Author Archives: mrktspecialist

Mar 31, 2021
8 mins | 2139 words
By: Randy Gaudreau

Randy Gaudreau's headshot

The challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic forced many businesses to seek out new revenue opportunities to make it through.

In search of programs that could help, Ed Hemphill of Bean Around Town and Pierrette Vezina of Wabano Fine Chocolates found each other and forged a new relationship that would strengthen both businesses – proving great coffee and fine chocolate are meant to be together.

Ed – meet coffee

Throughout his former career as an investment advisor, Ottawa’s Ed Hemphill wasn’t into coffee at all. It was never part of his office experience – all the complaints about bad office drip were left unregistered and generally unnoticed.

But that all changed in 2010 when his wife Heather was presented with an opportunity in Paris. Ed sold his existing business and joined her.

“Up until that point, we were non-coffee drinkers,” Ed confirmed during a virtual chat.  “It was really our time travelling in Europe and especially Italy where we said to ourselves, if this is what coffee tastes like, and it’s served like this, then why would you not drink this?”

After they’d returned, Ed started looking for his next business idea. While walking around at a trade show exploring a few options, someone jumped out and offered Ed a cappuccino that would change his path.

“It kind of took me back,” Ed recalls. “I was like, ‘cappuccino? What are you talking about?’”

But it turns out that encounter was the icebreaker that led to a partnership that provided Ed with high-end, super automated espresso machines and sparked the creation of his company Bean Around Town.

Bean Around Town is born

Ed Hemphill with a JBC series coffee machine - as part of the Office Coffee service of Bean Around Town.

Ed with a JBC series coffee machine offered through the Office Coffee service

Ed started conducting simple research on how coffee was commonly offered as part of a customer service and client relations strategy. From offices to car dealerships, he studied what people were served and what they accepted; it was worse than he thought.

“It was a real eye-opener,” Ed remembered. From K-Cup to instant packs, everyone was offering coffee, or as Ed jokingly referred to it, “something that resembled coffee.”

“Because I didn’t drink it in the office, I didn’t pay much attention to it,” he explained. “But I always knew everyone always complained about it. So, I was looking at what everyone else was doing, and asking if we could bring something new to the table.”

Bringing something different to the table

What Ed brought to the table was the means to offer employees and clients a truly premium in-house coffee experience through high-end, automated espresso machines, which his company regularly maintained for clients. He also forged deals with local roasters to provide fresh locally roasted coffee as part of the office coffee services package.

His company was solid, but Ed knew that the market of providing businesses with the means to make a great cup of coffee could only take him so far. Ed realized that he needed new, fresh ideas to grow.

Over the years, Ed has attended free Invest Ottawa-run events and webinars and decided to turn to the IO Peer Group program in hopes of working with a mentor that could help him discover ways to build his business.

Bean Around Town logo - which notes the new feature of "at home"Pandemic Pivot

Ed recalled how peer group conversations in March of 2020 centred around the lockdown conditions and the group brainstormed solutions. For Ed, office employees being sent home to work remotely during COVID restrictions meant he needed to rethink his once successful business model.

And when asked how he planned to adapt; he didn’t quite know how to answer.

“It came around to me, and I said I didn’t know where we can look at pivoting,” he recalled. “But other people in that meeting started offering suggestions saying, ‘Well, what about this? And what about that?’”

The Peer Group session gave Ed the idea to create a website that acted as a curator of fine local coffee that his staff would personally deliver around Ottawa. He already had the existing network of coffee lovers – only now he wouldn’t be delivering it to offices, he would be delivering it to people at home, with an option of signing up for a regular subscription service.

A little variety – and chocolate too?

A basket filled with local coffee offerings as part of the home delivery service by Bean Around Town

Ed started to research North American coffee subscription services. He found that many only offered their own coffee, except for the few that stuck out according to Ed, who were

offering a curated selection and variety.

He started off with three different local roasters – Bridgehead, Francesco’s Coffee Co., and Bluebarn Coffee. The success he found in adding more variety had Ed thinking of even more possibilities.

“We put together three different coffees from three different roasters, and there was a lot of interest in that,” he said. “And then I thought, well, what about if we added chocolate?”

Ed remembered how in Europe, everyone from the casual café patron to “the guy running the garbage truck,” would have a piece of chocolate with their espresso, and how coffee and chocolate were offered hand in hand. He wanted to provide that experience to his customers.  But that proved to be harder than he imagined.

Coffee and chocolate? Any takers?

Ed started approaching local chocolatiers – and to his surprise, the idea was a tough sell.

“Some didn’t respond at all,” he marvelled. “I wasn’t trying to convince him to take my product. I wanted to look at adding their product into my programming and promote them,” he explained. “It was overall a very nonchalant reaction.”

Frustrated – Ed went back to his Peer Group to vent his struggles and to find a willing partner. According to Ed, Peer Group Leader and Business Advisor Karla Briones knew exactly who he should talk to.

Logo for the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal HealthChocolate made with a purpose – Wabano Fine Chocolates

For 30 years Pierrette Vezina worked in long-term care with the City of Ottawa. After retiring, Pierrette, who is Métis, chose to volunteer with the senior program at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health on Montreal Road in Vanier to give back to the community she loved.

Within a few years, she filled the role of volunteer coordinator. But even that wasn’t enough to keep Pierrette busy.

She took notice of the chocolatier skills of a friend’s husband, thinking that learning the skills would enable her to give residents handmade treats during the holidays. She convinced him to take her on as his apprentice and he trained her to make fine chocolates over the next year.

Inspired, Pierrette honed her skills at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute and soon started offering desserts at events, which then led to fairs, and eventually earned contracts. The proceeds from the chocolate sales would go back into the essential programs of the Wabano Centre.

