In an official letter dated May 15th the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities David Fulford, Assistant Deputy Minister put all OSEB program administrators on notice saying “Earlier today the ministry made calls to the OSEB Coordinators to let them know that their organizations will not be offered a new agreement to deliver OSEB upon the expiry of their current 2015 -2016 agreements.”
Standard government program cancellation right?
Wrong. Let me describe to you what the OSEB program is – or should I say was… when I’ll tell you my story I think you’ll understand.
Fifteen years ago I was an under-employed young man with a new family trying to secure work in the arts & culture industry – while living in St. Catharines Ontario, an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
After a devastating job loss I was able to get Employment Insurance Benefits while looking for comparable work as a printing shop manager or similar small-medium sized organization, but there simply wasn’t available work in my local region for that type of middle-management skill set.
After a tremendous amount of research and digging – remember, fifteen years ago was the pre-Google era folks – I was able to find out there was a program called the OSEB – Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program; as an extension of EI Benefits that promised young entrepreneurs access to a small monthly grant if they could support their idea with a business plan.
It worked pretty simple – IF you were on EI and had a business plan that was feasible, and that you had at least $4500, or around 25% of the grant value in cash and business assets to start-up, they’d look at you.
Very similar to Kevin O’Leary’s Dragons Den, you had to pitch, refine and demonstrate a very effective business plan with true merit for success – albeit with a much more modest an outcome.
At the time – If you were accepted the program provided $1200/mo. in basic support for a period of 12 months – paid like EI benefits on a regular bi-weekly basis; to any successful candidate.
Once approved for the program, which itself was an eight week process with no less than three levels of intake interviews and submissions; the fulfillment agency, in my case Niagara College, provided a ten-week Self-Employment Benefit Certificate and business management training course complete with follow-up mentorship by a program administrator – to ensure you were tracking on goals and hitting your milestones.
Good old fashion money targeted to the engine of the economy – the number one job creation machine – otherwise known as small business.
So – I started a professional photography company specializing in Weddings and Black and White portraits serving the Niagara Region and was very successful according to all program standards.
In fact, from all across Canada I was selected to attend the United Nations World Summit of Young Entrepreneurs in Lyon France, on Behalf of Canada with 30 other young business owners from across this country.
The summit sponsored by UNCTAD included over 180 countries with over 300 delegates. What came out of that summit ? The number one worldwide barrier to young entrepreneurs was access to capital.
Nothing’s changed right? Wrong again. OSEB was a path to capital for people who couldn’t meet a banks criteria for a business loan, and that was definitely me.
The OSEB gave me a way out of under-employment and after learning the business management skills they provided – I’ve been a successful entrepreneur ever since.
During the wave of the dot-com boom era I went from photography to on-line imaging and website development – creating several companies, I’ve even managed to sell a few along the way.
Directly from the skills I learned through OSEB – I’ve helped companies create jobs in Toronto, Ottawa, Ft. Erie, Caledonia and Montreal, plus I’ve helped other people get started with the program – who were once stuck like I was – but who are now flourishing as small business operators.
The OSEB cancellation letter also states “As you know, the ministry is committed to delivering high quality services in the most cost effective way.” Then continues with, “In order to ensure funding is targeted to those who need it most and achieves the best possible client outcomes, the ministry will be discontinuing the OSEB program.”
“Clients can [still] access entrepreneurship support through services funded by the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure and delivered through their Small Business Enterprise Centres (SBECs). The SBECs offer entrepreneurial tools and supports to assist clients start and grow a business.”
But here’s the kicker, and the impetus for my post today…
Just five weeks ago I referred a remarkable young business-minded person I met who matched all the program criteria. During their successful on-boarding to the program they were recommended to use a ‘Free Business Planning Tool’ called ‘Futurepreneur.ca’ which was in part a sponsored front for BMO Bank – and ostensibly their small business loan products.
My candidate friend who was very keen to maximize every opportunity for success eagerly used their ‘Business Plan Builder’ to create her plan and submit if for analysis and potential access to capital funds – in the form of a loan, of course – it’s a bank after all right?
