ILEO’s Storefront Starter helps local entrepreneurs strengthen local economy
Starting a new business can put even the most determined entrepreneurs to the test. For Kristiana Musta, the founder of Laboterra, launching a business as an international student without any connections was particularly challenging.
“Picture this: a whole new country, and absolutely zero connections or any kind of business experience to rely on. It was like diving into the deep end without knowing how to swim,” Kristiana reflects on those early days.
As a newcomer to Canada, Kristiana saw a gap between European and North American markets for superior self-care beauty products using high-quality natural ingredients. And so, Laboterra was born – a fusion of creativity and commitment, named the “Laboratory of Earth.”
Eager to grow her business, Kristiana heard through ACCES Employment about the ILEO Storefront Starter program aimed at early-stage entrepreneurs, one of the pilot programs of the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity Initiative (ILEO). She was drawn to the program’s blend of free business training, free real-life retail opportunities to test her products, and the chance to secure additional financing, including a $1,000 start-up grant. She was also intrigued by ILEO’s approach to growing local businesses within neighborhoods.
In communities undergoing rapid change like the Golden Mile, small businesses bring that personal touch, that sense of connection, and a real opportunity for the neighborhood to thrive,
“In communities undergoing rapid change like the Golden Mile, small businesses bring that personal touch, that sense of connection, and a real opportunity for the neighborhood to thrive,” says Kristiana.
When Kristiana joined ILEO Storefront Starter in early 2022, Laboterra was in its infancy. She had formulated some initial products and secured a few wholesale orders but lacked the guidance to secure more consistent sales and attract new clients.
“I needed to grasp the basics of how things operated,” Kristiana recalls.
Over the course of the year, Kristiana learned critical business lessons and dramatically increased her business revenue. Eight weeks of training delivered by Business in the Streets allowed her to validate new ideas and strengthen her business model. But it was the opportunity to interact with customers face-to-face at the ILEO Community Market hosted by RioCan in the Golden Mile that summer that proved to be pivotal.
“Until then, I was the formulation whiz, but this experience showed me how to sell my products in the real world,” she recalls.
Customer feedback allowed her to refine and enhance her products during the next phase of the ILEO program, which included a holiday market hosted by BMO in a downtown office tower.
United Way Greater Toronto secured corporate purchasers of her products including PwC Canada, RPIA, the Daniels Corporation, Enbridge and RioCan, among others. As a result of the support and guidance provided by ILEO, Laboterra has undergone a remarkable transformation.
“I’m so grateful to all of the partners involved in the ILEO Initiative. They’ve been instrumental in getting me where I am,” she affirms.
From its humble beginnings, Laboterra now stands strong, with significant increases in revenue and a bright trajectory ahead.
“The revenue is flowing in. My business is on the right path to success. It’s like I’ve hit a point where things are really taking off, and it feels amazing,” Kristiana declares.
ILEO Storefront Starter also helped Kristiana secure a $5,000 Starter Company Plus Grant from the City of Toronto, opening the door to a significant opportunity – participating in major vegan show in downtown Toronto. This tripled her customer base and allowed her to forge connections with local wholesalers.
Other entrepreneurs from the Greater Golden Mile have benefited as well. In 2022, the program generated over $47,000 in combined revenue for participating entrepreneurs spanning multiple markets and corporate purchasing initiatives. In addition to building new business connections, participants also received significant media exposure in the Scarborough Mirror and on Breakfast Television.
Currently in its second year, ILEO Storefront Starter is supporting 14 entrepreneurs, this time including a month-long storefront in the Distillery District and several other retail opportunities. With a thriving business, Kristiana and other returning entrepreneurs also participated in the ILEO storefront this year.
Supporting Community through ILEO’s Network of Partners
Kristiana’s journey demonstrates the power of working across sectors to drive economic growth, create unique connections, and enrich the lives of both entrepreneurs and the communities they serve. For Kristiana, local businesses are crucial to the fabric of neighbourhoods, creating a sense of belonging, and supporting a positive economic feedback loop.
“When you choose to shop local, you’re doing more than just making a purchase. You’re actually putting your money back into the community. Your money stays in the neighborhood, and when I purchase local ingredients, that money comes right back to the community too, “ affirms Kristiana.
The Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity Initiative (ILEO) brings together over 30 partners from the private, public, and community sectors to find innovative ways to reduce gaps in economic prosperity at the neighbourhood level. ILEO is convened by United Way Greater Toronto and BMO.
About ILEO Storefront Starter
ILEO Storefront Starter Golden Mile is a FREE three-phase program to help new and aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners from the Greater Golden Mile launch their business idea. Supported by United Way Greater Toronto, ILEO Storefront Starter includes free business training, free real-life retail opportunities around Toronto, access to start up capital and the opportunity to build business connections. Key partners include RioCan REIT, BMO, ACCES Employment, The City of Toronto, Dream, Choice Properties, PwC Canada & the Daniels Corporation