So... you’ve got one of the few full time jobs left on the planet. You commute to Toronto, grinding it out, putting in more time on asphalt than anywhere else. And somehow in the back of your mind that business idea keeps popping up, luring you.

Or, you’re unemployed right now. Your employment insurance has run out and you’re no longer eligible for so many of the programs offered through the Employment Centre.

Or, maybe you’re working part time and you want to do something else, grow something else, steer your own ship.

Or, perhaps you headed out on your own a few months ago and you’ve hit a snag and don’t know where to go for help.

Give out a cheer because thanks to the partnership and vision of a whole lot of people, there’s a new service opening for Barrie and South Simcoe and it’s geared to helping people incubate their business ideas and bring them to reality.

Currently the project is called BERN, an acronym for Business Enterprise Resource Network, though its new executive director, Cathy Greer, hopes to shorten that to something snappy. And while official office space is being negotiated somewhere within the City of Barrie’s municipal building, Cathy’s gearing up in an office at the Community Career Centre at the Bayfield Mall.

Here’s how BERN works. People wanting to participate in the incubator program attend an information session so they understand their eligibility and their commitment should they join the program. And, it sure sounds like a good deal. You and your business idea are linked up with a business consultant working in your area of endeavour. That consultant reviews your business plan and books in-depth appointments for you with a lawyer, an accountant, a marketing specialist, 12 different business specialists.

During your 12 week commitment there will also be some seminaars and workshops.

One of BERN’s mentors, Jack Gregory, points out that with professional assistance, 80% of new business start-ups meet with success. It’s way better than the national average of 30% success without professional help.

The other great news about this project is that it’s free of charge, if you fall within the unemployed or employed part time criteria. If you’re working more than 30 hours a week, you can still use the program, but on a fee-for-service basis.

As well as advice and mentorship, the office (when opened in its permanent home) will offer fax, phone, photocopier, business and government forms, the Ontario Business Connect system for business registration, research material, internet capacity... tools to make business plan development a one-stop-shop.

Right now the project is being financially supported by the federal government through Human Resources Canada. But hundreds of hours and at least two years of planning and mobilization efforts have been given behind the scenes by the Royal Bank, the Ministry of Agriculture, the New Tecumseth Economic Development Centre, Human Resources Development Canada, individuals with small business expertise, small business consultants, the Simcoe County Board of Education, the Community Career Centre, and the City of Barrie. This is a wonderful example of the power of partnership when each brings its strength to the table.

Just for the record, those interested in accessing the incubator project must not be on employment insurance, they must have a viable business idea. Students are welcome. Fee-paying full time employees wanting to start a business are also welcome.

Cathy Greer has just completed her first three information sessions on this new program, and expects to be fully functional within six weeks of an announced location. For now, you can reach her through the Community Career Centre at the Bayfield Mall, 725-8990.

Cathy? And the dozens of board members who spawned, spurned, and birthed this idea? Thanks!

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