Blue Netherclift was 29 and in the midst of launching an adventure tourism business in Bella Coola when he discovered an opportunity to participate in some local one-on-one business counselling sessions.
“I’d been doing it mostly through trial and error until that point. There was a lot of learning on the job,” Netherclift told the Star. But once he got that support and guidance, he went from “pulling out his hair” to getting his ducks in a row.
“I was never one for school. Economics? I wasn’t interested. But to get that time with a marketer, or an accountant, or to find out about insurance … It was amazing. It’s easier now because you can Google everything, but there’s validation and support that comes from having a cheerleader. And it’s amazing to have those people to turn to when you don’t know what to do next.”
And that’s where he comes in. Along with the other counsellors involved in the 10-week Youth Means Business (YMB) program, for entrepreneurs ages 19 to 29, he’ll walk students step by step through the process of launching a business.
Originally established as a pilot project last year, YMB has now doubled in size for the next go-around, jumping from five available spots to 10.
“We’ve found there are a lot of local people who have never gone to business school, they’re not quite ready to launch, but they’re still really hungry to learn and want to be in business. Their idea may not be defined, but they want to learn and they’re ready to work.”
And the province is in need of skilled workers, he said.
“There’s a lot of interest in BC in getting skilled workers into the workplace, because we have so many people on the verge of retirement. We need people working, so it seems like there’s a lot of funding available to get young people trained up.”
The goal is for each student to develop a workable business plan by the end of the 10 weeks. And if there’s some obstacle — lack of a market, financial considerations, etc. — they’ll have a clear sense of how to approach them.
“I already know some of the students will be ready to go, and some will have to address a few pieces or do a little more training, but they’ll be well on their way.”
And these aren’t empty promises, either. Three students from the first round of YBY have already realized their ambitions, successfully launching an editing business, a graphic design business and a dip and spread business.
“One of our students is a single mother who has this amazing food product but obviously not a huge amount of time. She’s doing things at the right pace for her, which is great, and now you can get her dip and spread at the Kootenay Co-op and markets all over the place.”
Support from the community has been strong, with some local experts donating their time for a business panel recently: Shane Johnsen from Tribute, Chris Mansbridge from Castlegar Chiropractic and Amy Stewart from John Ward Coffee.
“We got coffee and goodies and we just threw questions at them. They were all so amazing and helpful.”
They also connected one of their students with local author Shelley Adams for a one-on-one mentorship session — just like the ones Netherclift went through when he was first starting his business.
Netherclift has also been organizing networking “breakfast jams” and is brainstorming new ways to help local businesspeople connect, support each other, and ultimately run a successful and lucrative business.
Once accepted into the program, each student receives a living allowance. Netherclift quipped that “normally you have to pay for business school, but here we pay you!”
YMB is funded through until 2019.