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SMARTstart 2019 welcomes 16 new participants

A new group of sixteen local entrepreneurs will learn the ropes of owning a small business throughout the coming eight months, as Airdrie’s SMARTstart launches into the sixth year of its annual training program.
Getting START-ed
The launch of the 2019 SMARTstart entrepreneurial training program Feb. 26 gave participants the opportunity to network with the local business community and learn more about what they’ll be working on throughout the coming eight months.

A new group of sixteen local entrepreneurs will learn the ropes of owning a small business throughout the coming eight months, as Airdrie’s SMARTstart launches into the sixth year of its annual training program. “Small businesses play a really important role in our local economy – 99 per cent of businesses in Canada are small businesses,” said Tara Levick, a member of SMARTstart’s organizing committee. “And studies show that only 35 per cent of new businesses survive the first five years, so SMARTstart is how we hope to help change that stat.” The program caters to both entrepreneurs in the process of developing a feasible idea for a new business and entrepreneurs progressing through the initial three years of business ownership, Levick said, in an effort to ensure these up-and-comers get off to a strong start and enjoy long-term success. “[Since 2014], we’ve seen almost 90 local entrepreneurs go through the program with either a new business or a business idea,” Levick said. “As a result, we’ve seen 60 new businesses open in Airdrie.” Additionally, according to Levick, 30 per cent of program graduates have expanded their business offerings. To gauge the program’s impact, she said, SMARTstart tracks the activity of its graduating entrepreneurs to see when they open their business, add new products or services, or expand to new locations. “The whole plan behind SMARTstart is that the entrepreneurs will create either a feasibility study, a business plan or a strategic plan,” Levick said. “That’s the basis of the program.” To help participants achieve this, SMARTstart employs three primary components, according to Levick. The program partners with Calgary’s GoForth Institute for online learning, which guides entrepreneurs through a compilation of 100 essential business skills including incorporating a business, hiring and firing staff, and branding and marketing. “The second component is in-person workshops,” Levick said. “We use local experts for those, and they range from insurance advice to financial tools and reports to legal advice to business and strategic planning to how to network.” For the third part of the program, Levick said, community participation is crucial. Local business owners are paired with up-and-coming entrepreneurs, she said, and volunteer their time to provide program participants with valuable mentorship as they complete their business, feasibility or strategic plan – a document imperative to each entrepreneur’s graduation from SMARTstart. “Each of the mentors would tell you that they wish they’d had a program like this when they started their business,” Levick said. “I think they just see the value in it, and they see that they’re making a difference.” While the eight-month commitment may seem intimidating, Levick said, the program is designed to allow participants to continue operating their businesses at the same time. SMARTstart’s online training component moves at each participant’s individual pace, but entrepreneurs enrolled in the program are expected to attend two to three workshops each month. Due to the program’s duration, however, Levick said SMARTstart is only able to accommodate one group of participants per year. Applications open in the fall, and SMARTstart offers information sessions at that time to provide additional details to interested entrepreneurs. “Even if you’re just thinking about starting a business and if you have an idea and you’re wondering, I encourage people to come out,” she said. “We give a full overview of the program and what it all entails, and you can decide if you want to apply from there.” For more information, visit

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