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Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Engage With Your Audience Digitally – Practical Q and A with Ontario Culture Days

In today’s world, where the vast majority of our connections are online, arts and culture entrepreneurs are searching for the best ways to engage with their audiences digitally.

According to the Government of Canada, “Arts, culture and heritage represent more than $53 billion in the Canadian economy and close to 666,500 jobs in sectors such as film and video, broadcasting, music, publishing, archives, performing arts, heritage institutions, festivals and celebrations.”

What does this mean for arts and culture entrepreneurs who are increasing digital interactions with customers?

As part of a nation-wide network of arts, culture and heritage organizations, Ontario Culture Days is a non-profit organization whose goal is to foster public engagement with a vibrant Ontario arts, culture and heritage sector. Each year, Ontario Culture Days leads a province-wide festival, and supports a wide network of organizers through communications, marketing, outreach and artistic programs. This year, as a result of the pandemic, festival programs largely took place digitally.

To discover how arts and culture entrepreneurs can best connect with customers who crave hands-on interaction or learn in a much more tactile manner, and are tired of endless screen time, the City of Vaughan consulted two experts on digital audience engagement from Ontario Culture Days.

The City has partnered with Ontario Culture Days for the last 11 years and the organization has been instrumental in the growth of Vaughan’s arts and culture sector, providing local creative industry entrepreneurs with support, toolkits and platforms for exposure.

 

For the 2020 edition of Culture Days, Community members from the Sault Ste Marie Indigenous Friendship Centre (IFC) created traditional Ribbon Shirts and Skirts. The makers modeled their creations at the Art Gallery of Algoma and photos were released alongside an article about the project. Photo courtesy of Kevanna Studios.

The experts

Meaghan Froh Metcalf, Outreach and Programs Manager

Meaghan Froh Metcalf is a museum professional in the Toronto area with 10 years of

experience in arts programming, outreach and administration. She has held positions at a variety of cultural institutions within Alberta and Ontario, including the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Town of Oakville.

Meaghan has been a part of the Ontario Culture Days team since 2017. In that time, she has led outreach and sector-development efforts to a network of over 500 organizers.  She has also produced a series of curatorial programming initiatives, including the 2019 exhibition DO BLUE BUTTERFLIES EAT PARTS OF THE SKY?, the ongoing Culture Days @ Toronto Public Library program and the new Creatives in Residence series.

Amy Wong, Communications and Administration Coordinator

Amy Wong is an arts administration and communications professional based in Toronto and the GTA. She has previously worked with the Markham Theatre and Craft Ontario to produce and promote both artistic and youth programming.

Amy has been working with the Ontario Culture Days team since the summer of 2019. While there, she has developed and implemented festival and year-round communications plans, published editorial content for the oncultureguides.ca “Things to Do” page, and provided support for Ontario Culture Days outreach and program development initiatives.

The consultation

1.   How are artists, cultural organizations and entrepreneurs in the creative industries responding to the new “normal” and pivoting to innovative online platforms to advance their work and creative business?

Quick take

  • Many are trying a hybrid model where people pick up an activity box or art kit then tune in to an online program.
  • Digital presents an opportunity to collaborate with out-of-town artists or organizations you have always wanted to work with.

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: During the recent Ontario Culture Days festival, we saw a number of organizations do a kind of hybrid model where people could pick up an activity box or art kit, and then tune in to an online program via video or livestream. We’re more than half a year into this pandemic, and I think people are wanting something beyond screen time.

Having everyone in the workshop working with the same materials helps people to feel connected with their neighbours and supports fair access to supplies and resources. Plus, getting hands on helps connect with more tactile learners, and encourages people to try something new.

 

Aurora’s Culture in a Box program created take-home kits for residents. Photo courtesy of Town of Aurora.

 

One thing that is really exciting about going digital are the opportunities for collaboration. Because we aren’t worried about the cost and time associated with moving people places, you can engage with an artist or organization you have always wanted to work with, even if they are on the other side of the country!

For example, I know the National Arts Centre has been doing some great collabs with theatre companies all across Canada through their Grand Acts of Theatre program. Plus, combining resources and partnering with another group is a great way to share resources, especially if budgets are tight.

2.   What advice can you give to arts & culture entrepreneurs (or even other types of businesses) that’s relevant right now?

Quick take

  • If you have an idea, even if it is off the wall, give it a try, and learn from what worked and what didn’t.
  • It is a great time to look for courses or workshops online as professional development.

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: I think we still have leeway for experimentation, but the window is closing. The public has been really accommodating as we all try and figure out the best course of action during this time. If you have an idea, even if it is off the wall, give it a try, and learn from what worked and what didn’t.

There are still a lot of online programs being produced. I’m predicting that next year we’ll see fewer programs, but with larger production budgets – especially for online experiences. Figure out what works now, and then use it to refocus for next year.

Amy Wong: It is a great time to look for courses or workshops online as professional development. I’m still seeing a lot of free webinars out there, and they are a great opportunity to learn a new way of programming, or how to try a new digital platform. If the webinar allows for discussion, it is also a good way to hear from others about their experiences, insights and the challenges they’re facing.

3.   What are some best practices on running workshops or performances online? Any examples?

Quick take

  • Plan to make programs accessible, and work this into your timeline from the start.
  • The best programs are ones that are planned with a digital platform in mind, rather than taking something that had previously been live, and putting it online.
  • Online programs take just as much time as, if not more time than, in-person ones.

Amy Wong: Plan to make programs accessible, and work this into your timeline from the start. Great additions might include audio or visual aids, take-home kits, recordings etc. In some instances, you can tap in to technology to help you do the heavy lifting.

We used a program called Veed to caption all of our Ontario Culture Days videos this year. Particularly if you have a festival or specific busy season, a monthly subscription is affordable, and a good way to only pay for what you need.

I know YouTube has a pretty good auto-captioning service too. But don’t forget that computers do make mistakes, especially with tricky or hard-to-pronounce words. Make sure to save yourself time to review the captions and edit as needed.

The Food to Palette Watercolor Workshop by Kanika Gupta and Amit Kehar was produced for the 2020 Ontario Culture Days Creative Residency program. It was delivered via Veed.

 

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: Think about the platform and how you can use it. The best programs are ones that are planned with a digital platform in mind, rather than taking something that had previously been live, and putting it online.

