Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

As technology continues to rapidly evolve, businesses are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and gain a competitive edge. 

 

There is no question surrounding the benefits of integrating AI into business processes, but there remain legitimate concerns that accompany this technological leap.

 

One primary concern is the ethical implications of AI implementation. As AI systems such as ChatGPT, ClickUp, Copy.ai, or Kickresume become more sophisticated, they often require access to vast amounts of data to function effectively. This raises questions about privacy and the responsible use of sensitive information, as well as legal concerns surrounding the use of intellectual property.

 

“The question is fair use or is it a violation of copyright,” says Maura Grossman, Research Professor, School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, whose expertise centres on AI policy and ethics. 

 

She notes that an AI user can reference a particular article, book, or poem, despite it being copyrighted.  “It shouldn’t be able to do that because that’s a copyright infraction, but it can. The law hasn’t caught up with that yet but there are a number of legal cases now pending.”

 

Algorithms a concern

 

As well, Professor Grossman says bias in AI algorithms is another major concern. AI systems learn from historical data, and if that data contains biases, the algorithms can sustain and amplify them resulting in discriminatory outcomes and reinforcing existing social disparities.

 

“You’re going to find that in the language as well as the images. Open AI has spent a lot of time trying to remove toxic language from the system, so you get a little bit less of that with ChatPT,” she says, referring to the problems Microsoft experienced when it released its Tay bot in March 2016. The bot, under the name TayTweets with the handle @TayandYou, resulted in Twitter (now known as ‘X’) users tweet politically incorrect phrases and inflammatory messages resulting in the bot releasing racist and sexually charged messages in response to other users. Initially, Microsoft suspended the account after 16 hours, erasing the inflammatory tweets and two days later took it offline.  

 

“Most systems, like ChatGPT, are trained on the internet and that has its pluses and minuses,” says Professor Grossman, adding ‘hallucinations’ pose another big problem for AI users. “ChatGPT for example is trained to generate new content and to sound very conversational, so it uses what it has learned on the internet to predict the next most likely word. But that doesn’t mean it’s telling you the truth.”

 

Official policy needed

 

She says there have been instances of people using AI to conduct legal research and submitting bogus case citations in court. “I think the first case happened recently in B.C., but it has also happened all over the U.S.,” says Professor Grossman.

 

For businesses utilizing AI, she recommends drafting an official policy to outline usage.

 

“First they need to have a policy and then need to train who in the business is going to use AI because people need to understand what it does well and doesn’t do well,” she says. “Your policy needs to say what permissible uses are and what impermissible uses are.”

 

Impermissible uses could include creating a deep fake video in the workplace.

 

“Even if it’s a joke, you don’t want employees creating deep fakes,” she says, noting the policy should also outline what workplace devices can be used for AI. “If you need to save something because you’re involved in a lawsuit, then you don’t want to it be on an employee’s personal device because you won’t have access to it.”

 

Employees require training

 

As well, Professor Grossman also recommends employees clearly know what AI tools are okay to use and which are not and ensure they are fully trained.

 

“You don’t want them violating intellectual property rules or other privacy rights. You also don’t want them putting into a public tool any confidential or propriety information,” she says. “Some companies have turned off the ability to use these AI tools because they are terrified employees will put propriety information out there while asking a question about a problem they are working on. If you’re using one of these open-source tools, it’s like Google or anything else; it’s free rein.”

 

Professor Grossman says rules and regulations around AI will be gradually strengthened, noting a new regulation coming into play in B.C. pertaining to issues surrounding intimate imagery is just one example.

 

“As soon as this starts making its way more into politics, we will start to see more effort into creating regulations,” she says, referring to a recent ‘deep fake’ image that surfaced of U.S. President Joe Biden.

 

Despite these issues, Professor Grossman says AI is something more businesses will become comfortable using and should embrace this new technology. 

 

“It will save on efficiency,” she says, noting AI can greatly assist in the creation of marketing material. “Companies need to explore it and learn about it but learn about it in safe ways and understand where it can be beneficial and not just let people experiment on their own because that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble.”

 

 

AI hurdles in business

 

  • Data Quality and Availability: AI models require vast amounts of data to learn and make accurate predictions. However, businesses often struggle with data quality issues, such as incomplete, inaccurate, or biased data. Additionally, accessing relevant data across various sources and systems can be challenging.
  • Data Privacy and Security: With the increasing emphasis on data privacy regulations businesses must ensure that AI systems comply. Protecting sensitive customer and business data from unauthorized access or breaches is crucial.
  • Lack of Skilled Talent: There's a significant shortage of professionals with expertise in AI and machine learning. Hiring and retaining skilled data scientists, machine learning engineers, and AI specialists can be difficult and expensive.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrating AI solutions with existing business processes, legacy systems, and IT infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming. Compatibility issues, scalability concerns, and resistance to change within the organization can hinder successful integration.
  • Interpretability and Explainability: AI algorithms often operate as "black boxes," making it challenging to understand how they arrive at specific decisions or predictions. Lack of interpretability and explainability can lead to distrust among stakeholders and regulatory compliance issues.
  • Ethical and Bias Concerns: AI systems may inadvertently perpetuate biases present in the data they were trained on, leading to unfair outcomes or discrimination. Ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in AI decision-making processes is essential.
  • Cost and ROI Uncertainty: Implementing AI solutions involves significant upfront investments in technology, infrastructure, talent, and ongoing maintenance. Businesses may struggle to justify these costs and accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) of AI initiatives.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risks: AI applications in business must comply with various industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to meet regulatory requirements can result in legal liabilities, fines, and damage to the company's reputation.
  • Change Management and Cultural Resistance: Introducing AI into the workplace often requires significant cultural and organizational changes. Resistance from employees, fear of job displacement, and lack of understanding about AI's potential benefits can impede adoption efforts.
  • Performance and Reliability: AI models may not always perform as expected in real-world environments due to factors like changing data distributions, unexpected scenarios, or adversarial attacks. Ensuring the reliability and robustness of AI systems is crucial for business applications.

