January 12, 2005

A new business-plan development initiative is aiming to build confidence and awareness of self employment for Northern Ontario young people, while supporting the region’s local economy.

The Northwest Business Plan Contest is a competition for full-time high school students in the Kenora-Rainy River District.  It’s an opportunity for creativity and imagination to meet professionalism and practicality in the development of a viable business plan.  Last year, contestant Jordan Sampson entered the contest with his plan to operate a yard maintenance business in his community.  “You learn about owning a business, running a business… and the success and challenges involved,” says Sampson.

Sampson’s idea was one of 69 submissions that the contest has received in its four-year existence.  Entrants are encouraged to create a feasible business plan based on an area they’re interested in.  Free counseling and business plan development tools are made available to all applicants to assist with the plan’s design.

Carmela Laffin, a Consultant with the Northwest Business Centre hopes the contest will motivate students to think about the idea of being their own boss, while at the same time prepare them for the work and dedication that will be required to ensure their potential business is viable.

Laffin explained that cash prizes, the chance to compete in the provincial competition and a free iPod, are all used to excite youth to enter the contest with their ideas, but at the same time, the contest builds awareness and respect for a well-considered business plan.

“Students [who compete] are in the position to realistically consider entrepreneurship as a viable career path,” says Laffin.

By increasing the awareness of small business entrepreneurships at an early age, Laffin says young people can compete in the business market without leaving the region – a beneficial outcome for both the student and the Kenora-Rainy River District.

Youth living in small communities often experience difficulty securing their perfect job or are disappointed due to limited recreation, businesses, products or services to meet their need, says Laffin.  This project encourages students to think outside the box.

“If their community does not offer what they’re looking for, why not come up with a business plan, and prove it can happen in the community?” she says.

Laffin knows that when students invest in their own community, it creates jobs and economic stability.  She says it allows students to stay where they are most comfortable and familiar.  In urban centres, competition is more fierce and it is often more difficult just to make a mark.  In your own community, you can access information, know the best location to set up a business and have a sense of who are the business leaders and existing competitors.

“Youth are the future, and these small businesses created by youth drive our economy,” she says.