Young entrepreneurs team up downtown

(L-R): Oi Furniture's Jason Abbott, Synonym Art Consultation's Chloe Chafe and (far right) DigiPlus' Nick Danzinger pose with the CYBF's Joelle Foster and a BIZ Youth Entrepreneur.
(L-R): Oi Furniture’s Jason Abbott, Synonym Art Consultation’s Chloe Chafe and (far right) DigiPlus’ Nick Danzinger pose with the CYBF’s Joelle Foster and a BIZ Youth Entrepreneur.

By Brenlee Coates

The seven businesses linked together by the pop-up shop Launch It! are a force to be reckoned with.
Mostly all of the young entrepreneurs worked with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation to get their start and to receive ongoing support, and the pop-up shop is a unique way to extend themselves to the community.
Fashion designer Lennard Taylor; art consulting firm Synonym Art Consultation; fresh, local salsa maker Delicious Kicks; The Bannock Factory; cell phone case maker DigiPlus; custom suit retailer EPH Apparel; and Oi Furniture banded together in the Portage Place storefront.
“(It’s) something that Winnipeggers are looking for,” says Taylor, whose unique leather works are at the forefront of his business.
“I think that now that it’s here, it should stay. It’s up to the public.”
The Downtown BIZ hosted an open house at the pop-up shop at its expected closing on April 15, but the response was so positive, all but one entrepreneur, the creator of DigiPlus, will continue with the pop-up shop indefinitely.

Lennard Taylor sells his designs at the Portage Place pop-up shop.
Lennard Taylor sells his designs at the Portage Place pop-up shop.

Winnipeggers are no strangers to pop-up shops. Several weekend-long initiatives have popped up in Exchange District studios and the like, attracting local deal finders. The reputation for locals to hunt out sales and temporary opportunities precedes us.
However, this type of pop-up shop is unique to Winnipeg and Canada.
“We’ve heard that this is the first retail incubator of its kind in a downtown in Canada,” says Jason Syvixay, managing director of the Downtown BIZ.
“This one’s really interesting in that the entrepreneur doesn’t need to be business-ready. We’re looking for people that might just have an idea, and who want to work with our business connections to start moving their idea forward.
“We’ve been able to address some of the financial barriers. Not having a space – a visible storefront present. Not having the financial startup dollars, not knowing where to go for help.”
Retailers have also benefited from the “very homogenous and interesting mixture of people downtown,” says Syvixay.
Eventually, the pop-up shop will get new blood into its mix of entrepreneurs, but the event was so successful that everyone wanted to stay.
The Portage Place storefront was generously donated for the pop-up.
The BIZ surveyed people who visited the store during its three-week pilot and asked if doing another pop-up shop in the location would create a destination for the shoppers.
“The overwhelming response has been ‘I would come to Portage Place, because this is interesting, it’s supporting small business, local retailers, young entrepreneurs.’ It could be a very interesting way to attract younger people to our downtown, especially places like Portage Place,” says Syvixay.
The BIZ estimated that about 10,000 people walk up and down the downtown sidewalks every day, and 15,000 people were in the area during the Junos broadcast.
The exposure of this traffic as well as media attention made the pop-up worthwhile for the entrepreneurs regardless of sales.
“It’s been going pretty well,” says Syvixay.
“The general feedback has been quite fantastic in terms of the exposure. I think entrepreneurs are really enjoying the fact that they’ve been able to market their products and services to about 10,000 people that are walking throughout that corner of Portage Place daily.”
The BIZ and other downtown businesses are eager to help young people establish themselves in our city’s core.
“I do think it’s going to be the young entrepreneurs who decide what it’s (downtown’s) going to be in the next few years,” says Portage Place manager, David Stone.
The young entrepreneurs’ amicable sharing of a collective space shows their concern is for a profitable and sustainable future as well.
Owner of Synonym Art Consultation, Chloe Chafe, along with her business partner Andrew Eastman, are in the business of making local businesses and public spaces more beautiful.
“We curate public spaces essentially – where people are other than galleries. We believe that art should be for the public,” she says.
Synonym has been enlisted to curate the walls of local restaurants Fitzroy and Deseo Bistro.
“We work with businesses that are so talented (at) what they do. They are all about their food and they care about their atmosphere.”
“We protect our artists, so we want their precious art” displayed in these types of conscientious places, she says.
Synonym Art Consultation is the resident DJ for the pop-up shop, a position given to the owners because of their unique merging of music and art at other events.
“We connect musicians, artists and then businesses to work all together,” says Chafe. “Music is such an important part to our business. At every art show we have, we have local musicians or local DJs.”
In fact, the name Synonym came from their belief that art and music are symbiotic and pretty much interchangeable.

Local musician James Struthers performs at the opening of Launch It!
Local musician James Struthers performs at the opening of Launch It!

Synonym is one of those brilliant and fun ideas that most wish they had come up with themselves.
“What we do doesn’t exactly exist in the city right now,” says Chafe.
Perhaps there’s room for more art consultation firms in the city. If the harmonious Launch It! is any indication, it seems like the competition would be welcomed with open arms.

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