 

 

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In the fast-paced world of business, the success of any organization hinges on the quality of its workforce. Hiring mistakes can be both expensive and detrimental to a company's growth and stability, especially in this changing job market which is now seeing an influx of potential candidates in certain fields.

 

“I really do feel that the market over the last year has softened,” says Lisa Marino, Senior Recruitment Specialist with H2R Business Solutions, noting there are always a handful of roles that are specialized resulting in fewer available candidates.

 

Her colleague Sue Benoit, Head of Recruitment Services at H2R Business Solutions, agrees.

 

“On the trades side there still is a labour shortage, especially since those types of roles are really hard to fill,” she says. “But if you have an accounting or bookkeeping role to fill there’s 100 plus applicants.”

 

As a result, finding the right person to fill those types of positions means putting systems in place that can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as taking too long to decide on a potential hire which is a common mistake many employers make, says Sue.

 

“If they’re taking too long in the decision or interview process, they can lose that great candidate who might have been hard to find in the first place,” she says. “Then it it’s a matter of having to start over a lot of the time because employers are not going to just settle, necessarily.” 

 

As well doing their due diligence regarding reference checking, her colleague suggests making a select group of others in the company part of the hiring process.

 

“Bring in one or two other people from the company into the process rather than letting the hiring manager do it all because somebody from another department may be instrumental helping you gain a different perspective of the candidate,” says Lisa, adding incorporating some of type of skills testing during that process, depending on the level of the role, can also be helpful. “It can give some insight of how a candidate thinks.”

 

She also says once a candidate has been hired, an employer should be diligent when it comes to monitoring the performance of that person during their 90-day probationary period and watch for potential ‘flags’. These can include absences, struggling to meet deadlines, or an overall disconnect with their new workplace or colleagues.

 

“Hopefully, the recruiter is good enough to catch some of those flags in our pre-screen conversations,” says Sue. “How interested are they in the organization? Have they done any research? Employers really want someone who is truly interested in what they’re doing.”

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

Before posting a job opening, employers should thoroughly analyze and document the skills, qualifications, and experience necessary for the role. This not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also assists in filtering applicants more effectively.

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

Develop a well-thought-out recruitment strategy that includes a timeline, sourcing channels, and a structured interview process. By outlining the steps from job posting to offer, employers can maintain control and consistency throughout the hiring journey.

 

Leverage Technology

The use of technology can significantly streamline the hiring process, from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to video interviews. These tools help in organizing candidate information, assessing qualifications, and conducting efficient interviews. 

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate might have an impressive resume, but if they don't align with the company culture, it can lead to a discordant team dynamic. Incorporate questions and assessments during interviews that delve into a candidate's values, work style, and how well they would integrate into the existing team.

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

Conducting behavioral interviews allows employers to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. This approach provides a more realistic preview of a candidate's capabilities.

 

Check References Thoroughly

Reach out to previous employers, colleagues, and supervisors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. A candidate's performance history can reveal valuable information that might not be apparent during interviews.

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

Implementing probationary periods for new hires allows both the employer and the employee to assess the fit within the organization. This trial period provides an opportunity to evaluate job performance, integration into the team, and adherence to company values before making a long-term commitment.

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

If possible, equip hiring managers with the skills necessary to conduct effective interviews, assess candidates accurately, and make informed decisions. Continuous training on fair hiring practices, diversity, and inclusion can help mitigate biases and enhance the overall quality of hiring decisions.

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In this digital landscape, businesses are increasingly reliant on web-based platforms for their operations, communication, and customer interactions.

 

While this technological shift has brought convenience and efficiency, it has also opened the floodgates to a myriad of cyber threats – many no longer just centred on email-based breaches. 

 

As the digital realm expands, the need for robust web-based security becomes paramount for businesses of all sizes due to the escalating frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks.

 

Hackers are becoming more adept at exploiting vulnerabilities, often targeting sensitive data such as customer information, financial records, and intellectual property. The consequences of a successful cyberattack can be devastating, ranging from financial losses and reputational damage to legal repercussions.

 

These security breaches can erode customer trust and a single security incident can shatter the perception of a business as a reliable custodian of sensitive information, leading to a loss of clientele and tarnished brand image.

 

To address these challenges, businesses need to invest in cutting-edge web security solutions. These include regularly updating software and systems, implementing multi-factor authentication, encrypting sensitive data, and conducting regular security audits. Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and staying abreast of the latest threats intelligence is equally crucial in maintaining a proactive defence against emerging cyber hazards.

