An integral member of the Leeds Grenville Small Business Centre (LGSBC) is retiring after sixteen years of supporting local small business owners.
Wendy Onstein joined the organization in 2005, after 26 years in the manufacturing sector. At the time, it was called the Thousand Islands Entrepreneurship Centre, even though the organization services the Leeds Grenville area. “I walked into the office and I saw a map on the wall that said Leeds Grenville and I thought, it doesn’t make sense to have Thousand Islands,” she remembers. “So, one of the first things we did was change the name to Leeds Grenville so that it reflected really who we serve.”
Changing the name is not the only thing that Wendy has had her hand in over the years. When she first started, she was the sole employee of the centre, and they only offered their core services, such as business consultation, advisory services, workshops and a couple of events a year. Since then, they have hired two more people and many more programs have been added to their roster. This includes the Starter Company program, focusing on youth entrepreneurship, which evolved into Starter Company Plus in order to open the program up to anyone who needed support running and growing their small business. They also run their Summer Company program every year, which helps youth from 15-29 start their own business during the months that they are not in school. A year ago, they began offering their Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, which is meant to help woman transform a hobby or part time business into a full-time career.
The centre has also been focused on helping small businesses respond to the pandemic by offering their Recovery Program. Participants are given the opportunity to meet with a business consultant to look at their business plan and see how they can adapt to the new reality. It also involves a program called Ask The Expert, which offers up to three 1-hour sessions with a professional, like an accountant, lawyer or bookkeeper, free of charge. “The uptake on that program has been really good,” Wendy says. “People are reaching out to us, and they’re really taking advantage of it.”
All these programs are funded through the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, but it is the dedicated team at the LGSBC that has made them a success. There are many small businesses in North Grenville that have benefitted from LGSBC’s support, including Karen Quigley of Saltastic and Karin Rabuka of No Go Coffee Co. Karen’s son, Kai, was also involved in the Summer Company program in 2020 with his business Rabuka Yard Works Co.
Wendy says she has loved working at the LGSBC and supporting local small businesses in Leeds Grenville over the past 16 tears. “Seeing business owners grow and thrive and be successful, and just the feeling that what we are doing here really helps people. Everybody says that small business is the engine that runs our Ontario economy. I think that we really walk the talk because it does. It is the engine. If it wasn’t for all of our small businesses, we would be in sorry shape”.
While wrapping up her work with the LGSBC is bittersweet, Wendy is looking forward to retirement and starting a new chapter. She already has a small side business as a wedding officiant, which she loves, and she is also planning on helping families put together celebrations of life. Wendy would also like to spend more time with her grandson, do some charity work, and also stay connected to the business community in Brockville. “I want to stay connected, I’ll die if I’m not connected to people.”
Wendy says her time at the LGSBC allowed her to find her true calling – helping people. She has loved being able to work with not only the people at the LGSBC and businesses, but also their partners in the North Grenville community, like the Municipality, CSE Consulting, and the Chamber of Commerce. “They’ve all been very supportive of the centre over the years and made us feel included and welcome,” she says. “They’ve been great community partners.”