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How To Incubate Small Businesses

How To Incubate Small Businesses

Here's how start-ups are born
By Herb Mathisen
Feb 15
2016
From the February 2016 Issue

Lorie Crawford got her start in the early days of Yellowknife’s Farmers Market selling fresh-pressed juices as a favour to organizers. She’d been quite happy with her nutritionist business—hosting healthy cooking workshops out of her home kitchen and doing dietary consultations—but soon she also found herself preparing meals for Yellowknifers with food sensitivity issues. 

And Zing was born. Now every Tuesday night from June to September, Crawford sells between 65 to 75 raw food entrees—think Pad Thai with noodles made of spiralized zucchini, covered in an almond butter, garlic and ginger sauce. She’s now catering events and seeking a commercial kitchen where she can prepare food and hold her cooking classes. “The Farmers Market has solidified my market. Absolutely. It’s solid. It’s there. It’s not going anywhere. This is three seasons of absolute steady income.”

Retail space, like everything in town, costs a small fortune. So does getting the word out about a new business. And then there’s the paperwork involved with starting a business. The market, entering its fourth season this spring, lets wannabe entrepreneurs test out their products—and experiment with marketing and pricing—in a venue where the stakes aren’t make or break. Basically, you can fail and you won’t go broke.

Vendors sign up for a membership with the market (for $15) and pay for a table for four, eight, or all sixteen weeks. The benefits? They don’t have to buy their own business licence if they sell only at the market, says France Benoit, a founding organizer. “We operate under one business licence with the City of Yellowknife, instead of having to have 50.” Vendors are also covered by the market’s insurance. 

Developing and supporting food-based businesses is a stated goal of the market, says Benoit, who sells homemade cheese and quiches made with homegrown produce. “A vendor that comes for half a season or shares a table with another vendor and then, the year after, has built up confidence and comes on her own for a full-season, that’s progress, you know?” 

The consistently long lines (okay, really long lines) outside the Saffron table convinced its owners to invest in a food truck last year. They now serve up butter chicken, samosas and curries downtown during the summer months. 

And after initial forays selling her homemade soaps at the market three years ago, Caroline Lafontaine is now using a government grant to hire a graphic designer to build a website to sell her all-natural products online. “I wouldn’t even have a business if it wasn’t for the farmers market,” she says. That business, Daahtłeh (‘soap’ in Dene Zhatıé, or South Slavey), uses items harvested from the Deh Cho region for spa bars and spruce gum products. “There’s so much talent, especially in Yellowknife. Venues like this are necessary,” she says.

It’s not only incubating businesses in a city that’s seen much of its entrepreneurship erode. It’s become much more than that.

“It’s an event,” says Benoit. “There’s so many things happening and people tell us that sometimes they come and they buy nothing, but they see everybody, their friends. And their kids can run.”