Parker: Business Link launches pilot Mentor Program

Parker: Business Link launches pilot Mentor Program

‘Starting a business can be overwhelming. Our Mentor Program ensures that budding entrepreneurs don’t have to navigate this path alone,’ said Paul Cataford, executive director of Business Link

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Business Link has launched its pilot Mentor Program, designed to support grassroots small businesses in Alberta. The provincial support organization for entrepreneurs the program is designed to help aspiring owners including retailers, mom-and-pops, consultants and sole proprietors in Alberta.

“Starting a business can be overwhelming,” says Paul Cataford, executive director of Business Link. “Our Mentor Program ensures that budding entrepreneurs don’t have to navigate this path alone. Our goal is to create a supportive environment where new business owners can develop and grow with the guidance of those who have experience and valuable advice.”

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Cataford is dedicated to promoting and developing entrepreneurship in Alberta, with lots of the right experience to lead Business Link.

He completed his engineering degree at Queen’s University and earned his MBA in finance and strategy at the Schulich School of Business at York University. His career covers a 15-year stint on Bay Street as a corporate banker and a venture capital and private equity investor. He has led a technology transfer office, created an early-stage company creation incubator at the University of Calgary and co-founded a medical device product development and manufacturing company in Calgary.

Cataford has been an independent corporate director on the boards of over 35 companies and organizations including publicly-listed corporations and several not-for-profits and associations.

He says when the opportunity was presented in 2022 to serve as executive director of Business Link, he believed it a perfect fit for his executive skills and his passion for promoting small businesses.

Business Link was established in 1996 as a non-profit organization to nurture the growth and success of Alberta’s small businesses. Government funded — federally through Prairies Economic Development Canada and provincially through the Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation — it has 30 employees throughout the province and services around 5,000 clients per year.

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Programs are designed to support mainstream businesses, new Albertans, and Indigenous entrepreneurs with comprehensive services including personalized coaching, market research, educational programs, online resources, networking opportunities, and targeted referrals.

The new free Mentor Program adopts a “speed dating” approach for mentor-mentee pairing, ensuring a personalized and effective match, making sure that expertise and experience align closely with the mentees business needs and goals.

To date, more than 55 seasoned entrepreneurs have already signed up as mentors.

The pilot program kicks off with an initial 30-minute intake meeting to establish and discuss potential challenges, followed by a 90-minute session aimed at developing strategies and set the path for future success. From there mentees and mentors have three distinct paths to choose from: formalizing their relationship through regular meetings, opting for a more flexible approach with informal interactions, or continuing to access Business Link’s resources and events if immediate challenges are resolved.

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To be eligible for the program, businesses must be Alberta-based and in operation for less than a year or in the initial stages of developing a business plan.

Cataford says the Business Link Mentor Program is dedicated to testing and refining effective support strategies for new entrepreneurs, an approach that ensures the program I responsive to the needs of Alberta’s small business community.

Global doughnut and coffeehouse chain Krispy Kreme is expanding in the Calgary market and with the help of Monika Blachut and Michael Kehoe of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate have secured a great location along Macleod Trail South.

Construction will begin later this year on a lot owned by Lansdowne Equity Ventures directly in front of its Schanks Sports Grill.

According to Kehoe, Krispy Kreme officials plan their first Calgary location as a ‘doughnut theatre hub’ where customers can observe the doughnut-making process as the sweet snacks travel along a 12-metre production line, which includes a glaze waterfall. The free-standing flagship building will have a dine-in section plus a drive-through.

Searching for the right employment? People can get in front of hiring managers, network and apply with employer exhibitors at the free Calgary Career Fair and Training Expo being held Thursday, Feb. 6, at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park.

David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at [email protected]

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