Les Tabachak, owner of Wildly Canadian in Thunder Bay, displays his all-natural, all-Canadian products and signature selections.
What started as a three-year pilot project in Northeastern Ontario in 2010 has grown into an important initiative for Francophone entrepreneurs and businesses across Northern Ontario.
The Entrepreneurs Francophones Plus Initiative (EFP), created to help Francophone businesses reach new markets, increase commercial activity and grow their operations, was an instant hit across the region.
"From the onset, demand became so high that we had more applications than available funds," said Denis Bérubé, General Manager of the North Claybelt Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) in Kapuskasing. "And with growing interest from Northwestern Ontario, we soon realized we needed to not only continue with the initiative but to extend it to SMEs in Northwestern Ontario, which prompted us to return to FedNor in 2012 to renew and expand the EFP Initiative."
North Claybelt CFDC is spearheading the initiative, which is comprised of two components. Vision+, a business enhancement initiative and the Francophone Entrepreneur Youth Internship initiative, are supporting key needs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in Northern Ontario's Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs).
Through Vision+, close to 125 SMEs have benefited from a $5000 contribution to support business expansion activities related to manufacturing, ICT, E-commerce and marketing initiatives.
One of those businesses is Rheault Distillery of Hearst. "Thanks to Vision+, our company had the unique opportunity to position our Loon Vodka as the "Official Vodka of the 2014 Royal Winter Fair" in Toronto, said Mireille Morin. "Our vodka was featured in restaurants and bars at this major event and thanks to this exposure, a number of restaurants in Southern Ontario have added our product to their menus."
The Wildly Canadian brand is now available in Quebec thanks to the Entrepreneurs Francophones Plus Initiative.
Through the Youth Internship Initiative, available exclusively to the private sector, 47 SMEs have received up to $33,500 to hire a youth intern for a one-year period. The program has helped create nearly 50 youth employment opportunities in the private sector and, of the internships completed to date, the program boasts an impressive 87 percent retention rate, helping to keep Francophone youth in OLMCs.
According to Mr. Bérubé, the initiative provides financial support to Francophone SMEs looking to enter new markets and develop a new product or service. "Whether it's a business plan, participation in a trade show or a marketing promotion, the EFP Initiative is helping businesses expand and create new economic development opportunities in their region and across Northern Ontario," he says. "Bilingual and Anglophone entrepreneurs can also access EFP funds if their project offers new services or products to Francophones," adds Mr. Bérubé.
From the beginning, the North Claybelt CFDC has had a hands-on approach to marketing the initiative that included knocking on doors and speaking to entrepreneurs about the program. Although the approach was incredibly successful, Northern Ontario is a vast region and Mr. Bérubé also attributes the success of the EFP Initiative to the many partnerships created with community and economic organizations who have helped market the program, including the 24 CFDCs across Northern Ontario who promote the initiative in their respective regions.
The PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise, based in Thunder Bay, has helped 9,981 women entrepreneurs over the past two decades to start or grow a business. Through PARO's many services, the organization has partnered with the North Claybelt CFDC to help Francophone women entrepreneurs in Northwestern Ontario strengthen their businesses and grow the region's economy. A good number of project applications received from the Northwest are sent through PARO.
"Our PARO francophone clients are very excited to utilize this fund to create professional marketing campaigns that help them grow their businesses," said Rosalind Lockyer, Executive Director, PARO. "Also our non-francophone clients perceive it as a means to expand their market and visibility. Translating their services and marketing information into French has helped them to increase their clientele and reach the francophone community,"
Finally, Wildly Canadian, a supplier of all-Canadian, healthy and all-natural foods based in Thunder Bay, has successfully expanded its business into Quebec thanks to the EFP Initiative.
"We wanted to export our products to the province of Quebec, but to enter the market, we had to meet the province's bilingual regulations," said Les Tabachak, owner of Wildly Canadian. "With a contribution from the EFP Initiative, we were able to translate our packaging to meet the bilingual requirements."
The EFP Initiative continues to be well received across the North and through its Economic Development Initiative for Official Language Minority Communities, FedNor has recently extended the EFP Initiative until 2017 with an investment of $600,000.