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'Embrace the challenge': Newmarket chamber hosts first-ever conference

Local entrepreneurs inspire with ways to 'shift' thinking about how to achieve business success

Newmarket's Teresa Kruze told business leaders that change is something to welcome.

The former sports broadcaster and journalist spoke to a crowd of about 150 at the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce’s SHIFT23 conference May 25. Recounting her own professional journey, leaving a job with TSN to pursue other news reporting, she said change can be worthwhile.

“In the hard and challenging moments come great opportunities for shift and for change — and for those who have the stomach for it — reinvention,” Kruze said. “Embrace the challenge because I can hardly wait to see what you do next.”

The Newmarket Chamber of Commerce hosted SHIFT at the Paramount Event Space in Vaughan. The first-ever event invited businesses for a full day of presentations covering topics like marketing, branding and storytelling.

Chamber president and CEO Chris Emanuel said he had high hopes going into it, and the event exceeded his expectations.

“To get 150 people in a first-year event, the momentum is building, and people are looking to be inspired, to learn and to grow,” Emanuel said.

Besides Kruze, speakers included Laura Miller of Uber Canada discussing branding, keynote speaker Tareq Hadhad of Peace by Chocolate talking about business perseverance, and Sean Stephens of Newmarket’s Treefrog Inc. talking about the impacts of ChatGPT.

Stephens said it was an amazing event and was a great opportunity to meet people in the community.

“There’s a lot of different pieces that people brought in order to shift those businesses,” he said, adding he is excited for the future of SHIFT. “I can’t wait till the next one.” 

His talk highlighted the many ways that ChatGPT — "the greatest change in civilization that we have seen in our lifetime" — will affect our lives and businesses, in positive ways for many.

"Nothing like this has happened in history," Stephens said of the pace of the adaptation and emerging capabilities of ChatGPT versions. "It's growing so fast — it's growing faster than we can even comprehend it."   

ChatGPT is here to stay, with new useful tools being created weekly that will help create efficiencies, he said, while demonstrating multiple live examples of its abilities — "it's brilliant for writing emails" — and adding a caution about the potential for abuse of the technology. 

He encouraged businesses to experiment with ChatGPT, saying, "You have no choice but to wake up tomorrow and accept the fact this is here, and either take advantage of the opportunity, and move forward with the opportunity and do something amazing with it, or sit in fear.

"Rethink your business now before everybody else does it and you're left behind," Stephens said.  

The chamber chose the speaker lineup based on identifying pain points for businesses in the community, Emanuel said.

“Everyone is going to take something different. Different businesses are wrestling with different issues and that’s why we had a cross-section of speakers,” he said. “At the very least, they’re leaving inspired.” 

Hadhad capped the conference telling the journey of his famed chocolate business. The man recounted his family’s chocolate business being destroyed by war in Syria before they were able to come to Canada as refugees to restart and rebuild.

“People these days are not buying products. They’re buying stories,” he said. “Make sure you spend time crafting your own story and telling it in a way that reflects your values.

“Think about your renewal. I really invite you all to think about your resilience,” Hadhad later said. “You are here because you are resilient people.” 

Some students also attended the event. Pickering College entrepreneurship students Kate Zhou and Amanda Zeng were there to learn, representing Newmarket’s private school.

“It’s really cool to see entrepreneurs do their speeches and presentations. It’s always fascinating to me how entrepreneurs can be self-made and lift themselves up to where they were,” Zeng said.

The chamber of commerce plans to make this an annual event. Emanuel said he believes they can double attendance by next year and keep SHIFT expanding.

“I'm optimistic," he said. "The big problem is going to be, next year, finding a venue big enough for it." 

— With files from Debora Kelly

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Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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