Executive Summary

The myNiagara Online platform enhances community interconnectivity and supports the growth of our Niagara Local Economy.  We share Niagara local happenings from the point of view of locals who know and love our community. Utilizing web publishing and social media networks, our social platform gives everyone in our community an incredibly easy means to get their stories, event notices, photos and videos posted and shared publicly online.

Community Background

We’re an online community of established businesses, start-ups, non-profit organizations, artists, clubs, special interest groups and other local contributors. Our myPelham.com, myWelland.com and myNOTL.com local networks currently operate in the Town of Pelham City of Welland and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. We share community-sourced content to our growing audience of avid social media users who love to share and participate on Facebook and Twitter. We’re joiners, influencers, and big supporters of Niagara local culture.

Development History

We introduced myPelham.com, our first myNiagaraOnline local network site in November 2009. It evolved from a volunteer campaign called ‘Think Local- Shop Pelham’ that we coordinated on behalf of the Pelham Business Association. After extensive consultation with a wide variety of business organizations and economic development support agencies, including the Pelham Business Association; Welland/Pelham Chamber of Commerce, Town of Pelham; Niagara Economic Development Corporation, Niagara Tourism, St. Catharines Small Enterprise Centre; Venture Niagara; Brock University – Niagara Observatory Project; Niagara Regional Chair; Ontario Ministry of Food & Rural Affairs, we launched with the Mission Statement:

“MyPelham.com is not just a website – it is the start of something completely different – a sustainable information resource that can facilitate the development of a more integrated multi-media marketing platform to support community connections, Town promotion, tourism and economic growth.”

Lofty goals -we know! By 2013 it became apparent that we were achieving significant impact in our local Pelham community. Based on this success, we were approached by business leaders in the City of Welland to bring myWelland.com to fruition. Launched in the Spring of 2014, with the support of a wide cross-section of Founding Partners, myWelland.com now showcases all sectors of Canada’s Rose City with an inspiring, collaborative voice.

In 2016 we started development of a local site in the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and are currently working on building a team of Founding Partners in that local community of Niagara. Our long term goal is to build a network of locally operate “myNiagara” sites in all communities of Niagara where there is a lead partner who is keen to participate with us.

Organization Structure

myNiagara Online is owned and operated by a team of local entrepreneurs, Cathy Berkhout-Bosse and Melissa Wells.  We established as a For-Profit Business with a joint-venture partnership agreement.

Our business is home-based with Melissa functioning as our Chief Information Officer and Cathy operating as our Community Manager. We out-source our bookkeeping and occasionally sub-contract for social media management support.

Partnerships

We proactively seek partners on a daily basis – connecting community is what we do! Some of our key partners include our Business Association partners – Pelham Business Association, Welland/Pelham Chamber of Commerce, North Welland BIA, Welland Downtown BIA; our Government Partners – the Town of Pelham, City of Welland and the Welland Development Commission and our 9 Leader’s Circle Partners and 100+ Local Business Sponsors who contribute advertising/sponsorship dollars to help keep our lights on.

Finances

We successfully pitched to Venture Niagara for a $3,000.00 grant to cover 50% of our initial website start up.  It was part of special funding pool – the Southwestern Ontario Community Adjustment Fund created in 2009 to support economic development in the Niagara Region.  Since that time we have been self funding – but honestly our earnings are well below minimum wage if we were to calculate our income on an hourly basis.

Impacts & Outcomes

Our Collaborative Vision: The myNiagara Online Platform inspires and facilitates community collaboration by providing the opportunity for all community sectors to collectively share information. Inclusivity and improved connectivity ultimately expands the economic development capacity of all local communities.

Challenges

We identified ourselves as a ‘Social Enterprise’ from Day One but were surprised by the lack of understanding that we encountered as we promoted the collaborative benefits of participating in a community-based social platform. We also often feel dismayed by the buckets and of public funding that have gone into community initiatives such as ‘Niagara Original’ and ‘YourNiagara.com’ with little result to show. Investing in information technology is a slippery slope and as small business owners we have found ourselves limited by our capacity to finance custom software development.

Lessons Learned

Interestingly we did post a blog on this exact topic to celebrate our 6th Anniversay http://www.mypelham.com/articles/happy-6th-anniversary-mypelhamcom-lessons-learned-along-way

Vision for the Future

We are hopeful that as there is a more comprehensive appreciation of the value of social enterprises in Niagara and as we continue to fine-tune our business model to include more partners we will achieve our vision of expanding to become a fully Niagara-wide community-based social platform.

Visit myNiagara Online’s Website here