The enterprising East Coast

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It’s always cause for rueful amusement when a major Canadian financial institution expresses delighted surprise upon discovering that people in the Atlantic region are among the most entrepreneurially minded in the nation.

To hear the Bay Street bankers crow, you’d think they’d come across a family of duck-billed platypuses living in a corner office: Why looky here. . .a true wonder of nature, don’t you know.

According to a recent missive from a spokesman for RBC, “When it comes to entrepreneurial spirit, Atlantic Canada leads the nation with 93 per cent of people expressing desire to work from themselves. That’s much higher than the national average of 84 per cent.”

The poll’s findings continue in a news release: “Over half of Canadians (57 per cent) are entrepreneurs at heart and have thought of owning their own business, according to a recent RBC Small Business survey. While one-third (36 per cent) of Canadians who have thought of owning a business have actually started one, 84 per cent of those who have not started a business say they would rather work for themselves than for someone else.”

Adds Sarah Adams, vice-president, Small Business, RBC, “Entrepreneurs play a key role in our economy by creating jobs, stimulating growth and encouraging innovation and creativity. They are the backbone of our economy so it’s important that we provide them with the advice and support so that they can compete and be successful.”

The research also finds that young people, age 18-34, are most inclined of any demographic group to at least “think” about starting a business; they are, however, the least likely to do so, thanks to empty-pocket syndrome? “In addition to lack of capital,” the survey reports, “34 per cent did not know how to start and almost one-in-four (23 per cent) said they had too much debt, such as student loans.”

What’s more, “The survey also found that respondents who thought of owning a business had been engaged in entrepreneurial activities as children such as doing yard work (49 per cent), shoveling driveways (37 per cent), creating a lemonade stand (22 per cent), painting (22 percent), selling crafts that they had made (17 per cent) and walking dogs/pet sitting (13 per cent).”

Finally, “Of those who started their own business, 40 per cent saved their own money; 35 per cent started small or with a side business to test the waters; 28 per cent got moral or financial support from family/friends; and 21 per cent contacted a financial institution/accountant/lawyer.”

As for the allegedly preternatural interest in small business and entrepreneurship in Atlantic Canada, it’s not hard to understand. When jobs are scarce – as they have been on the East Coast for generations – you’re often better off making one for yourself.

That’s what I did, although my reasons weren’t tinged with the desperation associated with sudden, involuntary unemployment.

I left the Big Smoke, and a good job working for a major national newspaper, some 25 years ago, of my own free will.

Somehow, coming back to the region where I was raised seemed to me to be the right move. The proposition of being my own boss amid a whole population of self-employed bosses was decidedly comforting. Besides, when a good deal of the people you meet are working for themselves, the networking opportunities are virtually endless.

Somebody once wrote that entrepreneurship is “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled”. That is to say, it’s perilous – which is why, perhaps, it’s much at home in Atlantic Canada, where we never go a day without risk.

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