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It takes a community to raise… a growing Calgary business

When Jean-Marc Robin and Gillian Williamson decided to move west to Calgary in 2015, they knew no one.

Well, maybe Robin had one friend in Calgary and Williamson had some family in Lethbridge, but as business owners, they had no footprint in the city.

The pair, who specialize in commercial and wedding photography and video productions with their business Studio Lumen, were business partners in the Toronto area prior to heading to Calgary.  When Robin’s wife was tabbed to do her residency in clinical psychology in the city, it looked like the prime opportunity to pull up the stakes and head to the mountains.

“When Jean-Marc said he was moving out to Calgary, it was the kick in the bum I needed to get up and move out here,” said Williamson, whose background is in film production.

“We all came out here and it was great we could all be a support network. We knew no one out here.”

Once they arrived in Calgary, the artistic duo focused on their wedding photography, networking and building the business from that perspective.

“That’s where we first noticed – everyone was so welcoming and friendly and wanted to help us,” said Robin.

“That was the difference we noticed between here and Toronto. We’ve only just come to realize that it works in way more than the wedding business.”

Both Robin and Williamson point to Calgary’s burgeoning brewery scene and their collaboration as another example.

Whether it’s the Brewmuda Triangle or the city’s growing Barley Belt, the brewers, while competitive, herald the better-as-a-community approach.

Erica O’Gorman, co-owner of Barley Belt brewery, Annex Ale Project, said their industry realized it was far more beneficial to work together than to operate in isolation.

“What’s really great about beer culture is that most people don’t have just one beer and then go home,” O’Gorman said, noting it was more beneficial for breweries to be in close proximity to each other to draw bigger crowds and so people could tour around.

“We don’t see it as highly competitive, but more collaborative.”

Calgary’s tech sector is also benefiting from the community approach.

Andrew Browne, founder of the secondary ticket market site TikTiks and head of Start Up Calgary, said ongoing collaboration has also pushed the city’s tech scene forward.

“It’s easier to navigate the scene than it was a couple years ago,” Browne said.

“There’s been a push to get everyone on the same page and working together to make sure they get access to the right resources at the right time.”

As their business grew, so did the network for both Robin and Williamson. Robin took part in the Business Network International meetings and they enrolled in the ATB X Accelerator program.

ATB X Accelerator is a business incubator program that brings together 20 entrepreneurs for 14 weeks for mentorship, strategic support, co-working space and access to network connections.

“The idea sharing that happens here is incredible,” Robin said.

“I’ve never seen anyone really cheer for a bank before.”

They were able to share ideas, problems and discover solutions with their groups and they still meet together as entrepreneurs for support and guidance.

Today, as a result of the community that helped them build their business, the pair celebrated the opening of their first brick and mortar location at #110, 2719 – 7 Avenue NE.

Nearly half of the attendees were past and present collaborators who helped them get where they are today. Companies like Eau Claire Distillery, Crack’d YYC Food Truck, Born Colorado Brewery and HOF Chocolate were there to not only help with the opening, but have participated with them for some time.

“That we’ve only been here for three years and that they have our backs so quickly – it’s amazing,” said Williamson.

The launch party on June 24 was not only to open up a new, physical space. Robin and Williamson said it was to help show appreciation for those other entrepreneurs who helped them get there.

And now they want to do their part to help the next batch of would-be entrepreneurs – with their new location as a hub, but also cost-sensitive options to help those up-and-comers who are trying to get their business off the ground.

“We want our business to be a connection point. A hub of connections would be amazing,” said Robin.

“We want to give back because of those who have helped us.”