Wabano Fine Chocolates – A chocolate-based Indigenous social enterprise

With the success of her growing business and a drive to use her skills to make a difference, Pierrette came up with the idea to create Wabano Fine Chocolates as a social enterprise within the Wabano Centre. Through the treats sales, Pierrette could raise money for programs and help provide opportunities and training to those who face barriers to employment.

I’ve been very lucky,” said Pierrette, “I’m a volunteer and I said that I’d like to start a chocolate company as a social enterprise, and they gave me that support to try things out.”

“And maybe it doesn’t work,” she added, ‘but they gave me that that confidence, and that’s what the centre is all about. They supported me, and that’s what they do for the whole community.”

A picture of Ed Hemphill - owner of Bean Around Town with Pierrette Vezina - Head Chocolatier of Wabano Fine Chocolates and volunteer chocolatier Valerie Edwards

From right to left – Pierrette Vezina hard at work making chocolate with Ed Hemphill of Bean Around Town and volunteer chocolatier Valerie Edwards

What she and her team of volunteers make aren’t ordinary chocolates. From handmade and hand-painted beavers and hens to birchbark syrup and Saskatoon berries, many of the chocolates feature Indigenous ingredients and come with a card attached that has teachings about how the designs and creations tie into their culture.

“If we can showcase the wonderful work that Wabano does through the chocolate that’s one of our main goals,” said Pierrette.

“Sharing our culture, promoting language, and giving Indigenous people a place where they can get a product that’s Indigenous [is another].”

Pierrette’s Pandemic Pivot

When COVID hit – several of the event-based contacts and staple funding sources were effectively shut down and Pierrette worked to diversify her revenue sources. As a social enterprise, she reached out to the Centre for Social Enterprise Development, which connected her with a mentor for support. That mentor happened to be Ed’s Peer Group leader, Karla Briones.

So, when Pierrette was also looking for new ways to sell her product – the connection was made. Karla knew someone who happened to be looking for a fine local chocolatier to work with to provide something special to his customers.

Ed – meet Pierrette

“We had a conversation and to my total surprise, that conversation with Pierrette was the conversation I expected to have with these other local businesses,” said Ed. “The passion came out and it was fantastic. This is exactly what I was looking for.”

According to Ed, the challenges of trying to find a chocolatier who was the right fit to partner with eventually led him to the right choice.

“I always find the obstacles you run into create a better option somewhere else, but you just don’t know what it will be,” he said. “The relationship with Pierrette has been so much fun. And it’s allowed them to use their creativity in creating chocolates for us.”

Easter seasonal basket from Wabano Fine Chocolates - featuring hand-made. colorful chocolates and a selection of local coffees

How to try these creative chocolate and coffee pairings?

Bean Around Town currently offers the chocolates through both chocolate-only packages like the Just Chocolate Gift Collection and through combinations packages which include coffee like Taster’s Pack Gift Collection and the Crowd Pleasers.

So far, the biggest hit has been the Seasonal Gift Collections. Easter-themed baskets completely sold out following a busy Valentine’s Day and Christmas season.

“I know the last Valentine’s Day collection we did, they were exhausted,” Ed confirmed.

“They were pumping out the chocolates for us. But looking at the baskets we did, no one is able to come close to the uniqueness of the product. And the quality is second to none.”

And for Wabano Fine Chocolates, the extra business has expanded their operation – allowing Pierrette, who received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship in 2018 for her work with volunteers, to take on more volunteer chocolatiers. She’s even been able to hire paid employees for the first time.

“Because of Ed, we’ve been able to hire two casual people, so we’ve created employment,” Pierrette said beaming. “Pre-Covid, we’d have volunteers and students because it is a training program, but in the future, it can be volunteers and paid staff casuals.”

The extra business also means that Wabano Fine Chocolates can continue providing funds for the Wabano Centre programs, and the people they help to support.

“It’s so important to have this social enterprise to continue the revenue stream so that we can continue to provide essential vital programs,she said. “And we could create more jobs for our people, and that’s good.”

What’s next?

With Bean Around Town shifting to an e-commerce focused model, Ed is planning to take advantage of the free support available through the Digital Main Street Future Proof program – and has sought marketing and digital support from the Transformation Teams.

“That’s one of the things in terms of the business I’ve been struggling with, getting our message out,” he explained. “And are we doing the right things? Is the site we’ve created working? In my mind it is, but does it work for individuals that are going online to look for coffee?”

“So Digital Main Street is going to go through and help do an audit of that and come up with ideas.”A picture of the Mother's Day chocolate arrangement by Wabano Fine Chocolates, featuring hand made chocolates

As for Pierrette, she’s taking the experience of working with Ed to better understand the capacity of her business operations, and what to expect as she develops her e-commerce options.

“With Ed we’re really busy and Easter is a really good help because we have a lot of baskets to make,” she says. “That will help us with understanding our production, so when we do have our own online store, we’ll know what to do.”

“It’s a very good training ground.”


Looking to try their creations?

Though Easter has come and gone, and the Easter holiday gift baskets sold out – it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy Wabano Fine Chocolate and curated local coffee offerings from Bean Around Town.

The Wabano Fine Chocolate and Bean Around Town collaboration has coffee and chocolate gift boxes regularly available for order through the Bean Around Town websiteAnd also – be sure to be on the lookout for a chance to pre-order Mother’s Day-themed baskets.


Jan 26, 2021

“From what I could tell, a lot of small local businesses were struggling. Some of them didn’t have websites but a lot of them really wanted that visibility. So, I felt that by offering them a platform meant for conscious consumers, people who are really concerned and committed to support, these businesses could be found more easily.”

