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Start-ups are cool. They are buzzing.They are on trend. Just the phrase “start-up” brings to mind visions of creative genius, torn jeans, scrubby beards and paint smears. Start-ups, especially in the tech industry, is a 35 and under endeavour. 


But what else are start-ups? Besides being the career dream for the millennial generation, many researchers are discovering that small business and the entrepreneurial spirit are critical for the health and vitality of cities. Having a truly cosmopolitan centre means having some means of fostering youthful, creative vision to produce great things for our culture and communities.


Enter Edmonton, Alberta. The city of Edmonton has long been known for its rich art, music and festival scene. A government and university town, Edmonton is crawling with that demographic considered the core of the start-up movement – young, educated and well-to-do. With fewer large corporations eating up young talent, there should be lots of room for entrepreneurs to dive in and get growing.


There’s a caveat. Although Edmonton is a creative community and a less business-centric city than its counterpart to the south, it’s closer to the vast oil sands that draw in skilled workers like a magnet. Rather than jump into small business and try their hand at charting their own course, many of Edmonton’s enterprising youth find their career paths in the vast opportunities of the oil-rich north.


Solution? Use some of that cash to create a community of techies, creatives and entrepreneurs in Edmonton’s downtown core. Bring a cosmopolitan vibe to a city that’s bursting at the seams with oil money and big public contracts.


Hello Startup Edmonton. Co-founded by Ken Bautista, the start-up incubator in the heart of Edmonton was funded to foster creativity and a community of “change-makers”. Trying to stop the brain and creative drain off to rich and demanding oil companies is no easy feat but Start-Up Edmonton has a good thing going. Located in a trendy district in a former warehouse called The Mercer, Start-Up Edmonton is 18,000 feet of open-space shared work area in a building with a ton of 20th Century charm. 


Startup has planted itself in an area with fantastic development potential, too. Nearby restaurants, coffee-shops and wine cafes all feed into the culture of the young, tech-savvy entrepreneur, dreaming of the big time in California but loving Edmonton for its home-sweet-home appeal.


Edmonton has the potential to grow some great entrepreneurs. And young, business-minded and creative people are more likely to stick around if they see people like themselves living and thriving in Edmonton’s revitalized downtown. Added to that is the allure of investment dollars. All those big oil bucks need to go somewhere. With a great start at a business incubator like Start up Edmonton, entrepreneurs are more likely to get the capital needed to hit the big time.


Edmonton often finds itself on the losing side of the battle for warm bodies and skilled workers to its southern, capital savvy cousin Calgary. However, fostering and encouraging business start-up incubators like Start-Up Edmonton is a fantastic way to turn these fortunes around. 


What do you think? Is Edmonton the new mecca of creatives, techies and new business owners in Western Canada? Or is Start-Up Edmonton a one-off in a sleepy government town with too many comfortable bureaucrats?


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