Small Business Week (SBW) in Calgary is a celebration, inspiration and much-deserved recognition. The annual celebration, inspiration, recognition – and reminder that despite all the complex bizspeak about the economy and business trends, small business is the key driver and the lynchpin of business in Calgary.
“Small businesses span every sector and industry in Calgary, adding value to every part of our economy and providing economic stability because of their diversity,” Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber notes with enthusiasm. “They make up more than 95 per cent of all businesses in Calgary and across the country, employing nearly two-thirds of the total labour force. In addition to being vital from an employment and economic diversification perspective, they also help to build community.
“This, in turn, attracts talent, investment and new opportunities to our city. Calgary has the largest number of small businesses per capita compared with other major cities in the country. That speaks to our entrepreneurial spirit!”
In some ways, the past two years have strengthened aspects of Calgary’s business uniqueness.
“I think that a lot of business and community leaders have come to realize that SMEs are the backbone of innovation and transformation in our local economy in Calgary,” says the dynamic Wellington Holbrook, CEO of connectFirst Credit Union. “They are driving change and finding new ways to solve problems that larger businesses are sometimes too slow to respond. Small businesses have the expertise, the know-how and the flexibility to move quickly and they’re really changing the game in exciting ways.”
According to Robert Fooks, partner at McLeod Law, a SBW sponsor and a former judge of the Calgary SBW Awards, small businesses are vital components on business in Calgary. “They are hugely important! Alberta and especially Calgary have some of the highest percentages of entrepreneurs and small businesses in the entire country. So, whatever it shows in the national stats, its even more so here in Calgary. In addition to economy, entrepreneurial cities are also more interesting and vibrant than those that are not,” he says. “Personally, I’d much rather live in or visit a city that had a high concentration of entrepreneurial thinkers. Being entrepreneurial and self-starting also allows a city to better weather downturns.”
Of course, Calgary small businesses were hit hard by the pandemic disruptions and lockdowns. Small businesses also proved a tough, resilient and can-do attitude. “Small businesses are the economic engine of Calgary and Canada,” says Brian Hierath, regional manager of Business Banking at Servus Credit Union, a key supporter and sponsor of Calgary’s SBW. “Although small businesses were hardest hit by COVID, they have also been the leaders in the economic recovery.”
While Calgary’s Small Business Week events and activities, like much of Calgary business, was disrupted or put on social distancing hold, the 2022 edition of Calgary’s SBW (October 17 – 21) is all set and ready with informative events and activities, lots of networking opportunities, like the Pride in Business and Small Business Mixer, An Evening with an Entrepreneur, the Calgary Small Business Summit on October 20, capped off with the signature event: the Calgary Small Business Awards on October 21.
After a two-year absence, a gutsy small business spirit of recovery will underscore the special week. “The pandemic has tested the optimism and grit of our entrepreneurs. It’s been particularly challenging for small businesses, as many have had to take on debt, access government programs and are continuing to deal with the talent shortage,” Yedlin points out.
“The last two years has meant dealing with uncertainty in terms of operations, how best to serve clients, customers and guests, as well as managing supply chain issues and rising costs. Additionally, the issue of mental health in the workplace has grown, with employers looking for ways to better support the well-being of their employees. But there is reason to be optimistic. Not only has our business community demonstrated their resilience through these challenging times – we have also seen many new businesses open.”
Servus’ Brian Hierath agrees that small businesses were particularly broadsided by COVID. “Especially in the hospitality industries (restaurants, hotels, etc.) They had to deal with unpredictable future cost management. Supply chain disruptions still continue to affect these businesses and their ability to deliver services. To survive, small businesses had to implement new operating models which required new management skills and innovative solutions.”
Holbrook shakes his head in empathy. “Man, what a couple years, especially if you are working in hospitality or retail! Many of those businesses have been run over the past couple years and no doubt, will take time to recover. However, many businesses in other sectors have found creative ways to compete on a global scale. In some cases, the pandemic helped balance out the playing field in opening avenues for them to compete, all thanks to technology. I believe this has been an accelerator for technology in our city.”
The business speedbumps caused by the pandemic have also underscored some harsh small business realities. “Like the reality that business and working for yourself is also extremely hard work,” Fooks says. “I have taught numerous classes at U of C, both at the undergrad and MBA levels in business and entrepreneurship, and I was surprised about how many students, when asked why they were interested in business, stated they wanted to work for themselves. How far from the truth! If you’re going to be successful in small business, you should expect to be the worst boss you will ever have!”
Readying for this year’s SBW awards, Deborah Yedlin underscores that: “Being recognized through the Calgary Small Business Awards is a way to support local that doesn’t cost a cent and has a big impact on businesses. The awards – and even a nomination – extend the reach of that small business, usually far beyond what they can achieve themselves. Most start-ups and entrepreneurs have limited marketing budgets, so it’s a great way to amplify their efforts to attract customers. One of last year’s winners saw a 50 per cent jump in sales after receiving a Small Business Award.
Although nominations closed a while ago, Calgary’s SBW Awards are the Servus People’s Choice Award, Helcim Emerging Growth Award, the connectFirst Innovation Award, Surecall Community Champion Award, the Resilient Business Award, the TD Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award, the CPA Alberta Social Entrepreneurship Award, and the ATB Small Business of the Year Award.
In addition to the post-pandemic recovery, Yedlin points out some key positives – and challenges – for small business in Calgary. “On the one hand, as Calgary is increasingly seen as a city that is entrepreneurial and willing to take risks, we are seeing venture capital investing in start-ups at a record pace,” she says. “On the other hand, small businesses are competing with large businesses for talent and are experiencing wage inflation. They are also dealing with supply chain issues, which has been a constant since the onset of the pandemic. But as we look at the business landscape today, relative to where we were 12 months ago, the picture is much brighter.”
Brian Hierath is gung-ho about Calgary small businesses. “Small Business Week is a time where we can celebrate the accomplishments of teams, business owners and change makers in Calgary. These businesses are the economic engine of our city. They create jobs, support communities, and bring innovation to industries that change Canada and the world.”