Randy Gaudreau's headshot6 mins | 1,300 words
By: Randy Gaudreau

Starting a business during a pandemic might seem counter-intuitive – and Ottawa’s Noelle Le Conte-Good would usually agree.

But according to her, the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be just the right time to launch Good Choice Initiative, as it’s when a little extra visibility for local businesses and their products was needed.

“It’s been a challenge,” Noelle said in an afternoon Zoom interview, “but also it made the most sense. I think this is when people are really reconsidering their purchasing habits, and really starting to ask themselves questions like, ‘Where is this coming from? Who am I supporting?’ and focusing more on supporting local.”

“And I thought that fell in line so nicely with what I’m trying to do,” she added. “When we’re supporting local, we’re minimizing carbon emissions through shipping and transportation, and investing in our community, among other positive impacts.”

Good Choice Initiative’s Story

Good Choice Initiative is an online sustainability hub, connecting consumers to businesses and makers in the Ottawa area who align with their social and environmental values.

To help make shopping locally and ethically easy, the website breaks down businesses and products based on popular criteria such as Handmade, Zero Waste / Plastic Free, Organic, Cruelty-Free / Vegan and more.

Good Choice website search criteria

“I felt like this directory would be able to provide people with the ability to find businesses they can support that are local businesses in line with what they believe in,” Noelle explains. “It seems to be like a shift in mindset – a change in what’s important to people.”

How it all began

Even though calls Ottawa home, Noelle has always been exploring. Her parents’ work during her childhood brought her to countries like Argentina and India and has given her a connection with the environment and exposed her to a diverse set of global cultures and values.

But as she continued to explore through her studies and her own work supporting conservation efforts abroad in Honduras and Costa Rica, she witnessed environmental degradation everywhere she went and was confronted with a world that needed help.

“I got to see a lot of the negative environmental impacts that we as humans have,” she recalls. “Especially in the ocean – there’s a lot of plastic in the ocean. I’m an avid diver and it made me really sad to see so much of it in the water and along the beaches,” she added.

Inspiration StrikesJoelle Le Conte-Good

In 2018, Noelle packed up to leave a life in Toronto for an extended journey of exploration. After her travels through South East Asia, Central America and Europe, it was an experience on the beaches of Bali that provided her with the insight that changed everything.

“I saw a lot of plastic on the beach and I decided to start picking it up,” Noelle remembers, “and the next thing I knew, seven or eight other people joined in and were contributing to my efforts.”

“It was a bit sad,” she continued, “but it also gave me a sense of hope that just by setting some sort of example, by taking the first step, that other people were inspired to join in. So, I wanted to bring that sense of hope and kind of collective action closer to home,” she added. “And I wanted to create this community.”

The Challenge: Providing Visibility for Sustainable Businesses During COVID-19

With a growing movement to support local during the pandemic, Noelle saw an opportunity to provide a little extra visibility to local, sustainable businesses in Ottawa, and to help connect them with consumers looking for products that aligned with their values and ethics.

“From what I could tell, a lot of small local businesses were struggling,” she said. “Some of them didn’t have websites but a lot of them really wanted that visibility. So, I felt that by offering them a platform meant for conscious consumers, people who are really concerned and committed to support, these businesses could be found more easily.”

Good Choice Initiative LogoThe Obstacle: Taking the Networking Online

Although Noelle had built a passion for networking and connecting people in a variety of professional roles, trying to build a network while not being able to meet shopkeepers in person caused her to adapt.

“I’m very social, and that’s where the challenges of the pandemic come in,” she said. “Not being able to meet people in person as much or at all, and really having to be online fully. How do you create that network in a community where you haven’t met these people? That’s definitely been a challenge.”

While taking part in a youth entrepreneurship program provided by Rise Asset Development and Incubator 13 in 2019, Noelle took advantage of free online resources and virtual events offered by Invest Ottawa.

And when the Digital Main Street Future Proof program and the help of the Transformation Teams became available, it was something she knew would help her get her network started.

“With my job in Toronto, I did a lot of networking but that’s different from creating an online community,” she explained. “So, I definitely needed that help with the digital marketing.”

“I was quite familiar with Invest Ottawa and all the great work they do and the free services they provide to local business owners,” she added,  “And then when I saw Digital Main Street, I saw it as the program that could help specifically with the marketing aspect.”

Digital Transformation Teams at work:

According to Noelle, it didn’t take long for the Digital Transformation Teams to get to work.

“They’re very thorough,” she said enthusiastically. “They did an audit of the site that I already had and my social media. I told them what I wanted to work on and then they provided suggestions of what they thought would make sense for me.”

The Transformation Teams made edits to the website and added more features including a carousel to showcase featured businesses on the homepage. They also helped to repair website features that were integral to Noelle’s vision of breaking down information by criteria.

For her own social media needs, they provided her with a 12-month strategy and social media newsletter design templates that saved her time in terms of not having to create content from scratch. To make managing her newsletter, social media and email marketing activities even easier, they also introduced her to automated tools such as Hootsuite and MailChimp.

According to Noelle, being prepared with templates and automation tools has taken a bit of weight off her shoulders and she can’t wait to dive even deeper into some of the helpful tools provided.

“I feel a lot less stressed, she said. “Before I had to focus on the content and the design, so they’ve helped with that a lot and it gives me more time to plan and be a bit more consistent, and not feel overwhelmed with all the details at once.”

“In terms of providing a bit more structure and consistent image in my messaging, that’s really what I would say has been one of the most helpful parts of the DMS contribution,” she said.

