On Tuesday, May 7, two young Dawson Creek entrepreneurs will be among the finalists in Terrace for the ThriveNorth Business Challenge.
Baljit Singh is one of five finalists for the best new business (ages 18 to 39) category, while Rachel Vowles is one of five finalists for the best growth opportunity competition. Both could win $10,000 for being the best in their category, or a $5,000 people’s choice award.
Singh came to Dawson Creek as an immigrant from India to study business management at Northern Lights College in 2015. Since then, he has stayed here working in restaurants.
Now, he’s looking to open his own pizza place, Countryside Pizzeria, in Terrace.
“It became my passion,” he says of the restaurant business. “If you are doing something, and you’re really good at that, you want to do that thing.
“When I look around there are so many entrepreneurs, like young guys opening their businesses, and they’re being successful, so I thought why not me?”
Since he got his permanent residency, he has been working hard on a business plan.
He says the high amount of pizza places in Dawson had him looking at Terrace, which has a relatively low amount of pizza places — where he could find his niche.
Add to that that Terrace works as sort of a hub for areas like Prince Rupert, Smithers, Hazelton, and not to mention Kitimat, which will see a boon of workers with LNG.
He’s hoping to open in September this year.
The main issue is raising funds, not just to open, but also to operate the restaurant.
“I think I can do really good in the long run,” he says.
Obviously the judges see the promise in the idea, with Singh as one of the top five in the category for new and upcoming businesses.
On the other hand, Vowles and her husband Matt Roberson have already opened their business Mile 0 Farrier Company.
Certified farriers, they had been cominup to the region for a couple of years from Southern BC when they decided to take the plunge and open up shop in Sunset Prairie last spring.
“Every time we came up, the work got busier and busier, so we just realized there was a major need,” says Vowles.
“The horse council of British Columbia estimated there was over 18,000 horses in the Peace Region, so we calculated that there’s just only about 12 ferriers that are working full time in the area.”
The goal — as their category suggests — is growth. They are looking to build a shop on their property at Sunset Prairie.
“It’s pretty cold up here in the winter, obviously, so we have a hard time in the winter working consistently because of the cold weather, so the idea with the shop is people could bring their horses to us, so we would have an indoor space,” she says.
“That would allow for a steadier income flow for us, so right now our income is pretty up and down with the weather. So say February, for example, was an extremely cold month for us this year, so we had very, very minimal income [. . .] as well, it’s not good for the horses to go for a long period of time without having their feet maintained, so it creates a better health for the animal, as well.”
They are also looking at hosting educational clinics for the local horse community, involving the regular horse owning public, as well as equine professionals at their new shop.
Making it to the finals was a pleasant surprise for the duo.
“It feels pretty awesome, we were really shocked to be a finalist. When I first started this project, I just put it in on a whim to be honest, I didn’t really think that we’d go very far with it,” Vowles says.
But now it’s time for hard work.
“This is our peak season of work right now, so we are literally working like six days a week, 12, 14 hours a day, so there’s been lots of nights of like until midnight or 1 in the morning trying to get this all together, but we think we have a pretty good handle on it now, so we’re really looking forward to the final round.”
Anyone can vote for the people’s choice winner at: https://www.futurpreneur.ca/en/microsites/thrivenorth/business-challenge.