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How young entrepreneurs make a difference

With strong business ideas and passion to burn, young entrepreneurs spring forth all over Canada. To underline that point, the Business Development Bank of Canada annually bestows honours on one from each province and territory.

The BDC's Young Entrepreneur Award winners are engaged in every kind of enterprise. We decided to catch up with a few of last year's stellar selections.

JUSTIN MacLEOD

Timeless Technologies Inc., Charlottetown

You wouldn't know much about a slowdown in the economy from looking at Justin's business since winning the BDC award.

Rather than retrenching, his database solutions firm has acquired another company, Home Page Design.

''We had been doing a lot of Internet development,'' explains Justin, 29, who began by developing software in his spare time at university. ''When you're as small as we are, I wouldn't call it economies of scale, but it's something like that.

''It's been very successful for us and it helped that company as well. It has brought a revenue stream from an established customer base. And we have a lot of higher-end services that those customers are able to take advantage of.'' With its 12 skilled staff, Timeless is also involved in a startup venture with Digi-Ad Corp. of Vancouver to set up point-of-purchase advertising programs at such major national retailers as the Bay and Zeller's. The expectation is that the partnership's technology will later cross into the United States, with Timeless working to develop a host of customizations.

Meanwhile, the company's core products continue to win new clients. The New York Attorney-General's office has engaged the firm to develop a database system, one already created by Timeless for Crown lawyers in Prince Edward Island.

MARC PELLAND

Woodchuck Inc., Longueuil, Que.

The Quebec skateboard manufacturing company has found the new levels of efficiency that maturity demands.

At the height of hiring a couple of years ago, Woodchuck had as many employees as 70, but now it uses new technologies to run a larger operation with only 40 staff.

''Today we make a lot more [skateboard] decks with a lot less people,'' Marc, 30, notes. ''We became tremendously more efficient in the production process.''

The company has also learned its market increasingly well, launching products and setting up a Europe-based partnership in the year since winning the BDC award.

''We have added a third brand to our line because there is a shift in the market in price point. There's been more pressure for a less expensive board. But our quality is still there.''

Part of that pressure has come from China, now entering the market in a bigger way. Woodchuck isn't just leaving underserved regions to others, however, and has lately entered a joint venture in France. ''This deal has really made us the player in Europe,'' Marc says, noting that the continent is catching on to the sport quickly but has little domestic production. ''With our mini-plant there, the customer saves a lot on their shipping and their turnaround times.''

NEIL COOKE

I4C Consulting Inc., Ottawa

A single important client can take a small-business supplier to new levels. In a year of uncertain economic factors, I4C cemented a critical relationship with an industry giant when the consultancy was shortlisted among only five preferred vendors for BCE Inc.

Making the cut after the telecommunications behemoth reduced its vendor list for corporate internal applications from 39, I4C deemed the relationship significant enough to warrant opening an office in Montreal, headquarters for BCE.

''We have been instrumental in project delivery with them,'' Neil, 30, says. ''We are a delivery-based organization and people know and recognize that. We've been able to attract and hold on to the best people in the industry.''

I4C excels in what Neil terms ''resource integration, meaning you integrate top talent into your existing team instead of simply outsourcing whole areas like IT.''

Meanwhile, Neil's approach of gathering the best people and letting them do their jobs has fuelled the company's expanding success in Toronto.

''Our Toronto office has been our hub of growth over the last year,'' Neil says. ''My guys in Toronto are very disciplined in getting out there. They're paid very well and they deliver for me.''

DAVID D'SILVA

Silva Care Inc., Regina

The attention David received in the wake of his BDC award could have helped propel his care homes for seniors into rapid growth.

The mature decision, however, was that quick expansion would not have been consistent with the attention to detail and a caring environment that had distinguished Silva Care in the first place.

''If you've got a good business, it isn't hard to find people to invest with you,'' David, 30, says. ''What we've realized is that we could have opened up 10 more care homes, but there aren't that many great people we could trust to lead them. Our focus right now is developing those great people.''

With partner John Kessler, David has taken on an Italian restaurant as well, and employs 40 part-time workers there in addition to the 15 staff at the care home.

''The restaurant has grown exponentially,'' David says.

The BDC award was a milestone in his business development, but also a learning experience.

''It draws attention to you and makes you more accountable than you were before.''

© The Globe and Mail

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