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Large firms need to do more to help young entrepreneurs, business leader says

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Established Canadian companies should play a more active role in helping innovative young entrepreneurs realize their dreams, one of Atlantic Canada’s best-known business leaders says.

“Entrepreneurial risk-takers and trailblazers are the backbone of a strong, flexible and innovative country,” John Risley, President of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., says in an essay published today by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

The essay – The virtuous cycle: why large firms should nurture young entrepreneurs – was co-written by Julia Deans, Chief Executive Officer of Futurpreneur Canada, a national non-profit organization that assists aspiring young business owners. Mr. Risley chairs the group’s Board of Directors.

In the paper, Mr. Risley and Ms. Deans argue that economic and demographic conditions in Canada are ripe for the adoption of a proactive strategy to support and encourage the growth of a vibrant entrepreneurial culture.

They point out that over the next decade, as many as half of all small business owners over 45 will retire.

Meanwhile, signs indicate that an increasing number of young Canadians are more interested in starting their own companies than trusting their futures to an uncertain job market.

“If we all do more to encourage young people to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, they will help fill the gaps created by retiring entrepreneurs,” they write.

Established firms, they say, can play an important mentoring role by offering guidance, sharing their experiences and helping young entrepreneurs build connections.

Mentorship played a pivotal role in Mr. Risley’s own entrepreneurial journey, which began in the 1970s when he and his brother-in-law began selling lobsters.  A local business leader named Malcolm “Mac” Swim provided influential advice and support in those early years.

Today, Clearwater is one of the world’s leading seafood companies. It also has a controlling stake in Columbus Communications, a provider of network services and cable TV in 21 Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Mr. Risley and Ms. Deans offer a series of recommendations aimed at strengthening cooperation among governments, post-secondary institutions, businesses and the entrepreneurial community. Among them:

  • Creating more competitions, co-ops and internships for aspiring entrepreneurs;
  • Offering young entrepreneurs free first-year memberships in business organizations to provide them with exposure, connections and discounts; and
  • Working with lending agencies to increase the availability of financing for young entrepreneurs.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives commissioned the essay as part of Taking Action for Canada, a multi-year initiative to improve the quality of education and skills training while enhancing young Canadians’ ability to succeed in the 21st century economy. The full report is available here. Click here for a list a publications related to the initiative.

Founded in 1976, the CCCE is a non-partisan organization that engages in public policy research, consultation and advocacy. Its members lead companies that collectively administer $4.5 trillion in assets, employ more than 1.4 million men and women and are responsible for most of Canada’s private-sector exports, investment and training.

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