Featured businesses on the Good Choice Initiative Website

What’s Next?

Good Choice Initiative is just getting started, but Noelle can already see positive changes in her business.

“It was only a few weeks ago, but I’ve definitely seen some increase in followers,” she said. “I’ve definitely seen an increase in page views through my Google Analytics. I think with my business it’s hard to track progress, she added. “But it’s the kind of community you build over time. And I care more about the quality of people I’m connecting with.”

Good Choice Initiative was recently invited to be one of the exhibitors at the Virtual SMARTNet Sustainability Showcase on Saturday, January 30th. They’ll be showcasing their brand in a Live Interactive Exhibitor Hall alongside various talks, seminars and workshops that you can check out from the comfort of your own home. Drop by and visit them at this free virtual event.

Should I apply to Future Proof?

So – what advice would Noelle have for anyone debating applying to work with a Digital Transformation Team through the Digital Main Street Future Proof program?

“It’s a free service and it’s so helpful I can’t even think of why you wouldn’t try it,” she said.

“From what I can tell, DMS works with businesses at every stage and allows them to build on whatever they’re trying to work on, wherever they are. In terms of getting it set up, it was really fast, and they worked around my schedule and they were super flexible. I have nothing but positive things to say about the experience.”

“I really can’t fathom a reason why not to apply.”

Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.


Jan 4, 2021

“I think when we come out the other end of this, I think my business definitely will be better off. COVID-19 in general has helped me look at how I can expand my business. It doesn’t have to be just the restaurant. So once we’re through all this, I see my sales getting larger. And I definitely think that invest Ottawa helped me set up the tools that I needed in order to make that happen.” – Summer Baird, Owner, The Hintonburg Public House

Randy Gaudreau's headshot6 mins | 1,300 words
By: Randy Gaudreau

When restaurant owner Summer Baird thinks of herself out on the floor at her Hintonburg Public House, she chuckles a bit, thinking she’s maybe a little too talkative to be an efficient part of the service team, especially when things get busy.

“I always make a joke,” she says, laughing in an afternoon virtual interview, “that if you see me on the floor, you know somebody didn’t show up, or something’s going on.”

Baird is right. Something is definitely going on.

Like most restaurant owners, Baird finds herself in many roles fighting to run her restaurant with a skeleton crew during a pandemic. Unpredictable and inconsistent restrictions have made scheduling and staffing a “nightmare” – and the challenge of remaining profitable is transforming her business and putting demands on her to find solutions to make things work.

“Now I do everything – including the dishes,” she says laughing. “I was doing dishes this weekend and serving. But yeah, what I’m supposed to be doing are the books and the management and advertising,” she added. “That sort of thing.”

From Trained Chef to Owner

Baird’s road to restaurant ownership started with a passion for cooking. She studied at Stratford Chefs School here in Ontario and travelled out west to work as a chef in Vancouver Island.

When she felt the entrepreneurial need to express her vision through her own restaurant venture, she moved back east to the Glebe area of Ottawa to open her first restaurant, The Urban Pear, in 2001.

After moving on from The Urban Pear, she noticed a gap in the Hintonburg neighbourhood and a chance to offer something between a tavern and fine dining. Seizing the opportunity, she opened the Hintonburg Public House in 2011 to bring comfort food and elevated pub fare to business professionals and locals in the area.Hintonburg Public House Bar Snacks

But over the years, the competition moved in, and Baird felt to remain competitive, she’d have to make a few adjustments. To her surprise, increasing competition and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic might have provided the push she needed to make some necessary changes.

“When I first opened, it was one of the only restaurants. Now there’s a lot more, so there’s a lot more competition,” said Baird. “So, I did see my sales start to dip, so I actually needed this.”

“I didn’t maybe need this hard of a kick in the butt to get it going,” she added. “But yeah. It needed to happen.”

Pivoting to Survive

With the workforce now working from home and fewer diners venturing out due to COVID-19 distancing restrictions, relying solely on a dine-in business model became impossible for many restaurants.

This shift caused restaurant owners like Baird to offer take out and delivery, even if it wasn’t something they wanted as part of their business model.

Hintonburg Public House Restaurant To Go and Take Out Design.

“We transitioned to take out and delivery, and that’s its own beast I’m calling it,” she said. “I can’t wait to never have to do it again. But I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point. But yeah, that was kind of a learning curve for us.”

For Baird, survival has been about being inventive and adapting, as relying primarily on food delivery and take out simply wouldn’t have provided enough revenue to ensure survival.

“Well, we’ve never had a patio before. And now in my two parking spots, I have a patio,” she said sounding a little surprised. “I’m thankful to have it, because otherwise I would’ve been closed by now for sure.”

“Guaranteed,” she added. “There’s no way take out and delivery could have paid my rent.”

Adapting the parking lot into a makeshift patio wasn’t the only change that she’s made with her business. Baird also expanded her offerings by adding additional merchandising freezers to sell ready-made meals customers could heat up at home and an online store offering antiques and collectables.

Bar area with merchandise fridge at Hintonburg Public House

Baird soon realised that along with these changes, digital upgrades had to take place to incorporate an evolving business model that relied much more on its website than ever before.

“Before, yes, people could go to our website,” said Baird. “But now, every single customer that comes through my door is going on my website. Plus, if there are people that order in or order takeout,” she added, “they’re still going to my website. So, it needed to function well.”

And with that, Baird says she admittedly required a bit of help.

Enter Digital Main Street and Invest Ottawa

Baird says she reached out with the initial roll-out of the Digital Main Street program to apply for grants and to get help first committing to much needed digital updates and then making them happen.

“Initially, I needed help,” said Baird. “I’m not tech-savvy in any way,” she added. “It’s not something I had the budget for, because I don’t understand it.”

