A private-sector program aimed at helping small businesses grow into medium-sized companies is expanding to Ontario.
Dominic Deneault, the founder of Adrenalys, says when it comes to small-business business support programs, there’s a gap in the market. Now Adrenalys, first launched in Quebec two years ago, is expanding into Ontario and started accepting applications on April 11 from companies based in the province.
“There are tons of measures that are geared towards entrepreneurs and startups,” he says. “And, at the other end of the spectrum, you have very reactive economic development measures that are geared towards huge multinationals.” He mentions bailouts in Quebec’s aerospace sector and Ontario’s automotive industry.
For businesses that are past the startup stage but aren’t too big to fail, he says, there aren’t many services to help them continue growing.
“It’s pretty rare that you see sophisticated, well-defined programs that actually help companies migrate from the entrepreneurial stage to the professionally-managed stage,” he says. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish with Adrenalys.”
A strategy consultant and a partner at Montreal consulting firm Ascendis, Mr. Deneault says he’s seen the problem firsthand. He’s worked with many smaller business that are looking to grow and he’s consulted on government economic development projects across Quebec.
Most small businesses don’t grow into mid-sized companies. In 2013, a little more than 1,000 Canadian small businesses grew to have 100 or more employees, according to a study by the Business Development Bank of Canada. That’s 0.1 per cent of all small businesses in Canada. In 2001, 1,611 businesses, or 0.18 per cent of small businesses in Canada grew to 100 employees or beyond.
Adrenalys uses a cohort-based approach, with companies joining the program for two years. The program’s first cohort of 24 Quebec-based companies started in spring of 2015. For the second group, Mr. Deneault wants to recruit 25 companies in Quebec and another 50 in Ontario.
When a company joins the program, Mr. Deneault says it goes through a sort of “diagnostic” aimed at identifying the key issues and challenges facing the company. The program has secured a number of high-profile partnerships – in Ontario it will be working with Scotiabank, law firm BLG and accounting firm MNP. Participating companies will receive pro-bono and discounted services from those partners.
Adrenalys won’t be investing in the participating companies itself, however several of its partners will be offering various forms of financing at preferable rates, Mr. Deneault says. Up to $350-million has been earmarked for these loans and investments. While many accelerator programs take an equity stake in participants, Adrenalys is taking a different approach. Companies will pay a $15,000 fee to participate in the two-year program.
While access to advice and resources is appealing to participants, so too are the experiences of other companies.
“The main part that was interesting for us is being part of that network, that network of success stories,” Martin Deschênes says. He’s the general manager of Mondou, a 62-location chain of pet supplies stores in Quebec. He says learning about what made his peers’ companies successful, and what they’re planning for the future, was valuable.
He says the program also gave his company, which has been in business for 80 years, new ideas and access to expertise as it looks to expand outside of its home province. “Yes, our business is successful, but it’s successful in the Quebec market,” he says. “We are a startup in the other parts of Canada.”
Eric Simoneau says he also got a lot of value out of the opportunity to talk with other chief executive officers facing similar challenges. He’s the CEO of Motion Composites, which makes lightweight carbon-fibre wheelchairs. “Our company is built on fast growth, we want to become the No. 1 wheelchair manufacturer in North America, and we don’t have the recipe today to do it,” he says. “We need to share ideas.”
He says that as his company grew, it became increasingly difficult for its three co-founders to manage everything. That meant major changes to the way the company was run, and like Mondou’s Mr. Deschênes, being part of a program like Adrenalys was a chance to learn from others’ experiences and avoid common mistakes, he says.
Mr. Deneault says that if things go well in Ontario, he wants to bring the program to the rest of Canada and, eventually, take it international.
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