“Small business isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient and the persistent. It’s for the overcomer.” – Unknown
Through labour shortages and high energy costs, supply chain delays and inflation, small businesses have been fraught with a relentless wave of challenges over the past several years.
In many cases, these obstacles have intensified post-pandemic. For example, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported this past summer that many small businesses are still in “bad shape,” with their collective confidence continuing to decline. The three-month index fell nearly eight points to 46.7, while the 12-month index fell nearly seven points to 52.7 in July.
Despite these odds, Ruhee Ismail-Teja believes the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Calgary – a testament to the fortitude she feels is synonymous with our city.
“Calgary’s business community continues to be incredibly resilient. This has always been one of our key hallmarks – and one that’s been put to the test over the past couple of years,” says Ismail-Teja, who is the director of policy and communications at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
“We have seen some businesses close, but we’ve also seen many grow. For example, we’re witnessing a very vibrant hospitality sector. And our tech and start-up community is on the global map. There’s just a lot of really exciting things going on right now.”
From October 17 to 21, many of these stories will be celebrated as part of 2022 Small Business Week. Ahead of the annual celebration, Business in Calgary sat down with three inspiring local business owners to learn more about their company’s respective growth stories.
Prolific Sports House
It’s not often you hear about a youth sports training facility launching amid a global pandemic. Yet that’s exactly what David Singleton did when he first opened the doors to Prolific Sports House in early 2021.
Nearly two years later, he calls it one of the best decisions he’s ever made as the facility in the city’s southeast is thriving as a premier training destination for up-and-coming athletes.
“It’s been amazing. It’s done better than I could have ever envisioned,” says Singleton, CEO and head skills trainer at Prolific.
Housed within a 17,000-square-foot building at 120, 8489 40th Street S.E., Prolific is primarily focused on basketball development with elite-level programs ranging from training sessions and coaching clinics to skill development and league play.
The facility itself features two full-size basketball courts, two full-size half courts and 15 hoops surrounding the facility, as well as dedicated cardio/fitness space and entertainment and lounge areas.
“We’re focused on helping young athletes take their game to the next level,” says Singleton, a native of Coatesville, Penn., who previously played for several powerhouse Division 1 programs such as High Point University, Marquette University and Albright College.
“Our motto is we want to help our athletes get one per cent better each day.”
Singleton notes several young athletes who train at Prolific are already seeing success first-hand. One of its current athletes currently represents Canada on the U17 women’s national team, while others have graduated and are now en route to elite schools across the U.S. and Canada.
In addition to its elite-level programs, Singleton notes Prolific is open to anyone who is interested in sports. He notes they offer numerous different recreational opportunities that include drop-in availabilities, a mini-hoopers program for pre-schoolers and even pickleball rentals.
“Players of any skill level are welcome to come through and achieve their goals. It’s a real community vibe,” says Singleton.
Born out of a local garage in 2003, Heavy’s rocket-like journey to becoming a globally recognized name in the creative placemaking community has been wild. Yet to hear it from company president Ryan Bessant, and to borrow a line from a famed rock band, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Best known by Calgarians for its involvement in projects such as the Wonderland sculpture at The Bow and the Emergent exhibit at the Edison building, the business has been actively reshaping the urban landscape both in our city and beyond for nearly 20 years.
The company’s portfolio today is made up of more than 1,000 installations that includes several highly acclaimed projects around the world such as the famed Inverted Lake along Toronto’s Bayfront area and North Harbour Sculptures in East Chicago.
“We want to be known as a company that can work with clients to tell unique stories. We want to be known as a company that can do something special,” says Bessant.
More recently, Heavy’s expertise has been called upon for a trio of high-profile local projects that include Platform Calgary’s innovative innovation centre and parkade along Ninth Avenue S.E., as well as renovations at Glenbow Museum and the massive BMO Centre expansion.
Bessant notes Heavy’s involvement in these latest projects aligns with the launch of Heavy’s new brand, which took place earlier this year. Based around a Plan-Design model, the company is looking to collaborate with clients earlier in the process to provide what Bessant says is better value from the overall placemaking process. That includes everything from better defining the “why” at the outset to streamlining collaboration between artists, architects, developers and Heavy’s team of fabricators and project managers.
“Already, we’ve been able to successfully enhance original concepts, as well as turn what would otherwise be huge obstacles into opportunities by just adding our special blend of creativity,” says Bessant. “Just seeing this part of our journey come to fruition gives us added confidence to move forward.”
Drawing its name from Western Canada’s storied history, Last Best Brewing & Distilling has become a flagbearer for the Calgary craft brew scene, and arguably a beacon of hope for a hospitality industry that has faced its fare share of challenges in recent years.
First opened in May 2015, the popular brew pub on 11th Avenue S.W. has emerged from the start-stop motion of the pandemic strong and with a renewed sense of purpose.
“To offer an inclusive space that brings all parts of the community together,” says Brett Ireland, co-founder of Last Best and CEO of parent company Bearhill Brewing, which also operates Campio Brewing Co. in Edmonton, as well as Jasper Brewing Co. and Banff Ave Brewing Co.
“At our core is real, true, honest community building. That’s been our focus.”
To that end, Ireland is encouraged to have seen so many events return to Last Best over the past several months, on top of what he calls a “very successful Stampede.”
“We continue to be amazed to see the community support that we’ve seen,” says Ireland
The Last Best brand – which pays homage to the “Last Best West” campaign launched by the federal government at the end of the 1800s to populate the western prairies and grow agriculture in Canada – also continues to push further into the community. Today, products such as its popular IPA and Show Pony pale ale can be round in restaurants and grocery stores across the city.
“The creativity of the brewing team at Last Best has always been exceptional – very ‘hop’ forward,” says Ireland, noting its spirits program also continues to make headlines. Distillery operations manager Bryce Parsons is in the process of getting certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for his feat of creating 52 unique gins in one year.
“We enjoy being able to help people expand the spectrum of flavours they can enjoy.”