New year, new business: Small startups turn to London, Ont., centre for January help –

For Mary Bradshaw, the pandemic meant closing her 23-year-old business making and selling cookies to large companies such as Second Cup and Chapters. They weren’t open, so they no longer needed her baking. 

Bradshaw turned her love for business and baking into Nightingale Pie Co., launched in May 2021, making pies from scratch. 

Another entrepreneur, Catrina Coppolino, saw an opportunity to break into the frozen meal delivery business, with a focus on local ingredients, eco-friendly practices and giving back to the community. Some of the proceeds from each sale go to organizations such as  SafeSpace, Anova, and Ark Aid Mission.

They’re just two of the businesses that are working with the London Small Business Centre this year, trying to get help as another pandemic year inspires entrepreneurs to turn their passions into profits. 

Every year in January, the London Small Business Centre gets ready for an influx of entrepreneurs and small-business hopeful who turn to it for advice and help, looking for a fresh start as a new year rolls in. 

This year is no different, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and two years of non-stop uncertainty, said Steve Pellarin, the centre’s executive director. 

Help with ‘business tune-ups’

“Every January we see a bit of an uptick in the number of individuals coming in, looking to start a new business as well as looking to tune up their existing business,” Pellarin said.

“It could be anything from somebody wanting to revisit their entire marketing strategy, or they’ve crunched their numbers at the end of their calendar year and realized the profitability wasn’t what they were hoping it would be. Or people come in and they want a sounding board, a second opinion. It comes down to, they want to make more money, and they’re trying to figure out how.” 

Bray Bradshaw, owner of Nightingale Pie Co., holds up some of her creations. (Supplied by Mary Bradshaw)

COVID has brought in people who already have businesses coming in looking for help in making a pivot to something that could work amid shutdowns and remote work. 

“A lot of people are also looking for more clarity on what some of the government services and programs are, they’re not sure what their next step needs to be and they’re coming to ask us for assistance,” Pellarin said. 

People are either pushed or pulled into entrepreneurship, he said. In good times, they’re pulled into the promise of more money, fuelled by ambition. In downturns — or, it turns out, in global pandemics — they’re pushed into starting businesses out of necessity. 

“These are people who are looking to improving their position in life, and they’re looking for new opportunities. They want to have more control over their work-life balance, a little bit more control over their financial destiny.”

The pandemic, and things quickly shifting online, have made it easy for people to consider taking a hobby or side-hustle and consider making it a primary income, Pellarin said, though he adds it’s more difficult than it seems.

“We see a lot of individuals who may have been temporarily misplaced from their work or downsized and they see an opportunity to augment the hours they’re getting from their employer, or to replace those hours entirely.”

Food-related businesses are also strong, he said. “That was strong pre-COVID and it has remained strong-all the way throughout.”

‘Trying to shift the narrative’

For Coppolino, whose Umbrella Kitchen offers home-made, locally-sourced frozen meals delivered to the doorstep, customizable and in packaging that is compostable and recyclable, the pandemic got her into a business that is grocery related, because it’s “pandemic proof.” 

“I’m trying to shift the narrative. Home cooked food doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult. I want to make things easier for everyone and I want to help people in the way that I know I can,” she said. 

For those wanting to start a new business, especially during the pandemic, Coppolino recommends “a lot of research” and knowing the regulations that go along with the industry you want to enter. The Small Business Centre has helped her navigate some of those hurdles. 

One of the items available through Umbrella Kitchen, a gluten free bolognese. (Supplied by Catrina Coppolino )

“When it comes to starting a new business, there are a lot more hoops that you have to jump through. In terms of New Year’s Resolutions — be flexible. The world is changing so much. Literally, every other week, there’s a new restriction, a new variant, a new change that comes up. If you’re too stuck on ‘this is how it’s going to be,’ you won’t get far,” Coppolino said. 

Bradshaw, who ran her own business for 23 years, is getting help with a funding application, as well as marketing and payroll. 

“Even if you know some of this stuff, it’s good to be reminded,” she said. “As a small business owner, you can get so caught up in getting the day-to-day done, you forget the other parts are also so important.” 


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