Deena Caplette was prepared to survive on macaroni and cheese and hotdogs to get her business -- Kid City Inc. -- off the ground.
Her nutritional intake did not have to suffer too much after all, as the 28-year-old former centre for the Yale Bulldogs women's hockey team is one of nine finalists in this year's Business Development Bank of Canada Young Entrepreneur Award.
Kid City is an indoor children's play centre featuring a three-level play structure with slides, tunnels, ropes, mazes, a punch-bag forest, trolley glide, balance beam and other activities designed to engage children in physical activity and social development.
The first 8,500-square-foot location opened in September 2010 on Century Street and a second play centre on Archibald Street opened last fall. It's already becoming a hit with parents of young children in the city.
"So far, so good," said Caplette.
The BDC program asks participants to create a short video outlining the turning point or decisive moment the business has reached and the solution that will put it on a new trajectory toward growth.
For Caplette, it is the opening of her second location and the attempt to upgrade the offering, specifically with a new digital activity centre called the Eye Click.
Caplette is the early leader in online voting (to vote for Deena, go to www.bdcyoungentrepreneuraward.ca), but regardless if she wins or not, Caplette has already got a lot farther than many others might have.
For starters, it was a major undertaking for her to finance a business that already requires a staff of 40 people during the busy winter months.
"Oh my goodness, that was one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome," she said about sourcing initial funding. "I was a young female business owner in the city of Winnipeg, where the concept of Kid City was not around. I had to sell myself and sell the idea to my lenders."
It was no easy task for the psychology grad, who used her early post-graduation jobs in financial planning, sales and management at a web-based business to gain all sorts of experience and networking skills.
Thanks to plenty of persistence and her official M©tis status, she finally did succeed in negotiating a loan with the Louis Riel Capital Corp. (LRCC) and later with the BDC.
"You don't know how many calls and how much begging I did," she said. "They (the LRCC) have a board meeting and they present ideas and the board decides, but at first they didn't even want to present my idea."
Paul Paradis, the CEO of LRCC, is proud of Caplette's accomplishments.
"One of the things we want to see from our applicants is that they are persistent," he said. "That they have this will, this drive. Character is a big part of lending. When we lend money to people, we want to see some good character."
This is the second year BDC has used the online voting format and a $100,000 prize.
"This year we asked entrepreneurs to share a business turning point they are currently facing and the solution they envisage," said Maria Constantinescu, a spokeswoman for BDC. "Provincial selection committees look at all the applications submitted and assess the turning point, the quality of the solution submitted, its feasibility and impact on the company's growth plans, as well as the capacity of the company to support the planned growth if they win."
If she wins, Caplette said she'll purchase the Eye Click system for both her locations.
"If I win, I'm going to have a free day at both locations and let everyone have full access to the facility," she said.
Hopefully, the prize money will be enough to afford security to handle the large crowds that are sure to come out.