A George Brown College entrepreneurship hub helped My Wine Canada grow into a successful business
Have you heard about startGBC? Because if you’ve got a business idea and the drive to make that vision come true, George Brown College’s (GBC) very own entrepreneurship hub wants to hear about you.
Since its founding in 2014, manager Amy Matchen has been the heart and soul of the up-and-coming entrepreneurship hub, which describes itself as a “virtual hub” for aspiring entrepreneurs linked to the GBC community.
“There’s more entrepreneurial stuff going on at the college than meets the eye,” said Matchen. It may be easy to overlook startGBC’s presence, Matchen is the only full-time employee and startGBC lacks its own dedicated work space, but don’t let that fool you.
Matchen reckons that she has connected with “over a thousand” entrepreneur-minded people with connections to GBC, the hub’s services are open to current students, alumni, and even local community with other ties to the school, and personally assisted over 100 who were serious enough to have drafted business plans.
Much of Matchen’s day consists of moving from campus to campus, meeting with program participants wherever they can find a quiet place to sit and talk. But the vital task of directly advising and mentoring people is only the third and final service startGBC offers to people with mature business ideas.
The first service offered, and perhaps one of the most valuable to someone just starting out, is the wealth of online resources Matchen has meticulously assembled at www.startgbc.com.
These resources include a list of partners from within the college and beyond, useful organizations and services, discounts and free access codes for entrepreneur-oriented online services where cost can represent a barrier, and a well-maintained events calendar.
“I curate them so the ones I think are most relevant for students appear,” Matchen added.
The second service is the range of events facilitated by startGBC, featuring mentors and business professionals who have lessons to teach and wisdom to share. Matchen notes that these events are structured to mix attendees from a wide variety of backgrounds, to facilitate networking and expose people to ideas beyond their program of study.
Taken together, startGBC’s services can take a business from concept to reality, or even work with existing businesses wanting to grow, as Jackie McLachlan and Tiffany Chong of My Wine Canada attest.
My Wine Canada, an online wine retailer specializing in domestic wine, was the timely answer to a long-standing problem. McLachlan, noting the lack of access to quality British Columbia wines in Ontario, founded her business in response to the June 2012 passing of Bill C-311, a bill which permitted the cross-border shipping of wine directly to consumers.
“Your passion compounds itself, right? It snowballs,” said McLachlan who founded My Wine Canada in 2014. “If you can just sort of put a stake in the ground and say, ‘this is what I’m going to do, this is what I believe in, this is my idea’, you’ll rally people, right? Your passion will rally people and they’ll become magnetized to what you’re doing.”
Chong, a GBC alumnus who’s currently the company’s finance and operations manager, was hired as an intern before the company’s launch. After their official launch, McLachlan realized they needed a hand—enter startGBC.
“We were at a stage where we needed some guidance, some assistance in order to move forward and achieve our sales and company goals for the next year,” said Chong. “Since I was a GBC graduate, I thought that George Brown’s startGBC program was a good opportunity.”
After being contacted, Matchen went to work. She quickly put McLachlan and Chong in touch with similar successful businesses who could offer coaching and guidance, helped them apply for a highly-competitive Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE) grant, which they were awarded, and entered into GBC’s Applied Research Day pitch competition in 2016, which they won.
Within a short span of time, McLachlan went from asking startGBC for help to giving them a hand in turn, speaking as a success story at GBC’s Entrepreneurship Day in 2016.
“Amy’s just been outstanding in so any ways. Just so supportive of us, so I can’t really say enough good things about her or about the startGBC program,” said McLachlan.
“I know the incubator is young, it’s only a couple years old, but it’s definitely making trails and helping people, so we’re definitely evidence of that.”