Exciting Startups at the 14th Annual Small Business BC Awards…

Originally printed on Equities.com by Gary Bizzo

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Image Via Bobak Ha’Eri

Last week, February 25, 2017, the Pan Pacific Hotel and Convention Centre was the scene of the 14th Annual Small Business BC Awards celebrating entrepreneurial achievements in British Columbia.

With over 535 nominations in ten categories this event represented almost every sector of business in the province. It apparently was a monumental task to whittle those down to the Top 10 Semi-Finalists and Top 5 Finalists. The Top 5 Finalists presented a ten-minute Dragon’s Den-style pitch to a panel of industry experts and leading entrepreneurs. The People’s Premier’s Choice Award was determined by the highest number of votes.

In the past couple of years I’ve attended workshops, roundtables, high-tech startup weekends and awards for a variety of startups. My world has been focused recently on high-risk business startups mainly in the disruptive technology space and certainly with companies that are innovative and going places. This side of entrepreneurship is exciting, filled with buzz-words to describe owners (founders), a merger or selling the company (liquidity event) and finding money (seed rounds).

These high-tech founders are hoping to raise capital fast, prototype or innovate, then do a cash-out through a merger or acquisition via a liquidity event (sounds better than an exit strategy) and move on to the next best thing. Very exciting indeed!

The other kind of startup is the ‘small business’. It was a strange feeling going back to my roots and meeting small business owners at these awards who love the opportunity to build a business, earn a good living, contribute to the community and maybe pass the fruits of their hard work on to their children.

My first book was about the sole proprietor who had a great idea, had always dreamed of being a business owner and quit a good job to risk everything to go on his own. He’s determined to be independent and like 78% of all the businesses in the US (according to Census.gov), it will start out as a sole proprietorship that will eventually grow into a micro-business. The number is identical in Canada.

We love to say that Vancouver and BC in general is ‘Silicon North,’ and indeed it is, but British Columbia was built on the hard work of small business owners who make up 98% of all business in our province. That works out to about 389,000 small businesses (BC Gov’t stats). In British Columbia small business generated 35% of the province’s GDP — well above the Canadian average. 51% of small businesses were self-employed entrepreneurs with no paid help. BC ranked first in Canada in terms of small business owners per capita.

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Small Business BC runs the annual awards and in their own words is the “Champion for British Columbia’s small businesses”. Funded in part by the Ministry of Small Business and the Western Economic Diversification Canada their resources cover most aspects of starting and running a small business. From helping with product research to workshops on negotiating contracts and hiring the right candidate, this organization is the one-stop shop for entrepreneurial programs and support. Small Business BC’s mission is simple. It is founded on the belief that small business owners need access to relevant information, appropriate tools, and resources to achieve successful and sustainable businesses.

The Ten Awards for this year were diverse to say the least. One of the winners, Lillian Czacu, Notary Corporation of Langley, BC won in the category for Best Immigrant Entrepreneur. Cazacu came to Canada 10 years ago and unable to use his law degree, Masters and PhD went back to school to become a Notary. He has five employees and is growing. Not bad considering he couldn’t speak English when he came to Canada.

Best International Trade Award went to Wize Monkey, an innovative product that takes the leaf of the coffee plant to make a lightly sweet, full-bodied and smooth infusion tea with subtle caffeine levels. On their website they say,” Wize Monkey sources their unique Coffee Leaf Tea from their third founder’s farm in Nicaragua. They are the world’s first vertically integrated coffee or tea company as they manage the product from “Earth to Cup” and it is entirely traceable.” I saw one of the ‘founders’ carrying a coffee plant around the event all night that tells me he takes traceability very serious or he just loves that particular plant.

Ironside Design Manufacturing Inc. of Chilliwack, BC won Best Apprentice Training because they love to be able to pass their knowledge on to the future while creating better employees for themselves. It’s good to see a 114-year-old company still providing innovation.

The Rainbow’s Roost Acres of Wonder won for Best Community Impact. Rainbow’s Roost is committed to improving and serving their community on their family owned and operated events facility located on a 53-acre property on the bank of the North Thompson River, close to Kamloops in Northern BC. Visitors to their business gain insight into the importance of ethical farming and eating.

Wine Crush Market won the Best Concept Award. It got me excited with the mention of wine until I realized Winecrush takes the left-over material from local winery’s after they press their grapes for their finest vintages, dehydrate it and mill it into a fine powder and infuse it into their unique food products. What a fabulous idea! This innovative company is in the wine-rich Okanagan region of British Columbia.

When the award for Best Employer goes to a restaurant/bar you might assume that Happy Hour means everyone staff and customers alike but this young company wanted to create a ‘lifestyle’ that would be above the average hangout and they succeeded with ‘Your Neighborhood Local’. Central Kitchen — Bar is located in Kelowna, BC.

Terramera’s sustainable agriculture through biopesticides that are more effective and safer than traditional synthetic controls is the winner of the Best Innovation Award. This company is constantly breaking new ground in research. This company is one of the largest award winners with 40 employees and is in Vancouver.

You can certainly get some great ideas from this company, The Argosy. A vintage antique store in Prince Rupert, these guys have “funky found and re-purposed items you might not see anywhere else”. They also came the farthest distance to win the Best Marketer Award.

I always love the People’s Choice Award, it’s picked by the masses and usually has some cool innovation or twist that get’s the people to think. Sea to Sky Air has a dream of getting a million people to see the beauty of the South Coast of British Columbia by small aircraft and floatplane. As the owner, Carlo Galvani, says “our mission is simple, but from the heart. We believe that for humans to want to protect any piece of pristine wilderness they must first know the exhilaration that comes from spending time in the mountains and oceans.” Sea to Sky services the Squamish area between Vancouver and Whistler.

And, finally, Rocky Point Ice Cream Inc. bringing delight to customers for 20 years, of course, had to win the Best Company Award. They are committed to supporting and positively affecting their community through the employment of local school students, sourcing local ingredients, reducing waste, fundraising and donations for local schools, sports teams, societies, and the local hospital. Their passion is what drives all the successful businesses I know and this spills over into everything they are involved in.

As in most award ceremonies it is an honor just to be nominated. I spoke to a nominee before the ceremony. He told me he wasn’t comfortable in suits but just being at this event with other nominated small business owners was a big deal for him and his small work clothing business so he bought a suit and brought the whole family for an overnight excursion to the Awards.

I’m encouraged that organizations like Small Business BC and their sponsors see the importance of supporting the grass root entrepreneur. While the hi-tech startups get all the attention of accelerators, investors and the news it’s the mom and pop operations that keep the country in business.

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