One year after 2022 North Okanagan business challenge, winners finding success and growing their companies
Olive Butler will never forget the night she stood on the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Stage. It was an evening she went into with no expectations and one that has changed the course of her small business.
It was the night that, after weeks of workshops and one-on-one mentoring, she won the 2022 Enterprize Challenge and took home more than $20,000 in prizes to help make her business a reality.
Nine months later, Butler has grown her natural, low waste and vegan cosmetics company, Conspiracy Cosmetics, from a small e-commerce shop to an authentic beauty brand available in shops from the South Okanagan to Ontario.
“The main thing that’s evolved since joining the Enterprize Challenge is my confidence to move my business forward,” says Butler. “When I started the program, I didn’t feel like I knew enough. I felt like an imposter who needed more experience and better connections. By the end of the program, I had the knowledge and connections I needed to move past that fear, that imposter syndrome. I realized that my business does make sense.”
Registration is now open for Community Futures North Okanagan’s 2023 Enterprize Challenge. Starting in February, participants begin a series of business workshops and work one-on-one with a local mentor to refine their business plans. The program culminates in a live pitch and awards showcase at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre May 18 where the first, second and third-place winners and people’s choice victor will be crowned.
“After seven years of Enterpize Challenges, we’ve seen such incredible demonstrations of creative thinking, problem solving and determination as our local entrepreneurs bring their business ideas to life,” says Kazia Mullin, business services manager, Community Futures North Okanagan. “We can’t wait to see how this year’s participants will rise to the challenge.”
Last spring, Sean Ling-Allen of Centred Pilates rose to the challenge with a thoughtful pitch and took home second place plus more than $10,000 in prizes.
“The Enterprize Challenge gave me a big push to launch the studio more publicly,” Ling-Allen says. “It gave me exposure to a local studio that helped me with my marketing plan and led me to my mentor, Ken McLeod, who helped me refine my business idea. Now, I have a plan for the next five years of my business.”
Since participating in the challenge, Ling-Allen has hired two part-time instructors and grown the group classes side of the studio.
James Stuart, founder of Uplift Aero Greens, has also seen his business grow since he took home third place and $6,000 in prizes last April. Before the Enterprize Challenge, Uplift Aero Greens was pre-revenue. The vertical farming business had four grow walls with 108 plants each, and Stuart spent his days designing, constructing and refining his aeroponics system.
“Everything about the Enterprize Challenge was out of my comfort zone. I’m not a public speaker, I’m usually quite reserved, but the challenge pushed me and helped me and my business grow,” says Stuart. “Now, I’ve increased my production by three times, which made it possible to reach out to grocers. Between Butcher Boys and Swan Lake Market & Garden, they purchase all the produce I’m able to grow.”
For Leanna Maksymik of Waste Not Wool, the biggest takeaway from the program was not the prize package she won, but the opportunity to share her excitement about her product with the community.
“When we did the Enterprize Challenge, I didn’t even have my wool pelleting machinery yet. When I won People’s Choice, it was so good to know that, even though my business was still just a plan, people believed in my product,” says Maksymik. “It was an amazing opportunity. Every entrepreneur should try to get into the program.”