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Barrie-based contest giving businesses a boost

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Chad Ballantyne, owner of The Creative Space in Barrie, sits in the smOffice over looking Dunlop Street, part of a giant prize package being offered to entrepreneurs. 
Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/QMI Agency

Chad Ballantyne, owner of The Creative Space in Barrie, sits in the smOffice over looking Dunlop Street, part of a giant prize package being offered to entrepreneurs. Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/QMI Agency

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A Barrie-based Canada-wide contest for entrepreneurs is taking applications from start-ups and would-be business owners.

The new smOffice contest launched recently is a collaborative effort between The Creative Space and local supporters, including Meridian Credit Union, Pratt Homes, BDO, Pizza Hut and Busch Systems.

"The smOffice contest is a grassroots effort to showcase how smaller communities like ours can rally support and kick start some entrepreneur activism. We hope to inspire other communities to do the same," said Chad Ballantyne, of The Creative Space, which is home to more than 45 small businesses and startups. "We want to showcase Barrie as a great place to start and grow a company and we’ll prove it with the smOffice competition."

Ballantyne said the winner of the contest will receive $60,000 in prizes, including six months of intense business incubation in an area he calls "Canada's smallest office" in The Creative Space facility downtown. They will also have access to an entrepreneur centre, a starter bank account, mentorship and advice from Profit Top 50 companies, a 606-square-foot bachelor suite at Pratt Home's Manhattan Condos (four kilometres from downtown), a MacBook Air laptop computer, a Sondors e-bike to scoot around town and "all the pizza they can eat to fuel the creative process."

The smOffice contest winner will have an opportunity to acquire business savvy first-hand to get their ideas off the ground, he added.

"Almost all the mentorship will be one-on-one and be scheduled strategically over the six months so they get a broad spectrum of business advice and personalities," Ballantyne said.  

Legal advice will come from Andrew Zyp of Stewart Esten, accounting tips from Stephen Jones of BDO Barrie, business banking from Meridian Credit Union and web design from Drew Deker of NetGain.

Sponsors will also be part of the mentor schedule as well, including Brian Harris of Pizza Hut, Craig Busch from the Busch Group of Companies and Ballantyne from Rhubarb Media and The Creative Space.

Business incubation is a combination of programs, Ballantyne said.

One is from the Regional Innovation Centre's Venture Lab, accessing the first stage of their BUILD program (Begin), which focuses on critical steps to develop and recognize a viable business concept.  The larger program is called VistaShift, provided by owner Ron Neumann, a startup pro with invaluable advice about strategic business planning, expanding organizational awareness and bolstering sales and marketing.

The contest winner will also have a session with Sandy Robinson from Georgian Angel Network, which connects investors in the Barrie, South Georgian Bay and Muskoka/Huntsville region with entrepreneurs needing equity capital to commercialize their innovations.

"The rest of the business incubation is a combination of mentor sessions with local entrepreneurs, attending workshops over the six months and being influenced by The Creative Space community of 40-plus entrepreneurs," Ballantyne said, adding the contest is a great example of a public/private project. "Both the City of Barrie (Invest Barrie) and Downtown Barrie (BIA) have joined us as sponsors. Under Invest Barrie, we’ll be tapping into their resources for small-business support via programs and possible government funding opportunities.

"Entrepreneurship is about innovation and a new way of thinking."

Although it's a sweet package for whoever wins, the smOffice contest is not open for Barrie residents, Ballantyne said.

“We thought inviting a guest (the winner) into our hometown would be a great opportunity to showcase the best of what Barrie’s start-up scene has to offer,” he said, adding the contest will put the spotlight on Barrie as an entrepreneur hub. “And sometimes entrepreneurs need the right motivation to get away and focus.”

Applications from across Canada are being accepted until mid-May.

To learn more, visit www.smoffice.ca. To apply, visit smoffice.ca/criteria.

ian.mcinroy@sunmedia.ca


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