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Nova Scotia town aims to draw new businesses with "'Dragon’s Den'-style" contest

nnn-web-16082017-Start-up Port Hawkesbury-sw
nnn-web-16082017-Start-up Port Hawkesbury-sw

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — An initiative that organizers are dubbing "the next great thing for Port Hawkesbury" is looking for participants.

In early July, the Eastern-Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN) and the Town of Port Hawkesbury launched Start-up Port Hawkesbury.

“The initiative is a Dragon’s Den-style contest, where we will see one new business awarded with two years of free rent, pro bono legal and graphic design and, possibly, other prizes as we go along,” John Beaton, ESREN chief executive officer, said.

He described the contest as “really exciting.”

“The whole idea is not necessarily to start one business, but to try to build an entrepreneurship culture in the area,” Beaton said.

“We want to see people getting excited about starting a business.”

As for the alluded to prize package, the contest winner will receive a location — rent-free for two years — from the Town of Port Hawkesbury, along with legal service (EMM Law), business development assistance (ESREN) and a $20,000 business loan option (CBDC).

“It was between ESREN and the Town of Port Hawkesbury — trying to come up with ways to encourage new business start-ups,” Misty MacDonald of ESREN, who is leading the Star-up Port Hawkesbury initiative, said.

Beaton expanded further on the genesis of the idea.

Besides meeting goals outlined in the One Nova Scotia Report and “boosting the economy,” he said, it is also about helping entrepreneurs.

“In our work, we come across many who have a fear of making that step — the next step; I guess they are not an entrepreneur until they are.

“We are hoping to make that easy by removing the risk for the first two years by having everything done for them,” Beaton added.

He noted the winner will have to come up with a new business idea.

“It has to be very unique — innovation is great — and not competing with other businesses in the area, so that we have something that will stand alone and make it in the long run,” Beaton said.

What to do

There are three stages to the Start-up Port Hawkesbury process, starting with the creation of a 90-second video outlining the business idea.

The deadline for submissions is September 1.

“After that, whoever makes it to round two, they will go before a judging panel,” Beaton noted.

The final judging will take place during in November.

“So far, we are getting a lot of excitement about it,” Beaton said.

MacDonald agreed.

“There is a lot of talk about it, a lot of people saying that they have intentions to put pitches forward,” she said, noting the deadline is more than one month away.

Although based in Port Hawkesbury, in terms of the rent-free location, contestants can be from anywhere, as long as they are a Canadian citizen.

“It has to be located there because the town and the (Strait Area) Chamber of Commerce have entered into a partnership, where they are going to be able to lease space free, and that’s where the space is located,” MacDonald explained.

To help interested people get started, ESREN is hosting a series of workshops that will deliver, as a press release indicated, “the necessary tools and resources needed to get a new business off the ground.”

The workshops focus on generating business ideas and developing pitch presentations, aligning with the requirements of the contest’s first round of submissions.

She noted the workshops are open to everyone, whether or not they decide to enter the contest.

“So it is for anybody who wants to participate and get that knowledge of entrepreneurial skill set is welcome,” MacDonald added.

For more information, or to register, email startup@esren.ca or call 902-623-2780.

Let’s talk

Beaton said the overall focus is “ to get people talking about opening a business.”

“You go to Halifax any day of the week — I keep saying this to people — but every day of the week there are pitching contests going on everywhere. There are a lot of innovative ideas coming out,” he added.

“We don’t necessarily always see that, rurally, so we want to inject a little bit of that activity. We want people to look at entrepreneurship as an option to stay in rural Nova Scotia, as opposed to – ‘I can’t find a job so I have to go to the city,’” he added.

Beaton noted the ESREN plan is to have the same initiative in its other partnering municipalities.

“The only contingent is that we have to make sure that we have space,” he said.

“Port Hawkesbury is in that unique position where several buildings aren’t being used … other municipalities do not have that luxury.

“We will have to get creative and figure out other ways to make the contest work in those areas,” Beaton added.

MacDonald encouraged people to visit ESREN’s website — (click on Start-up Port Hawkesbury) — and take a look at the broad outline of the contest and the prize package.

“The whole idea is for us to work with the businesses to get to where they need to be and also to continue that partnership, in the future, so that all the supports are in place to help ensure their viability and future success,” she said.

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