Each year the Art Gallery of Algoma and Sault Ste. Marie Indigenous Friendship Centre put on a fashion show of Anishinaabe Ribbon Shirts and Skirts. Instead of putting a recording of the fashion show online for 2020, we worked with them to produce a photo essay. The program was able to provide an engaging and educational piece that could reach new audiences, and took into account how the material would be presented.

Amy Wong: Online programs take just as much time as, if not more time than, in-person ones. If you’re livestreaming, make sure to do a few tests beforehand, and have all the presenters gather online well before the start of the event to iron out any connectivity issues. And it never hurts to make sure there is a backup agenda or script in case the moderator loses connection.

If you’re sharing recorded content, plan your work-back schedule to include time for editing. Sound in particular is tricky, especially if content has been recorded on a phone. If you can invest in an inexpensive mic, it goes a long way.

4.   What other advice would you give to creatives to maintain sustainability through this challenging time and beyond?

Quick take

  • Before saying yes to a new initiative, think about your brand, mission, message, budget and schedule, and only select what fits.
  • Take a break!

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: I‘m hearing from a lot of people who are saying yes to too many things! Because we don’t have to be mindful of physical space or timing, we take on every proposal that comes our way.

Think about your brand, your mission and your message, and only select what fits. I think we’re all realizing COVID is a marathon, not a sprint, and the best way to keep our engagement and produce quality content is by conserving some energy.

Online takes time and money – sometimes even more than in-person. Try something once, evaluate how much it costs, and then plan a budget and schedule for your future programming. Don’t plan 20 online programs before you’ve tried planning one!

Amy Wong: Take a break. With so many of us working from home it can be hard to disconnect from work at the end of the day. Don’t forget to take time to try a new creative project, book or hobby.

5.   Anything else you’d like to add?

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: Sign up for the Canadian Network for Arts & Learning newsletter. They have an ongoing series of roundtables with arts professionals that allow you to hear how others in the sector are handling the pandemic. Plus, they share other relevant tools and resources to the network.

Amy Wong: The Ontario Nonprofit Network has a great resource page for non-profits. Their professional development webinars are all free this year, too!

Quality digital engagement will keep your business rising

Be sure to use some of Froh Metcalf and Wong’s tips for creating quality digital engagement with your customers, clients or audience as you plan innovative strategies to get you through to the other side.

For more information or assistance in planning your digital strategy, please contact the City of Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development team.

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

The Vaughan Rising Blog

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Develop an Innovative Product Quickly

Vaughan scaleup swiftly develops COVID detection device

Like other businesses in Vaughan, Kontrol Energy Corp. was disrupted by government measures to contain the pandemic. Instead of dwelling on how it impacted them, Kontrol considered what this meant for their clients and for the entire global economy.

Kontrol is one of Canada’s top new growth companies with triple-digit revenue growth and 70 employees. They’re a smart building technology company with two verticals: 1) reducing energy cost and consumption and 2) improving air quality and emissions. They work with large commercial real estate clients in Canada and the US, outfitting multi-residential, industrial and institutional buildings with their technologies.

CEO Paul Ghezzi remembers when the pandemic began, “The first thing we noticed really was a lot of our customers started to worry about having service companies like Kontrol on site. And that immediately led to a recalculation of when they could do their capital projects. When could Kontrol come on site? Was it safe?”

“And so around that time,” he continues, “we started to ask the question: if being safe in the space that you’re in is going to be a big challenge for the global economy, what can we do about that? We’re already at industrial facilities managing air quality in real time. Is there a way we could participate in helping solve this global pandemic?”

This problem, combined with their expertise in air quality monitoring, was the seed of a big idea: could they develop a technology that detects the COVID-19 virus in the air, in real time?

Fed by ambition and allies, that seed quickly grew into the Kontrol BioCloud Analyzer. This success story offers a peek inside the R&D process, and how to navigate it as quickly as possible.

Five takeaways from Kontrol to develop an innovative product quickly

1.   Lean into your expertise

They weren’t sure at first, admits Ghezzi. “Essentially we got together as a group and we said here’s what we’re thinking. Is this even feasible or possible? Half of us thought we were crazy. Half of us thought we should proceed.”

The logic behind the decision to proceed was that Kontrol already owned a company that had been measuring air quality on a parts per million basis for the past thirty years. The Kontrol team is very adept, knowledgeable, and sophisticated with air quality monitoring equipment. Their extensive expertise includes air sampling and looking for very specific things in the air that should not be there.

The part they were uncertain about was the chemical process. “COVID is not just a particulate in the air; there’s got to be some kind of chemical reaction in terms of identifying it. That part we didn’t know. So we reached out to a number of labs and started the process to find out what it would take to design a system that could detect COVID in conjunction with our continuous air sampling and monitoring. And that’s where it really started to come together,” notes Ghezzi.

2.   Recruit new partners

During the Research & Development (R&D) process, Kontrol partnered with independent labs. “The ImPaKT Facility actually has a live COVID virus available, so we were quite fortunate to get our independent testing against the dormant virus and then move very quickly to the live virus,” says Ghezzi. “What we’re working on now is setting a lower detection limit, which is a measure of how sensitive the technology is to the virus. Once we establish that, we move into commercialization. We’re looking to have production coming off the line of BioCloud units in November.”

Another important partnership that Ghezzi was sure to mention is the National Research Council of Canada, which has provided $50,000 of funding to Kontrol. “What’s important about the National Research Council is not the amount of funding because we had the funds in place to do the testing. But when they become part of the process, they go through their own independent validation of the work we’re doing. So it’s very helpful to have that. And they’re essentially the government of Canada scientists. From a controls perspective, it’s external validation, which is very helpful.”

3.   Leverage existing relationships

By keeping their initial costs down, Kontrol did not have to raise capital to do the testing. Ghezzi shares, “Our view is we can take the product to production and as customers make purchases, those deposits will help fund some of the production.”

“We’ve got 70 employees,” he adds, “and the approach we’re taking is we’re not building new factories, we’re not building new warehouses. We’ll run the logistics, sales, marketing, and production. All the manufacturing is going to be based in Ontario with third-party manufacturers.”

“What that’s allowed us to do is keep our overheads very low but allowed the manufacturing to happen in Ontario through third parties. We just leveraged our existing relationships to move very quickly. But we’re always looking for new manufacturing partners or third-party contracting manufacturers to talk to,” he says. Heads up then, local manufacturers!

