Innovate BC is offering free business support focusing on digital improvement

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There’s no arguing that a company’s digital offer is more important than ever, and will continue to be. Innovate BC has recognized the ongoing need for Mainstreet businesses to either get online or to enhance their digital offer. They are offering free business coaching to companies in six regions of the province (including Greater Victoria, Central Island, Northern Island, Sunshine Coast & Gulf Islands). 

Funding for the program has come from the federal government (the Western Diversification Fund) and through provincial ministries. There are delivery partners in each region: VIATEC in Victoria and Innovation Island in Nanaimo. 

“We have found business advisors that really know how to take a business and provide a roadmap, and all of the tools and the connections necessary for a business to get into the digital stage,” says Innovate BC’s president and CEO, Raghwa Gopal.

The offer is a lot more comprehensive than just helping to take a business online. And the application process is easy — a stark contrast to some of the federal and provincial grant applications — and the results have proven the model successful (it was launched late fall 2020). 

A business advisor will contact applicants to arrange an initial assessment. The process will include tailored digital strategies and connections to resources — local companies that can help with the specific service, from building a website or social media strategies to a new reservation or payment system. 

“The business advisor will tell them how to do this, so they can grow their business,” says Gopal. “They may need to adapt to a new customer behavior … or expand into a new market that they may not have thought of.”

The result of the consultation process for one food company was increased online sales, up 1,200% on the year before, and an estimated 50% increase in overall revenue. The coaching helped her clarify her value proposition and her market, changing the way her products were positioned online and in her pitch deck. She was successful in her pitch to Federal Co-operatives Ltd to bring 13 of her products into 118 of their stores across Western Canada. Another example, a butcher shop mid-Island, was about to close but, as a result of the program, has grown the business by 200%. 

“Any retail business or any mainstream business that may not have a digital presence right now should look at this program, because it builds resilience,” says Gopal. “We don’t know what will come up in the next 2-3-4-5 years, so if they have that online presence, they’ll be much more resilient than any business that is not relying on bricks and mortar. You have to have both.”