Ontario’s Best Kept Secret for Business

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Entrepreneurs discover a community of collaboration and innovation in Windsor-Essex.

Building a strong local economy doesn’t have to involve investing millions of dollars in technology and infrastructure. It can start with small steps by independent business owners. They can include people of all ages and backgrounds – from millennials to the newly retired.

The vast majority of new jobs in today’s ever-changing economy are created by small businesses and the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre – a department of the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation in partnership with the Ontario government – has taken a number of steps to clear the way for independent investment and business attraction.

Sabrina DeMarco, executive director of the centre, said a partnership with Music Canada and Canada’s Music Incubator has created a program for area artists and musicians to help them understand business fundamentals as they embark upon their cultural careers.

“They need to know how to market themselves and set up a business model and our partnership is providing all the support necessary so they can achieve their goals,” said DeMarco.

The music boot camp is already drawing interest from major industry players.

“Building a strong music economy is certainly worth the effort given the economic, social and cultural benefits that accrue to a community,” said Amy Terrill, executive vice-president of Music Canada. “More and more cities are awakening to this opportunity.”

“The regional approach in WindsorEssex uniquely offers an opportunity to identify and build on the strengths in each part of the region, while advancing the community as a whole,” added Terrill. “Music Canada is happy to support this initiative and we look forward to seeing the results.”

Vel Omazic, executive director of Canada’s Music Incubator, is also firmly behind the initiative.“

CMI ispleased to collaborate with the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation to build a vibrant music sector and provide emerging artists and artist manager entrepreneurs with customized ongoing mentorship, access to expert business professionals and connectivity to the larger music industry.” said Omazic.

“I see great potential for the music industry to grow in the Windsor-Essex region,” added Omazic.

DeMarco said that an ecosystem has also been developed in Windsor-Essex to support entrepreneurs by connecting them with mentors, service providers and information on seed money, grants and Angel investors.

Windsor’s Downtown Business Accelerator provides office staff and space for start-ups to get their feet on the ground and the WeTech Alliance provides support and mentorship to entrepreneurs planning on launching a technology start-up.

Additional assistance can be obtained from the University of Windsor’s EPICentre, an organization which supports students and graduates interested in launching their own businesses, and St. Clair College’s Genesis Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre which helps students bring new products to processes to the marketplace.

In the Windsor-Essex Region, economic growth is happening on a weekly basis and much of it has been created by entrepreneurs who have realized how attractive, affordable and welcoming the region is for new business owners.

Tucked away on two adjacent streets in Windsor’s downtown core are three new businesses recently opened by Steven Thompson and John Ansell, a pair of serial entrepreneurs who moved to Windsor from Toronto four years ago.

The pair, who are former clients of the small business centre, opened the Squirrel Cage, an upscale café, in 2012 and have recently followed that success with A Dog’s Breakfast, a breakfast café, and Buuntz Company Ice Cream. There are also plans for a home décor store as well.

“We were attracted by Windsor’s affordable real estate prices and we were fortunate to find a gem of a building in the heart of downtown on a beautifully landscaped street,” said Ansell, whose business partner Steven has family in Windsor. “We are pretty much sold on Windsor and we’re in for the long haul.”

In order to encourage a new generation of investment, the Windsor Essex Active Retirement Community Initiative teamed up with SBC to launch Start Something New, designed to attract active retirees to the area because of its affordability, quality of life, climate and range of recreational activities.

And it was that creative marketing campaign which first attracted the attention of Carl and Rita Hulme, a pair of Orangeville residents who were looking for a place to buy a retirement property.

“It all started when we decided to look for a house on the water and we realized that wouldn’t be possible financially in the Toronto area,” said Carl Hulme who retired after spending 30 years with a multi-national company. “We took a trip to the Windsor-Essex area one weekend and within weeks we had bought a house in Harrow and used it as a summer home for a couple of years before we retired.”

Within a year, they opened Blimeys, a small store on Harrow’s main street and stocked it with thousands of products from the United Kingdom such as: shirts, caps, sweaters and frozen foods.
The Hulmes are sold on the notion of independent business investment in this region and have joined the Small Business Centre to help mentor, advise and support any other entrepreneurs looking to take the plunge into uncharted waters.