4.   Accept you can’t control everything

With the first testing beginning in August and a goal of production starting in November, Kontrol has been working at breakneck speed. Ghezzi says, “The biggest challenge with a new technology or a new product is there’s parts that you control as an entrepreneur and a business owner and a team, and there’s parts that you don’t.

“When you’re developing a new technology or product, timing is always a challenge, and BioCloud is no different because we’re racing to solve the pandemic. But when you’re working with the government, it’s different, because they’re a much larger organization with more processes and approvals required. So I would say that’s been the most challenging.”

When the things he can’t control get frustrating, Ghezzi confides that he takes a step back. “We look at it from the perspective that in March, BioCloud didn’t exist. In only six or seven months, we’ve created a new technology that we think can really be helpful to get through this global challenge. So that’s the other side of it is that we’re moving mountains in a short period of time.”

5.   Don’t forget to consider long term application

Ghezzi notes, “We’re not alone in this; there are other technologies coming from the US, and other competitors. I think we’re one of the first in Canada so that makes us fairly unique, but viral detection is a new form of technology that’s coming to buildings and spaces.

“Over the next five years, my view is that every building is going to have some form of viral detection, like we do with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide. It’s a different world. Everything changed for everyone. New technologies are going to help us get through this pandemic and who knows what’s coming in the future. What’s the next pandemic three or four years from now?”

“Right now the detection chamber is single use for a single virus,” Ghezzi explains. “Our detection chamber can be modified to track other viruses such as Legionnaires’ disease or H1N1. Right now COVID is the immediate focus. In the future, our hope is to have one detection chamber for multiple viruses. But that’s going to take a bit more R&D and some more time.”

Rising to the challenge of pandemic problems

Thanks to a lot of hard work and sheer drive, Kontrol Energy has come up with a solution to a global problem. Ghezzi explains, “With today’s challenges, people often don’t feel safe in the spaces they’re in. We have nothing in a space that says I’m okay in the space I’m in right now and that’s really the big debate in the economy: how do we move forward without shutting down? I think technologies like BioCloud can play an important role in that.”

The first units will likely go out to their existing customers in Canada, but Kontrol is building a global distribution network to see the units go far and wide. Back in Vaughan, they’re creating new jobs to support the technology, while maintaining their core business too. Kontrol is doing everything it takes to make an innovative pivot which will ensure that more businesses and people make it through the pandemic safely to the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Become a COVID-Resilient Startup

Hop In Technologies is a startup that created a logistics software platform that helps employees get to work, particularly in areas outside the metropolitan core where transit service is limited. Hop In fills the last mile gap by arranging shuttles on optimized routes.

When Ontario shut down most workplaces in mid-March, commuting plummeted. According to Statistics Canada, public transit trips fell 42% in March and 85% in April. Hop In’s model was shaken to the core. Time for a pivot!

Telling Hop In’s COVID story is Founder Erich Ko. He and his co-Founder Boyd Reid have been hustling to build the business since it launched in 2018. When the lockdown happened, Erich says they knew they needed a new game plan. But while they figured that out, they wanted to help.

Here are five strategies that Hop In found successful as a startup during a pivot

1. Make yourself useful

At the beginning of the pandemic, Erich remembers, “For the first couple of months, everybody was in triage mode, just trying to figure out how to survive and what their place is in this new pandemic world. At that point, we took a step back and asked how we could help others while we figure out our next step.”

In finding ways to make themselves useful, Hop In started offering rides to work for front-line health care workers. “We thought, do what we know. So, we started offering some free rides to work for them and eventually the community came around us and we had Captain’s Boil restaurant in Vaughan, Caterable Inc., and Meringue Kiss (a local bakery in Vaughan) help us out and donate meals. We combined delivering rides to work and meals and we ended up donating over a hundred meals over the course of two months, thanks to our partners,” says Erich.

Hop In also partnered with suppliers in their network to donate and distribute more than 20,000 disposable masks across the country.

2. Address COVID head-on

Meanwhile, Hop In was still working on their pivot plan. A new idea emerged that dovetailed nicely with their original vision for the company.

Erich admits, “If you look at a transportation company, you’d think you’re kind of dead in the water with COVID happening. But we looked at it as an opportunity to reassess and help where we can. We looked at the essential companies, like food processing or consumer packaged goods (CPG), and thought okay they have to stay in business. How can we help them?”

In order to safely serve these companies during COVID, Hop In revamped their entire sanitization policy to make it as airtight as possible.

“It starts with the bus. It’s sanitized daily – sometimes twice a day,” Erich explains. “We get video sent to us regularly by the company to show us that it’s happening. Our drivers do checks to make sure that your mask is pulled up above your nose and it’s covering your chin.  We’ll supply disposable masks if we need to – if somebody doesn’t have it. We do social distancing in the buses. We have sanitizer. Taking all those precautions that we need to.”

He continues, noting that, “Hop In has just finished designing our mobile app, so there’s a ticketing system put in place. So we make sure that we can track the people coming on and off. I won’t say too much, but we’re working with another company right now to provide symptom tracking as well on the mobile app. So, we’ll be able to offer that to companies pretty soon. I’m very excited about that because we can kind of create a little NBA-style bubble for corporations if you will.”

The pivot worked and they picked up a major new client in July: Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton. The pandemic had intensified two challenges for the company and Hop In offered solutions.

Hop In conducted a survey, which included Maple Lodge Farms. The survey revealed that a lot of employees from the companies were not comfortable with public transit just yet. “We said we can help you with this,” says Erich.

At the same time, he observes, “A lot of the manufacturing companies are going through hiring phases right now. Maple Lodge is kind of falling in line with that as well, and we were able to help them expand their hiring pools through our accessibility. They actually hired their first two employees from Scarborough, which is unheard of if you’re in Brampton. So, we can definitely fill that gap as well for the time being.

3. Plan for the long term

Fundraising is such a huge part of the startup experience and can be difficult to access at the best of times. But, in this pandemic environment, Hop In finds little change in the process for raising capital.

“You hear all these horror stories about raising in a time like this, and I think a lot of the startups that raised back in the 2008 recession will tell you some of those stories. But to be honest, I haven’t found it to be too much more difficult than before.

“You know, you might have to prove out your metrics a little bit more to the investors, but at the end of the day I think they still understand when there’s a good business. We’ve been able to become COVID-resilient, I guess I’ll say, so we’re on track. We’re actually raising right now and as long as we hit our metrics, I think we’re okay and we’re good to go. Investors are still open for business and I think everybody should be approaching them,” he advises.

