Provincial funding helps Catapult Entrepreneurs support small business

Government announces two-year funding plan

Small businesses in Central Alberta received a boost when the Province of Alberta announced a two-year funding plan for a new business incubator, Catapult Entrepreneurs.

The initiative provides crucial guidance to Central Albertans looking to start new businesses in the region.

Danielle Klooster, senior business development advisor for Catapult Entrepreneurs, spoke about the importance of business owners making sustainable choices at the beginning of their ventures.

“Incubation is really important because business is very risky,” she said. “If you can take away some of those unnecessary risks for business it can really help them be sustainable. Our focus is on the business development side of the equation. Entrepreneurs come with a great idea and they think they can make money. Maybe they can, but if they don’t know how to operate a successful business – they can do all of this work on product or service development and fail in their business because they didn’t know how to operate the business.

“We want to give them those lifetime foundation business skills so that no matter what business they ever start, they will be able to take those business skills they have and plug them into whatever business idea they have now or in the future.”

The program currently has eight entrepreneurs already, with 12 more in process. Klooster explained it is their hope to have 50 individuals pass through the program at the end of the two-year period.

“With the in-house entrepreneur stream, we can manage ten entrepreneurs in our Red Deer location and about 10 other program entrepreneurs,” she said. “At our satellite sites, there will be a local person at each site who will help support the entrepreneurs out there. I will be running around the region to help them support the entrepreneurs.

“In each of those communities, it is up to the local capacity to decide how many entrepreneurs they can take on.”

Intake is currently taking place, however work has been done to develop the program since April.

“We were getting all the pieces in place; getting into relationships with all the consultants and coaches; and getting our partners together and figuring that all out,” Klooster said. “The entrepreneurs who have been accepted are working with us to build their program plan. We are off to the races.”

Klooster, along with Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and MLA for Red Deer North Kim Schreiner, all voiced the importance of Red Deer diversifying its economy and Klooster explained that entrepreneurs are vital to this diversification.

“We are incredibly grateful that the government is investing in jobs and investing in economic diversification,” she said. “Red Deer has been the service hub to the oil sector and because of that, whenever the volatility of the economy does its downward swoop, Red Deer’s unemployment numbers are the highest. We know we can’t live like that any longer.

“We need different kinds of business and we need innovation. We are very excited for a government investment in that.”

She added partnerships with Red Deer College, Community Futures, Olds College, the Central Alberta Economic Partnership, Central Alberta: Access Prosperity and many more have been important to the development of this business incubator.

“The community has been wonderful with saying we want to help and that is great,” she said.

One of the entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of this program is Mark Cherkowski, owner of Promark Business Solutions – which provides web sites, graphic design, social media marketing and SEO services.

“As I started out on my own as an entrepreneur, I knew how to do some stuff and I muddled my way through,” he said. “I am getting to a point now where I have my systems in place and I’m realizing there are gaps in my knowledge and abilities that I need (help with) to get my business to the next level. I want to get some more employees and reach out past Red Deer.

“I heard about the mentoring and the training these guys offer and I thought it would be a great idea to see if that can help me out.”

Cherkowski is hoping Catapult can provide him with crucial guidance and he ,believes it is important for entrepreneurs to reach out for help.

“I think it is maybe an Alberta thing where we try to do everything ourselves. We are very independent. I never really thought of mentoring but this came along and I thought, this is perfect. This is what I need. I’m excited to see what happens,” he said.