By Stefano Grande
We often travel to different cities, walk around their downtowns, and are inspired by young entrepreneurs who have incredible business concepts.
You know, that coffee house with flair; or a locally owned restaurant with mom and dad cooking marvelous meals in the back; or the eccentric clothing store pumping out chic fashions using that old but reliable sewing machine with patterns pinned up on the wall.
And we wonder: where are they in Winnipeg?
You might be surprised to learn that there are new and unique businesses popping up right here in our own downtown. From EPH Apparel, a couple of young guys making a bold move to open a men’s clothing store on Garry Street, to two other young lads opening up restaurant Sana Souphouse on Graham Avenue, there is a new generation of young Winnipeg entrepreneurs who understand that the downtown is changing and is a place of opportunity.
And we know that as a community, we need to create a culture and an atmosphere that fosters more of this – and faster.
So how do we provide that spark to help make that idea into a brick-and-mortar business? And how do we make it easy for them to choose downtown?
Downtown’s momentum is growing every day, but not many people know about the opportunities for the right kind of business – the one-of-a-kind, destination retail stores and restaurants that are unique to the area and provide exceptional food and service. Those are the businesses that are key to drawing people downtown and helping the area’s revitalization continue.
So what if we were to play matchmaker for the two? To help startups get off the ground and give them the best chance for success.
We could find them temporary “pop-up” storefronts in spaces downtown. They could showcase and test out their products and concepts in a real-world setting, refining as they go. They could get real-world feedback from customers and build relationships with potential investors. They could get real data that could help them strengthen their business case and connect with other pop-up retailers to network, share ideas, and learn!
That’s exactly what the Downtown BIZ was piloting during the Juno Awards, a time when our downtown was flooded with pedestrian traffic and tourists. In Portage Place, the BIZ created a combination incubator and storefront to allow young entrepreneurs to pilot their business ideas.
Called Launch It!, this hub served as a one-stop shop for young entrepreneurs to get their business off the ground. They were provided with connections to business support services who can help them with everything from grants to business plan development; networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs; and most importantly, storefront space to pilot and sell their products and services so they can get real-world feedback and customers for their business.
In the future, perhaps they could even be paired with up-and-coming designers before opening a permanent business to help create the best storefront and display window they can. It would show them how good their business can look and ensure they’re getting every chance for success.
We know through our Youth Entrepreneurship forums that there’s an appetite for this kind of opportunity.
When we invited budding young entrepreneurs to come out and learn from peers who are already seeing success, more than 250 turned up to listen, learn, and network.
Today, downtown is comprised of more residents, students, and more suburbanites visiting downtown to be entertained at one of the many sports, theatre, art or cultural destinations our downtown offers.
Existing downtown businesses are telling us that they want to see more young entrepreneurs and small businesses in the area that fit the needs of a new emerging downtown, giving it a creative spark and vibrant pedestrian activity.
Let’s help them get started!
Our long-term goal is to stimulate the startup of new and creative downtown storefront businesses with a primary focus on youth entrepreneurs and the following five key objectives:
1. To create a one-stop shop to connect young entrepreneurs with existing business service providers who can provide support throughout the business startup and implementation process.
2. To nurture young entrepreneurs through the provision of shared incubator office space and facilities which bring with it creativity, spark and a culture of business.
3. To provide a storefront retail space for young entrepreneurs to pilot their products or services to demonstrate market demand and help them to refine their business plan.
4. To provide networking, marketing and promotional opportunities for these young entrepreneurs to strengthen their probability for success.
5. To find appropriate strategic downtown spaces for the graduates of this idea, through work with real estate brokers as well as CentreVenture.