 

 

We asked John Svazic, Founder and Principal Consultant of EliteSec Information Security Consultants Inc. in Cambridge to share his thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are prepared for potential web-based security threats:

 

 

Q. When did more browser-based cyber threats begin to surface as opposed to spam emails?

 

A. This is a hard question to answer, but these types of attacks aren't new and have been around for a while, likely since the early 2000s at least, but not in any volume.  Most cyber-criminal attacks are based on opportunity and ease, so the rise can generally be attributed to companies adding more sophistication to their websites, especially as they try to go online.  

 

Q.  What brought on this apparent shift?

 

A. Opportunity is the biggest reason here.  With the rush to go online, which the pandemic only exacerbated, some companies may be taking shortcuts to get online by going with free/low- cost options to maintain margins.  While I can sympathize with this point, losing most of your margins to fraud may be reason to re-evaluate.

 

Q. Are there warning signs business owners should watch for indicating they might be susceptible to an attack?

 

AUnfortunately, not. The best way to prevent this is to go look for vulnerabilities yourself or get someone who is skilled to go looking for you.  Having said that there are a few things that can be done on your own to better protect yourself, including:

 

  • Making sure all your software is up to date. This is especially important if you are using a Wordpress site to host your online presence. Making sure any plug-ins or add-ons that you are using are up to date is important.
  • Protect your online social media with two-factor authentication (2FA). Yes, this can be annoying, but it is a proven way to protect your accounts. Nothing is more painful than trying to get your Facebook or Instagram account back from a hacker, and many companies either pay up or are forced to create new accounts.
  • Never re-use passwords!  Getting a password manager is incredibly useful to prevent this and provides a great way to help share accounts between employees if necessary. Most can help store your 2FA code as well, so you don't need to share a single phone between individuals.
  • Hire a security professional to do a vulnerability assessment or penetration test of your web presence. Be sure that they are qualified by asking for references and samples of their work.  This is the costliest option but one worth considering if you want to be sure.

 

Q. What is one of the first steps they should take in terms of boosting their security?

 

A. Make sure that whatever you're using is fully patched. If this is offloaded to a hosting company or some other third-party provider, ask them what their patch cycle is. How frequently do they update, and do they do any third-party testing of their own infrastructure?  If a company is doing online sales, using a trusted partner like Shopify, Squarespace, etc., is a great way to check these boxes as these are reputable firms that take security seriously, which helps to offload the risk to someone else, albeit at a cost. 

 

Q. Are smaller businesses more susceptible to potential attacks than larger ones?

 

A. Sadly yes. While news headlines often focus on bigger named companies getting hacked and having to pay ransoms, the reality is that hundreds of smaller companies are getting hacked each day and not making headlines because they're just not big enough to report on, or they're too scared to report the attacks themselves out of fear of losing customers/reputation. Smaller companies often lack the resources or money to seek out help, so it can be a real catch-22.

 

Q.  If an attack has occurred, what should be the first step a business owner should take?

 

A. First check your business insurance to see if you have cyber insurance. Often, these policies will dictate who to call and what to do. Many brokers will recommend this type of insurance if you have an online presence, so it never hurts to start there. As most of these attackers are coming from outside the country, law enforcement won't necessarily be able to help, but report a cybercrime.  Start with the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and report the incident. I would then recommend reaching out to a cybersecurity professional that specializes in incident response to help rectify the situation. Again, if you have a cyber insurance policy, this should be covered by insurance.

 

Q. Is it possible to become too paranoid regarding cyberattacks?

 

A. Absolutely. But it's best to always put things into perspective before things become too overwhelming. If you take some basic precautions, you can put most of these concerns aside.  It's always about perspective and the realization that raising the bar on cybersecurity isn't hard, and even small changes can deter potential attackers. Most cyber criminals are lazy, so they won't put in a lot of effort for minimal rewards. But if they can pull of a hack because it's easy, then they're willing to put in the effort for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars of potential payoff.

 

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Effective leadership communication is the cornerstone of any successful business or organization.

 

A leader's ability to convey their vision, build trust, and inspire others can determine the difference between an average outcome and an extraordinary one.

 

But to arrive at that point requires the ability to be a good listener.

 

“There’s a lot of people that listen but they don’t hear,” says career consultant and corporate soft skills trainer Murray Comber of Life Concepts. “You cannot be a good communicator unless you are a good listener. It’s all about understanding yourself and understanding others.”

 

Since 2001 he has trained more than 8,000 people, noting that many in the workplace don’t realize becoming a better communicator is a very learnable skill.

 

“It’s all about the pattern of human dynamics,” says Murray, adding that boards of education or even in families, do not teach people how they are hard wired. “I teach my clients that. I always say to them you need to know who you are, and you need to know who you are not.”

 

He says at least 71% of companies that fail do so because the leader didn’t understand who they were and who their employees were.


“Good communication is based on a relationship. You don’t communicate with people you don’t relate with,” says Murray, who regularly uses personality and temperament studies to determine a course of action for his clients. “Unless you know how to relate to a person, it’s going nowhere.”

 

He admits this type of soft skills training is often considered ‘fluff’ and is usually one of the first things cut from the budget or put on the backburner when economic times get tough.

