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Apt613 Talks: Entrepreneurship and creativity in Ottawa

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Apt613 editor Ryan Saxby Hill speaks with Tobias Lütke of Shopify at Pressed. Photo by Ming Wu.Apt613 editor Ryan Saxby Hill speaks with Tobias Lütke of Shopify at Pressed. Photo by Ming Wu.

A Toronto-based friend of mine can be mean when talking about our nation’s capital.

“Ottawa is a great place to raise a plant,” he once told me, jokingly. “It’s also a good city for your parents to live in.”

This opinion of Ottawa as a stuffy, boring place where dreams go to die is shared by many people. Based on the rapidly growing number of hip and young entrepreneurs in the city, however, it’s a view not grounded in reality.

“Sometimes we are down on Ottawa because the rest of the country sees [the city] as a grey flannel town, when we are not,” says Ian Capstick, president of the local digital public affairs agency MediaStyle, “The truth is that Ottawa is becoming a lot cooler.”

Capstick made this observation during a three-person panel discussion on local entrepreneurship and creativity that was held at Pressed last Thursday evening.

As part of Support Local month, the panel showcased some of Ottawa’s emerging young business leaders. The group not only shared tips for starting a business, but also discussed some new social trends.

Ryan Saxby Hill, Tobias Lütke, Mandi Lunan and Ian Capstick. Photo by Ming Wu.

“If you would have asked someone in university 10 to 15 years ago what they wanted to be they would have said, ‘to play in a rock band,’” says Tobias Lütke, co-founder of Shopify, an Ottawa-based company that specializes in helping businesses setup online stores. “If you would run the same experiment today, they would say that they want to start a company …. That’s a cosmic shift.”

Lütke joked with the crowd that Shopify is a San Francisco company that took a wrong turn and ended up in Ottawa. This self-deprecating humour, however, hides some incredible business advantages that exist in this city. For instance, not many people know that Ottawa has more engineers, scientists and PhDs per capita than any other city in Canada. This is enormous for anybody wanting to start a hi-tech company here.

But creative business ideas are not limited to the technology sector, as demonstrated by Mandi Lunan, owner of the vegan bakery Auntie Loo’s Treats. Having opened up her doors three years ago, Lunan’s vegan treats have become a huge hit. Nevertheless, the modest baker told the audience that her success is due in large part to the close relationships she has developed with the community.

“The business is like a child and it takes a village to raise a child,” she says.

Pointing to her collaboration with the local arts community, as well as venues like Babylon, Lunan says that she has had many opportunities to sell or give away samples of her goodies at different events.

This symbiotic relationship with other entrepreneurs and artists has not only allowed her business to flourish, but has also laid the foundation for a thriving and innovative business community. It has also created a space where young businesspeople can take risks.

“I would rather swing the bat and know that I tried than wonder ‘what if’”, says Lunan, while explaining the motivation to create her business.

Judging from the audience’s engagement with the panel the discussion was a success.

By demonstrating how young people can create innovative businesses in Ottawa, the panel made it clear that Ottawa is rapidly developing into an interesting city — a place where young entrepreneurs can thrive and participate in building a strong community.

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