As for long-term growth, Erich indicates that many of Hop In’s new business strategies and pivots are here to stay, even post-vaccine.

“I think what COVID’s taught us is that we do really need to take more care in terms of things like sanitization and making sure we’re tracking symptoms, because even flu season hits everybody. So, I think we’re going to keep a lot of these measures in place, just making sure that we are being as clean and efficient as possible all the time. It’s a lifelong lesson that we’ve learned from this, definitely.”

4. Leverage your advantages

Hop In undeniably managed to find its niche in a post-COVID economy. Hop In’s early stage status, as a small startup, was a factor in their ability to pivot – a positive one.

“Definitely, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. For startups, it’s all about perspective and how you solve the problem in different ways,” Erich shares. “We looked at it that we’re a small lean team and we can move very quickly, so we pivoted towards a COVID-safe model very quickly and leveraged the different initiatives that we had. We don’t have 50 – 100 employees. We didn’t have to worry about moving everyone together that way. We were able to move very quickly, and I think that’s why we’re coming out of this pandemic stronger than we actually entered it.”

5. Leverage your network

Ask for help from your connections, whether that is other colleagues in your network, economic development organizations, business coaches, or your own team members.

Erich has this advice for other startups, “Hang in there. It’s a perspective thing. A lot of startups have gone down or might see themselves going down during the pandemic. But there’s always a pivot to be made, I think, and it’s all about how you look at it. There’s always that silver lining, because I think as startups, we’re always kind of fighting an uphill battle. But there’s a way to get to the end.

“One way is to reach out to your network. They can help you pivot a lot, like the team at the Vaughan economic development department helped us a lot through the pandemic. The community really came around and helped us out with our initiatives through the worst parts of this and we can only go up from here. So I’m excited to see what happens.”

Erich couldn’t say too much, but their plans for the near future include raising money to complete new tech advancements and grow the team. To house the bigger team, they’re hoping to deepen their roots in York Region with their first office space. Then, when the borders open, they hope to expand outside of Canada.

Hop In Technologies is a great example of a Vaughan startup that has pivoted their mindset, leveraged their resources, and found the silver lining to keep rising and come out stronger on the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: Seven Steps to Improve Cybersecurity in Your Business

For better or worse, most of us have been working from home for the last six months due to the pandemic. Big enterprises can support their staff with dedicated IT/Cybersecurity personnel to prevent external cyber invasions such as malicious malware. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can’t afford such a luxurious option.

Given how quickly the lockdown orders were imposed, SMEs had to make do with existing systems or set up new ones on the fly. Without the guidance of an IT specialist, these systems can have weak cybersecurity and create significant risk for companies already in a survival mode due to COVID-19 restrictions.

How can SMEs protect themselves?

To find out, the City of Vaughan and Vaughan Chamber of Commerce spoke with a cybersecurity expert:

Evgeniy Kharam, Director of Solution Architecture Division, Herjavec Group

In his current role at Herjavec, Evgeniy designs optimum security solutions for clients by taking into account both their current infrastructure and future needs. Evgeniy recently started the Security Architecture podcast to give back to communities and help companies to improve cyber security architecture.

Vulnerable entry points for hackers

The internet, and technology in general, is constantly changing to make the user experience better. Consider how much easier it is to send emails, browse the web without remembering IP addresses, perform audio or video calls, exchange files instantly, etc. The downside of these improvements is that they create more vulnerabilities—flaws in code or design that create a potential point of security compromise for an endpoint or network—for bad guys to explore.

Additional vulnerabilities are created when employees conduct meetings and do work from their homes using personal computers and connecting to their WIFI networks, which are usually less protected.

Once a hacker has access to your networks, they can cause major damage. Evgeniy points out “No business owner wants their company files to become encrypted or corrupted, or their software to malfunction.” In a worst case scenario hackers may use ransomware, which is software that encrypts files and allows the hacker to demand payment to restore access. “It is crucial to incorporate cybersecurity awareness into daily routines especially when interacting by emails with customers and colleagues. Phishing is the major tool for hackers to fulfill their intentions.”

Seven steps to improve cybersecurity

1. Assess the types of data you currently have

Take stock of your data collections and prioritize them.  Which types are more important than others? Confidential customer information, CRM, accounting and payroll data and files or documents that are absolutely necessary to conduct your business should be your highest priority.

2. Create backups for such data and restrict access

First, make sure the data is stored in two safe and different places. These places could be a computer, server, external hard drive, an external hard drive in another physical location, or cloud backup. There are several ways to backup data. In general, you want to back up everything once and then do incremental changes. It’s also crucial to test and validate the backup and restore it every couple of months.

Then assess who needs access to each data type and adjust permissions accordingly. You can even consider sharing files on an as-needed basis. For example, you can upload a specific file in a Google Drive and grant access to a specific email; that way, only the person can access the file, and if anyone else tries to open it, the Drive will require that they request permission from you.

3. Remove access for former employees

Remove this access as soon as possible after the employee leaves or make a point to do it on a regular basis.

4. Establish a basic company security policy

Evgeniy says this type of policy “will provide a guideline for the fair use of company resources.” It might include which employees can or cannot have access to different files, browse different websites, have access to their private emails or cloud storage locations, etc. The security policy should be reviewed and adjusted periodically.

5. Use better passwords

Use complex passwords, ideally phrases rather than words. When changing passwords, don’t just add another digit or change to the next sign on the keyboard and don’t reuse the same passwords between different systems. Password managers are safe and a great way to manage a large number of complex passwords. This way, you will only need to remember the password to your password manager

6. Where possible, mandate your employees to use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication is a process where a computer user is granted access to a website or application only after presenting two or more pieces of evidence (or factors). For example, you can require that they use a phone app like Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator to validate their usernames and passwords.

7. Inform your employees about these changes

These changes will affect your employees—and some will require their buy-in—so send them an email outlining the new way of doing things. Provide examples explaining why it’s essential for the company.

Daily habits to keep your risk low and information safe

Cybersecurity might be confusing, but in the end, adequate security is affordable for and it doesn’t require hiring designated personnel. It can be achieved by using modern tools, raising security awareness in the organization and, if needed, getting advice from an external consultant.

Evgeniy has created a checklist with more actions you can take. These first steps are simple but crucial for protecting your company. Even more crucial is keeping it up over the long term; by making all of the above part of your daily operations and habits, it will keep your risk low and information safe.

