Home Month and Year September 2023 Small but mighty

Small but mighty

Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit on display as Small Business Week returns

Stagehand connects artists with venues to book and promote live events, including opportunities to activate public spaces such as Stephen Avenue. Photo by Ainsley Christine.

Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit is set be celebrated next month as the Calgary Chamber joins the community at large to celebrate small business owners who are making lasting impacts in our city and beyond.

Calgary Small Business Week returns to the city October 16 – 20 with a slate of special events, networking opportunities and the 40th edition of its awards gala.

Brett Colvin is no stranger to the annual celebration. At last year’s gala, the co-founder and CEO of Goodlawyer was joined on stage by members of his staff after the company captured the coveted ATB Small Business of the Year Award.

Goodlawyer’s model is to offer more affordable legal services to companies ranging from early-stage startups to high-growth enterprises. It accomplishes this by providing access to lawyers that Colvin says can realize efficiencies not possible with traditional law firms, and therefore more accurately bill their clients.

On the eve of this year’s festivities, he offers some advice to the 2023 nominees – and any small business owner, for that matter.

“First, you have got to embrace the fact that you’re going to keep iterating. That’s been part of the mindset at Goodlawyer – to keep iterating as we learn new stuff,” says Colvin, whose 25-person team oversees a network of more than 130 lawyers across the country with 5,000 clients and counting.

“Second, it’s going to be harder than you think, so you really got to love it. If you can’t enjoy the journey, it’s going to be a real challenge for you.”

Derek Manns knows a bit about that journey. The engineer-turned arts advocate co-founded Stagehand in 2016 as an online platform that connects artists with venues to book and promote live events.

Today, his five- to six-person team are striving to shift the arts and culture paradigm by, helping people understand that there is a different way to creating live events.

“Stagehand is like Airbnb to a physical cultural centre or to a physical entertainment district,” says Manns, whose platform also takes care of many of the logistical details behind live events such as the contracting process and post-event data collection.

“We are just looking to make that whole process easier so that any coffee shop, microbrewery, restaurant or small business can connect and work with artists to activate their space.”

First launched in Alberta, Stagehand now works with artists and venues across North America, most recently including Vancouver, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Manns credits much of his company’s growth over the past few years to persistence and old-fashioned networking.

“There are a lot of stakeholders in this space, so it’s been about spending time getting to know them and having them get to know you,” he says. “There’s some credibility building that needs to happen with any small business. Has it felt like a slow process at times? Sure. But it’s how we’ve gotten to where we are today.”

Like Manns, Melissa Caouette is similarly looking to shift the paradigm with MC Consulting – in this case, with how companies look at political risk.

Caouette founded MC Consulting in 2021 as a boutique practice that works with clients to anticipate, interpret and mitigate political risk – notably, how government decisions may impact businesses.

Since then, her team of four has worked with large non-profits, economic development organizations and private companies to help them, “understand political risks so it’s on the same level as financial risks, marketing risks and human resources risks.”

“(Political risk is) often overlooked because it’s not necessarily in the mainstream and a lot of people don’t really understand it,” says Caouette, who has previously worked for the Government of Alberta, as well as in policy development and public relations.

Like Colvin, one of her biggest learnings since launching MC Consulting was to embrace the pursuit of continuous improvement. It’s what led her in 2022 to launch Pocket Lobbyist, a digital platform that provides members with access the resources needed to implement effective lobbying and government relations strategies.

“It provides members with briefing notes, background information, templates, analyses – documents that help individuals and organizations understand political risk,” says Caouette, noting the platform today is used by executives, associations, non-profits and consultants.

Caouette says she launched Pocket Lobbyist because she noticed a gap in the market for those who didn’t need a lobbyist or a full-time consultant but had an interest in understanding what’s happening and wanted access to high-quality, well-researched analysis and information documents.

“I knew I wanted to create something that complemented what I was already doing as a small consulting business that could grow,” she says.

“If you are not somebody who can afford the often high price point of a lobbyist or consultant, you are sort of left without an affordable and trustworthy resource. That’s why we really wanted to fill the gap.”

Looking back, Caouette says the early success of both businesses so far has also come with several a-ha moments that serve as advice to other entrepreneurs.

“One of the things that has really struck me over the past two years since starting a business is … there’s this perception that if you own your own business that everything is really easy and there,” she says. “But it’s really a lot of work and you are taking a big risk. You’re really putting a lot of faith into an idea that may or may not work out.

“So, I’ve just developed a real appreciation for the amount of mental toughness that’s required to be a small business owner because it’s not always easy.”