June 11, 2004

The future of entrepreneurship is looking bright, thanks to an annual high school business plan competition for students attending high school in the Kenora Rainy River District.  Now in its third year, the Northwest Business Plan Contest is a joint venture of the Northwest Business Centre and the Community Futures, who aim to assist aspiring entrepreneurs of any age to realize their dreams of operating their own business.
The Northwestern Business Plan Contest has four main objectives:  to educate students in the process of creating and evaluating new business ventures; to prepare students for opportunities in self employment sometime throughout their career; promote opportunities available in the economy of North West Ontario; and generate interest in the contest, and receive entries that can be submitted to regional and provincial competitions.
“This project encourages students to act on their ambitions, to think like entrepreneurs, and offers support as they develop a viable, comprehensive business plan,” says Carmela Laffin, Coordinator of the contest, of the Northwest Business Centre.
The competition, which began in December 2001, and received CFDC funding in January 2002, provides an integrated learning experience for students.  Taking a full semester to complete, the Contest incorporates all the elements taught throughout their course as outlined within the Ontario Curriculum.  The Contest gives students a chance to research, develop, implement, and evaluate entrepreneurial projects within their own community, and they “learn by doing” in a supportive and risk-free environment.  Participating in the contest provides students with additional skills training in entrepreneurship and community leadership – so the community benefits, as well.
Local industry thrives on the growth and diversification of the community, so the Contest’s planners hope that students will take this opportunity to create their own employment opportunities close to home.
“The future of our communities is dependent on the retention of youth once they complete their education,” says Laffin.  “We hope that introducing entrepreneurship as a viable career option, will help us meet our goal of retaining more youth.”
Building on the success of the event last May, this year’s competition will take place again at Minaki Yurt Adventures.  Reinforcing the need for perseverance and adaptability, contestants will participate in team-building activities like rock climbing and zip-lining, as well as networking with their business-minded peers.  Students will also benefit from meeting with local, successful, business owners to discuss the challenges, opportunities, risks and rewards associated with entrepreneurship.  The day traditionally wraps up with the announcement of the winning plan, judged to be the most comprehensive and viable.
The winning student can go on to represent the community at the Regional and Provincial Competition.  The winner of the 2003 Business Plan Contest, Mr. Rowen Bruetsch, currently attending Dryden High School, represented Northwestern Ontario in the Provincial Ontario Secondary School Business Plan Competition, which took place on January 17, 2004, in North Bay.
Submissions to the Contest are intended to reflect real opportunities and, although there is no obligation to the student to implement their business plan, several students have gone on to implement their plans and start successful enterprises.  Local businesses, including Kids in Action, Happy’s Golf Land, Paintbrush, and Circular Solutions, all got their start thanks to the Contest giving them a nudge in the right direction.
New marketing tactics are making their mark with the local youth population.  Centred on a "survival" theme, marketing tools include a radio jingle, which is played during school announcements, and a new website with a survival theme soundtrack and graphic format, which has garnered local media attention.  Registering for this year’s competition, is a web-based experience featuring tools, tips and bonus activities.  Upon registering online, students can follow links to a business tool kit and resources like Statistics Canada, community profiles, and business plan templates.
Interest in the contest continues to grow.  The first annual contest in 2001-2002 resulted in 12 entries, two of which were implemented the following summer.  The 2002-2003 entries grew, with three students out of 25 entries implementing their plans.  Numbers are promising for the third annual contest – 12 submissions have already been received, in advance of this year’s May deadline.  This year the planning committee aims to double submissions and to increase implementation – for the betterment of local youth, and so the future of entrepreneurship in the district will continue to grow.