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UPDATE: Entrepreneurs get coaching on value for customers at accelerator workshop

‘To be able to be in a group that gets that, to be with like-minded people... is a powerful thing,’ says attendee of workshop for local entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized a business closure. In fact, Annie Thomson closed her brick-and-mortar store in Toronto but is still operating her fashion business online and by appointment at her home studio. CollingwoodToday apologizes for the error. This story has been updated to reflect the correct information.

Some of Georgian Bay’s emerging entrepreneurs gathered together on Thursday to learn from each other and experts on how to better their businesses.

The Georgian Bay Accelerator program ran a special workshop on June 1 at Georgian Peaks in Thornbury to talk about developing value propositions for entrepreneurs for their businesses.

Led by start-up development expert Laura Allan, the workshop explored how business owners should mould their businesses based on customer feedback. The workshop was partially a presentation, and partially break-out sessions where attending entrepreneurs would be challenged by assigned mentors to apply concepts learned to their own business models.

One of the attendees Ben Furse was a recent recipient of funding through the Summer Company Program through the Small Business Enterprise Centre in Collingwood. The 19-year-old Thornbury student decided to start a business doing artificial intelligence consulting.

“I’ll go to other businesses and teach them how to use and benefit from the power of AI,” Furse said. “With the rise of (programs) like ChatGPT, it’s a rush and I think it’s important for businesses to adopt that technology early on so they don’t fall behind.”

Furse is currently studying business and computer programming at the University of Southern California. He told CollingwoodToday that he found parts of the workshop relating to learning as much as you can about your customers and trying to see your business from their perspective to be the most helpful for him.

“Before, I thought consulting would be more one-size-fits-all. It’s more effective to narrow down who you want to provide your services to,” he said.

Annie Thompson has started her new business, Compassion Art, small, working with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to create art.

The Wasaga Beach resident attended Thursday’s workshop to help her grow the new venture. Thompson also has a fashion design business she operates online and by appointment through her home studio in Wasaga Beach after closing her brick-and-mortar location in Toronto.

“Now that I’m here full time and I’m getting older myself, I’m finding I’m enjoying using my life help them and relieve their families of their duties as well,” said Thompson.

Thompson said she enjoyed the classroom-setting format of the workshop, and also found it helpful when it came to considering the point of view of the customer.

“I hadn’t really thought so much about the customer’s point of view. The customer (in my business) isn’t actually the user in this case. The loved ones of the person with dementia – I’m marketing it to them. It’s a different way of thinking,” she said.

The Georgian Bay Innovation and Technology Accelerator is a non-profit organization with a mission to help businesses within the community grow through technology. The organization selects between eight and 10 businesses annually to run through an intensive four-week program that can help them grow with the help of mentors. They also run workshops on areas of specialized interest.

As the accelerator began in 2021, it started off during the COVID-19 pandemic. The workshop this week marked the second in-person event since pandemic restrictions have eased.

“It was a challenge, but actually, it was a good thing,” said Peter Heinke, a founding board member for the accelerator who currently serves as executive director. “If you look at other accelerators, a lot of their money goes into real estate. Most people were working at home anyway then, so it was a good environment because it forced us to look at it differently.”

“We realized we didn’t really need a co-working space. We could invest in other things,” he said.

Heinke says there are lessons that came out of the pandemic that could benefit business owners, such as understanding timelines can be accelerated, if there’s a will to do so.

“I think time frames and a sense of urgency has increased as a result of the pandemic,” he said.

Shelley Hannah, who lives in Nottawa, had never heard of the Georgian Bay Accelerator prior to attending Thursday’s session. Her business is pre-written affirmations and love notes, which she prints and provides for a fee.

“They’re like instant ice breakers,” said Hannah. “They can warm conversations and connections between people.”

Hannah said she found a section of the workshop that challenged business owners to identify what customers might expect when patronizing their business, as well as what might happen if those expectations aren’t met (called pains) and what might be ways for the business to exceed those expectations (called gains), to be most helpful for her.

“When she was talking about knowing what the job of a customer is, I never thought to think on a bigger scale. Like, who would want to buy these in the hundreds, or thousands? It feels huge, and like my next step,” said Hannah.

Lauren Best travelled from Owen Sound to attend the workshop. As a voice coach with her business rooted in the online space, she is looking for ways to grow.

“I see voice coaching as something that’s really integral to professional development, especially for entrepreneurs. It develops a lot of soft skills around creativity and improving. It’s a powerful tool,” she said.

Best said her key takeaway from the workshop is also understanding better the expectations of a customer.

“What we might think of as the primary benefit is sometimes the minimum expectation,” she said. “Singing better is just scratching the surface. It’s about so much more than that.”

Best said she valued being in a room full of people who are all passionate about their businesses, whatever their business may be.

“To be able to be in a group that gets that, to be with like-minded people... is a powerful thing,” she said.

For more information on the Georgian Bay Accelerator, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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