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Being in the final four sweet for Vancouver Island Salt Co.

Vancouver Island Salt Co. founder Andrew Shepherd. - submitted
Vancouver Island Salt Co. founder Andrew Shepherd.
— image credit: submitted

Competitors are obviously feeling a little salt in their wounds.

Cobble Hill's Vancouver Island Salt Co. is one of the four finalists vying for a $100,000 award in Telus' fourth annual installment of The Challenge, a national contest for Canadian small business.

"It was pretty neat,'' said founder Andrew Shepherd. "For the first time on a big scale, we're being recognized as a rising company but outside of the food world.''

Vancouver Island Salt Co. is joined in the final four by 4Deep Inwater Imaging of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Imbibitive Technologies of Welland, Ontario and Stathletes based in St. Catharines, Ont. They were selected from more than 1,000 entries.

Vancouver Island Salt Co. is already Canada's leading producer of artisan sea salt and recognized by chefs as one of the top producers in the world. Green production is also an important factor in the process for Vancouver Island Salt Co., using recycled coking oil to fuel its dehydration process.

Shepherd, 35, has indicated the company would use its $100,000 award, if successful, to expand production capabilities and increase marketing to drive global demand for Canadian sea salt.

Shepherd spent a decade traveling the world as a chef and decided to put down roots on Vancouver Island.

"Surrounded by pristine ocean waters, I wondered why Canada did not have its own sea salt,'' reads a section from Shepherd on the company's website. "A friend told me that 'if it could be done, it would be done.' Well, that sounded like a challenge and a bet for a case of beer was made.

"We spent a night on the beach boiling down sea water over a fire. In the morning, sea salt was harvested. I had won the bet (and the beer) and the rest is history.

"I am very proud to offer the world a taste of truly unrefined Canadian sea salt and a selection of sea salt infusions, respectfully hand harvested from the wild coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.''

The four finalists were put in front a panel of experts in Toronto June 19.

"They flew us out there and we made a pitch to the judges and the media why we're deserving of $100,000,'' said Shepherd.

"We believe we have a global product. We could do marketing and have operations money.''

Shepherd was joined by Scott Gibson, who does marketing, and Alynn Casgrain, owner of Crane Food Distribution Ltd.

"I did all the pitch,'' said Shepherd.

"I'm pretty chatty,'' he joked.

It was a whirlwind for the Vancouver Island Salt. Co. team, flying out Wednesday, June 18, making the pitch the next day, enjoying Toronto for a few days and then returning Sunday, June 22.

In some ways, all the finalists are already winners, receiving three Samsung smartphones, access to a TELUS Learning Centre specialist who will show them how to use the devices to full potential and a mentoring sessions with one of the judges.

But the $100,000 prize would obviously be pretty sweet, even for a salt company, Shepherd acknowledged, but now it's up to the public to decide.

With all the other finalists based in the east, "we're sort of hoping to get the regional vote,'' said Shepherd.

Details about the procedure for on-line voting will be released next week on the Globe and Mail website.

The winner will be announced Sept. 18 and 10 regional awards will be presented as part of Small Business Week in October.

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