 

“The truth is when things are going south, that’s when they should be put on the front-burner,” says Murray. “Training shouldn’t be seen as an expense but as an investment.”

 

In terms of advice for business leaders looking to take their first step at becoming better communicators, he says there must be a willingness to learn and connect with employees not just as a manager with subordinates. 

 

“What I’ve learned is that there is more emphasis put on product knowledge than there is people’s knowledge,” says Murray. “When you respond to what you’ve heard and have listened, you build trust with your employees and good communication is built on trust.”

 

 

To lead effectively, one must be a skilled communicator who can inspire, guide, and unite a team. A few things to consider:

 

  • Active Listening: Leaders must pay close attention to what others are saying, not just with their ears, but also with their eyes and heart. By showing genuine interest and empathy, leaders can better understand their team's needs and concerns, creating a foundation of trust and respect.
  • Clarity and Conciseness: Leaders must articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely. Avoiding jargon and complex language ensures that the message is easily understood by all team members. A clear message prevents confusion and promotes alignment with the leader's vision.
  • Empathy: Leaders who demonstrate empathy can connect on a deeper level with their team members, making them feel valued and understood. This skill helps resolve conflicts, build trust, and foster a positive work environment.
  • Adaptability: Effective leaders are versatile in their communication style. Whether it's a one-on-one conversation, a team meeting, or a public presentation, adaptability ensures that the message resonates with its intended audience.
  • Body Language: Leaders should be aware of their own body language and the signals they convey. Maintaining open and approachable body language encourages a sense of comfort and trust within the team.
  • Feedback and Constructive Criticism: Leaders need to provide feedback and constructive criticism in a manner that is supportive and motivating. Constructive feedback should focus on specific behaviors, offer solutions, and be delivered in a private and respectful setting.
  • Conflict Resolution: Leaders must be skilled in addressing and resolving conflicts, promoting a healthy and productive work environment. Effective communication is essential in facilitating conversations that lead to resolution and growth.
  • Storytelling: Leaders who can weave a narrative around their vision and goals are more likely to capture the hearts and minds of their team members. Storytelling is a powerful tool for making the message memorable and relatable.
  • Consistency: Leaders must align their words with their actions and decisions. When team members can rely on a leader's consistency, they feel secure and are more likely to follow their guidance.
  • Openness to Feedback: Leaders should be open to receiving feedback from their team members and actively seek it out. Constructive criticism can help leaders improve their communication and leadership skills.

 

By honing these skills, leaders can create a positive and productive work environment, foster strong relationships with their teams, and achieve success in their leadership roles.

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The one constant thing business owners can count on is change, something the last three years have clearly shown.

 

But as business leaders continue to navigate in a changing economy shaped in the aftermath of the pandemic, many have not taken a moment to appreciate how resilient they’ve become.

 

“A lot of people haven’t been able to validate how many changes they’ve had to make doing business, and the transitioning and pivoting,” says Tracy Valko, award-winning mortgage broker and owner of Valko Financial Ltd. “They haven’t been able to look at their business, their goals and what they value in life and take the time to realize how resilient they’ve been.”

 

Tracy says in particularly, women business leaders are less likely to appreciate themselves and what’ve they been through and hopes to help rectify that by leading an informative and interactive workshop at our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset later this month at Langdon Hall.

 

“I still see so many women spending time second guessing their skill sets,” she says, noting men seem to have more resiliency and forgiveness for themselves when it comes to pivoting in business. “Women spend more time judging themselves, thinking ‘maybe I shouldn’t speak up because someone’s going to say something’. I think in this world, especially now, women have to stand their ground and come together to support each other.”

 

At our Women Leadership Collective event Tracy will provide strategies for women to become more resilient by offering them a look inside what she refers to as her ‘resilient toolbox’ and share personal stories of what she has gone through creating a successful business over the course of the last 25 years. Besides being named one of Canada’s top individual brokers, she is also a published author and motivational speaker.

 

“I will provide a lot of different affirmations of ways to look at resiliency,” says Tracy, referring to her presentation. “A lot of people just don’t take the time to appreciate how far they’ve come and be able to pivot very quickly in an ever-changing world.”

 

Click here to learn more, or to register for our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset which takes places Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 9-11 a.m. at Langdon Hall.

 

Tips about a resilient mindset

 

Embracing Change and Uncertainty

A resilient mindset begins with the willingness to embrace change and uncertainty. 

 

Learning from Failure

Failure is a common part of life, and a resilient mindset allows us to see failure as a valuable teacher. 

 

Cultivating a Positive Mindset

Resilient people focus on the positive aspects of a situation and avoid dwelling on the negative. 

 

Building Strong Social Connections

Resilience is not a solitary endeavor. Building and maintaining strong social connections is a crucial aspect of a resilient mindset. 

 

Setting Realistic Goals

While having big dreams is important, setting smaller, attainable milestones helps build confidence and motivation. 

 

Practicing Self-Care

Resilient individuals recognize the importance of taking care of their physical and mental well-being. 

 

Adaptability

Those with resilience are not rigid in their thinking and are open to new ideas and solutions. They can adjust their plans as circumstances change and are willing to try different approaches to achieve their goals.

