Cowichan’s Salt Co. ready to take on the world

A Cobble Hill business is hoping to salt away an award to help it reach new levels of success and you can help.

Your vote could put them over the top, and the knowledge that locals are voting is helping Andrew Shepherd and his business, Vancouver Island Salt Co., wait for the big announcement.

Shepherd was still hanging on this month.

"I wish I could tell you we had an update but we’re not going to find anything out until Sept. 18," he said on Aug. 7. "I’m basically trying not to get too far ahead, spending the money in my head. It’s really, really challenging to not get carried away and not get down on ourselves. It’s been a real roller coaster, I can tell you."

The Cobble Hill based outfit is Canada’s leading producer of artisan sea salt.

The company even uses recycled cooking oil to fuel its dehydration process, making it a super green producer, too.

Media giant Telus’s annual national contest for Canadian small businesses, called The Challenge, has selected Vancouver Island Salt Co. as a finalist. They were selected from more than 1,000 entries as one of four exciting and innovative small businesses from across Canada to make the last round.

With an eye to expanding its production and creating a global market for high-quality Canadian sea salt, Vancouver Island Salt Co. has pitched a business plan to a panel of small business experts at Telus House Toronto, competing for the chance to win $100,000 to take their business to the next level.

"The Challenge is an opportunity for Canada’s brightest entrepreneurs and executives to showcase their unique business ideas and share their biggest challenges," Suzanne Trusdale, vice-president of Telus Small Business Solutions said. "The four finalists exemplify the ways in which Canadian businesses are innovating today. Whether it’s by investing in technology, increasing their manufacturing capabilities or driving demand through marketing, we can’t wait to see how $100,000 will help the winner expand their organization to compete on a global scale."

Voting has been continuing online and if you go to visaltco. com you can vote right off the main page. Look for the link.

"I think we’ve got a pretty good voter turnout," Shepherd said. "The judges have the final say but I think they want to see a strong regional representation. They are very concerned about community stuff. They want to know we are embraced by our local area."

That’s no problem here, he said.

"I feel like we have been supported tremendously the whole time. I actually don’t think anybody could have started this business anywhere else. The Cowichan Valley is the reason it’s been so successful. There are so many food projects to begin with and then so much support for the little guy, the local guy."

It has been increasingly clear that artisanal products and the 50-Mile Diet are having a real effect on the Warmland, Shepherd said.

"They’re calling this Canada’s Napa Valley. I could just start listing really influential people who are within a 10-minute drive of me and it’s unbelievable. There’s Brad Boisvert at Amusé, Bill Jones isn’t too far away, Don Genova,

Cowichan Bay Seafood, Cowichan Pasta, True Grain Bread: don’t get me started. We’ll be talking all day. This is the mecca for artisan craft foods and direct to plate eating."

The Valley’s own salt gurus are going up against the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based producer of a submersible, the Welland, Ontariobased manufacturer of absorbent beads to deal with oil spills and a St. Catharines, Ontario-based company that aims to help NHL teams gain a competitive advantage.

Each finalist has received three Samsung smartphones, access to a Telus Learning Centre specialist who will show them how to use the devices to their full potential for both business and pleasure, a one-year subscription to The Globe and Mail and a mentoring session with one of the judges.

The winner will be announced on Thursday, Sept. 18, and 10 regional awards will also be given out during Small Business Week in October.

"People can vote online right up until the cut off time. They’re stringing this one right along on us," Shepherd said.