(Photo: Unsplash)

Business

Newton BIA pitching ‘entrepreneurial hub’ to Surrey council

Business group aims to activate vacant or underutilized space for entrepreneurs to create and test ideas

Newton BIA hopes to establish an “entrepreneurial hub” in that community’s town centre where “social and economic initiatives are born, tested and incubated.”

The business group’s vision is to lower barriers for startups and encourage “youth, newcomers and others to start mission-driven ventures that benefit the Newton community.”

Philip Aguirre, the group’s executive director, is presenting the idea to Surrey council on May 13 and hopes to secure city funding to support the project.

In all, it’s expected the project’s three-year pilot program will cost $86,500. With the BIA kicking in $6,500 and partners so far committing $15,000, another $65,000 to get it off the ground.

“It’s definitely bold,” said Aguirre of the vision. “But we’ve never been shy at the Newton BIA from doing bold projects that are a lot of work. We like to produce here and we want to ensure we are always pushing to the maximum to achieve great things for the community of Newton.”

Aguirre said he believes the Newton Town Centre needs more “unique, independent, small business,” noting 98 per cent of all businesses in B.C. are small businesses, which provide 43 per cent of all employment in the province.

“People don’t drive or shop or identify with communities because of large box stores of large chains,” he added. “They identify with communities for those unique businesses that are on brand, that share their values. The Newton BIA wants to create and promote more of those types of establishments to improve the quality of life for individuals, the brand of Newton itself.”

See also: What might have been in Newton: BIA calls for ‘refreshed plans’ after LRT nixed

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(Newton BIA Director Philip Aguirre, inside the area’s tallest building. Photo: Amy Reid)

Aguirre’s vision is to create this “hub” that houses or supports 15 to 30 young entrepreneurs in partnership with SFU, KPU and DIVERSECity.

But how will it work?

First, the BIA plans to engage with the community in “celebrating entreprenurship” with a Newt Fest on July 27. At this event, which will double as a “kickoff party,” the BIA will put a call out to local entrepreneurs to come to the event to learn more about the project, to showcase their business or even try to sell their product.

This will happen in the “Newton Mural Laneway” that’s been growing with the BIA commissioning a total of nine murals to date, one that’s being painted this week.

After the festival, the BIA would “activate” vacant or underutilized space to support new business ventures and social enterprises.

That space would ideally be in the range of 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, and offer support and service for entrepreneurs. Some startups would have physical presence in the space, while others would simply have access to its resources, and the Newont BIA would also move in.

“We would then surround these inspiring entrepreneurs with services to ensure the have a higher level of success,” he said. “We’re also going to reduce barriers to entry, so there will be no rent, phone or internet costs. It’s 2019, it’s tight out there, and to put your whole life savings, parents’ mortgage on the line to start your dream is a barrier. It curtails a lot of new small businesses. We want to help the massively young population of Surrey create new, vibrant businesses.”

It will also “lower barriers and risks for startups, and encourage youth, newcomers, mothers with young children and others to start mission-driven ventures that benefit the Newton community.”

See also: Drop in crime, increase in ‘vibrancy’ celebrated by Newton BIA

See also: Newton BIA unveils an ambitious 20-year plan

Aguirre hopes the business case for the project will be completed this fall, with opening planned for the spring of 2020 as a three-year pilot program.

“We want to tap into the power of the community and invite city, residents and partners to share their ideas, expertise and resources to make this a truly collective effort,” the Newton BIA’s presentation to council notes, highlighting the fact that Newton is home to 25 per cent of all jobs in Surrey, and 33 per cent of businesses.

“Newton’s diverse population and active business network provide an excellent foundation for a safe and vibrant ‘town heart’ with unique qualities that cannot be found anywhere else,” the document notes. “Today, however, Newton lacks the amenities and investment to show for its large population. Newton Town Centre has many vacant storefronts, inefficient land use, aging infrastructure, limited gathering places, a hurting brand, insufficient transportation and a lack of appropriate spaces for local startups.

“While Newton’s rapid growth brings positive energy, it also makes our systemic problems more visible,” it adds. “Our initiative is to leverage Newton’s unique cultural qualities and the strength of its business community to turn these challenges into opportunities.”



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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