 

DOWNLOAD CHECKLIST

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: Three Reasons Why Digital Marketing is Important

COVID-19 as the Catapult to Business Modernization & Resiliency

Digital marketing allows businesses to meet customers where they spend their time. This is especially important during COVID-19, as more people are spending time at home and in isolation, increasingly turning to their devices for work, communication, and entertainment.

The City of Vaughan’s Digital Boost small business resiliency program helps entrepreneurs and small business owners find new opportunities during COVID-19. Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development Department has collaborated with General Assembly, an education organization that teaches entrepreneurs and business professionals practical technology skills, to provide expert training and instruction to help program participants reach their business goals, as well as mentorship opportunities to bring their new digital marketing strategies to life.

As of March 2020, Canada had 25 million social media users (with more than 900 thousand added in the previous year) and 35.32 million internet users – both up year-on-year, according to the Digital 2020 Canada report. And those were the numbers at the beginning of the pandemic. Each of those users may be potential customers for your business.

What does this mean for small business owners in Vaughan?

To find out, the City of Vaughan spoke with two digital marketing experts.

Joshua Doner – Marketing Manager, General Assembly Canada

Joshua is a Remote Marketer and Livestream host with General Assembly. He loves connecting with communities about the future of work, tech trends and marketing. His team at GA helps people find rewarding careers at the most innovative companies investing in great User Experiences, Data Science and building amazing Software products.

Connor Taras, Regional Director, General Assembly Canada

Connor started with General Assembly over four years ago because he recognized an opportunity to help shape the future workforce and provide our community with the skills needed to build for our digital economy.  Connor currently makes operational decisions and manages the team on the Toronto campus. He also executes on Canadian expansion opportunities for General Assembly in Canada as Regional Director. Prior to joining the team at GA, along with working at several small start ups, he was a member of the Canadian Olympic National Team in Sprint Kayak.

Here are three ways digital marketing can work for your small business:

1. Invest in e-commerce to better serve your customers (and learn more about them)

One of the greatest opportunities that have been presented to small businesses due to COVID-19 is connecting with customers online. Joshua notes, “Businesses that are successfully adapting during COVID-19 are continuing to connect with their customers virtually. If you are a yoga studio, dentist, restaurant and/or business owner who can embrace new techniques for engaging customers online, you will have a business that is resilient and can scale into the future.”

Connor adds, “As part of the Digital Boost program, General Assembly has made high quality digital skills training available for free. The access to these new skills and tools are a great opportunity to transform your business to optimize operations for an online customer experience.”

The City of Vaughan provides a training and mentorship program, Digital Boost, to support local small business owners in finding new opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. This program helps entrepreneurs scale their marketing efforts, strengthen their online presence and deliver compelling content that helps them keep in touch with their current customers and connects them with new business opportunities.

“It is important to meet customers where they spend their time. Through digital marketing tactics, a local business, in the city of Vaughan, can win both locally and on a global scale. This is an amazing opportunity,” says Joshua.

There is a lot that is possible for a small business through e-commerce that isn’t possible with in-person shopping. Connor explains, “Selling your product or service through e-commerce gives you far greater ability to connect with your customers in a targeted way. The power of data allows you to understand what the buyer is looking for, by understanding what products they may be looking at in your online store, how many products they may have in their shopping cart or maybe even understanding how long they are spending on your site. These are metrics that are very difficult to measure with an in-person shopping experience. The power of e-commerce allows you to make data-driven decisions, explore and optimize the customer journey and target an optimized and larger audience through digital marketing techniques. All helping you grow your business much quicker than may be possible with in-person shopping.”

For a bricks-and-mortar business that is reluctant to invest in e-commerce and digital marketing, Joshua has this advice, “If you are mission-driven to serve your customers, it should be a part of your organizational DNA to meet them where they are: online. If you are unsure of HOW to achieve success online or WHO can help you with that, get in contact with the Vaughan Small Business and Entrepreneurship team at ecd@vaughan.ca. You can also join a General Assembly learntogether.biz workshop and the instructor will walk you through how to be successful!” Find the support system that can guide you in making the right choices for your business.

2. Take advantage of free and subsidized tools and services

There are many types of software or tools that are available to support a small business with limited people, time and money. Now is a great time to take advantage of the many digital marketing tools and services that are free or subsidized during COVID-19.

To make the transition to a digital storefront easier and more cost-efficient than ever before, Joshua has the following suggestions:

  • Shopify has a 90 day free trial, up from 14 days. This is long enough to launch a store with their easy user experience and gain support from their team of Shopify Gurus.
  • Other great alternatives are Wix and Squarespace. Within these e-commerce platforms there are amazing apps that can help you automate many of the different processes and help transform the services you would offer with your in-person shopping experience into your digital experience.
  • A couple great local (GTA) apps are:
    • Zapiet – For curbside pick ups, local delivery and inventory management
    • You Can Book Me – Calendar integration to help your customer seamlessly book in-person visits or service appointments
    • DigiSmoothie – Increase conversions on purchases and upsell your customer
    • WebFlow – No code apps that will help you automate your process

He adds, “There is also a wealth of knowledge on Reddit, YouTube and of course, General Assembly can help you with hands-on workshops to guide you through that journey. Your only blocker is starting!”

Small business owners with limited resources may wonder where to put their time and money to get the best results from digital marketing.

Here’s Connor’s advice: “As mentioned above, most services and products are offering free trials that will help you get the process started. Make sure your product can be accessed by your customer and most importantly, purchased by your customer. After you’re comfortable with an MVP (minimal viable product) of your online store, remember it doesn’t have to be perfect, start experimenting with some digital marketing techniques like social media. Tell your customers you’re open for business. This can all be done with minimum, if zero, investment upfront!”

3. Double down on your digital marketing

Consumer habits have definitely changed due to COVID-19. As the economy reopens, digital marketing should remain at the forefront of your small business marketing and communications strategy.

“‘COVID pulled the future forward’ is the quote that says it all,” Joshua observes. “From a corporate perspective, we have seen this affect organizations like BMO, Pinterest, Shopify, etc. Most of them have even recognized that they have to adapt quickly and re-align for the future COVID-19 has created, creating a remote-first culture.”

With respect to small businesses, he notes, “While these large organizations do not fully represent Mainstreet, we do believe they set the tone for a digital-first economy and more importantly a digital-first consumer mindset. That said, as the economy re-opens we will see physical spaces become areas that complement an online experience that is the first touchpoint for your business.”

