By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — Imagine if instead of telling kids to “Get a job!”, we said, “Start a business!”? Imagine how different our Main Streets would look? For a country that was built by small business owners, some of whom became large, we have become increasingly adverse to entrepreneurship.
In this country’s early days, the settlers farmed and logged and opened shops. Self-employment was common. Many of the early settlers left their homeland because they could never own property or a business. Being able to do so fulfilled a dream.
It’s amazing how quickly we’ve lost touch with that.
Today, it seems as though the only place where innovation and entrepreneurship are celebrated is the tech industry. There everyone wants to start something; founders are revered and failure is seen as a right of passage. That’s just not the case outside that small corner of the economy.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.
In small towns, small businesses are much more prevalent. We have independent farmers and tradespeople, restaurants and hardware stores, mechanics and hair salons. Many of these are born out of necessity, someone needs to sell food and fuel. For small towns, keeping an entrepreneurial spirit is vital to retaining the services we have and adding the ones we want.
Last week, I came across a Manitoba Co-operator article called “Boissevain residents keen to ‘mind their own business’”. Published in April, the article talked about the innovative steps the community has taken to encourage and promote entrepreneurship.
In the article, Marj Billaney, host of a chamber-sponsored business fair, said, “The next time someone says, ‘You know what this town needs,’ say, ‘How can I help you get that started?’…And let’s not say to the kids, ‘Go get a job.’ Let’s say, ‘What kind of business can you start?’”
Kamara Sisson, who owns a hair salon, was one of the speakers at the event. She explained that after moving to the community with her husband and young family, she was “terrified to own a business.” All she knew was how to do hair. She was able to access advice from a provincial business start program, but believes that many people are unaware these supports exist and never pursue their business ideas.
Speakers at the conference talked about the positives of building and owning a business in rural Manitoba. They spoke about it being easier to build a good reputation by word of mouth in a smaller community and how much they like working in a culture where reputations and relationships mean something.
Through the evening, they talked about ideas to help support startups, including a fund set up by existing businesses to provide seed funding for startups and low-cost commercial space to be used by new businesses.
I love the way the business community is proactively working to strengthen itself. It isn’t us versus them, established versus new businesses. From encouraging young people to start businesses to helping people access the resources they need to make an idea a reality, this is radically different from what I see in many communities.
There is nothing inherently special about Boissevain, it’s not something in the water. It’s a conscious effort and recognition that small businesses are vital to the town’s success.
For our communities to remain viable, we need small businesses and we need someone to step up and start them. But for that to happen, we need to think about entrepreneurship in a different light, we need to make it top of mind. But we need to do this ourselves as communities, no one else will do it for us.