 

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Resilient individuals are excellent problem solvers. They break down complex issues into manageable steps and work through them systematically. 

 

Seeking Support and Seeking Help -

Resilient individuals are not afraid to seek support and help when they need it. 

 

Maintaining Perspective

In the face of adversity, resilient individuals remind themselves of the bigger picture. They recognize that the current challenge is just a chapter in their life's story and that it will pass, making way for new opportunities and growth.

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It’s no secret small and medium-sized businesses play a crucial role in our community’s economic landscape, but they continue to face many challenges that impact their growth and competitiveness.

 

Knowledge is key when it comes to finding business solutions which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has organized its inaugural Small Business Summit: Evolve and Thrive to provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn from local experts on a variety of topics relevant to operating their businesses.

 

“Business changes every single day, and we need to always stay focused ensuring we are working on our business and not just working in our business,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher. “And working on your business can mean participating in programming that helps you uncover new techniques in management, inspiring your employees and leadership training.”

 

The Small Business Summit: Evolve and Thrive will focus on a variety of areas over the course of several hours at Tapestry Hall. The discussions will centre around:

 

  • Creating an immersive customer experience;
  • Mental health practices for the modern entrepreneur;
  • Streamlining your business with new technologies;
  • Communication across cultures;
  • Exploring the future of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence;
  • Intrapreneurship.

 

The summit speakers are leaders in both the business and post-secondary sectors who will share with participants some of their vast and practical expertise on these topics.

 

Among them is John Stix, co-founder of Cambridge-based Fibernetics, who will lead the session on intrapreneurship and Jay Krishnan, CEO of The Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, who will outline how AI is revolutionizing business. As well, mental health advocate and meditation practitioner and serial entrepreneur Iman Grewal will also provide her expertise.

 

“We hope by hosting this summit we can provide entrepreneurs of SMEs with the tools they need to help them better navigate what may be some very choppy waters in our economy over the next few months,” says Greg.

 

The Small Business Summit: Evolve and Thrive takes place from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at Tapestry Hall.

 

Click here to learn more about this informative learning event.

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In the opening chapter of The E-Myth Revisited, a nearly 30-year-old book that is still relevant today, author Michael E. Gerber describes “The Entrepreneurial Seizure” or that moment when you decide to go into business for yourself.

 

Once the idea of entrepreneurship enters your mind it is life changing. Your imagination explodes with dreams of independence and success that will flow from turning your technical skills or passions into a be-your-own-boss enterprise. “Do what you love,” they say, “and you will never work another day in your life.”

 

This leads to what Gerber calls “The Fatal Assumption” which is that if you are good at the technical work of a business or are passionate about the work you will offer to the marketplace, then it follows that you will understand the business of delivering your goods or services to your customers. In the early days of your business this assumption can appear to be true. 

 

You launch your business filled with entrepreneurial energy, find customers, provide your products or services, build your reputation, and get more customers.

 

The growth cycle continues. Everyone is happy until one day you discover that your success is crushing you and the fatal assumption is revealed: That the technical skills you have are just one small part a of a complex set of business skills that you need to ensure your success.

 

For you to succeed as an entrepreneur you need the following four foundational elements:

 

  • A good product or service that customers want;
  • The ability to sell and deliver your products or services to your customers with quality and timeliness;
  • The ability to follow your money, understand cashflow, receivables, payables, and taxes and to take action to keep it all in order;
  • The ability to manage and strengthen interpersonal relationship with customers, employees, suppliers, etc.

 

Usually, a business starts with your product or service idea that has market demand or perceived market potential and perhaps you have competency in one of the other three foundational elements. 

 

But no one is proficient in all four so entrepreneurial energy and grit to succeed will only take you so far. Then the weaknesses in your business structure and practices reveal themselves as your business grows and your entrepreneurial dream begins to crack. It happens to all businesses.

 

When your business grows to the point where your success is crushing you, you must make a choice to either:

 

  1. Limit your business size to one you can handle on your own or;
  2. Change your business structure by hiring talent to shore up your weaknesses to enable continued growth.

 

Both options are valid. If you want to be a self-employed technician, where you are in control of your job then option 1 is for you but if your entrepreneurial goals include growth beyond your personal time and talent limitations you must choose option 2.

 

Option 2 requires the strategic hiring of people with talents that you do not have that will enable you to delegate and entrust parts of your business operations to them.

 

This may be accounting, sales, HR, communications and/or production personnel and managers.  Some of these services may be contracted out and some are better achieved if hired into your company. 

 

These are important strategic decisions that will enable you to grow beyond your previous limitations.  As you delegate to competent people your job changes to a true company president.

 

When you have good people in the right places in your business you can look up from your day-to-day operations and look out into the marketplace for new opportunities. Sales grow, production increases, cash flows better, and employees, customers, and vendors are satisfied.

 

This sounds easy, but giving up control of parts of your business to other people is a challenging and necessary growth step for small business entrepreneurs.  You may want to enlist a business coach who can also help you stick to your growth plan when it gets hard, as it always does.

 

Remember, at this stage of your business growth what you really need is good people with leadership skills and business management talents that are different and complimentary to yours so that you can set yourself and your business up for success in the next phase of your entrepreneurial journey.