Joshua provides some tangible examples of this trend:

  • Curbside pickup
  • More 1-on-1 scheduled appointments for services like the gym and health and wellness that used to have majority walk-in traffic
  • Food delivery
  • Virtual consultations, job interviews and meetings

Digital marketing tactics haven’t really changed during COVID-19. If anything, they’ve intensified.

Joshua explains, “What has changed is the desire for customers to feel safe, this has led to people avoiding public spaces, waiting in lineups, hanging out in coffee shops, etc. That means more people are looking for things online, using Google, eCommerce functionality, delivery apps and Zoom for appointments. Consumers are more receptive to virtual versions of the services and products they once used and importantly are willing to pay for them. While most Digital Marketing tactics have remained the same before and after, their importance to a small business has gone up 10-fold, and so has the opportunity.”

Here are some successful tactics that Joshua has seen work for small businesses:

  • Leverage your email lists: Promote COVID unique specials. You can use services like Mailchimp that are free up to the first 2,000 emails.
  • Focus on Google Search Ads: Pay Per Click ads put your business search result at the top of the list when a customer does a search.
  • Use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube video: The best performing video creative is short (15 seconds) and works to capture the user’s attention, drawing them in quickly.
  • Engage on LinkedIn: The “business social network” has seen a rise in engagement in the last couple of years. Posts about self improvement, personal life and sharing your story all do really well on LinkedIn. It is no longer just a B2B platform.
  • Sell Gift Cards: Ask your customers for support by promoting gift cards now during COVID for future gifts, birthdays and work related anniversaries.
  • Use data and customer feedback: Promote your Google Reviews page to your customers. Respond to all reviews either addressing a bad review or thanking someone for a good one. Look at search trends in Google’s search trends tool for new product or business ideas.

He notes, “Shopify’s eCommerce sales increased 10X during COVID and that is because customers are sitting at home bored looking for things and products to purchase. So while the tactics have not changed, their importance to a business has dramatically increased.”

Digital Marketing Training and Innovation Success Stories

To find out how small business owners feel about digital marketing strategies, the City of Vaughan examined responses to a Digital Boost workshop survey.

One business owner commented, “It literally is a digital boost. Gave me a better understanding of the digital world and opportunities to optimize my business.”

Another observed, “I am learning a lot and making great connections with other local business owners. This is a huge help in developing my online presence, content and marketing strategies.”

A third entrepreneur shared, “I’m trying to start new at the tender age of 64. All my work so far has been by word of mouth, something that just doesn’t work in 2020.”

Tania Das, a General Assembly Alumni, said, “The [Vaughan Digital Boost] initiative gave us an opportunity to collaborate with a wonderful business owner who was friendly, supportive, and open to changes on his site. As new designers, working with such a helpful client was a valuable experience that allowed us to draw from our skills set to help boost a business that positively impacts the community.”

Sounds like a win-win for everyone as the Vaughan community comes together to keep our small businesses rising and provide them with the digital marketing tools they need to pivot, innovate, and do what it takes to get through to the other side.

Although Digital Boost is in the midst of their final cohort, the City of Vaughan is always available to support our local small businesses. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

 

Trade Accelerator Program coming to York Region

Text: Propel Your Business Towards Global Growth

The ability to export is an important tool for small-to-medium-sized enterprises to build their operations. However, many companies in Vaughan often lack the necessary resources and information to allow them to access foreign markets. The Trade Accelerator Program (TAP) is an innovative program designed to help companies gain knowledge and contacts to navigate and access these markets. Through a series of in-depth workshop sessions with trade and industry experts, businesses in Vaughan can learn to overcome export barriers and reach new markets faster.   

The 2020 TAP Vaughan Cohort will be offered digitally and will run from October 14 to December 18. 

APPLY NOW

Vaughan Small Business Week 2020

Celebrating the contributions and resiliency of our small business owners and entrepreneurs

October 20 - 22, 2020

The beginning of October marks the beginning of Small Business Month, dedicated to celebrating the contributions of entrepreneurs and small business owners to our local communities and economies. In Vaughan, 87% of our more than 19,000 businesses are small business.

This year, we recognize the courage, resiliency and adaptability of the small business owners and entrepreneurs who help make Vaughan a vibrant community. Vaughan Small Business Week 2020 features five events to help Vaughan’s talented entrepreneurs and small business owners have real conversations, leverage local resources and connections, and learn from industry experts to help your business grow and adapt to a changing landscape in uncertain times.

Celebrate and get connected with your local business community! Space is limited.


Calendar of Events

Tuesday, October 20

Small Business Week Launch: Fireside Chat & Virtual Networking with the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Join us as we kick-off Vaughan Small Business Week 2020 in partnership with the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce. Hear from Summer Company 2020 alumnus and inspiring local teenage entrepreneur Ananya Vishwanath, CEO of VQueues in a fireside chat with Brian Shifman, President & CEO of Vaughan Chamber of Commerce on finding opportunity during uncertain times and adapting to a changing environment as a young entrepreneur. Afterwards, build new connections in interactive virtual networking. This event will feature a virtual address from Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua.

This event is presented in partnership with the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce.

Learn more and register

Wednesday, October 21

Five Healthcare Marketing Secrets
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Receive practical, hands-on advice that will help you attract buyers and accelerate your sales. The workshop will cover:

  • The one characteristic that must permeate all your marketing materials
  • Who you need to cultivate in order to win deals more quickly
  • The one thing healthcare buyers appreciate the most
  • What digital health has in common with a refrigerator

This workshop is presented in partnership with ventureLAB. It is also a part of programming for Activate!Vaughan Innovation Challenge

Learn more and register

How to Create Consumer Products that Sell
3 to 4 p.m.

This workshop helps innovators evaluate opportunities, build unique food business concepts and develop food products people want to buy and retailers want to carry. Exercises and concrete examples will be used to demonstrate how to create solid value propositions and identify high value market positions. This workshop will change the way food entrepreneurs, business strategists and product developers think about R&D.

This workshop is presented in partnership with Yspace and their York Region Food Accelerator. Learn more about other food and beverage programming for Vaughan entrepreneurs taking place in October.

Learn more and register

Thursday, October 22

Getting Started as a Young Entrepreneur
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Ready to turn your business idea into a reality? Ask burning questions about how to develop your business successfully and explore services and programs available to launch your business.  Join Faaria Wali, Business Development Manager at Futurpreneur Canada as she walks you through the tools and programs offered to help aspiring young entrepreneurs (aged 18-39) turn great ideas into thriving businesses.

