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What’s the Big Idea?” Hopes to Inspire Rural Entrepreneurs

posted Aug 28, 2017, 12:12 PM by Kathy Carr
Three Westman communities are asking the region at large “What’s the Big Idea?” The question, which also serves as the title for the third annual entrepreneurship event, is one they hope will be met with some enthusiastic and imaginative res­ponses on Thursday, October 19 at the Carberry Memorial Hall.
The event began in 2015 when the economic development offices in Minnedosa and Neepawa partnered to spur grassroots business development for their towns. Opening with a format similar to a science fair, the aspiring merchants put their ideas on display to an audience of industry support agencies, financiers, and the general public. Later, those participants would make a formal presentation in the “Pitch Parlour” for a chance at prize money to help launch their business.
 The concept has proven to be a great success. The first year’s event helped to launch the Inspire Studio of Fine Art in Minnedosa, 4U Home Décor and Consulting in Neepawa and an MTZ tractor dealership in Rapid City. In 2016, the event kickstarted Valley Art Therapy and Associates in Minnedosa, the Queens Eatery in Rapid City, and Avion Harvest in Eden. Another of the winners from last year’s event, 16 year-old Kennedy Baker won for her Ken’s Kustom Kicks – a hand-painted footwear line, that has just recently announced a contract with the Winnipeg Jets which will see her product on their shelves in September.
 “Winning at ‘What’s the Big Idea?’ in 2015 was the push that I needed to open my gallery,” says Marlies Soltys, the proprietor of the Inspire Studio in Minnedosa. “Sure, the prize money was good, but more importantly was the acknowledgment from someone outside my social circle that the idea had merit. Knowing I had that support from the local community development office really gave me the confidence to proceed and I’m so happy with what we have been able to create.”
 This year’s event has expanded in scope and will include not only Minnedosa and Neepawa (and surrounding municipalities, plus Rapid City), but also the Town of Carberry and the Muni­cipality of North Cypress-Langford. Organizers are hoping to continue to build the momentum that they have experienced to date and reach out to an even wider audience of aspiring local business leaders.
 “One great thing about the event is that we really get to see what ignites the passion of people,” says Marilyn Crewe, Neepawa EDO. “The pitches that we see bring forward ideas that we might not have thought about for our communities, but they are fueled with an enthusiasm that has generated new energy in our business districts. We can’t wait to see what ideas will be presented this year.”
 In addition to event support from Community Futures Westman and the Business Development Bank of Canada, participants compete for prize money in a variety of categories. While some awards are specific to the locality of the proposed enterprise, other award categories allow for the best ideas to qualify in multiple prize pools. In previous years, some pitches emerged with the judge’s verdict in as many as three categories.
 For Carberry’s EDO, Tricia Zander, she hopes that this collaboration helps to inspire the imagination of entrepreneurs in her community.
 “We really need to see what vision our young people (and young at heart) have for the future of our business district,” says Zander. “For long-time residents, they might see a vacant store front and they can’t imagine what’s possible for that space besides what was there before. The ideas that come forward from our emerging business people could shape what downtown looks like for the next generation. That’s really exciting.”
 Those looking to make a pitch and compete for prize money to launch their new business can register for free through their local community development office in Minnedosa (edo@min­ne­dosa.com), Neepawa (edo­­@wcgwave.ca), or Carberry (edo@townofcarberry.ca)

by Vern May
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