TORONTO—Adult toys, winter coats, and vehicle battery systems were just some of the products to recently earn Ontario businesses an Entrepreneur of the Year award.
The Ernst & Young contest, now in its 18th year, acknowledges contributions from Canadian entrepreneurs.
This year’s winners ranged from Shashi Foods, a raw food producer in Vaughan to Electrovaya, a Mississauga manufacturer of lithium ion superpolymer batteries.
While more than 30 Ontario entrepreneurs walked away with awards, a new survey by Ernst & Young found that six out of 10 businesses worldwide are still struggling to foster innovation in the workplace.
Funding was the biggest barrier for 33 per cent of companies. Entrepreneurs also cited lack of access to new educational opportunities, not having the right people and getting bogged down by red tape.
Colleen McMorrow, National and Ontario Director of Entrepreneur of the Year, says everyone has a role to play in breaking down these barriers.
“Stakeholders — from governments to businesses to academia — must now work together to create a truly entrepreneurial ecosystem where creative-minded businesses can thrive,” McMorrow says.
One of the ways companies can get started is by building an internal spirit of entrepreneurship into their business models.
McMorrow calls this spirit “intrapreneurship” and says it bolsters inventive ways of thinking across the workforce.
Infecting employees with that spirit is crucial, agrees David Kroetsch, one of this year’s award-winning entrepreneurs.
Kroetsch is president of Aeryon Labs Inc., a Waterloo designer and manufacturer of small unmanned aerial vehicle systems for aerial sensing applications.
“We’ve realized it’s not just about encouraging technical innovation but creating an innovative corporate culture,” Kroetsch says.
For his company, that meant not hiring people who were just looking for work and ensuring people were following their passion.
“You should only do what you love, have fun and make money—in that order,” he says.
Aeryon has followed that chronology, starting off as a small start-up running on a shoe string budget
“Funding was a huge barrier for us,” Kroetsch says.
“We chose early on not to go down the venture capital route and focused instead on funding from friends, family and government,” he says.
The company also tapped into federal assistance programs such as IRAP and SRED.
Although that meant struggling at times, he says it helped build up their entrepreneurial spirit.
“When everyone involved is fully invested in the company, it really makes a difference.”