When Shane Austin moved to Kelowna in 2009 he jumped into the city’s tech sector with a web design and marketing company. Soon he found he needed space to work so he and three friends rented office space to share and work on their different ventures.
The arrangement inspired the friends to consider a larger space and soon a new business had opened up with the start of the Okanagan co+Lab in 2011, a co-working space now shared by about 50 other small or solo business ventures, from solo entrepreneurs to non-profit organizations and even students.
“It’s a very diverse group, about 60 per cent of them I would say are entrepreneurs of different types,” said Austin. “The types of entrepreneurs we are working with are start-ups, freelanceers, solo-preneurs, people getting their feet wet in entrepreneurship.”
And while the many young business types may not yet be classified as a small business, some of them will likely survive and flourish and gain traction, having to eventually hire more people, growing into the kind of small or medium size operation that is prevalent in the Central Okanagan and across the country.
And they rely on support from all levels of government, including federal, when it comes to accessing programs to help them find success.
“There could be more investment in programs that are going to help get entrepreneurs through those initial steps,” said Austin, who said most of the young entrepreneurs he works with are more concerned with the federal election on a personal level with concerns about social programs rather than support for a business start-up. “They are so busy trying to get comfortable with the role of being an entrepreneur that I don’t think they necessarily feel the election will change the outcome for entrepreneurs. It’s more personal around social issues,” said Austin.
But with the growth in his own business over the last several years, Austin himself is paying more attention to the federal election than someone who may just be starting out and is buried under not only the amount of work to get a start up going, but likely another job or contract needed to make ends meet.
He says during the last two years of solid growth at Okanagan co+Lab he has run into more and more challenges. And he isn’t hearing much from the different parties during this federal election when it comes to small business.
“To me, none of the parties really stand out when it comes to small business,” he said. “Their campaign platforms are focussed on other political themes like environmental and social which affect all aspects of life in Canada. I’m starting to feel it more over the last couple years as the business has grown…just trying to bring a level of sustainability with the business. I have to pay a lot more attention to the overall cost of running the space.”
At an all-candidates meeting in Lake Country on Wednesday night, the three candidates in Kelowna-Lake Country were asked what their party would do to help small businesses grow.
Each of the three candidates running in Kelowna-Lake Country— the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals—promised that their party’s would cut the small business tax rate from 11 to nine per cent.
Incumbent Conservative Ron Cannan said his party will also offer a small business tax credit and has 51 trade agreements across Canada which will benefit small and medium size business and open up new markets to create jobs.
NDP candidate Norah Bowman said her party proposes an innovation tax credit to save businesses $40 million a year as well as a $30 million plan to market businesses to the USA.
Liberal Stephen Fuhr said his party has $100 million plan for an industrial research assistance program that small businesses can tap into.
At Okanagan co+Lab, Austin says many entrepreneurs in the start-up area won’t benefit from a cut to the small business tax rate as they are yet to be making enough money.
Instead he says there should be more incentives for small businesses offered by the federal government to reward companies that create jobs and give incentives for growth with more tax breaks.
“If there were incentives for growth and programs available that would influence the level of success, those are the things that could help,” he said. “It seems like the province has more things going on like that.”
Overall Austin says the diversity of the entrepreneurial scene in Kelowna will allow for some success for small business no matter who takes government, although the federal government would be well served to continue offering programs to support start-ups and small business.
“I think diversity is important because it encourages more collaboration between different sectors,” he said. “It would be exciting to see more collaboration and cross-polination between industries and sectors: Government, health care and education for the greater social good.”