This workshop is presented in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada.

Learn more and register

Hiring Incentives for Employers
2 to 4 p.m.

Your company’s success is tied to your employees – get valuable insights into hiring in Vaughan and learn how to make get the most of your next hire. COSTI Vaughan Employment Services will walk local businesses through available funding that will help them to hire their next employees.

This workshop is presented in partnership with COSTI Vaughan Employment Services.

Learn more and register

 

Vaughan Rising Blog: Vaughan’s Restaurant Industry Maximizes the Moments of Opportunity

On March 17, 2020, the Government of Ontario declared a state of emergency to combat COVID-19. Measures included prohibiting organized events of more than 50 people, shutting down schools, and closing bars and restaurants.

The government offered restaurants lifelines along the way:

  • Takeout and delivery from the beginning,
  • Patio service in June, and
  • Socially distanced dining room service in July.

Unfortunately, despite these measures, a Restaurants Canada survey conducted in July revealed that most restaurants were still losing money and could take a year or more to return to profitability.

In Vaughan, some restaurants have chosen to close either temporarily or permanently, but many have made adjustments to keep operating under the new rules.  Other restaurants have taken a bolder approach. Not only have they stayed open, they maximized every opportunity to develop new products and services. Giro d’Italia, an Italian restaurant in Concord, is one example of the latter and they were willing to share their experience.

Five ways Giro D’Italia found opportunities amid pandemic uncertainty

1. Keeping up with world events and industry pivots

“We had expected something like the lockdown as several countries in Europe, including Spain, France and England, had already gone into lockdown. So, we had a feeling that it was coming to Canada too,” says Michele Pellegrini, Head Chef at Giro D’Italia Ristorante.

Yet the lockdown was still a pretty dramatic moment, filled with doubts and a cloudy future. Nobody really knew what was going to happen, whether the restaurant could survive, and even if the staff would decide to stay. The lockdown created a lot of questions.

The restaurant closed down with no end in sight, but Giro was not ready to give up. He confesses, “I’d been home for 10 days, but honestly after three days I was already very agitated. I am a very active person. I have to have something to do.”

About 15 to 20 days after the start of the lockdown, Michele spoke with a friend of his in Italy, at a restaurant where he used to work, and heard that they had started doing some takeout and catering.

2. Adapting current offerings to changing circumstances

Giro D’Italia also had clients asking why they weren’t doing takeout, saying, “We miss all your food.” The team decided to quickly come up with a short menu to fall in line with what many other restaurants were doing and to offer loyal clients the chance to have some of their dishes.

“I’m blessed because I have a fantastic staff,” explains Michele. He talked his takeout ideas over with them and asked how they felt. A few decided to give it a try.

Giro D’Italia had never done takeout before, and the staff didn’t know if their dishes could survive the delivery window. They experimented. Michele tells the story, “Every customer loves our shrimp and calamari. One day, we made a few portions and I drove around for 15 to 20 minutes with the fish in my car. It was completely soggy. Obviously, when you eat the food at home it must be the same. This is the first thing I discussed with the staff. We need to come up with some dishes that will be decent after being picked up or driven 20 minutes for delivery.”

They worried that if it wasn’t the same, they would lose their long-time customers. After some experimentation, they were able to create a selection of dishes that remained consistent after 15 to 20 minutes. Customers loved the new takeout-proof menu. Michele and his staff even expanded it to include new products such as family-sized meals and make-your-own pizza and pasta boxes.

3. Creating new offerings to meet emerging demand

In addition, Giro D’Italia staff started up Giro Mercato to meet the demand for Italian grocery staples. Giro Mercato evolved out of the existing takeout to accommodate requests from customers for grocery items. People were phoning and asking if Giro could provide yeast or a bottle of wine with their takeout order.

Instead of waiting for people to ask for additional products, they decided to offer the Giro Mercato service. “We came up with a list of groceries. Honestly, it was very good in terms of cost for the customers, because we’re not a market or grocery store, we only added about 10 cents to every product such as herbs and pasta. We started to sell our own pasta, which is something I’m really happy about. We made nice packages with homemade pasta and it started to sell,” shares Michele. “At the moment the ideas come from the request of the customers. We just adjusted our business idea around the situation.”

All of these steps were enough to hold on to core clients and keep the restaurant afloat, but, compared to before, business was still slow. However, this rare stretch of quiet time did have a silver lining. They developed a new supplier list, an inventory system, and experimented with new dishes.

4. Restructuring physical space to stay relevant and inviting

Then, as lockdown lifted, patio service became a possibility. Giro D’Italia didn’t have a patio, but they built one in the parking lot to maximize the opportunity. “We never had the chance to have a patio. Now the city has allowed us to have a patio for a few months. The first weekend was very successful, and the people enjoyed staying until late. Now we’re working on a lounge area, where people can chill out.”

With a lounge, people won’t need to come just to eat a full meal. They can also come after eating at home to sit and have a drink with appetizers and lounge music. It’s important to Michele to give people a chance to enjoy life in this situation that is new for all of us.

At the moment, Giro D’Italia is able to open for dine-in service at 50% capacity but no one knows how long that will last as the cooler weather arrives and the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic looms.

5. Continuing to re-evaluate and respond as circumstances evolve

If a second wave comes, restrictions will return. But Giro isn’t necessarily going to rely on the initiatives that worked during the first wave.

Michele admits, “I don’t know how the people will react. In the first wave, we had this big boom of takeout, this big boom of everybody starting to bake, cook at home, order wine. But if this happens again in another couple of months, I don’t know what the general reaction will be. Because the first wave was completely new, a situation that nobody had ever lived through, the reaction was built in progress. For the second one, I personally don’t think in general the people will have the same reaction. It will be more frustrating and depressive. It will be more complicated and harder to handle. As a business, you can have all the ideas you want, but if it’s not the right moment, it doesn’t work.”

It was the right moment for Giro’s takeout, grocery, and patio. He advises, “You need to just be flexible and adjust your work to the situation.”

