Economic development is a big concept. It touches everything from housing and health to education and jobs. Without focus, it can become a very expensive, ineffective proposition – you won’t see the woods for the trees.
When we set out to create the South Island Prosperity Project – the first economic development agency to cover our entire geographic region (including 13 municipalities and several First Nation communities) – our first obstacle was prioritization. We couldn’t do everything, for everyone, at once.
Focus where you’ll get traction
What we did instead was focus on traction. What businesses would enable us to hit important goals like economic growth and career creation – quickly? We decided second stage companies – that is companies that already exist and are ready to grow from both our region and outside the South Island – would be the lowest-hanging fruit.
So now we had our target. What could we do for them that wasn’t already being done?
At this point, we brainstormed the process these businesses had to go through in their path to growth. One throbbing pain point was what we called ecosystem management – if, for example, a business needed accounting help, they had to find a reputable accountant themselves. Hard on your home turf – exponentially harder if you’re new in town.
Ditto for legal help. And real estate, and HR, and supply chain, and, well, pretty much everything. Now roll in the complexity of dealing across municipal borders, and you can see how an entrepreneur could get overwhelmed and frustrated by the confusion.
One concierge, all solutions
That’s where our Business Connector Concierge pilot program comes in.
We’re creating the Concierge program to provide our clients with a single point of contact. Our Concierges will have entrepreneurial experience. They’ll be masters at sourcing, networking and problem solving. Given their objective ‘outsider’ perspective, they’ll also serve nicely as sounding boards and coaches.
Our Concierge becomes the only person you need to call if your business needs help growing in, or settling into, our region.
Focus and personalization are well and good. But to justify our existence, we need to show measurement and success.
That’s why we created our Prosperity Index.
Our clients have their first brush with the Index before they even come aboard – our Concierges use questions from the Index to score a company’s suitability for our program and assess their barriers to growth.
If the company fits according to parameters like sector, growth stage, values and commitment to hiring from within the community, we bring them aboard. If they aren’t a fit, we refer them to partner organizations. Incubators for early-stage start-ups, for example; or Small Business BC if the person is simply looking for training, workshops and consultation; or the Business Hub at City of Victoria to navigate business permits.
As we onboard companies, we use the Prosperity Index to benchmark them in key areas. Areas which we then assess on a regular basis for progress. After all, our mandate is to help companies grow. To do that, we need to know if there are barriers in the way to that growth.
Economic development that never stops developing
Do we have all the answers? Hardly.
But that’s why we also committed to co-design. Hand in hand with our client companies, we’re designing the elements of our program. From our perspective, it’s the only way to ensure companies get the help they want, without diversions or distractions.
We’re introducing the South Island Prosperity Project’s first client companies into the program in October 2016, and targeting to have 10 companies go through the program in the next 6 months. Stay tuned.
Emilie de Rosenroll is Executive Director of the South Island Prosperity Project.