For some it may be the inspiration of an irresistible idea, or a desire to work independent of overlords, or the simple need for income. But whatever the reason, Sault Ste. Marie has 2200 employers with 1900 of those being independently owned businesses. According to information collected by the EDC, of that number 43% employ 1-4, 23% employ 5-9, 17% employ 10-19 and so on.
“Small business is very important to the economy of Sault Ste. Marie,” remarked Dan Hollingsworth, Executive Director of the EDC. “I think more people are choosing entrepreneurship. There’s a lot of resources and outreach in this community, and I think that it shows that in the Sault there’s a lot of opportunity and people are pursuing it.”
Through the EDC alone, Hollingsworth stated that they handle over 2300 general inquiries every year. “Last year that led to over 600 consultations with potential clients, which led to 232 active clients, and as a result of that activity over 30 plus businesses were launched last year and another 27 expanded.”
New businesses in the Sault are varied. “We’re seeing everything from healthcare services, esthetician services, spa services, homecare services, IT companies, professional guidance and counselling services, landscaping, retail, construction landscaping to art based businesses. That’s just a snapshot. These businesses aren’t hitting one particular sector but they are hitting the right targets,” remarked Hollingsworth.
This spring, Allyson Schmidt and her 10 year old son, Henry, have joined the ranks of small business owners. Allyson was doing her mom-thing, making homemade dairy-free, banana based ‘nice-cream’ for Henry.
“And of course I made it extra special, adding a little bit of this and that, and Henry loved it. He said ‘mom, this is so good. You should sell it.’ So I thought, ‘why not’?” shared Allyson.
Allyson began conceptualizing the plan in March, meeting with the women’s group PARO, and began speaking about her idea with other small business owners. “I just started talking about what I wanted to do. And as I spoke to different people, they would give me information.”
Allyson hit the pavement running and by the end of May she was ready to roll out her product –Brrnanas, a diary-free, nut-free, gluten-free, egg-free banana based ice cream. And it’s freakin’ delicious –a high-end treat loaded with vibrant flavour. And it’s affordable.
Using local products -like maple syrup for sweetening, as much as possible, Allyson relies on Henry as the expert taste tester. “Taste testing is the best job in the world,” admitted Henry during his burger break at the Mill Market last Saturday. The mother-son duo have opened up their Brrnana stand at the Market where curious customers, and regulars, can pop in to satisfy their cravings.
Allyson is experimenting with new flavours each week but a few standards include chocolate, vanilla, cherry, chocolate chip, chai and pina colada. Brrnanas nice-cream is served up in cups, between homemade cookies (ice cream sandwich), and this week she’ll be working on creating an ice cream pop. “Something bite-sized and at a lower price point,” said Allyson. Brrnanas also has a small and refreshing beverage selection.
Allyson defines herself as a social entrepreneur. “I have a commitment to people and the planet,” she remarked. When local ingredients aren’t available, Allyson uses fair trade products, and has begun amassing compostable packaging and serving items- like paper wrappers and cups.
Working on a master’s in Sociology, Allyson pursued her interest in ‘good food’, researching local food systems. “It’s all about how through the food that we make, grow and sell, can encourage beneficial relationships with our community.”
As a business owner, Allyson is aiming for sustainability and growth. “I’d love to see my small social enterprise experiment grow into something that is profitable for my family, and provides employment to people in the community. I’d love to scale up- we’ll see what the journey brings.
As a business partner, Allyson hopes that her son develops practical money management skills, and that his experience interacting with customers provides him with an opportunity to socialize. Henry has autism. “Because Henry has special needs it’s really important to me that he’s learning things that are practical and doable –how to interact with the public, how to feel confident. And my day job is as a financial empowerment coach so it’s important for me that he’s learning financial literacy from a young age. Those are concrete skills that every person, not just a person with autism, needs to know,” she elaborated. “So Henry is learning about greeting customers, taking their money, sharing what sort of Brrnanas we have that day –and he’s doing a great job.”
Hollingsworth noted several community resources aimed to motivate young people to consider business ownership as a career option. “I think the education system for years did not promote entrepreneurship but I think there’s a shift in focus now. At the elementary level, the CDC sends someone in to speak with elementary students about entrepreneurship, and through the Innovation Centre we have YouLaunch getting into the high schools and post-secondary schools promoting entrepreneurship as a viable option.”
Regarding the current proliferation of small business in the Sault, Hollingsworth credits the collaboration of multiple community agencies and organizations. “We all work together and as partners we’re all aligning around the whole entrepreneurial piece. As far as I’m concerned, I think we’re leading the pack in some of the things we are doing. Our two business incubators are nearly filled to capacity and our support mechanisms are better today than they were ten years ago. And there are more resources available, including through online communities.”
Allyson has put those resources to use and also appreciates personal connections who have provided her with encouragement, as well as practical support- such as use of the professional kitchen located in Shabby Motley. “I received a lot of support from Ashleigh Sauve at Shabby Motley, and Sandra Hodge at Clay it Forward. And the Mill Market has been supportive above and beyond, and I’ve begun accessing support from the Innovation Centre which has been invaluable.”
In addition to selling Brrnanas nice-cream at the Mill Market every Saturday, Allyson and Henry will be attending different festivals throughout the summer. You can catch them at them at the Mill Market for July 1st celebrations and at the Go North Festival on July 22nd.
“I have dreams of building this into something,” Allyson smiled. “And you know, the stigma that health based food products are not delicious or that they are strange are really going away. Brrnana nice-cream is a forward food trend. There’s only one place in Toronto and one place in Montreal that does this. And one in Sault Ste. Marie –so I’m putting the Sault on the map as far as food trends go.”
Allyson and Henry will cater your special events and individualize Brrnana nice-cream orders. You can reach Allyson through their facebook page or by calling 705.257.2597.