 

 

Submitted by Murray Smith, President of Blue Cancoe Consulting

 

 

 

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The following piece is one of several appearing in the special summer edition of  our Insight Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

A variety of components are required to build a successful community.

 

Among these is a strong link to higher education, something Cambridge has been fortunate to have since its amalgamation courtesy of Conestoga College.

 

Founded in 1967 as Conestoga College of Applied Arts and Technology, it was among 22 community colleges established by the Ontario government between 1966-69 to provide diplomas and certificates in career-related, skills-oriented programs.

 

In the beginning, Conestoga College offered only part-time classes out of Preston High School as construction began on its Doon campus site in the south end of Kitchener, and by 1969 had already expanded by setting up Adult Education Centres in Cambridge, Guelph, Stratford, and Waterloo. It also began offering 17 full-time programs set up in portables at its Doon site to accommodate 188 students, with 67 of them attending its very first convocation in 1969.

 

But the college faced growing demand which resulted in the opening of a permanent campus in Guelph in 1970. Within a few years, not only did construction began on its Early Childhood Education Centre at its main Doon campus but the college also established its nursing program when the responsibility of four regional schools of nursing was transferred to Conestoga.

 

Throughout the next few decades as Cambridge expanded, the college continually added additional programs to keep pace with growing demands, to the point where it currently serves approximately 26,000 students (12,500 full time) through its eight campuses and training centres in Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Stratford, Guelph, Ingersoll, and Brantford.

 

Being designated in 2003 as one three Institutes of Technology and Advance Learning by the province, along with Humber and Sheridan colleges, opened even more possibilities for the college now that it could award degrees to students in its Mechanical Systems Engineering program and Bachelor of Architecture Project & Facility Management program. Additional degree programs were added in the years that followed.

 

“I think the college has come a long way because we have a vision, we have a purpose and we’ve been trying to get a little better,” said Conestoga College President John Tibbits, who took on the job in 1987, in a previous interview with the Chamber.

 

In the fall of 2006, he shared some of that vision when plans were unveiled for a proposed Cambridge campus to be located on a 136-acre site near Blair. According to an article published in the Cambridge Times that September, the campus was to become home to four centres of excellence with the consolidation of many existing engineering technology and industry trade programs from the Doon and Guelph campuses.

 

The cost for this venture was pegged at $47 million and would include a 200,000-square-foot building to house 1,600 students by 2009.

 

In the end, the college’s Engineering & Technology Campus opened on Fountain Street South in Cambridge in 2011. The 260,000-square-foot building – awarded a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification - not only houses innovative technology labs and shops, but the Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) which features processing lines for beverages, baked goods, vegetables, and a food testing laboratory. This 8,000-square-foot plant is a one-of-a-kind learning facility in Canada.

 

A year later the college established its Centre for Smart Manufacturing, with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, to provide students from various IT and engineering programs with a hands-on chance to work with industry partners in the robotics, automation, and manufacturing sectors.

 

In 2018, the Conestoga Applied Research Facility opened at 96 Grand Ave. South in downtown Cambridge and now plays host to the rebranded SMART (Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies) Centre which made the move from the Doon campus. It now occupies 10,000 square feet of space in the historic Grand Innovations building for applied research with another 7,000 to 8,000 used to house the centre’s fully operational recycling plant.

 

“SMART Centre is all about engagement with industry and the ability for us, as subject matter experts in advanced manufacturing, recycling and digital innovation, to engage with students and industry partners to help solve industry challenges,” said Ignac Kolenko, Executive Director of the SMART Centre, in a previous Chamber interview.

 

However, the college made an even bigger investment in Cambridge when it transformed the former Erwin Hymer Group North America manufacturing plant into its state-of-the-art Skilled Trades campus.

 

The 250,000 square foot building on Reuter Drive, the former home to the BlackBerry repair centre, was purchased by Conestoga College in 2019 at a cost of $33.5 million with the aim to bring all its trade schools together under a single roof.

 

“It’ll give us a chance to have one of the most comprehensive and high-quality trades facilities in the province,” Tibbits told the Waterloo Record at the time. “This is a game-changer.”

 

The campus opened in 2022 and features more than 150,000 square feet of shops and labs designed and equipped to meet the unique requirements of trades education and training. Additional phases for the 40+-acre property are currently underway.

 

But the college’s commitment to education has also been matched by its ongoing commitment to the local community and its $1.5 million partnership with the City of Cambridge towards the creation of the Fountain Street Soccer Complex is the perfect example. The site will feature seven fields – four with natural turf and three with synthetic turf – as well as a 6,500 square-foot-service building.


“Conestoga has a long and proven history of working with our municipal partners to address local economic, social and workforce needs,” said Tibbits. “The college greatly appreciates our partnership with the City of Cambridge and with leading Cambridge employers such as Toyota, ATS and Eclipse Automation as well as with our many applied research partners and collaborators as we all work together to build a stronger, more prosperous community.”

