Who would have thought that an Englishman who didn’t know how to skate but could drive a zamboni would come to Canada and be the catalyst for the success of so many small businesses in South Georgian Bay?
Enter Tim Newton, manager of the South Georgian Bay Small Business Enterprise Centre (SBEC).
For well over five years, Tim has been a problem solver, activated networker, connector and the biggest cheerleader for so many small business owners — and yet, he is so humble about it.
“If being a small part of someone’s journey means that the vibe in Collingwood is [...] ripe for ongoing and continued entrepreneurship as a culture… just knowing I’ve been a small part of that is pretty awesome,” said Tim.
Born and raised in Oxford, Tim went on to study management with a focus on sport at the University of Plymouth. While most of his friends got sucked into the “vortex” of London, Tim went back to Oxford after college to manage a local ice rink. The arena was home to a British Ice Hockey Superleague at the time, and because there was a limited number of ice sheets in the United Kingdom, the facility was open over 20 hours a day.
Tim had also met and married a Canadian and after living in the U.K. together for five years, they decided it was time for a change. In 2005, they arrived in Canada with not much more than a backpack and a new five-year plan.
Tim’s wife grew up skiing in South Georgian Bay and they started visiting the area in the 1990s. Worried about getting sucked into city life, they decided to try living in the Blue Mountains first, and they never looked back.
“We never left, nor do I have any plans of leaving,” Tim said. “This is the place to be.”
However, Collingwood was a very different place when they first arrived full-time over 15 years ago. So Tim got a job in construction and through that, he was invited to join a hockey team, finally learning how to play the sport after working for so many years at an ice rink. — He still plays weekly to this day.
Also during his time in construction, Tim would visit the Beaver Valley Outreach (BVO) to stock up on clothing that he could destroy on the job site. Little did he know, he was being scouted. One of the volunteers at the BVO had a connection to Tracks Employment and was writing a grant for a new youth entrepreneurial program. Over time, she got to know Tim, and told him they were looking for someone to run the initiative and encouraged him to apply.
Because Tim had previous experience both in management and working with youth, he was hired. Tim built the program, named Store 54, from its initial concept to inception, and ran it successfully for two and a half years. Store 54 operated out of a downtown Collingwood storefront and housed several small businesses run by local youth between the ages of 15-29 years old.
“That program kind of opened the door to business and entrepreneurship,” Tim said.
The entrepreneurial community in Collingwood was still “a bit of an underground current,” but as manufacturing plants closed and skilled workers were left unemployed, the region hit a tipping point.
Around the same time, the government introduced the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit (OSEB) program, which was intended to help job seeking Canadians who possessed a viable business idea and wanted to make it a reality. Tim took over and ran it for eight years.
In 2015, program funding ended, and the OSEB was eventually replaced by a new program called Starter Company Plus and given to SBECs across Ontario. Tim transitioned into a role as a business advisor at the South Georgian Bay SBEC, and less than three months later he took over as manager.
And he has been successfully doing so ever since.
“We get pumped up because we get to meet with business owners daily,” he said. “Helping them either solve problems or affirm that they are on the right track through the sharing of nothing more than opinions.”
When Covid-19 broke in March 2020, the SBEC didn’t skip a beat.
“Our opinion was that businesses were going to need our help more than ever. As a voice, as an authority, as a place to go for help, and as a sounding board,” he said.
So they pivoted online and positioned themselves as a place to help in any way necessary.
Their caseload increased significantly, proving that while many local businesses were struggling, some opportunists were still willing to take a risk on South Georgian Bay to open their new endeavour.
“Are we recession proof?” said Tim. “No. But are there areas in Canada that are better equipped [than this area] to deal with the impacts of Covid? No, I don't think so.”
The SBEC has moved back to a hybrid model — serving business owners both in person and online — and Tim’s role continues to be hunting for funding so they can support small business owners in any way they need.
For him, there is a distinction between entrepreneurs, small business owners, and those who are self-employed. But they all have one thing in common: they get to choose their definition of success.
“We see the benefit in the community when a business owner has reached whatever they define to be success,” he said. “Success is defined differently by everyone we work with, but if we can be a small part of supporting that, then job well done.”
One thing Tim has realized about this community is that it is filled with people who are not afraid to be vulnerable — and use it for its benefit.
At the end of the day, he absolutely loves what he does.
“It’s fun, my god it’s fun,” he said.
“I’m not naturally the risk taker… Even the educated and informed risk taker that entrepreneurs are. I’ve always had a balance between stability and exciting projects. So I think what I do is perfect for me.”