Taking a back seat

This is the hardest issue I’ve ever edited. Or perhaps I should say, nonedited. For the first time in my 16 years as editor, I abdicated control of the cover story – and not to a fellow editorial staffer here at the magazine, but to an outsider.

Do you have any idea how hard it is for a self-admitted control freak (surely, the textbook definition of an editor) to let someone else take charge? To not provide any feedback or advice? To deliberately refrain from contacting the writer as he researched and developed the story? To stand apart from the process so thoroughly that the first time I read the story was when it was being shipped off to the printer?

Perhaps you’re more curious about the why. It wasn’t a matter of responsibility shirked. Rather, it was the only way I could think of to cover what I felt was a worthy editorial subject while also fulfilling my obligation to you, the reader, to be fair and objective.

Here’s what went down… Late last year, we were brainstorming ideas to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I can’t count the number of times that would-be entrepreneurs have told me two things consistently hold them back: cash and knowledge. The thought that we could mark our milestone by fi lling that need was irresistible. It resonated with our mission to promote business activity throughout the region, and it provided us with an opportunity to expand our network. Thus was born our Super Start-up program. It was an initiative which I, in my not entirely humble opinion at the time, thought was one heck of a great project.

We recruited more than two dozen corporate partners, each of them ready and eager to provide 25 hours of mentoring and $2,500 cash to an aspiring Atlantic Canada entrepreneur. Then we used all of our inhouse resources, and a number of external ones, to get the word out to prospective applicants. We were trying to give money away, after all. How hard could it be?

Cue the ice bath, because we were in for a shock: we were only able to attract 11 applicants. The program ultimately concluded with just four entrepreneurs being matched with a mentor.

Informal post-mortems with our corporate partners seemed to indicate that we might not have been entirely to blame. One reported attempting a similar program, with even richer rewards and poorer results. Others speculated that Atlantic Canada entrepreneurs might even be a dwindling breed. And another observed that the problem might be resident in the huge number of support programs available. “We have gone from having virtually nothing to offer young entrepreneurs 25 years ago, and leaving them reliant on their own resources and initiative (perhaps not bad thing), to having a whole host of support services.”

The real issue then – and editorial value – isn’t the success or failure of Atlantic Business Magazine’s well-intentioned stumble, but what the response to that effort says about the state of entrepreneurship in the region. At least, that’s the story I tasked our N.B. contributing editor, Alec Bruce, with researching. At the same time, we were hyper-conscious of the inherent conflict since the launch pad for that discussion was an initiative of our own making. That’s why Alec’s assignment letter instructed him to be as critically objective of the Super Start-up program – and me – as he would be with any subject. If anything, I wanted him to be even harder on us than if we were strangers. With that carte blanche in hand, Alec set to work.

As with any story, he requested an editor – someone who could provide objective analysis of his work, and whose insight could help him craft a stronger piece. For that task, we tapped Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur, Robert Zed. As an award-winning start-up mentor and the first corporate partner to sign up for the Super Start-up program, his was a unique perspective. Not only did he know how and why the program was established, but he was also tapped into the entrepreneurial community.

The results of their combined efforts can be seen in Robert’s guest editorial and in the cover story itself. The final word, however, belongs to you, our readers. The state of Atlantic Canada’s start-up community is vital to the region’s future. This edition of Atlantic Business Magazine is merely an introduction to that very important conversation. Let’s get talking.

Dawn Chafe
About Dawn Chafe

For the past 19 years, Dawn has been editor of Atlantic Canada’s most award-winning and largest circulation business magazine: Atlantic Business Magazine. Under her editorial direction, Atlantic Business Magazine has won 14 Atlantic Journalism Awards, three TABBIE international business press awards and two KRW national business press awards.

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