 

Just the facts 

  • Conestoga grads contribute more than $2.3 billion to the local economy annually
  • 5,231 Ontario businesses are owned by Conestoga College graduates
  • 4.8% of Conestoga College’s alumni are business owners (5,416 businesses owned by grades).
  • Since 2018, more than 170 employers have relied on Conestoga College’s Corporate Training services to support the upskilling of their employees
  • Nearly 55% of the local adult population has participated in Conestoga’s education and training opportunities
  • The college welcomes 2,500 international students from 80 countries – largest number of students from India, with South Korea, China, Brazil, Central America, and Nigeria
  • International students now represent 20% of full-time student population
  • Nearly 80% of international students remain in Canada when they graduate
  • More than 1,500 Conestoga students participate in applied research projects annually
  • 96.6% of Conestoga grads live in Ontario, with 64.8% living in the local community

 

* Courtesy of Conestoga College

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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

 

It’s been more than 50 years since the ingenuity and drive of two Cambridge men helped revolutionize filmmaking, setting the stage for millions of moviegoers worldwide to enjoy an enhanced experience every time they set foot inside a theatre.

 

It was the innovative vision of filmmaker Graeme Ferguson and businessman Robert Kerr, along with filmmaker Roman Kroitor and engineer William Shaw, which resulted in the creation of the IMAX film format and the success that followed.

 

Friends since childhood, Ferguson, and Kerr’s first ‘big’ collaboration was on a school newspaper at Galt Collegiate Institute. However, they took very different career paths with Kerr establishing a specialty printing company with his father called John Kerr and Son, and Ferguson, who developed a love for photography after his parents gave him a Baby Brownie camera at age 7, becoming a New York-based independent filmmaker.

 

Later, their creative drives would draw the pair together again when Ferguson reached out to his old friend, who at this time was serving as the youngest mayor of Galt (serving four one-year terms from 1964-67) and managing the printing company after he had sold it, to collaborate on a film for Montreal’s Expo 67.

 

The film, to be shown at the “Man the Explorer” pavilion, was entitled Polar Life and examined the lives of northern peoples in Canada, Lapland, and Siberia. It was to be featured on eleven 35mm screens and a continuously rotating audience platform. Kerr, who was known to enjoy making things with hands and discovering ‘elegant’ solutions to problems, welcomed the challenge.

 

“We had just enough experience to give us some confidence, and if didn’t go well, we still could recover,” Kerr once told a reporter. “We were very naïve, which probably saved us.”

 

The film was a success, along with another multi-screen film at Expo 67 called Labyrinth, co-created by Ferguson’s brother-in-law Roman Kroitor, who was also experimenting with screen technology.

 

When Kroitor received backing from film manufacturer Fuji to create another film for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan, Ferguson, and Kerr joined the project and the trio each invested $700 to form their own company called Multiscreen Corp. – the forerunner to what would later become IMAX Corp.

 

“We had two filmmakers, which was one too many, one businessman, which was right, and were short in the engineering department,” Ferguson was quoted as saying. “We said to each other, ‘Who’s the best engineer we could hire?’ And it took us about one tenth of a second to say, ‘Bill Shaw’.”

 

William Shaw, who was an engineer at bicycle-maker CCM, came onboard and began working out the technical aspects to fine tune this new technology.

 

Together, over the course of the next two-and-half years, the group invented the 15/70 film format, commissioned the first 15/70 camera, built the first 15/70 rolling loop projector, and produced a giant-screen film called Tiger Child which opened at what was considered the world’s first IMAX theatre at Expo 70.

 

Ontario Place first permanent IMAX theatre

 

However, it wouldn’t be until the foursome brought their technology to the 800-seat Cinesphere at Toronto’s Ontario Place which became the first permanent IMAX theatre, that the full potential of their creative dream thus far would be realized. The landmark theatre opened May 22, 1971, showing Ferguson’s now classic film North of Superior.

 

The sky really was the limit after that when Ferguson struck up a collaboration with NASA to bring moviegoers into space by having astronauts trained to use IMAX cameras. Several very successful documentaries would follow that established the IMAX brand.

 

But even as the company continued to flourish, the pair remained close, even working on their boats together after he, Kerr and Shaw retired to homes on Lake of Bays after IMAX was sold to two American businessmen in 1994.

 

Kerr, who had served as the company’s Chairman, President and CEO from 1967 to 1994, continued to dabble in large format film, and after retiring from IMAX formed a partnership with Jonathan Barker to form SK Films. But prior to this, he also managed to serve a two-year term (1974-1976) as mayor of the newly-amalgamated Cambridge before joining IMAX full time but proudly wore his mayoral ring for the remainder of his life.

 

Among his many municipal accomplishments was the development of Mill Race Park, following the Grand River flood in 1974.  At the time, his mayoral predecessor Claudette Millar – Cambridge’s first mayor following the amalgamation – was quoted as saying: “If it weren’t for him, it could have been a blank wall.”

 

Later during his retirement, Kerr fostered his interest in the arts and education by supporting local artists, as well as in 1997 by endowing the University of Waterloo’s Stanley Knowles Visiting Professorship in Canadian Studies. He also bestowed bursaries at Cambridge secondary schools.

 

“I believe it is important for Canadians to increase our understanding of ourselves, our history, our special institutions and those qualities that contribute to a more thoughtful and compassionate nation,” he once said.

 

Kerr passed away in April 2010 at the age of 80. Ferguson, the last of the four IMAX founders, died in May 2021 at the age of 91.

