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Downtown store space, cash and more up for grabs in new business pitching competition

'We need lots of people who have great ideas to open businesses who haven’t got the support or education'
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Downtown Guelph. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

A good pitch could help small businesses win cash, reduced rent on a retail space and more in Downtown Guelph.

The Business Centre Guelph-Wellington has partnered with the Downtown Guelph Business Association and Invest Guelph to host a new business contest called Win This Space.

Win This Space is a pitch competition designed to help connect landlords of retail spaces in downtown Guelph with potential tenants. Select entrepreneurs and businesses will go through five weeks of training with the Business Centre to learn about business development, marketing, operations and financial management.

After training, participants pitch their business idea in a qualifier round, with the five best pitches selected to go onto the final round. The winners will receive up to $40,000 in cash, rent incentives and ongoing business mentorship. The deadline for applicants to apply has been extended to Feb. 5th.

Kristel Manes, president of the Business Centre Guelph-Wellington, says this is one way to help landlords secure the right businesses for their space. The competition can help those with a little equity who are ready to launch their business, or those looking to expand their already existing business. 

“We want to find the entrepreneurs, get them ready to be an entrepreneur,” she says, “and then it’s a great story for the landlord who has a tenant who knows what they’re talking about.”

“We need lots of people who have great ideas to open businesses who haven’t got the support or education."

Besides giving landlords the chance to find their ideal clients, the pitch competition can also help educate small businesses about what they are getting themselves into when they agree to a lease.

“When you sign a contract, or you sign a lease, you’re committed to that,” Manes explains, “So even if your business is not successful, you’re still going to pay that money.”

Executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association (DGBA), Marty Williams, says not having a business plan for the idea you are passionate about is a recipe for failure.

“What we don’t want to see is people putting their heart and soul into something that isn’t going to work in Downtown Guelph,” he says.

Even if one business doesn’t go on to win the competition, Manes says a landlord may still want to work with them if they feel the business is a good fit for their retail space. Participating landlords are allowed to make an arrangement, which will be supported by some funding from the Business Centre and DGBA.

“Everybody will get something," she explains, "Because the number one person will get a prize pack and they take a space, and maybe one of the landlords will say, hey you’re type of business number two will fit in my space, so let’s make a deal!”

With communities like Harriston, Minto and Peterborough using the same tactic for matching landlords and tenants, he says he’s seen the idea work.

"I've toured around and Kristel and I have gone to talk to folks who have gone on to grab onto the program in some rural settings, but my favourite is in Peterborough ... which  has been doing this for a number of years with great success.

“I’ve been to a number of presentations on Win This Space and everybody says it works."

While Downtown Guelph has seen several new businesses open during the pandemic, Williams says there are some other long-standing vacancies still available, especially along Upper Wyndham Street.

“We’ve been seeing the need for it for a while,” he says about the competition, “And in this crazy time, we need to be doing all we can to fill vacancies with really good, solid businesses that are going to emerge from this pandemic and thrive.”

To learn more about the competition or apply for Win This Space, go to


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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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