After receiving a BA in Political Science, Olivia Neal returned to her hometown of Orillia, and it wasn’t long before the artist in her saw a need to display the area’s ever growing community of makers and artisans.
Named after her beloved great grandparents, her business Harold + Ferne: The Local Goods Co. was born a little over a year ago initially showcasing 10 local makers, and has blossomed into one of Orillia’s staple businesses in the creative community, now showcasing over 60 local makers and artisans.
It was November 2015 when she first approached the Community Development Corp. (CDC), seeking reassurance that her vision & research was viable. “I needed to know if there was a gap in my information before I could move forward. I was able to rely on the experience and knowledge of those at the CDC to reaffirm I was on the right track,” recalls Olivia. It was here she made the first key community connections she needed to get started.
Throughout her first year, Olivia continued to receive guidance from the CDC and in September 2016 she joined their pilot Youth Mentorship Program, which is a free program offered to entrepreneurs aged 29 and under.
“The mentorship program provided a safe place to bounce ideas between like-minded youth and experienced business mentors.” Due to the intimate structure of the program, Olivia benefited from a lot of valuable guidance and the group became a great sounding board that aided her through her struggles and questions as a first-time entrepreneur. The program has provided the opportunity to learn about things such as developing contacts, the rules & regulations surrounding hiring staff, and real-life issues like how to deal with stress & anxiety. “The feedback & advice I received from both the mentors and mentees was tangible, productive & encouraging, and everyone was extremely supportive.”
The pilot program led to the development of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce’s free 1-year membership for young entrepreneurs, which Olivia has also benefited from, thanks to CDC volunteer & mentor Mariano Tulipano who is also Chamber President.
At the same time, Olivia applied for the CDC’s Community Capacity Building Fund to help her business grow, and was awarded the necessary funds to purchase equipment that allowed her to update & increase her workability as well as create an online shop to expand the reach of her local makers.
As Olivia approached celebrating her 1-year anniversary, she asked herself what year 2 was going to look like, and after a well-deserved break in January 2017, she reopened on February 7 at her new, larger location on the main street, located at 165 Mississaga St. E.
Olivia has managed to create outstanding community connections and give back to our local community through her collaborations with local makers as well as non-profit organizations including Green Haven Women’s Shelter, Starry Night Studio & Gallery Tour, the Orillia Youth Centre, Couchiching Jubilee House, and Roots North Music Festival. This will be Harold + Ferne’s second year participating in the Roots North Art Market, which is exclusive to the event. This year’s festival takes place April 21 & 22 at St. Paul’s Centre.
Olivia is also one-third of a free collaborative newsletter titled The Neighbourhood: Arts Local, which shines a light on the areas makers and upcoming events. Another extension of her vision for strong community connection.
“The CDC was there to help at the important times of transition & growth. Every time someone asks how I got started, I always recommend they go to the CDC.”
Written and photographed by Samantha Vessios, CDC Office & Marketing Coordinator