 

According to a news report published in the New York Times upon Ferguson’s death, despite reading bleak reports throughout the pandemic regarding a shift in viewing habits and the growing allure of streaming services enticing moviegoers away from theatres, the Cambridge native wasn’t worried about what the future held for IMAX.

 

“He was completely convinced it would flourish even if the rest of the exhibition industry was going to do much worse,” his son, Munro, was quoted as saying in the Times, “because he believed that if you’re going to leave your house, you might as well go see something amazing.”

 

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Mental health in the workplace continues to be a major focus, especially as businesses continue to deal with labour shortages and adapt to hybrid work models.

 

“You have to prioritize it,” says Robyn Schwarz, Fund Development, Advocacy, and Communications Lead at Porchlight Counselling Addictions Services in Cambridge. “You have to see it as something you need to learn, the same way you need to learn anything else to grow your business.”

 

Despite the fact the pandemic is considered a thing of the past, she says for some fears and concerns surrounding COVID-19 – especially for those with ongoing health issues - continue to impact their mental health.

 

“I like to think the pandemic really escalated a lot of stressors and acted almost like a catalyst for things that were already just under the surface in our lives,” says Robyn, referring to it as “collective trauma” for the community in general.

 

She says for working parents who had to find ways to support their children through school lockdowns while trying to balance their work life, it has proven particularly hard as they face rising costs. In fact, according to a recent Wellbeing Waterloo Region report Cambridge residents, despite having lower income levels, work more hours to make ends meet. The report shows 6.2% work 55 hours a week or more at than their main job and a 28.3% of respondents work 20 or more hours a week at a second job.

 

“I think as a community, we’re trying to figure out what do our lives look after this while also really struggling cognitively with our brains,” says Robyn.

 

As a result, she says it’s important for employers to be able to read the signs an employee may be dealing with mental health issues.

 

“Looking at different behavioural changes can be really helpful,” says Robyn, noting that sudden tardiness, anger issues, or signs often associated with being a ‘bad’ employee could really indicate a mental health concern. “A mental health issue is one of those things that shows up so different with everyone and we all have different understandings of what emotional dysregulation look likes.”

 

As well, she says addiction issues could also be a byproduct as employees try to find ways to cope with anxiety and depression.

 

“A couple of things we’re hearing in the community is an increase in normalized addictions because many people were at home during the pandemic,” she says, referring to alcohol consumption. “That is something we’ve been really concerned about because it’s something you can hide really easily until it becomes life or death.”

 

As a result, she says creating a supportive workplace environment through trust and open communication is important for an employee to address their mental health issues.

 

“It’s all about finding ways to build those spaces into your work and obviously, every workplace is different. There is no one ‘right’ way to do this,” says Robyn. “It’s about knowing how to talk about mental health and being able to communicate that in a kind and compassionate way. Many employers themselves are also under stress and when an employee knows that they can mutually support each other.”

 

She says just sending employees emails with links to mental health resources isn’t enough, and in fact, could exacerbate the situation.

 

“In that case, you’re putting the onus on your employee to do something that they might not even have the capacity to do and you’re also creating a situation where they feel you’re actually giving them more work to do.”

 

Finding resources can be difficult, says Robyn, noting that private therapy in Canada can cost between $160 to $250 an hour, and that on average between six to 10 sessions are usually needed for a person to make any progress.

 

“Most benefit packages I know, unless you work for a very large corporation, cover perhaps $500 a year,” she says, adding Porchlight, which offers a variety of services, is a good place to discover local resources. “The system right now is a great big puzzle and is very confusing, so an organization like ours we can do the heavy lifting for people to help them access affordable mental health and addictions support.”

 

 

Recommendations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for SMEs

 

Develop a comprehensive mental health strategy

•    Develop a mental health strategy that is linked to your EDI strategy.
•    Measure baseline workforce mental health through qualitative (e.g., regular pulse checks and surveys) and quantitative measures (e.g., absenteeism, presenteeism, short- and long-term disability, etc.).
•    Set specific performance targets based on baseline data and the unique needs of your organization and employees.
•    Monitor progress to assess whether intended outcomes were achieved and what steps are needed to improve psychological health and safety.

 

Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture

•    Invest in mental health training to ensure leaders can recognize distress and support employees.
•    Pay attention to the quality of social connections and consider team building options (that adhere to public health guidelines) to foster camaraderie.
•    Encourage employees to practice self-care that includes daily relaxation to decrease stress and healthy habits (e.g., adequate sleep, exercise, etc.).
•    Consider small gestures of appreciation (e.g., a gift card or simple “thank you”), which can impact someone’s day.
•    Consider building a mental health committee or peer support program.

 

Communicate widely, regularly, and effectively

•    Encourage leaders to model open and authentic communication about their mental health challenges – to reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek support.
•    Create spaces for conversation between leaders and employees to share how they feel, check-in with one another, and build a sense of community.
•    Repeat key messages throughout the year to create lasting cultural change and using various formats (e.g., team meetings, posters, etc.)

 

Ensure adequate resources and supports for employees and their families

•    Ensure supports are varied, visible, and accessible – in-person and virtually.
•    Invest in leaders’ wellbeing so they can provide support to employees.
•    Support employees along the full continuum of mental health – from prevention to early intervention to recovery.
•    Review your company’s health plan with your benefits administrator to examine what supports you currently provide and what could be added.

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