Entrepreneurs in Haliburton County may not be aware they are eligible to participate in the Starter Company Plus program offered by the Kawartha Lakes Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre.
The entrepreneurial training program, funded by the Ontario government and supported by both the Kawartha Lakes Community Futures Development Corporation and the Haliburton County Development Corporation, is accepting applications for its spring cohort until April 13.
Amanda Virtanen and Geoff Schultz are two Haliburton County entrepreneurs who participated in the fall 2022 cohort of Starter Company Plus. The couple own The Voima Group, a marketing agency based in Haliburton Highlands that is also a publishing partner of the Haliburton-based magazine Cabin: Escape with Colin + Justin and also owns the Instagram account @haliburtonlife.
Virtanen and Schultz learned about Starter Company Plus through Tracie Bertrand, Manager of Tourism Haliburton County, who informed them of the opportunity to apply for the program in an electronic newsletter last year.
Starter Company Plus provides entrepreneurs who are launching a new business, or expanding one that’s no more than three years old, with free access to business training and mentorship. Participants in the program are also eligible for a grant of up to $5,000. Along with The Voima Group, the program’s past program participants based in Haliburton County have included Beyond Plasters, Eco Herb, Highland Technical, TheOccurrence, and the Purple Door Pottery Studio.
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For Virtanen and Schultz, who launched The Voima Group last year, participating in Starter Company Plus was a “huge benefit” to them.
“The Voima Group has only been around for nine months, so we hit the ground running focused on our client needs and moving at a million miles an hour,” they say. “Starter Company Plus allowed us to take a step back and refocus on our own business goals and needs. It gave us a really good foundation to build on for the future in terms of planning and growth.”
The Voima Group provides marketing services, including brand development, creative content, media relations, social media management, and website creation, to a range of clients in the hospitality, retail, restaurant, and manufacturing sectors. On the strength of their business plan, they were one of the participants in the Starter Company Plus fall cohort who received a grant.
“The grant itself enabled us to enhance our home office with all new custom desks and cabinetry,” they said, noting they worked with Minden-based cabinetry company Chaulk Design Studio. “Our new home office is so efficient and has really helped us to be more organized and comfortable.”
Aside from the grant, Virtanen and Schultz said they had “incredible support and advice” from Starter Company Plus program lead Sandy Greenberg, economic development officer for small business programs with the Kawartha Lakes Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre.
“We love that the support is ongoing and, even after the official program ends, there’s continued monthly support and meetings with Sandy,” they explain. “We also have access to other business advisors and experts whenever needed. The sessions themselves included information from special guests focused on bookkeeping, legal, digital, and more.”
Since 2019, more than 45 aspiring local entrepreneurs have participated in Starter Company Plus and have successfully launched or expanded their businesses. Applicants participate in business training and receive coaching towards the development of a business plan. The program also helps de-mystify the marketing and sales process, explains financial forecasting, teaches business owners how to set attainable goals, and more. The goal of the program is to lead entrepreneurs on their path to success and to equip them to deal with the challenges of creating a sustainable business.
Thanks in part to Starter Company Plus, The Voima Group is well on its way to success.
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“We’ve worked with over 20 businesses and organizations since launching The Voima Group,” said Virtanen and Schultz. “We’ve received many leads and recommendations from the community, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.”
Their company’s name is tied to Virtanen’s Finnish heritage, with “voima” a Finnish noun that means force, power, and strength — an idea that reflects The Voima Group’s mission for its clients.
“Our goal is to enable businesses to become the strongest and most powerful force in their marketing and promotions,” they said. “We want to keep our agency focused on local businesses, to benefit not only the businesses themselves but to build up overall awareness and growth of Haliburton County. Ultimately, we want our clients to see us not only as valued partners, but as trusted advisors and a true extension of their business — a real part of their team.”
Virtanen and Schultz, who are life partners as well as business partners (they will marry in June), are not only passionate about their business but about their life in Haliburton Highlands.
“We’re both raised in the Greater Toronto Area, but always loved coming to Haliburton County as kids and then into our adult lives,” they say. “We’ve collectively lived here over 15 years full time and wouldn’t change a thing. The seasons, the people, the landscape … there are so many opportunities and growth here. The businesses are so entrepreneurial, so enthusiastic, so creative — it really fuels us and keeps us going. And when the work day is done, we just step outside and enjoy the incredible nature that surrounds us.”
As for anyone else who is interested in starting their own business but is unsure about where to start, Virtanen and Schultz have some simple advice: “do what you know best.”
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“Don’t try something that you don’t have any expertise in,” they said. “Make sure it’s your passion, because you better be okay to do it on a Friday night or Sunday morning too. Know that it’s a journey that changes from day to day. Be flexible. Be creative. When you’re forming your business plan, talk to other business owners and understand their path and learning. Most importantly, go with your gut. You know what you’re good at and how you can succeed. And apply for Starter Company Plus — it’s truly been invaluable to us.”
Applications for the spring cohort of Starter Company Plus close on Thursday, April 13th. For more information and to apply, visit www.kawarthalakes.ca/en/business-growth/starter-company-plus.aspx.
For more information about The Voima Group, visit www.voimagroup.ca and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
This branded editorial was created in partnership with Haliburton County Economic Development & Tourism. If your organization or business is interested in a branded editorial, contact us.