want you to know that this is one of the best ideas that I’ve ever seen in all those years,” MacDougall told Beaton.

Speaking to reporters following the council meeting, Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton recalled her own “scary” early days as a Port Hawkesbury restaurant owner and praised the ESREN for its efforts to assist the next wave of Strait area entrepreneurs.

“I think this contest kind of takes away a little bit of the scariness of starting your own business, keeping it going, having rent and all the things that kind of come with that, like staff,” Chisholm-Beaton suggested.

“What this does is that it mitigates a little bit of that risk. And also, with all of the support that comes through the REN and through the participating parties, it makes that process even less scary.”

Mayor Chisholm-Beaton also described the ESREN contest as a proactive approach towards finding tenants for one or more vacant spaces around Port Hawkesbury.

“One of the last things I want to look at when I’m driving around town is vacant spaces,” she remarked.

“To have the ability to be part of a process to incubate a business that could potentially be here for the next 20 years and potentially be providing jobs in our town, I’m proud of that idea.”