Were you aware that early-stage entrepreneurs have prioritized their business support needs as:
- 67% prioritized funding,
- 56% prioritized mentorship,
- 48% prioritized business planning,
- and 38% prioritized marketing.
Currently, there is a Canadian trend of silver entrepreneurs, or seniorpreneurs, transitioning from employee to entrepreneur. For example, when making the change from the life of civil service to an event management entrepreneur back in 2013, Riel (Ree) Dion, Founder of EventCamp, knew he wanted to build an event platform and diversify his income portfolio but needed financial, technical mentorship, and business support to make it happen.
From his bright windowed home office in Winnipeg, Ree shared how he discovered North Forge over Zoom; “I’m glued to my cell phone, much like a lot of other people, and on LinkedIn, I see a lot of posts from Joelle Foster, CEO of North Forge. I’ve seen her at several entrepreneurship and community events where she has more than adequately represented North Forge. So when I started researching more about North Forge, what they are doing for the startup community, and then having met with Joelle, it was very much apparent that the resources would be available to me that fill my knowledge gaps.”
It was perfect timing when Ree discovered North Forge in the summer of 2021 as he was ready to take EventCamp to the next level. “We want to be ready with a simple online registration platform that can efficiently handle the onslaught of events, conferences, and gala dinners post-pandemic. I’ve never worked so hard to make something so simple,” chuckled Ree, “if you can’t explain it to a five-year-old, then you don’t know it well enough yourself.
“The idea behind EventCamp came when we hosted an agricultural trade show called CropConnect Conference back in 2016, which included sponsorship packages, trade show booths, and different types of ticket elements. In the first year of CropConnect, we used another online registration platform, and the human resource element of coordinating all that information was very labour intensive.
When that conference was over, I approached the client and said, ‘that conference process was very time-consuming and unnecessarily elaborate. What if we just build an event platform?”
After researching many online registration platforms, Ree came to realize there were gaps in their systems, “they were either extremely convoluted and or perhaps didn’t necessarily fit all the needs of an event in particular.”
With CropConnect’s initial financial and intellectual support, Ree started developing two user experiences in EventCamp. “The first end-user experience would facilitate a diverse registration process for sponsors, trade show organizers, and ticket holders all in one location. The second experience would be on the event management and user experience side. I was able to tap into the event manager’s mindset for a reporting structure to make their job easier as well.”
Ree took the opportunity to revisit event management practices during the pandemic to look at how he could roll out EventCamp. “Let’s face it; humans are social creatures which is why we’re currently preparing and investing in EventCamp now to be prepared post-pandemic.”
North Forge has added tremendous value to his business development process by giving Ree the mentorship, direction, accountability, and positive energy he was looking for in an incubator accelerator. “Gap filling, levelling up, and pulling resources together is what I like about North Forge,” noted Ree. “I enjoy learning all about the event space. There’s a personal learning objective here because I want to grow with the company. It’s incredible how much I learn every day.
My Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR), Mike Simpson, simultaneously added a lot of supportive pressure and healthy challenges with non-negotiable timelines and deadlines. Those kinds of positive forces helped drive the momentum that I wouldn’t do on my own.
You can build forever, but you have to push the bird out of the nest at some point. I feel like that’s why North Forge is right for me. We are at least 18 to 24 months closer than where we would have been without them.
I don’t have a tech or business background, which left me feeling vulnerable, but North Forge has been very inviting and welcoming. It has been a place for me to go and allow myself to be vulnerable and say, ‘I don’t know.’ They supplied the vetted resources, which helped me build trust and confidence in developing the business.
We partnered with Bit Space Development (a North Forge alumni and current sponsor) and were highly impressed with their work and responsiveness,” Ree said. “They are inserting a fluid transaction and user experience, which is melding well with our event management experience.”
“My goal with EventCamp is to level myself up to the point where Mike might say ‘I got nothing left for you, there’s nothing left I can teach you.’ At some point, I know that the company will outgrow me. But, I hope it doesn’t grow too fast,” laughed Ree.
A common thread with entrepreneurs who come into the Founders Program is the unexpected feeling of camaraderie. “I’m feeling the shared investment and participation in my product. The resources available don’t have a job description,” observed Ree. “There seems to be a real team effort to say, ‘we have a founder, he’s curious, he’s motivated, so let’s help him. Anytime I’ve ever asked for anything, the answer has always been ‘glad to help or here is some feedback.’
The North Forge team and their entrepreneur community as a whole want you to succeed. I don’t feel alone. There isn’t an unhealthy competition but the freedom to grow without internal drama. North Forge doesn’t own shares in your company’s profit, but they want this guy to succeed. I think a lot of it has to do with it being a Manitoba-made Manitoba success story, and we all love those. It’s been great to have this kind of wind behind my sails.”
Are you a professional who has identified a gap in your industry?
Do you have an idea that would solve a problem but need help with starting a business?
We would love to hear from you! Tell us about your idea (don’t worry if you don’t have the answers to all the questions yet), and Krista Kowaluk, North Forge’s Program and Communications Manager, will contact you to set up a meeting to chat about it.