“I’m an entrepreneur because I was blessed to be raised in a household that believed in dreaming. I had parents that passed on the lesson that you can do anything as long as you are willing to take a leap.”

Motivated by a desire to give back to their local community of Fort St. John in northeast B.C., Stephen Beard and his wife, Amy, wanted to start a business that would engage them more fully with their friends and neighbours.

Given the remoteness of Fort St. John – more than two hours from the nearest town in Alberta and five hours from Prince George, B.C. – the community lacked access to one of Stephen’s favourite products, a high-quality, craft beer. As inveterate samplers of craft beers on their travels, Stephen and his wife had thought about creating a local brewery for years after relocating to Stephen’s childhood home town.

Having established a local photography company, Stephen and Amy were already familiar with operating a business. The ambition to create a brewing company was, they realized, a bigger undertaking, particularly given the costs associated with purchasing the pricey equipment necessary to produce a high-quality craft product. During his off-hours from his job as a firefighter with the Fort St. John Fire Department, Stephen continued to mull the idea and to research options for equipment purchase. By chance, during an online search in March 2017, he located a brewery in Rossland, B.C. that was selling its equipment to upgrade its own facility. As he describes it, “I immediately called my wife and said ‘What do you think?’ The next day, we put a $10,000 deposit down and bought the equipment. And then it was just like holding on to a rocket ship. There was no turning back after that.”

After spending time in Rossland to learn how to operate the equipment, Stephen returned within weeks, loaded the equipment onto a trailer, and made the 16-hour drive back to Fort St. John. Only six months after purchasing the machinery, Stephen and Amy had found a facility on the Alaska Highway, installed the equipment, and opened the doors of Beard’s Brewing Co to their local customers.

In another lucky stroke, shortly after launch, Futurpreneur’s ThriveNorth Community Coordinator for northeast B.C. stopped by the newly opened brewing company. As a passionate supporter of young entrepreneurs, he suggested to Stephen that he get in touch with Futurpreneur. Taking the advice, Steven looks back on his experience with Futurpreneur noting, “I wish I had found you sooner. I know now how much support Futurpreneur offers and it would have been great. I didn’t go to business school and there were many daunting tasks that they would have been incredibly helpful with.” But, as he adds, “when I did get in touch, like a lot of other things along the way, it worked in my favour. I got to sit down with a representative of Futurpreneur and just have a conversation about the journey so far, where we were hoping to go, how we were going to get there, and some of the achievements and struggles along the way. They did so much right away. I had the opportunity to do some workshops with them and to get some help with cash flow analysis.”

But the biggest advantage for Stephen came with the suggestion that he enter Beard’s Brewing Company in the ThriveNorth Business Challenge in 2018 for a chance at winning a $10,000 grant for new businesses. While Stephen notes that he was required to create a presentation about his business for the Challenge, he was definitely in. In reflecting on the experience, he points out, “The opportunity o participate in ThriveNorth was the real benefit. By luck, the conference was held in Fort St. John and all the participants went around to other businesses. The opportunity to build relationships, especially with new entrepreneurs, was incredible. They were just as excited and passionate as I was, but by being able to talk with them, you realized they were just as terrified and overwhelmed during the early days of a startup. So, a big part of the experience was finding out that you are not alone in that experience.”

As it turned out, Stephen’s company was named northern B.C.’s best new business by ThriveNorth in the 29-to-39-year-old category and was awarded its $10,000 grant. When discussing his win, he points out, “To be honest, in some ways, I didn’t want to win because I saw so many great new businesses, heard so many stories, and met so many great people who needed the money at least as much as I did.” He quickly adds, “Don’t get me wrong. The win was incredibly important for the business and let us take the next step. The money provided the means for us to get into canning our craft products. And that created additional work in our community. A lot of our staff are single moms that are looking for jobs that work around their schedule. The grant money created a position that just wouldn’t have existed otherwise. It was a massive blessing. The fact that I was able to accomplish that alongside such amazing entrepreneurs, that made it almost more fulfilling.”

As Stephen looks ahead and continues to develop his business, he remains grateful to Futurpreneur. In marking its 25th anniversary, he points out that “The first thing I want to say is thank you. Thank you for the effort. For all the work you do for entrepreneurs. For all the things that it allowed me to do for my staff – things that they aren’t even aware of.”

With ThriveNorth’s five-year mandate to help entrepreneurs in northern B.C. successfully wrapping up in 2019, Futurpreneur remains fully committed and eager to helping young entrepreneurs in the region – and in rural communities across Canada – successfully launch new businesses.

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