Shadi McIsaac is the Founder of Ownr, a platform that offers a simple and convenient way to register or incorporate a business as well as other tools to help entrepreneurs manage their businesses.
Prior to joining RBC Ventures in 2017, Shadi worked as the Director of Digital Transformation with RBC’s Personal & Commercial Banking where she was responsible for the strategy development of a transformation to engage clients and prospects through data insights. She was also a senior manager in the Strategy and Business Architecture group supporting the development of strategies across Personal & Commercial Banking.
Shadi joined RBC in 2014, and previously, she earned an MBA from the Rotman School of Management.
Ownr recently announced the launch of a grant program to help small businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. As co-founder of Ownr, can you tell us what was the inspiration behind the launch of the grant program and what you’re hoping to accomplish through it?
When we launched Ownr in November 2017, our mission was to inspire and enable entrepreneurship in Canada by providing a platform for entrepreneurs to launch their business. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the small business community, and while the Canadian government is taking unprecedented measures to support small businesses, we want to ensure that those with a business dream aren’t deterred by our temporary circumstances.
Many entrepreneurs are taking this time to pivot their existing business or to think about starting one. We launched Ownr Grants to help support Canadian entrepreneurs, with a grant of up to $1000 for each successful applicant. Starting and running a business isn’t easy, but with some funding to get them on their way, we believe entrepreneurs can feel inspired to thrive during this time of uncertainty and change.
Many Canadian small businesses are in danger of shutting down and facing bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What would you say is the biggest challenge that entrepreneurs are facing at the moment?
Most small businesses are struggling to gain access to the tools and resources they need to pivot their operating model. We know Main Street businesses have been severely affected by the pandemic, and in the absence of foot traffic, it’s imperative for small businesses to think about how to market and sell online, and the logistics involved in shipping, delivery, pickup etc.
The operational challenges are real – especially for those in service-based industries where businesses may have not been equipped to support clients in alternative channels. Restaurants and personal trainers are perfect examples. Thankfully, we’re seeing restaurants leverage delivery services to continue to serve clients in an increasingly digital world, while personal trainers are pivoting to train their clients through digital channels.
From a cash flow perspective, many small business owners are struggling to keep their employees on payroll or paying down any debt or monthly expenses like rent. Programs like the CERB and Ownr Grants were created to help business owners manage through these challenges.
The federal government has initiated several resources and programs to help SMEs during these challenging times, including the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA). How can entrepreneurs leverage these resources, and where else can they turn for help?
Entrepreneurs know there are always some challenges you can’t easily plan for, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Fortunately, Canada’s federal and provincial governments have created a number of new programs for entrepreneurs. The programs are being updated quickly to keep up with the needs of Canadians and the changing situation. We’ve also put together some content on our blog that summarizes the government benefits by province, and outlines free or discounted resources available to entrepreneurs to support them during this time of change. And of course, the Government of Canada website and the provincial government websites have the most up to date information about these changes, and we encourage entrepreneurs to consult those resources before applying for benefits.
In your expert opinion, why do you believe it’s crucial to help Canadian SMEs during these unprecedented times? What value can they bring to Canada’s economy?
70% of Canadians work for a small business in some capacity. They’re the backbone of the Canadian economy. Now, more than ever, we need to make the right investments to support small businesses and ensure that we come out stronger on the other side of this.
On a final note, what advice can you give to entrepreneurs so that they can remain successful during these difficult times? What initiatives should they implement that could benefit them in the long run?
For entrepreneurs with an existing business, know that you’re not alone. The Canadian government, private sector organizations, and the broader network of 37+ million Canadians stand behind our small businesses.
My advice would be to continue to leverage the support and relief programs available, find ways to reinvent your business to operate in this new world we live in, and be opportunistic in marketing and selling online where possible.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, don’t let these recent events deter you from your pursuit. Entrepreneurship in Canada is still alive and well, and with significant change comes a ton of opportunity. Certain industries are becoming more important than ever, and new ways of working and offering services are popping up by the day – there’s never been a better time to start!