Rural Manitobans have big entrepreneurial dreams.
The sizable turnout at this year’s Take the Leap conference in Dauphin Oct. 17 is just the latest sign of this, according to event organizers.
Take the Leap, hosted by the Dauphin and District Chamber of Commerce, aims to provide insight into the resources available to these budding business people.
“A lot of people in rural areas are looking for this information,” said Charlene Gulak, regional co-ordinator with Workplace Education Manitoba for the Parkland region, at the event.
“We were purposeful in coming up with this conference idea, as well as hosting the event in Dauphin, because we felt strongly that there should be accessible information for rural folks who are considering business development.”
Attendees included both active entrepreneurs hoping to build on an existing business, and those with a business concept they were interested in exploring.
The theme of the eighth annual conference was finding passion, purpose and prosperity.
Throughout the day three panels of rural entrepreneurs took the spotlight to discuss what their pathway to success has looked like.
“So often we hear from attendees that they benefited most from this storytelling aspect of the day, where these active entrepreneurs share their stories. I think it is motivating to them to hear about others in the province who have found success,” Gulak said.
While some would ask why you’d start a business in rural Manitoba, keynote speaker Les Kletke suggested the more apt question was why you wouldn’t.
In his view, rural Manitobans actually have a number of distinct advantages that they can put to work for themselves and their businesses.
“We have tremendous resources here,” Kletke said. “We are not lowest cost in terms of labour but we are low cost in terms of a place to live. We have a great network of extension people and community development people who can help with information and provide guidance. There are other places in this country and across the world that just don’t offer that.”
Kletke took over his family farm in 1980 and shortly after became involved with the local marketing group. The group of 20 local farmers became involved in a value-added endeavour, where it bought an existing pasta plant.
After years of trying to get a product on the grocery shelves, the group later sold the operation to a major food manufacturer.
Kletke says this experience gave him a lot of insight into the value-added process and the grocery market.
“If you’re looking to get into a value-added endeavour, you really need to stay focused and have a champion for the program because there are going to be difficult times. Especially if you want to build something large, it is a long process and you are going to run out of time and energy so you need to have the champion who will stay with it,” Kletke said.
At the event, Kletke spoke on the importance of having a business plan and foresight for the future.
“You have to have a plan so that you can change it. If you don’t know where you are going you don’t need a map but if you want to know where you are going, you better have a map,” Kletke said. “Too many of us also get caught up in building a business but never think about the end result. Is this something that we are building and going to sell to a larger business? Is this something we are going to build and keep going with future generations? Or, is this something that is our retirement package and at the end we are going to wrap it up? Those are very important things to know before you start.”
Kletke has spent nearly 30 years in the business of agriculture information as a journalist, author and extension agent.
He is also a Nuffield Scholar, former Canadian representative to the Global Farmers Roundtable and holds a degree in economics and a diploma in agriculture from the University of Manitoba. He urged attendees to make connections they can build on.
“Events like this are so beneficial for entrepreneurs,” Kletke said. “Networking is really the biggest benefit. If you are looking to start any kind of business I cannot understate the importance of pulling in as much information as you can from people who have been down this road before. And, even those in completely different sectors, because they are going to give you different business experience that can be valuable to you.”
The Take the Leap committee was happy with this year’s turnout and says, along with material handouts, attendees also benefited from valuable conversations.
“We have filled the room with attendees again this year and it is great to see because the entrepreneurs really run the day here, we are simply host to these conversations,” Gulak said.