High Wires and Safety Nets: Small Business in Sault Ste. Marie


Last week was Global Entrepreneurship Week.  As someone who has worked with entrepreneurs my whole life, I feel I should be one of the biggest cheerleaders.  I hold up my pompoms but, these days, I find I can only muster a feeble ‘yay’.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a big believer in, and huge supporter of, small business.  I have been self-employed almost my whole career.

Entrepreneurs are passionate.  They believe in possibilities.  They create things seemingly out of thin air:  the product, the service, the thing that improves people’s lives.  We all know these people.  They are our friends, our family.  They are us.  The world would be a dull thing without us.

We also know that small business owners create most of the new jobs.  Over ninety per cent of private sector jobs in Canada are in the small and medium enterprise sector.

That’s great.

Small business is good for our economy and for our community, but I believe passionately that small business needs to be good for small business owners as well.

And here, there is less good news.

Small business owners have less of a safety net.  They don’t have access to employment insurance for shortage of work during the lean times.  They usually have less access to benefits in general.

When I began working with entrepreneurs, first in Toronto and now in the Algoma District, most start-ups I encountered were led by people with years of experience and the capital and connections to help their enterprise be successful.

It’s never easy to launch a new business, but it is a lot easier if you have access to finances, access to business advisors, and perhaps a steady income from other sources while you get your business off the ground.

Canada has seen one of the most dramatic increases in self-employment in industrialized countries. Unfortunately, not everyone who is making that choice is embracing entrepreneurship to follow their passion.  As the work world becomes increasingly precarious, more and more people are turning to self-employment to survive.    Sometimes, they are exhausted from a long and fruitless job search.  They no longer have any financial cushion.  They often have not only less money, but also less time, as women and other caregivers with children very frequently fall into this category.

Canadian women in business make sixty cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.  They have less access to capital.  In the US, although 40 per cent of all businesses are owned by women, they receive only 2.3% of the available equity capital.  Male-owned companies receive the other 97.9%.  Roughly half of self-employed women in Canada make under $ 20,000 per year.

We have a lot of work to do.

The familiar rule of thumb is generally true.  It does take about five years to get a business to the place where is it stable and sustainable.  Short-term grants and loans don’t always provide new business owners with the time they need to successfully launch their idea.  And not all small business owners are starting from the same place.  When we encourage people without the necessary resources to start their own businesses, we are asking them to step out onto the high wire without a safety net.

So, what’s the answer?  Well, I think part of the answer is to start asking the questions and taking a hard look at how small business owners are faring.  Another part is providing the supports that small business owners, and everyone else, really need.

The Government of Ontario is launching a Basic Income Pilot project.  The project is designed to test whether a basic income would improve Ontarians’ lives and well-being.  It is hoped that it would relieve the financial and time poverty many experience and which prevents people from taking next steps to improve their lives.  It would be available to everyone who meets the criteria, not just entrepreneurs.  I am addressing this group as just one example.  When people reach their full potential, we all benefit.

The project is currently seeking input from Ontarians as they consider which communities will be chosen.

It is never easy to start a new business, but it much harder to do so in a community that is already struggling economically.  The people of Sault Ste. Marie are natural entrepreneurs.  We’ve had to be.  We have the capacity to make a difference in the community and in the world.   As Sault Ste. Marie reels from our most recent setbacks, many people here need the resources and support to make it happen.

Let’s make Sault Ste. Marie one of the selected communities.

To access the link to the survey Click Here or copy and paste the address below:


Nothing kills passion like poverty.



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