Charles Finley, Chief Experience Officer, Futurpreneur
Charles oversees Futurpreneur’s entrepreneurship and mentorship programs, helping the mission-driven national organization meet the evolving needs of diverse young entrepreneurs launching companies across Canada. In this segment, Charles has some unparalleled tips for small businesses, especially young and emerging entrepreneurs on how to find their path in the very competitive business world.
What is the mission of Futurpreneur?
Futurpreneur has been fueling the entrepreneurial passions of Canada’s young entrepreneurs for 25 years. We are the only national, non-profit organization providing financing, mentorship, and key resources to aspiring entrepreneurs aged 18-39.
Our mission is to help these Canadian entrepreneurs launch successful businesses that contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic development in their communities and for Canada.
Your RBC Rock My Business Start-Up Awards is an amazing initiative to recognize the efforts of small business owners making a difference with their enterprises. How did you come up with this idea? What was the driving force behind it?
The idea began with Futurpreneur’s already existing Rock My Business workshop series. In 2020, we redesigned the program – partially in response to the pandemic – by making it virtual and moving to a three-part series to better prepare entrepreneurs for launching a business. The pandemic has given people a reason to rethink what they want to do next. Starting a business is a path many young entrepreneurs contemplate, but since they have different levels of business experience and preparedness, bringing their business idea to life is no easy task. This workshop series is a comprehensive, accessible resource for aspiring business owners to gain foundational skills. We are constantly exploring how to make entrepreneurship more accessible, and our partnership with RBC enables us to offer this workshop free of charge. The new virtual version proved so popular that RBC suggested we find a way to provide additional recognition to standout entrepreneurs through the RBC Rock My Business Startup Awards.
There has been an ever-increasing focus on the importance of working from home. Many companies have followed this route especially since the pandemic and have gone 100% remote. What do you think about the remote way of working? Do you think it is viable in the long run?
With the onset of the pandemic we, like other organizations, were faced with moving operations fully virtual overnight. The pandemic also accelerated existing trends towards remote or hybrid work environments. For Futurpreneur itself, we moved to work from home relatively seamlessly and are now planning what our return to the office will look like. There is value in both in-person collaborative work and a virtual workforce and we will consult with our team members to see what works best. Our entrepreneurs are also seeking this balance as some measures put in place during the pandemic opened up new ways for companies to engage with their customers, and these measures will endure long after the pandemic ends.
How do you feel the business environment has changed since the pandemic?
Small businesses faced significant challenges during the pandemic. These challenges have increased the pressure to undertake massive digital transformation, develop new fulfillment frameworks, and in some cases pivot to new products or business models. “We can’t understate the impact this has had on small business owners, and unfortunately, some businesses have not survived”. However, new businesses have also launched during the pandemic, and many, if not most, of our small businesses, have found a way to survive. We don’t know what the long-term impacts of the pandemic are yet, but we can predict that digital transformation and eCommerce will continue to be important. Another change has been a much greater awareness of the need to overcome systemic barriers to a diverse and inclusive environment for entrepreneurs. In response to these changes, new support networks and programs have been put in places such as Futurpreneur’s redesigned Rock My Business Plan and the RBC-supported Black Entrepreneurship Startup Program.
The pandemic highlighted the vital role that small independent businesses, and the entrepreneurs who have created them, play in communities across the country. We believe that entrepreneurship is still alive and well in Canada.
Can you elaborate on some of the challenges Futurpreneur has faced during the pandemic, and how the organization has overcome these?
All of our flagship workshops, including the Rock My Business series, have only ever been in-person. There was an initial challenge of pivoting to a virtual setting while maintaining the networking portion, however, there was no shortage of software available to help. We leveraged existing technology and budgeted time to train and equip staff members to succeed through the change. In fact, moving to virtual provided more access to our workshop. We witnessed an influx of entrepreneurs who found this series to be relevant and helpful. On a broader scale, Futurpreneur also put extra support in place for our entrepreneurs through additional financing, webinars, and another programming to help them adapt.
Our content acknowledges the strength of the ardent entrepreneurs and their lifelong experiences of the marketplace that help them build successful business empires. Our belief in productive learning and providing inclusive content is why we have plans for a wide spectrum of activities that incorporate everything from reading to prolific networking.
What suggestions do you have for small-scale businesses that are finding it hard to pull through during these challenging times?
Reach out to us! In addition to our financing and mentorship programs, we have several valuable resources available to all aspiring business owners, as well as multiple tools available through our network of over 100 partners across Canada.
About Charles Finley, Chief Experience Officer, Futurpreneur
As our CXO, Charles oversees Futurpreneur’s entrepreneurship and mentorship programs, information technology, and marketing and communications, helping our mission-driven national organization meet the evolving needs of diverse young entrepreneurs launching companies across Canada. Previously he has held corporate executive as well as non-profit board roles and led transformational change for companies such as IBI Group, MaRS Discovery District, and Thomson Reuters. Charles is also the co-founder of the national civic tech non-profit, Code for Canada.