Along the way, she signed up for the Invest Ottawa newsletter. And when she got word of the Transformation Teams available to help small businesses undergo a digital transformation for free through the Future Proof program, she applied “right away”.

“Using someone else’s money was a way to sort of ease into it,” she said.  “And now it is part of my budgeting… I mean it’s 2020,” she quickly added. “I needed to change. I needed to be doing that probably five years ago.”

Baird was soon contacted by a Transformation Team who, over two weeks, worked with her to strengthen her digital strategy. And Baird didn’t waste the opportunity.

“I definitely took as much as they would give me,” she said. “You could do as much or as little as you wanted, if you wanted to keep them busy. And I think I had them very busy,” she added. “They had a lot of good ideas. Things I didn’t think about.”

Digital Strategy at Work

At the core of the changes was updating and optimizing the current website – and redesigning and formatting it to help customers access information quickly and easily whether they were ordering food for delivery or shopping for collectibles and holiday gifts.

Gift Ideas from the Hintonburg Public House Online Gift ShopAnother needed and important change highlighted was to find ways to connect with customers as they remain distanced at home. For Baird, part of the solution was creating a newsletter to share upcoming events and with her customers, which she happily reports now sends to a list of over 100 people since being added to the homepage.

But while the newsletter was key in reaching customers, there was still a need to create a social media strategy to engage with but attract new customers.

On this, the Transformation Team developed a guide to social media advertising, with a library of social media posts and graphics that made it easy for Baird to create posts on her channels.

“Well, after they started talking to me, I think they realized pretty quick that I’m pretty basic when it comes to anything tech,” she shared. “So, I said, ‘I really need you to write it down, point form and just give me a guide.’ So, they made up these social media guides for me, which I use a lot.”

Better Equipped for Tomorrow

Now, with it looking as though pandemic restrictions could possibly continue into 2021, Baird feels better equipped and optimistic for the future after taking part in the Future Proof program.

“I think when we come out the end other end of this, I think my business definitely will be better off,” says Baird. “COVID-19 in general has helped me look at how I can expand my business. It doesn’t have to be just the restaurant. So once we’re through all this, I see my sales getting larger,” she added.

“And I definitely think that invest Ottawa helped me set up the tools that I needed in order to make that happen.”

And for anyone on the fence about applying for Future Proof, Baird offered a little advice.

“It’s free, so why wouldn’t you?” she asked. “I would say make the time.”

To get started on setting up your business for the future for free, apply to the Future Proof program today.

Also, don’t forget to visit the Hintonburg Public House online – whether you’re looking for some great local food options or some one-of-a-kind gifts through their online gift shop. 

Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.


Dec 7, 2020

“As the years go by, coffee education is becoming handy. People want to drink better coffee, and they want to understand where it comes from. And some even push the envelope – they want to feel a part of a community. When they spend their buck on a cup of coffee, they can know they’re investing in other people’s lives.” – Deborah Ntawigirira

4.5 mins | 990 words
By: Katie LeClair

Katie LeClair headshot photoIzere Coffee is a family-run business co-founded by a mother-daughter team. In Ottawa, they sell high-quality Burundian beans at local shops. They also fill orders online and deliver to coffee lovers directly. But to know co-founder Deborah Ntawigirira is to know, Izere Coffee is so much more than that.

A "selfie" photo of mother-daughter co-founding team of Izere Coffee, Deborah Ntawigirira and Consolata NdayishimiyeIzere Coffee is a direct trade business; as the buyer, they work directly with producers. That means they purchase beans from farmers they know and work with cooperatives that share their values. What’s behind the choice to operate this way? Deborah explained that through the business, they want to create a higher quality of life for farmers.

According to their website, “Izere represents hope and faith – values that exemplify the Burundian people’s resilience and optimism.” When you buy Izere Coffee beans, you support a business that treats every actor in the value chain with dignity and respect.

Their story from the beginning

The story of how Izere Coffee came to be is a personal one. Deborah describes herself as a “kid from the war.” She left Burundi as a teenager due to insecurities and, 14 years ago, came to Ottawa hoping for a better future. But she always dreamed of starting a business that built a stronger link between her native country and her home country.

“I could see a link between those two homes. The first was me. And the second could be the business I could create.” This dream started to come together when Deborah’s mom invited her to Burundi to experience coffee production from A-Z. Her mother was already in the cultivation business and wanted her to experience firsthand what washing stations were really like.

That’s where the “ah-ha” moment happened.

“I spend four months in Burundi working with bean farmers. I saw the poverty and resiliency of the people and their faith in coffee production being better. And I saw what women’s economic empowerment can do.” She went on to explain what she thought of her experiences in Ottawa.

“Since I’ve gotten here [to Canada], I’ve always seen at least one Canadian in the streets with a coffee in hand. We’re coffee lovers.” Deborah went on to say, “As the years go by, coffee education is becoming handy. People want to drink better coffee, and they want to understand where it comes from. And some even push the envelope – they want to feel a part of a community. When they spend their buck on a cup of coffee, they can know they’re investing in other people’s lives.”

The obstacle(s)

It was 2014. Deborah was graduating from the University du Québec en Outaouais-UQO. Her focus was on finishing her studies and starting Izere Coffee. But she was new at this. Deborah had never launched a company before, let alone a business with a product to import and export. There was a lot to process and tonnes to learn, with limited funds to do it.

Deborah set out to find people who could help. In her mind, the best step forward was talking to seasoned business owners – experts in Ottawa who had been there and done that. After a Google search, she stumbled on a link to Starter Company Plus, a 4-month cohort-based training program. Would she be selected? Did she even qualify? She wasn’t sure but said, “I saw the program and was like, ‘you know what, I’m just going to apply.'”

