Calgarians have a reputation of resilience. We’ve seen it time and time again – people in this city find way to overcome challenges and bounce back, while helping others along the way.
For local businesses, 2020 was a challenge unlike any other. Many had to rethink their plans and change course; and with the change came growth.
A lot of that growth also benefited the community, whether it was a company offering healthcare professionals a new, local source for PPE or a communications platform giving us a new way to connect – Calgary businesses found a way to ensure consumer needs were met.
Here are the experiences of some Calgary-based, consumer-focused businesses that have seen growth since their pivot during the pandemic.
Kushan Bharthi and his wife Princy, the team behind Cold Grind Organic, realized quickly into the pandemic that their systems could be improved. The pair decided to move production from across the Pacific Ocean to the company’s home base in Calgary.
“Originally, all our spices were cold ground in India,” says Bharthi. “COVID showed us our own supply issues. When there was a surge in demand, we had operational difficulties. So we thought, let's bring everything to Calgary.”
The new facility is expected to be up and running by the end of April 2021, allowing the team to get their products onto store shelves and into consumers’ hands much faster than before. Cold Grind Organic will also be hiring a dozen new staff members by the end of 2021, with positions ranging from warehouse staff to account managers to brokers.
“We know supporting local means a lot to Canadians, and with all the doom and gloom about job losses, we're very proud to be a small business that is creating some job opportunities as well as products locally.”
The new space is just the first step of the team’s future plans.
“We're trying to be disruptive,” Bharthi says. “We want to get as big as we can and have a major impact on Calgary’s economy. We want Calgarians to think of our brand and be proud of the fact that we’re based here. No matter how big we get, we want to remember our roots and always do the right thing for the community and have its back.”
Evelyne Nyairo started 2020 with a plan for her skincare business, Ellie Bianca. But she didn’t predict finding herself rewriting that plan just a few months into the year, due to a global pandemic.
“I had to make a decision, and it wasn’t easy,” says Nyairo. “I remember telling myself, ‘The destination is still the same, and the goal still remains. The plan that we developed is not going to work, so let's create a new one that's going to take us to that same final destination.”
Nyairo had heard the calls from Service Canada asking businesses across the country to step up and help with supplies and decided this was the best option to keep her business afloat while continuing to have an impact on the community.
Things moved quickly from there. Nyairo secured the finances to pivot from her original business plan, was able to find contacts to acquire the resources needed to produce and package new products. Her team worked to create a formula for hand sanitizer (and hand soaps shortly after) that met Health Canada’s standards while also sticking to her brand’s promise of delivering great skincare.
It was the right decision for her business, as well as a learning experience that is helping Nyairo pave out her company’s future path.
“The pandemic opened my eyes to what is possible and how far we can take this brand,” she says. “It really changed my mind in terms of essentials. Now, we’re more focused on what people need as opposed what’s nice to have.”
Before COVID-19, Beau Taylor, Founder & CEO, First Defence Face Masks, was importing and supplying gym equipment to Canadians. But shortly after the onset of the pandemic, he knew his company could be helping Canadians and having a larger impact.
With a shortage of medical supplies, First Defence was able to provide Alberta Health Services, and small businesses, with much-needed protective equipment.
“As the pandemic continued, our goals evolved to bringing the supply chain to Alberta, which would have a positive impact on the local economy,” says Taylor.
Along with the company working to play a bigger part in boosting the local economy, First Defence has also made significant technology investments to make online purchases available for health care, businesses, and individuals.
First Defence is projecting 150 new jobs and an economic benefit of over $7.5 million dollars in new salaries by the end of 2021. This growth is due to the support from local healthcare organizations and businesses making the switch from imported to Canadian-made products, as well as the use of Canadian raw materials to produce the masks.
“We want to get people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic back to work,” says Taylor. “We have a variety of positions, from working on the assembly line to quality control. Anyone can do the work; it just requires training.”
Taylor’s company has the capability to produce 500,000 masks daily and is looking to expand its arsenal with other medical supplies in the near future. The main focus now is finding strategic partners who can assist in distributing these products around North America and encouraging businesses to make the switch from imported products.
The pandemic put several of our normal activities on pause, and we had to find new and safe ways to host events with our community, colleagues, friends and family. The team at Worldplay Communications had a solution, and it is one now being used nation-wide.
Worldplay partnered with TELUS to bring its Vidflex video platform to different communities across Canada, as well as a number of industries, including health care and education.
“COVID-19 has changed things significantly, and organizations are struggling to not only stream events but build a community to connect and thrive. Our platform allows for a unique, controlled and secure connection for people who want to create that online community,” says Terry Mochar, CEO, Worldplay.
Worldplay saw TELUS as an ideal partner, as both companies are focused on bringing innovative tech solutions to their customers.
“Our priority is to deliver the best possible experience across the full scope of our customers’ digital lives as Canadians increasingly turn to digital tools to work, learn, and stay connected to their loved ones and communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Zainul Mawji, President, Home Solutions, TELUS. “With the backbone of TELUS’ world-leading PureFibre and wireless networks, the opportunities Worldplay offers to create and share content in an accessible way are truly endless.”
Canadians from coast-to-coast have turned to the Vidflex video platform, from First Nations communities in B.C., to the team at Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, to various businesses in the Maritimes.
Worldplay's services are available internationally, and the company is already being used in 100 countries. Mochar and his team plan to work with TELUS to continue to grow globally. But the company also wants to ensure it has a positive impact on Calgary’s local tech ecosystem.
“Our ambition is to thrive, grow, create jobs and be a global contributor to tech that’s based right here in Calgary,” says Mochar.