One of the Canadian cities speaking loudest on behalf of new and small business is Prince George.
That voice grew louder on Friday when a province-wide government tool was unveiled.
"We are wrapping up Small Business Month with a big bang," said Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business. She and local MLAs Shirley Bond and Mike Morris gathered with members of the business community to launch MentorshipBC.
Yamamoto said the idea was born out of a B.C.-wide consultation process last year to locate ways of revamping government-to-business supports. One of the consistent themes was the need to learn from mentors. The best teachers are the ones who have already done it.
"I understand - as a former small business owner - the need for mentorship," Yamamoto said.
The B.C. Innovation Council, a Crown corporation with a business promotion function, was tapped to bring this entrepreneurs' wish to life. The council did its own grassroots consultation, considered the opinions brought to light from last year's input, and created MentorshipBC. It is an easy-to-use website loaded with information and real-life connections to existing business owners willing to talk about how to do it.
Many of them already signing up on the website are from Prince George.
"There is a thriving business startup community here," said Dawn Wood, the MentorshipBC project manager. "Already you can see the influence from this city on the project, and we have barely launched. Prince George is all over it already."
The construction of the website came with some clear instructions from the consultation process, Wood said. It had to be easy for the busy or technologically challenged business owner to use, and it had to have relevant search engines so people looking for help could quickly get to the mentors best suited for them.
The stakes were high, said Yamamoto, based on the data mined from the consultation process. B.C. businesses that participated in mentorship were compared with those who didn't. Seventy-five per cent of mentored businesses made it to their fifth anniversary, but less than 40 per cent of those without mentors made it to that critical point. Also, those with mentors hired more people, demonstrating more investment confidence and better growth plan.
Community Futures, the Innovation Central Society, Northern Development Initiative Trust, the Chamber of Commerce, StartUp PG and other business development agencies have had dedicated mentorship initiatives already underway. That is how 14-year business veteran Shauna Harper met rookie entrepreneur Kaleena Ross.
"Mentoring has had a huge impact on my life and on my business," said Ross, proprietor of Ikspres Media, an event planning and graphic design firm. "It's good to get an objective opinion from someone who understands business and has been where I am. When I have to make a decision...Shauna helps me look at the big picture."
Harper said it is gratifying to give back to her community, but even more so since Prince George is not her hometown. After more than a dozen years of feeling alone in the Vancouver marketplace, she has thrived in Prince George.
"Being a mentor looks shiny for my business [marketing company Live Work PG] but what I didn't realize was how it would pull me forward," said Harper. "I didn't realize what it would do for me personally, for my business, and what that means for my community. I am so proud to be part of a province that values entrepreneurs."
When you help small businesses to succeed, you help communities to succeed, said Yamamoto.
"You aren't just a business owner. If you weren't around participating in the community, there would be things going undone. We'd be poorer for it. Small businesses are the heart of a community and the business owners are the soul."
The new website is operational now at www.MentorshipBC.ca.