The results – She was rejected, but not for the merits of the business plan, no human ever read it. It was rejected by a computer algorithm on the credit-worthiness of the young entrepreneur.
The business plan itself and the intelligence it contained was captured by BMO with no compensation to the applicant, and any access to capital for the applicant dismissed outright.
So that’s a bank right? What about the OSEB Program?
Well thankfully, she was accepted by the OSEB, who doesn’t use creditworthiness as a factor; and she is already a bright and shining star in the program achieving instant success in her business idea.
Her program administrators shared the letter with their class of 35+ enrolled participants just last week. Naturally as a program graduate and alumni I was keen to see what would be replacing it.
I followed the link the government letter provided which leads to a new initiative called ONE – Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs; http://www.onebusiness.ca/
It’s a slick branded site and looks very helpful for general information, except when I discovered that the OSEB program is now referring all small business applications to Futurepreneur.ca – a poorly veiled front for a business bank loan application.
The bottom line is that folks like me and the newly successful candidate that just enrolled in the OSEB wouldn’t stand a chance of meeting the bank loan criteria, and this is just another foot on the neck of the working poor in the province of Ontario.
The ONE website’s FAQ pages sum up the general attitude of the governments most recent program cancellation – “Will the government give me money to start my business?” It says “Both the provincial and federal governments offer limited financing programs. Most involve loans – as opposed to outright grants – and many target specific industries, regions or groups of entrepreneurs (such as youth, people with disabilities, newcomers).
But don’t believe the hype – The OSEB program was a true help to a lot of real people that made an actual difference in their own lives and that of their community.
Shame on Kathleen Wynn’s Government for selling out young entrepreneurs in Ontario and giving over their aspirations for success to be ruled by a bank loan intake process – Banks know NOTHING about entrepreneurship – only how to write loans based on secured assets.
I looked a little deeper into the Futurepreneur.ca operation, formerly called The Canadian Youth Business Foundation or The CYBF they are referred to as a non-profit organization – http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/017.nsf/eng/07482.html But they’ve amassed a financial portfolio of 495 loans (not grants) totaling $6,525,000 to young entrepreneurs as a result of IC (Industry Canada) funding.
This is equivalent to $13,181.82 per applicant – With notes such as:
|Audit Completed or Planned:
No audit was completed or planned in 2013–14.
|Evaluation Completed or Planned:
No evaluation was completed or planned in 2013–14.
|Engagement of Applications and Recipients:
The CYBF is the sole recipient and issues loans directly to young entrepreneurs.
OSEB was a well established 15+ year program in Ontario and it got dismantled in favour of funds to be delivered directly to a group backed overtly by BMO Bank of Montreal?
Without even a performance audit or evaluation? Judas Wynne! How much silver did you accept?
David Fulford, Assistant Deputy Minister of Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities signs off his letter saying “I would like to thank you once again for your continued work in supporting Ontarians re-entry to the labour market.”
Yeah, but I think those who wanted to level-up and maybe try something more beneficial like entering the business ownership market – just got told, once again, to stop being a creative dreamer and just go get a regular job.
Oh yeah, that’s right… there aren’t any jobs you bureaucratic twat – that’s just another slap in the totally wrong direction.
I guess Alberta has the right idea. NDP all the way – You’ve totally lost my vote Ontario Liberals – and hopefully everybody else who had some exposure to an excellent program delivered by local colleges and universities across the province.
And sorry Justin Trudeau, I guess you are just another pretty face around here – since it appears you can’t see this for what it truly is, or didn’t do a damn thing to stop it.
I suppose we’ll soon have a bus sponsored by Futurepreneur.ca taking Ontario’s youth to appear on Shark Tank in New York now that Kevin O’leary went south with the money available in America.
NOTE: In Quebec a similar program to OSEB can be found here: http://www.emploiquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/citizens/starting-your-own-business/support-for-self-employment/