Province cancels longstanding entrepreneurial program
By Angelica Ingram
Oliver Zielke doesn’t know how he would have started his business JBeans Roastery if not for the help offered by the Ontario Self Employment Benefit program.
Aside from offering financial support, the program administered through the Haliburton County Development Corporation has given the JBeans co-founder business skills and tips the entrepreneur is applying to his recently launched coffee roasting business.
Zielke credits OSEB co-ordinator Lauren Forbes for all the help she gave him while he was in the process of launching his business.
“Lauren is a special advisor,” he said. “She has a certain way of delivering wisdom, and I appreciate that greatly.”
Halfway through the 42-week-long program, Zielke will be the last person to benefit from OSEB as earlier this year the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced they would no longer be funding the program.
In existence for 25 years, the OSEB program has helped hundreds of local entrepreneurs launch their businesses, some of which are still in operation today, said HCDC general manager Andy Campbell.
When OSEB first launched, HCDC was able to administer up to 20 applicants a year through the program, a number that eventually dwindled down to 10 during the past few years.
“That’s Haliburton,” he said. “When you look at some of my colleagues in other areas they were doing 60 [applicants], some were doing over 100.”
Not only is the program no longer going to exist in Haliburton County but has been cancelled throughout the entire province, said Campbell.
HCDC was unable to accept any applicants after June 15. The last official day of the program will be March 31, 2016.
Forbes said she has no idea why it was cancelled and hopes it is reintroduced in a new form.
“Intuitively I think it will be something else under a different name,” she said. “There is more focus on the youth right now, in terms of starting their own business.”
Campbell says the government is calling it a reallocation of resources to another department or ministry, to do something similar.
“I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a self-employment benefit program for people who are on EI to start-up a business,” said Campbell. “They’re reallocating it and going to come up with something different.”
Like Zielke, Caroline Collins is also extremely grateful for OSEB in launching her legal assistance business called Virtual Ally.
A graduate of the program in 2013, Collins said she had the skills and education for a legal profession but was lacking certain business skills to help get her started.
That was where HCDC and the program made all the difference.
“You don’t have money when you’re starting out,” she said. “That’s what helps you through. You can build your company and make your money and be supported at the same time.”
Now two years later Collins has five clients and operates her business from her home.
Launched this past June, JBeans coffee is now available throughout the county at Aprons and Soaps, the Country Kitchen Bulk Store and is served at Mill Pond Restaurant in Carnarvon.
For Zielke one of the most rewarding aspects of the program was being able to hire an employee and train him in the craft of roasting.
While the OSEB program only allowed for 10 applicants a year, the ripple effect will be felt throughout the county for the years to come.
Campbell can think of at least a few area businesses that were started through OSEB that now employ up to half a dozen people.
“There are some that are significant employers,” he said.
Both Campbell and Forbes were saddened upon hearing the news about OSEB, as the loss of the program is taking its toll on the county and organization.
“We lose a valuable staff member and we miss opportunities to work with people who otherwise wouldn’t be starting,” said Campbell.
Although OSEB will soon cease to exist, Campbell encourages entrepreneurs and those with a business idea to visit the HCDC office first for guidance and support.
“OSEB is just one component of what we do,” he said. “We still work with loads of people who are eligible for the program ... I would work with anybody.”