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‘Pandemic forced me into next phase’: Georgina welcomes new business accelerator program

Georgina, East Gwillimbury partner with York University to establish YSpace Georgina
May 3, 2022
Amanda Persico

As a result of the pandemic, many local artisan markets were cancelled, leaving crafters to find other ways of selling their handmade goods.

For Lorraine Bennett, the creative mid behind Cozy Mitts by Lorraine, that meant pivoting into a world of online sales and creating an online presence.

Selling primarily wholesale at local shops, Bennett questioned whether her retail partners would be able to make the transition to online shopping and whether it would be a success.

“Do they have a tech game? Can they handle this?,” said the Pefferlaw resident.

“Moving to a website format or selling through a window for pickup, there was just a whole pile of unknowns.”

There’s something to be said about the look and feel of mitts on display at a market that made the winter wear so popular.

Bennett didn’t have a tech game, either. And, worse, she didn’t know where to turn for help.

She was a maker and had been for years. She didn’t see herself as a business entrepreneur. But without any craft markets to sell her product, Bennett had to start thinking of her craft as a business startup.

Bennett is one of more than 70 business owners who participated in the Bounce Back Program, a partnership between Georgina, East Gwillimbury and York University, offering a collection of free workshops and individualized mentorship.

The focus of the program was threefold: creating new sources of revenue; launching a business idea; and gaining digital skills and establishing an online presence and shop.

“The whole online website piece was just deeply, deeply unfamiliar to me,” Bennett said.

“The pandemic forced me into the next phase that I absolutely had to do. From the beginning of the shutdown to the end of the program, I went from website illiterate to being able to do most of the work myself, which is pretty damned amazing.”

Stemming from the success of the Bounce Back Program, the two municipalities partnered with York University once again to establish YSpace Georgina, a business incubator and accelerator program for northern York Region businesses.

The two-year pilot project will support entrepreneurs and boost economic growth during the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Georgina’s economic development manager Karyn Stone.

The goal of the $325,000 project, of which Georgina funded $150,000, is to establish an entrepreneurship ecosystem with a physical hub located at 1 Market St., Sutton, offering a collection of on-demand, in-person and virtual business-specific programming. The town has also applied to a number of grant programs to expand YSpace program beyond two years, Stone added.

The space, recently used by Sutton Seniors, is currently being retrofitted to allow for YSpace programming as well as office space with video conferencing capabilities and collaboration spaces for the business community.

“With a significant amount of micro businesses in East Gwillimbury and Georgina, there is opportunity to help grow these businesses,” Stone said.

“With the challenges of the pandemic, individuals who (were) displaced from existing jobs are now taking the opportunity to start their own business venture.”

And YSpace programs are free.

The first part of the program, Idea Consultations, launched virtually and provides free one-on-one consultation services connecting local entrepreneurs with YSpace’s entrepreneurship team.

Idea Consultations is a mapping exercise to determine what resources are available and what the northern York Region entrepreneur ecosystem looks like, said David Kwok, York University’s entrepreneurship associate director, with programs and workshops set to start in June.

“Most (business) resources and availability of those types of programs are within the southern three (York Region municipalities) or more south than that,” Kwok said. “There was nothing in the northern part of York Region. This is really about creating access and creating something that was hyper local for the business community based on their needs.”

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