Maintaining resilience in the face of future challenges

So that’s what’s next for Giro D’Italia: watching for the right moments and rolling with them. Already, since the interview in July, they saw an opportunity for a catering business and for offering personal chef services for home-based private events. The team is also working on some other top-secret ideas, but we’ll have to watch and wait to see more examples of this resilient Vaughan business pivoting, innovating, and doing what it takes to get to the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

 

Vaughan Rising Blog: COVID-19 Leadership Lessons from the City of Vaughan’s Mayor

Three Simple, Innovative Ways to Help Your Business Rise

Business leaders and entrepreneurs are getting creative through the ever-evolving COVID-19 business restrictions, making pivots to ensure their businesses make it through. The new Vaughan Rising blog series will feature case studies of businesses at the forefront and practical guidance on operating under the ‘new normal.’ Each business has different challenges and a different way to tackle them. Hopefully, these insights will provide inspiration for your own business pivot.

To kick off the series, we are sharing lessons from the City of Vaughan’s own adaptation story. This municipal government, under the leadership of Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, moved quickly and nimbly, like a business would. By pivoting and innovating, the City is doing what it takes to continue the important task of city-building while delivering high quality public services. Collectively, Vaughan staff developed 125 innovations and process improvements in the first three months of the pandemic.

These strategies will work for businesses of any size, across a variety of industries. Try integrating them into your business plans to help your business rise too.

The Mayor’s formula to ensure Vaughan continues to rise 

1. Create strong foundations and action plans

COVID-19 did not catch Vaughan’s municipal team off guard. Since January, when COVID-19 took hold in China and the first case landed in Canada, Vaughan was aware and kept informed of the situation surrounding the virus, and quickly created a plan.

“We were ready,” says Mayor Bevilacqua. “We invest a lot of time in the City of Vaughan for emergency preparedness and I think that work really paid off.”

On March 17, taking strong, decisive action, Mayor Bevilacqua made a bold move and Vaughan became the first city in Ontario to declare a state of emergency. The Mayor’s declaration was based on intensive research and analysis combined with the desire to impress upon his citizens the seriousness of the situation. In hindsight, given how the pandemic has unfolded, the Mayor stands by his decision, affirming that, “it was the right call, at the right time, for the right reasons. As the world watched during those initial weeks of uncertainty, the City of Vaughan acted with a great deal of certainty.”

The City created a well-thought-out action plan, executed in rapid succession over the next few weeks, including:

  • suspending by-laws to allow for 24-hour delivery to stores in Vaughan with no restrictions on loading or unloading commercial vehicles, transport trucks and other vehicles.
  • waiving late penalty charges on property tax bills.
  • expanding waste collection services.
  • closing City Hall, playgrounds and other city facilities to the public.

2. Find a way to continue delivering services and communications without interruption

While many of the City’s facilities shut down, the work of running the city certainly did not slow down. Vaughan needed to find a new way to do almost everything. Mayor Bevilacqua was not daunted by the task. He explains, “we always lead with innovation. This is at the heart of our city-building efforts and COVID-19 provided an opportunity for our team to get creative in thinking of different ways to deliver services, programs and communications during a global pandemic.”

Mayor Bevilacqua chairs the Ready, Resilient and Resourceful Committee of Council, which he created to deal with COVID-19 and the city’s economic recovery. At the committee’s inaugural meeting on June 23, staff reported on all the measures taken so far and the impact. “What you find is a lot of creativity and innovation did take place,” notes Mayor Bevilacqua.

Vaughan has adapted many of the City’s functions, such as:

  • the launch of an online building permits portal.
  • the switch to virtual electronic-participation committee and council meetings.
  • the complete automation of procurement services.
  • working with industry leaders to identify and prioritize capital projects that comply with provincial directives and essential workplaces.

City-building also continues. During the first quarter of 2020, Vaughan issued 656 permits valued at over $125 million. More than 12,300 inspections took place from January to March, well exceeding the same period for the last three years. The $1.8 billion Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital – Canada’s first smart technology hospital – continues to be built and is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Keeping mental health, entertainment and self-care in mind, Vaughan Public Libraries was the first library service in Ontario to offer curbside pickup for residents – with more than 47,000 items taken out already. The number of people registering for a library card online is up by a remarkable 130 per cent, notes the Mayor. The first-ever virtual Canada Day celebration was a success.

Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development department also pivoted, shifting its resources to support the hardest-hit segments of the business community by:

  • advising on the Vaughan Business Action Plan.
  • launching a website to support Vaughan businesses (vaughanbusiness.ca) with a dedicated COVID-19 resources page.
  • expanding email communications.
  • putting all hands on deck to respond to a flood of inquiries from businesses.

Mayor Bevilacqua notes, “because we are really the front-line government, people knock on our door before anybody else’s door and so we found that we were helping people not only with our own municipal programs, but also with provincial and federal programs.”

In his 30-plus years of public service, Mayor Bevilacqua has rarely seen a time where such a high number of government programs were rolled out in such short order. He explains, “this creates some benefits, but also some challenges as well, as people try to figure out if they qualify. A thousand businesses approached the Vaughan Economic and Cultural Development department, and they were all helped. This means that we relieved a little bit of the stress that they were going through both financially and emotionally during this time.”

3. Take a long-term approach

What insights does the Mayor have for other business leaders? He listed several strategies he believes made the difference for Vaughan.

  • Make sure the health of your customers (in Vaughan’s case: citizens) is first and foremost.
  • Mitigate some of the risks.
  • Be very clear about what you want to achieve.
  • Take a long-term approach.

Mayor Bevilacqua recommends exercising a decision-making process that is informed by creating a variety of scenarios with different situations, circumstances and outcomes that may emerge. He adds, “I think one of the reasons we have been successful is because ours is a long-term approach. When psychologically you ready the team in that way, positive results occur. I am very proud of the way our team here at the City of Vaughan has responded and I see a light at the end of the tunnel. We were first in many areas of COVID-19 because we actually were prepared, and preparation is key in dealing with an emergency like COVID-19.”

Rising toward the future

The faith of Vaughan’s residents in the well-being of the community and economy, and the City’s comprehensive and holistic approach, have contributed greatly toward Vaughan’s success.

Mayor Bevilacqua is proud of the city: “It is amazing to see all the great things that we’ve been able to achieve, and how strong our economy has remained throughout this crisis. There’s no question about the fact that some businesses and individuals have been adversely affected by the crisis, but it could have been a lot worse. I think the fact that we have a very strong foundation here in the city gave us the strength to overcome.”

Learn more about how the City of Vaughan supports business resilience during COVID-19.

For help with your business, book a consultation with the Economic and Cultural Development (ECD) team.