HALIFAX – Ray Ivany’s 2014 Now or Never report found a startling statistic: Only 12 per cent of young Nova Scotians were interested in becoming entrepreneurs. It’s a number that struck Allyson England. So she decided to do something about it.
England founded 100 Seeds Atlantic and with her partner Stefanie MacDonald put together a forum to help kick-start a new non-profit. In 2015, 100 Entrepreneurs Planting Seeds was born.
The format of the micro-pitch competition is familiar: Three finalists present their business ideas to a group of 100 investors, who each pledge $100. The winner of the competition takes home $10,000 to help fund their ideas. Except at this event, all the finalists are under the age of 24.
“You can see the youth and their big ideas and it’s just amazing,” England said. “They’re so passionate about what they do, and they come up with really creative solutions that I think we need as a province to really embrace.”
England says gearing this competition towards young people offers more than just the monetary prize. For youth just starting to build their business, a chance to network with established investors is invaluable. 100 Seeds also offers the finalists one-on-one coaching sessions with a career coach to refine their pitch and help solidify their brand. It’s a big opportunity for a teenager.
“We just want to make sure we’re there for everyone and the finalists feel supported,” England said. Now, that support is growing. “Some of the entrepreneurs that are contributing the money are bringing their kids. So they’re in junior high or high school, or even younger… We want to expose young people to what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and show them that it is a very viable and enjoyable and fruitful career option.”
Past finalists include a cold-pressed juice company, an environmental research company, and a coffee roastery. This year, a vegan egg-substitute will face off against a furniture company and an upscale pen-maker.
Twenty-two-year-old Jacob Arsenault of Mahone Bay has a business called Creative Urban Timber (CUT), which has an innovative approach to sourcing wood that provides the company with access to live edge (natural edge) hardwood that is unparalleled in its uniqueness and character at a fraction of the expected cost. This same approach allows CUT to divert thousands of pounds of hardwood from ending up in landfills each year, diverting over 8000 pounds in 2017.
Twenty-one-year-old Hannah Chisholm from Antigonish has a product called Eggcitables. It’s a chickpea-based vegan egg replacement that can be used to make omelettes, scrambles and other egg-based meals. She says the product provides an “egg-like” aroma, taste, and experience without using animal by-products.
Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Thompson-Mackay of New Glasgow has a company called Elwood Pens, which produces handcrafted wooden pens and pencils made from more than 40 different hardwoods from around the world, including maple grown in Canada. The company is named after Thompson’s grandfather and he hopes to turn the business into a social enterprise, with a portion of sales going to different non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Alcoholics Anonymous.
The businesses are so varied, says England, which does make it difficult to pick the finalists.
“Some of the applicants were just ideas. Some of them had traction and paying customers. Others were still in the ideation stage, but had a business plan and all that stuff,” England recalled. “It was hard in terms of evaluating them, because they’re in different stages, but we tried to take a step back and look at them as a whole and really how it would impact Nova Scotia, and whether or not the idea had legs.”
For England, it doesn’t matter who wins the grand prize. She hopes the reach of 100 Seeds grows so that more young people consider opening their own business and taking their idea to market. Just entering the competition, she says, is a step in the right direction.
“I honestly think that success or moving your idea forward really depends on hard work, preparation, and optimism,” England said. “The mindset of thinking that it is possible really plays a big role. Because so many good ideas fall short of getting started just because someone doesn’t believe it can happen.”
The 100 Entrepreneurs Planting Seeds micro-pitch competition takes place at the Halifax Central Library on January 16.