In our #OTTChangemaker series, presented in partnership with RBC, we shine a spotlight on business owners in Ottawa to share some of their stories and highlight the challenges they face in hopes of driving positive change through their example and leadership.
By working to help entrepreneurs overcome barriers keeping them from bringing their ideas forward, Ottawa’s Purpose Fuel started with a mission to help older entrepreneurs launch their passion projects.
Today, they’re actively working to reach other communities looking to overcome barriers and carry out their vision.
The Story: Purpose Fuel
Jesse Pyne is no stranger to starting ventures with the hopes of breaking down barriers.
In 2018, he started his social entrepreneurship journey by co-founding Salon Tao, an eco-conscious hair salon offering gender-free services and pricing to address inequities in the salon industry.
When the pandemic essentially shut down his salon venture, he took it as an opportunity to help another community that he discovered was facing challenges.
“I had some time to breathe and consider what I really wanted – and needed to be doing,” he said. “The result was Purpose Fuel.”
The Problem: Turning Passion into Possibilities
Founded in 2020, Ottawa’s Purpose Fuel was born from Jesse’s previous work experience as a Personal Support Worker with Carefor Health and Community Services, where he had many chances to engage with older individuals who had incredible business ideas – but just couldn’t find a pathway to bring them to life.
In this capacity, Jesse quickly identified a community that needed help.
“I would go into people’s homes, and they would open up about their achievements, their passions and their dreams with this infectious glimmer in their eyes,” he said.
“I realized that an alarming amount of people were struggling with the same thing: they all had these really cool things they couldn’t wait to share with the world and were quite discouraged by all of the barriers they faced.”
Purpose Fuel was founded as a design agency helping older adults in Ottawa to bring their creative projects to life, foster social participation and to find their purpose. It offers services such as e-commerce, web development, multimedia design, advertising and branding, and also provides consulting and training to help with digital platforms and technology.
Jesse feels Purpose Fuel has helped an older segment of the community with ideas for great projects who have been reluctant or unable to make them happen due to common barriers such as technology, a lack of resources, and reaching a primarily focused online population.
“Technology and the internet have enabled a lot of voices to be heard that were once left out,” he said. “But there are voices missing, and some of those voices are struggling to be heard more than ever because they aren’t where we are all looking.”
New Additions and Adding to the Purpose
With a new business taking root, Jesse took advantage of Invest Ottawa’s Starter Company Plus program, which provides early-stage entrepreneurs with fundamental learning to start their businesses strong. According to Jesse, the program helped shift his perspective of what the company could be – and who it can serve.
“The focus for the cohort I was in was business owners of colour, and I gained a lot of insight throughout my time in the program,” he said. “I was able to see in real-time how these resources were helping my fellow participants follow their passions and build really amazing things.”
Another significant factor in the broadening of the market for Purpose Fuel was the addition of Sarah Ricciardelli, who came from a background in social work and was focused on and driven to reach additional groups who they felt needed their services.
And to Jesse, who identifies as a trans, neurodiverse and multicultural entrepreneur, broadening the market added additional importance to the vision of Purpose Fuel.
“In the process, Sarah really began instilling their own sense of purpose into our overall vision,” Jesse explained. “This involved putting some intentionality into reaching the 2SLGBTQ+ community, as well as business owners with disabilities.”
“And as a business owner living at those exact intersections,” he added. “It very quickly found a place in my own soul and vision.”
Breaking Down Barriers for the 2SLGBTQ+ Community
To bring attention to those in the community who might need inclusive and queer-friendly digital services, Purpose Fuel introduced a Pride Promotion, offering a 30% discount for services to 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, groups and organizations for June to September.
Jesse pointed out that the introduction of the promotion led to the company identifying as being a queer-run business in the Ottawa community – something he says they haven’t made a point of up to now, but he’s hoping it will help to further encourage others to bring their projects forward.
“As a queer-owned business, we know we aren’t succeeding if we are perpetuating the same barriers that we face,” he said.
“We believe that the ‘by and for’ business model is a very powerful community-building tool for marginalized groups. It’s our sincere hope that our Pride Promotion will provide 2SLGBTQ+ people with access to services that bring them solidarity and respect — not just a space where they feel accepted or tolerated.”
With his background in branding, Jesse is aware of the associated risk. As he puts it, “the consumer’s perception of a business can be a make-or-break deal.”
“But hey,” he added, “by being visible, by finding support in our communities and by creating something amazing, maybe we can shift that perception a bit and show the world that: “Yes, we can be ourselves and run a successful business that brings meaning to our lives.”
“Just in being visible as queer business owners, we are putting our businesses at the mercy of our customers’ preconceptions,” he said. “It can be dangerous, it can be discouraging, it can hinder success, and it’s one of the reasons behind why our community is more likely to experience socio-economic disadvantage.”
Based on the inspiration of his Starter Company Plus experience, and his and Sarah’s passion for community building and organization, Jesse says they’ll be renting a space for local 2SLGBTQ+ business owners, artists, and anyone, for profit or not, who is “doing their own thing.”
Jesse said the space will be offered starting in August, and anyone interested in learning more can sign up for more information through a form on the Purpose Fuel website.
“The main objectives,” Jesse explained, “would be to provide a safe supportive space to share experiences, creative ideas for overcoming some of the unique barriers we face, opportunity to swap services, and ideally work together to make an impact on the community as a collective.”
For now, Jesse is optimistic that the Pride Season promotion and future promotions will help break down barriers for all entrepreneurs in the Ottawa community and help drive positive change.
“I don’t feel that we’ve moved the needle as of yet,” he said. “But we hope that promotions like this allow us to move in that direction and connect with the people who really need services with our unique approach.”
“We’ve definitely seen an impact on individual businesses and business owners. And it’s an awesome feeling to be able to offer that.”