Starter Company Plus offers a grant of up to $5000 – that was a bonus. But Deborah was really after something else, “Mostly, I applied because of the education I would get, the context, the information and the connections.” In the end, Deborah was accepted and participating in the program paid off.

Now, six years later, like all business owners worldwide, Deborah faces a new obstacle: the pandemic.

Most of Izere Coffee’s sales were made business-to-business. They had to adjust and pivot by focusing on business-to-consumer sales.

How Invest Ottawa helped

Izere Coffee manages a lot of personal deliveries, with safety being their number one priority. “I started thinking, okay, I’ve got to have all the tools needed for me to complete transactions in a way that protects my clients, but also protect myself.” Deborah explained that she stays home unless fulfilling customers’ orders and invests in the proper protective equipment. Beyond this, she’s focused on the long-term sustainability of the company.

Deborah knew that Izere Coffee needed to “up their game” online.

In the Spotlight newsletter, she noticed Digital Main Street. In this program, she saw her chance to get hands-on help from digital marketing and sales experts – for free. “I have a lot of trust in Invest Ottawa. So, I know if there’s something out there that looks like I could apply, I do.”

Izere Coffee was accepted and assigned a Transformation Team. The team has helped Deborah with her website, re-branded her company, and built an online store. It’s been a lot of hard work in a very short period. Deborah spoke to her experience with Digital Main Street, saying, “I’ve never seen such initiative in my life. Wow. It’s really generous.”

CTV Morning Live interview with Deborah Ntawigirira

The update

Deborah is a human-centred entrepreneur, running a socially responsible, mission-driven business. What she loves most about being Ottawa-based is the community.

“Business means doing business with people. It’s a people thing. I get to see Ottawa’s business side and its people, and I’m falling more in love. That inspires me to bring in great coffee.”

To her fellow early-stage business owners facing obstacles, she shares this piece of advice, “Dig deep, keep the right attitude the right motivation behind your reason why. And just keep on going.”

You can buy Izere Coffee’s high-quality Burundian beans at Seed to Sausage on Gladstone Ave in Ottawa, African Soul on Chemin Vanier in Gatineau or directly from the website.

Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.

Nov 19, 2020

A discussion with Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships, Kara Eusebio

7 mins | 1521 words
By: Katie LeClair

Katie LeClair headshot photoKara Eusebio joined our team in 2017. The organization had just moved from what insiders refer to as Aberdeen – our office building in Little Italy – to “Ottawa’s one-stop acceleration shop,” Bayview Yards. We had a partnerships program with one signed sponsorship agreement but no official division and no full-time staff. Kara was the first. Since then, our Partnerships team has seen an approximate 550% increase in revenue and the strength of the program has received praise from thought-leaders and peers.

Today, sponsorship program leaders across industries and sectors in the for-profit and not-for-profit space manage (and in many cases struggle to manage) the stress and economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. I wanted to connect the now Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships, to uncover what it’s been like at Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards.

I met with Kara – each seated on the other side of our respective laptops – to discuss the five Ws. We talked about the foundation of the program and how it’s been able to scale. We also discussed how COVID-19 had impacted the team’s work and their experience with sponsors since March.

With genuine curiosity, I started our conversation by asking what she envisioned three years ago when she first joined Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards. Her response came quickly, “My goal at the beginning is still the same as it is now: to build a world-class partnerships program… to be the go-to and for people in North America to say, yes, that’s how it’s done.” She expanded, saying,

“I wanted to bring together a group of sponsors that genuinely loved being here [at Bayview Yards and Invest Ottawa] and a program that is high-quality and high-touch. I want people to get a lot of value out of the partnership.”

As she dug in a little deeper, the team’s objectives were clear: secure funding for the programs, fill the needs-based gaps for entrepreneurs and deliver top-quality content, resources, and support

Quality was a consistent theme woven throughout our conversation, emphasized when we talked about partner selection and retention and program delivery. Kara shared that when identifying if a partner is the right fit (if their intentions align with our vision), it comes down to their willingness to try new things to serve entrepreneurs. Are they open and able to adjust based on the needs of small businesses? Invested partners tweak their programs or develop new products or services based on what they hear from business owners and entrepreneurs. And they communicate clients’ needs back to the Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards teams so they can adjust. This willingness to be flexible and to collaborate is what the team seeks to find.

When it comes to the Partnerships team’s delivery, standards are high. Kara confirmed, “we offer the only Canadian accelerator to have a third-party valuation done on our benefits. We did this to ensure we’re giving people and our sponsors all the touchpoints and value they’re looking for to achieve their business objectives and make sure their investment is well spent.”

Beyond a pathway for business development, working with Ottawa’s lead economic development agency at the city’s innovation centre, Partners can develop their own emerging leaders by running workshops, handling consultations, and connecting with the innovation ecosystem. “It’s on the ground skill development… partners have told our team that their connection with us is a part of their recruitment strategy. Their employees don’t sit at a desk all day, but are actively on-site with companies, bringing value and building relationships with business owners and entrepreneurs.”

Kara emphasized that our partners invest time and resources in getting to know us. They intimately understand the challenges startups and SMEs have.

To the Partnerships team, this had never been more evident than when COVID-19 reached our region. As Kara explained it, “sponsors weren’t back on their heels, scrambling. Because they prioritize our partnership – because it’s important to their firms – they could act quickly and give support in real-time.” Whether it was late-night calls, detailed instructional emails or digestible guiding resources for startups and SMEs on navigating our new reality, sponsors were prepared and positioned to help.

