Entrepreneurs soar as economy sinks

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City business licences up by 50 per cent

After 25 years in the construction business Yvonne Irnich had seen it all. But seeing her hard work burned to a crisp by arson a mere few hours after finishing the rough construction of an Edmonton garage suite was too much.

“I was tired,” she said. “I had been doing it for such a long time and it was getting more stressful every year. (The fire) was a signal for me: now it’s enough.”

She retired as a project manager and decided that her next venture would be a little more fun and a lot more hands on. This summer Irnich, with the help of her son Felix and husband Johannes, started a gelato business.

Unable to find the European-style gelato her German palette had grown accustomed to growing up, the idea had been at the back of her mind for a while. “Johannes said ‘You should start making gelato again.’ It was just this one sentence. It got stuck in my head. And when that fire happened I decided now I’m doing it,” said Irnich.

Now, she jumps out of bed in the morning. DaVinci Gelato Originale is one of the 287 new businesses that have set up shop in the city in the past year. In the first nine months of the year, the city issued more than 380 new business licences – 130 of those were for home-based companies. This represents a 50-per-cent increase in total number of business licences issued over the period of January through September 2014 and a 16.2-per-cent increase in home-based licences.

According to Joan Barber, manager of business retention and expansion at the City of St. Albert, the city has issued a record number of licences this year (total 2015 numbers are not yet publicly available) and this is partly due to the downturn in the economy. “When the economy softens we tend to have more home-based businesses,” she said. “I think what happens is people lose their jobs and they’ll start a business at home. Then we notice that when the economy springs back we’ll have a few less of those businesses.” She noticed a similar trend – a noticeable rise in home-based businesses, often consulting services – in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.

Non-resident business licences tend to decrease during times of economic difficulty as well, often contributing to the hike in home-based businesses. “We saw that in 2009. We saw businesses moving into their homes to get rid of their overhead,” said business licensing inspector Cheryle Wong. Whether a passion project, a side business or a necessary move to keep food on the table, there are plenty of reasons St. Albertans choose to start a home business.

After 14 years of working in IT for large corporations, Donovan Elder felt he had enough knowledge to branch out on his own. His computer consulting service, Tech4Hire, supports smaller businesses with new computer set up, ongoing support, anti-virus, backups and other services and offers Elder some flexibility in his scheduling.

For AndrĂ© Bugeaud, the prospect of not having to commute to Edmonton every day prompted him to relocate his design build company to his home in St. Albert. “Having (the business) in St. Albert is cost-effective for clients and saves me from being on the road, which I detest anyway,” said the owner of DWELL Design.

The Vellow family started Watch Dogzz, a home and pet-sitting service in August after Charlene Vellow noticed a need for more adequate pet care in the community. Prior to moving to St. Albert, Charlene and her husband were in the plumbing and heating business. The family still travels to their cottage in Ontario and needed to find a temporary home for their dog. Difficulties with finding a kennel – some were full at the time – meant her husband drove the dog to the cottage, while the rest of the family flew.

“We kept talking about this need for somebody to look after your dog when you’re not here that you can trust and who will love them like you love them,” said Charlene.

The business also plays on her passion for pooches. “We just really love dogs,” she said, adding that this is her dream job.

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Michelle Ferguson