Lessons from entrepreneur leaders at Small Business BC 2020 Awards

On Friday February 21, 2020 Small Business BC hosted their annual awards at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. The event is a bit like the Academy Awards for Small Business in my province. Held at a stunning downtown venue framed by city lights and a harbor/mountain view backdrop, there were over 500 business leaders in attendance from all across the province. Many nominees were hopeful for the opportunity to be offering an acceptance speech.

I’ve delivered marketing seminars for Small Business BC for the last 10 years, so I find the evolution from the grain of an idea, often apparent in my session attendees, to a full-blown celebrated business success fascinating.

But what I find even more interesting is how certain patterns often are predictive of success.

Without exception, all nominees this year had these 4 characteristics present:

  1. They targeted a defined segment or market niche
  2. They discovered an unmet need or market gap
  3. They capitalized on a growing trend
  4. They disrupted through technology, service or dramatically changing their product, price, promotion or distribution from the industry norm

I thought this morning we could dig into the last two points – trends and disruption, and look at specific examples that emerged with this year’s winners.

6 Trends that emerged


The presence of sustainability as a theme was both impressive and hopeful. We saw new approaches to food waste, packaging, recycling, local sourced products, reusing, repurposing, and revitalization. The trend was applied broadly across food, consumption, consumer goods and housing.

Health & wellness

We’ve started to see this trend emerge more recently, but this year at the awards it was across many sectors and audiences – considering impacts on customers, staff and the community served. From diet to skin care, and physical well-being, health and wellness was often present.  But this year we also saw mental health often included in the conversation which is one of the first times I’ve seen it so public and recognized.

Employee retention

Whether this trend is driven by competition for good talent, retention, or the impact of millennials entering the workforce, it was fascinating to see “company culture” so prominently featured by many businesses. We saw everything from work flexibility, employee growth opportunities, leadership, empowerment and work/life balance emerge as themes.


BC and indeed all of Canada is very much dependent on new immigrants to sustain our economy, so I suppose it was no surprise to see services catering to new immigrants emerge. Settlement services for professionals and trades, education, training, and comforts such as food and community all were present.

Sharing economy

The sharing economy has been around for several years, but the idea of “access instead of owning” that companies like Airbnb and Uber are based on, has been fascinating to watch applied to other industries. We saw some of that in this year’s nominees.


This was not a huge trend, but definitely an emerging one – driven not only by aging boomers, but also affordable housing, and more sustainable lifestyles through a smaller footprint. I expect this is an area that will take off like sustainability in future years.


Category innovation and disruption

Innovation and disruption were also present in the nominees and winners. We saw technology disruption through apps applied to traditional industries like insurance, the gig economy, food, and communications. We also saw “customer service” emerge as a form of disruption – which is very much in keeping with one of my Top 5 Marketing Trends for 2020, the “need to be more human” and see human interaction and customer service as a form of marketing. Exceptional customer service was applied to traditional industries such as trades as a differentiator.

What can the rest of us learn from all of this?

Witnessing patterns of success over time allows us to ensure these characteristics are present initially when launching a business, which dramatically increases the likelihood of success. Having a defined target segment which you serve, an identified market gap, along with capitalizing on a growing trend, while recognizing how it is possible to disrupt or innovate are keys to business success.

Link HERE for an overview of the TOP 5 FINALISTS in each category

And finally, here’s a summary of the winners.  Link HERE for a background story on each company.

Best Community Impact: Ginger Jars

Best Company: Twirling Umbrellas

Best Employer: Emelle’s Catering

Best Immigrant entrepreneur: High Beam Dreams

Best Innovation: Kinzoo

Best marketer: Emelle’s Catering

Best Youth entrepreneur: Elevate Ultimate

People’s choice: Griottes Polyglottes

Congratulations to all nominees and winners. You make us proud!



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Mary Charleson

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