As the architect and leader of our Partnerships program, I asked Kara how she felt in March. She shared, “it was frightening in a variety of different ways, for many reasons. We saw reports that sponsorships should see a close to 50% drop in commitments for the year.” But instead of focusing on that, the team focused on providing value.

Many of our sponsors are small businesses themselves. They are a similar size revenue scope to the companies that we serve. And the ones at an enterprise level, they still had and have concerns about local markets.

We focused on adding value and visibility to them as well.

Kara confirmed that the team quickly shifted how they operated.

“We introduced high touchpoints (even higher than usual). Conversations with our sponsors were a couple of times a week. We stepped that up. We were asking them what their pain points were, what they were hearing from people. We facilitated an even greater open dialogue. We introduced flexible payment plans; they’ve been committed to us, and we’re committed to them.”

These changes have been hugely beneficial on many fronts.

Even with the added pressures, our partners didn’t waiver their commitment to supporting small businesses. Highlighting that she shouldn’t have been surprised, Kara explained that for almost all sponsors, their immediate response was the same: they wanted to show up for companies.

A leader at MDK Business Law said,

“If we’re not here for them now when they need us the most, well, what was even the point then?”

Kara shared that she was on the phone at six, seven, eight o’clock at night with RBC and BDC at the beginning of the pandemic. “They were walking us through exactly how, step by step, to get our clients support… they want companies to succeed.” Our partners were there from the start.

RBC is an example of a company that has said, “no, this is the right thing to do. We’re putting our time and resources behind this because small business is the lifeblood of our country.” They established the Canada United Small Business Relief Fund to give much-needed funding to small businesses. The support helps pay for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks, face shields, and latex gloves, and renovation costs so business owners can adhere to local, Provincial or Federal reopening guidelines or improve their e-commerce capabilities. RBC also quickly built a COVID-19 related resources page and provided critical insights to companies on how to access funding through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).

Logan Katz is another example: an accounting firm that introduced the COVID-19 Hub. Their comprehensive webpage provides up-to-date information on economic support measures to help businesses through the pandemic. They intend to help people understand and navigate Canadian programs.

Nelligan O’Brien Payne introduced a free employment law helpline. Anyone can call in and ask questions. To speak to an expert, you don’t have to be a client, just a business in need of support.

Rogers also really stepped up. They committed to supporting small businesses by allowing owners to delay bill payments and offering free Microsoft Teams accounts so teams could stay connected (Kara’s eyes lit up when she recalled that companies couldn’t believe it was true). They partnered with the Ottawa School Board to provide laptops and tablets to kids who don’t have access at home. And they did so quietly. They also expanded their Small Business telecommunications and internet offerings to solopreneurs and others newly working from home.

So many of our partners chose to act and made decisions that directly benefitted people because it was the right thing to do. Kara and the entire Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards team is proud to work with them.

A strong partnership stems from a strong relationship

“In sponsorship, many people assume you make a few calls and secure a new sponsor. The reality is, new sponsors who have joined in the past few months have been in conversation with us for a long time, some since 2017. It’s about building relationships, collaborating on initiatives, trying things out – determining those things that work and things that don’t work. So, when it came time, and the opportunity arose where we could collaborate in an official capacity, to them, it was a no-brainer.”

Today, we have a total of 17 corporate sponsors. To Kara, the changes we have seen over 2020 have introduced a great opportunity for our organization(s) to bring on additional sponsors who understand our mission. They are motivated to be a part of what we’re doing to support businesses and recognize our programs’ value and impact on entrepreneurs and firms.

“Other accelerators and non-profits have reached out to our team, asking how we’ve been able to support our sponsors through COVID-19. They’ve asked how we’ve been adding value. And we’ve been able to help them as well. It’s beyond our sponsors; we are able to support folks in other innovation and non-profit spaces and in the accelerator world too.”

Our sponsors are essential in facilitating key programs and services to local entrepreneurs. As collaborators within the innovation community, their support enables Invest Ottawa to provide access to workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, and events for thousands of entrepreneurs throughout the year.

To see a list of our partners, visit the Invest Ottawa sponsorships page. To register for an upcoming event or workshops, or to book a consultation with our sponsors, visit the Invest Ottawa events page.

Invest Ottawa Host Free Webinars and Virtual Events. Check out our calendar.

Nov 4, 2020

4 mins | 600 words

By: Graham Hood, Partner, and Nicole Boyle, Articling Student, at Smart & Biggar

This is the sort of letter that no one wants to receive: one containing the words “cease and desist.” Whether it arrives by post, email, or someone showing up at your door with a personal delivery, a cease and desist letter almost always means some degree of trouble and expense.

A cease and desist letter regarding intellectual property rights is often sent as a warning. The letter informs the recipient that they have allegedly infringed the sender’s intellectual property rights and asks them to stop their actions immediately. The letter warns the recipient of potential legal action if they don’t comply.

These letters are commonly used for trademark disputes, where the sender claims legal rights to a trademarked word, phrase or design. For example, a cease and desist letter may demand that the recipient stop using the sender’s trademark on commercial merchandise. Cease and desist letters can also be used for any intellectual property right dispute, including patent, copyright or industrial design infringement.

If you’ve received a cease and desist letter, follow these four steps:

  1. Don’t panic

A cease and desist letter demands that the recipient stop doing a specified activity and not restart it in the future. For example, a trademark owner may send a cease and desist letter that demands that the recipient stop using their trademark or a confusingly similar trademark or trade name.

But don’t panic – you’re receiving a cease and desist letter does not mean that the sender is taking you to court. The sender may threaten legal action if you don’t comply with their demands, but it does not always mean that they will start legal proceedings. Most cases are settled without formal legal proceedings or before the legal proceedings go to trial.

  1. Don’t forget the deadline to respond

A cease and desist letter will almost always include a deadline to respond. Often, this deadline has been set by the sender and is flexible. If you acknowledge the letter before the deadline and ask for more time, the sender will usually agree to wait a little bit longer for your complete response.

Failing to respond by the deadline may cause the sender to think that you’re ignoring the letter.

  1. Don’t ignore the letter

You may want to ignore a cease and desist letter and hope that the issue will disappear on its own. However, ignoring the letter will likely lead to bigger problems.

First, you will likely hear from the sender again, potentially with formal legal proceedings. The court’s rules and regulations will set the deadlines for formal legal proceedings, and certain legal expenses will be incurred just to maintain your position. If you try to resolve the issue before formal legal proceedings begin, you will likely have more flexibility and a better chance to control your costs.

Second, if you do end up before a judge, it is better to show that you responded to the complaint promptly and reasonably, instead of having to admit that you simply ignored the complaint.

  1. Do obtain expert legal advice

Whether the cease and desist letter comes from a law firm or directly from the complainant, do not assume that the sender’s assessment of your legal position is correct. They may have incorrectly interpreted the facts or the law. You may also have prior rights or a stronger position than the complainant. The law may be unobvious or unclear, so it is important to turn to the experts.

There may be other options for dealing with a valid complaint beyond simply stopping your activities as the letter demands for trademark cases. Purchasing the complainant’s trademark rights, selling your own trademark rights, or entering into a coexistence or licensing agreement with the complainant are examples of possible solutions. An expert can help ensure that you know your full range of options before you decide how to respond.


Smart & Biggar logo


Smart & Biggar helps the world’s leading tech companies protect and leverage their IP and advises them on how to use IP Strategy to secure growth across the world. Headquartered in Ottawa with a national presence, Smart & Biggar has a consistent track record and reputation as the IP and tech law leaders in Canada.

Nov 2, 2020

The pandemic has hit every industry and business hard, none more than small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a major driver of Canada’s economic growth, trade and innovation. How this group positions itself for the future may spell the difference between a serious recession and a depression as the economy reopens.

As a critical contributor to employment, economic activity and family wealth, SMEs are typically owner-operated, regionally based and concentrated in several labour-intensive sectors. They are especially vulnerable to economic downturns and unexpected disruptions and often lack the resources to bounce back quickly. SMEs don’t have the advantages of larger companies in terms of market power, access to capital, multi-jurisdiction revenue diversification, and management and capability depth.

COVID-19 hit this sector particularly hard, with many SMEs facing corporate insolvency or significant revenue declines. While government support has helped, most recognize financial relief is not indefinite and possibly insufficient to maintain pre-COVID operations and growth prospects. Other looming business risks include public health warnings of a second wave, a potential U.S.-China trade war, and possible supply chain and channel partner disruptions further complicate their outlook.

Most leaders have adjusted and are beginning to explore how they can reignite their growth engines and improve operational resilience. The challenge is to understand what has changed and its impact on their future operating environment. Transformational developments could include:

  • Potential for a significant drop in consumer demand due to higher unemployment, potentially higher taxes and reduced disposable income;
  • Reduction in available capital for investment and working capital for companies with weak balance sheets;
  • Fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour – reduced aggregate demand and a shift to online commerce;
  • Possible significant labour shortages in certain regions, sectors and skillsets (despite high unemployment) due to pandemic effects, internal migration between localities and immigration restrictions; and,
  • Changing work, office and travel practices, and how it impacts business development, infrastructure management, customer service and role definition.

We recommend taking the following steps today to set your business up for a more sustainable future.

  1. Get an in-depth grasp of your financial situation, both from a cash flow and balance sheet perspective. You need up-to-date and accurate information to make critical decisions;
  2. Revisit any shift in customer and channel needs – customers may be trading down within categories, deferring or even abandoning purchases;
  3. Reconsider your operating model. The ability to quickly and efficiently scale operations will be necessary when the economy re-inflates – consider new operational approaches;
  4. Accelerate digital adoption. Though it may be painful, now is an ideal time to automate manual, routine activities and digitally enable operations and value delivery. The use of advanced data analytics can improve decision making, optimize spending and enable tighter customer relationships;
  5. Retool your supply chains to build resilience and reduce operational risk – look to diversify your supplier base, including adding local vendors;
  6. Prioritize talent management. The operational agility required in these difficult times puts a premium on having a skilled yet flexible workforce. Companies should emphasize generalist skill sets and IT competencies in their recruiting and revisit their training and succession plans;
  7. Explore untapped markets. Seek out new markets that could be disrupted with existing strategies, products, brands and capabilities;
  8. Be realistic – your enterprise may be in a particular industry that may not bounce back to what it was pre-COVID. It may be time to consider a strategic pivot.

Building a recovery plan doesn’t have to be a challenge you face alone. MNP is ready to support businesses as they explore opportunities and examine their path ahead. Visit

A woman working on a laptop. The text reads, "Invest Ottawa hosts free webinars and virtual events. Visit our calendar."

MNP logoMNP is a leading national accounting, tax and business consulting firm in Canada. We proudly serve and respond to the needs of our clients in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Through partner-led engagements, we provide a collaborative, cost-effective approach to doing business and personalized strategies to help organizations succeed across the country and around the world.

MNP is a valued Invest Ottawa sponsor. Our sponsors are essential in facilitating key programs and services to local entrepreneurs. As collaborators within the innovation community, their support enables Invest Ottawa to provide access to workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, and events for thousands of entrepreneurs throughout the year.