What has evolved into a network of vibrant entrepreneurs connecting, sharing ideas and elevating their businesses together got its start in the most unusual and unlikely of ways: bonding over Beyoncé during a one-off spinning class.
Wheelhouse Cycle owners Nadine Hogan and Heather Andrews share a love of the pop star’s music with Katie Frappier and Régine Paquette, owners of Victoire clothing boutique located right across the street in trendy Wellington West.
The businesswomen had already established themselves as networkers, often gathering with like-minded, well-attuned peers in local coffee shops, until the swell of attendees no longer fit the space.
A couple of years ago, the women decided to host a private evening class at their spinning studio, playing only tunes from Beyoncé’s then-new album, Lemonade. After the ride, participants were invited to head to Victoire for a special discount shopping night, enjoyed with lemon-flavoured cocktails.
The evening was a smashing success. It also resulted in the women forming a new friendship with Anna Lambert, who’s recently been named a 2018 Forty Under 40 recipient. Not only is Lambert a Wheelhouse regular, but she’s also the director of talent acquisition at Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify.
Together, the five natural-born connectors decided to use their knack of bringing people together for a greater purpose. And with that, The Guild was born.
It works like this: The women get members of the business community under one roof to tackle topics and issues that are relevant to them all. They gear their gatherings toward established entrepreneurs who may work in different areas but are dealing with the same sorts of problems or issues.
“It’s a place for all of us to come together and to meet each other and to put a face to a business that you may walk by every day on the streets of Ottawa,” said Hogan. “It’s a space for us to learn from each other, and a space to connect.”
The format always changes, whether it’s a guest speaker, a panel discussion or a workshop. Participants are encouraged to keep their dialogue open and honest and to never be afraid to show their vulnerable side.
The founders don’t profit from The Guild; they charge $35 a ticket, which is enough to cover the costs of running the events.
“At its core, The Guild is really about business owners coming together and saying, ‘I have a skill that I can teach you, and you have one that you can teach me, so together we can work to make the Ottawa community better.’”
“At its core, The Guild is really about business owners coming together and saying, ‘I have a skill that I can teach you, and you have one that you can teach me, so together we can work to make the Ottawa community better,’” said Andrews.
The founders hold regular planning sessions to brainstorm ideas.
“We never want to put on an event that we wouldn’t want to go to,” said Hogan, who along with her business partner Andrews hails from Mount Pearl, Nfld.
It’s been nearly a year since the group hosted its first gathering at Shopify headquarters on Elgin Street, featuring guest speaker Janice McDonald, the founder of consulting group the Beacon Agency and a strong female voice in Ottawa business.
Since then, catering giant Sheila Whyte, Manx Pub manager Stephen Taylor and Lambert – all of whom are well-known and respected for their HR acumen – were part of a panel discussion called Surviving the SH%*Storm: Managing Your Culture & People for the Long Haul, also held at Shopify.
Human side of business
As well, Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards shared her story of opening her west-end café, Quitters, with the group. That session was held at Edwards’ coffee shop in Stittsville.
Most recently, seasoned entrepreneur and business coach Manjit Basi was back in a public speaking role – her first time since suffering a serious concussion two years ago – to offer tips on how to be a good business leader.
During the last Monday night of April, some 50 people – predominantly women – gathered at Bayview Yards, where Basi spoke about the human side of doing business.
Basi has ample experience behind her, having successfully run four locations of The Body Shop in Ottawa for a 20-year span before going on to co-found and serve as the first executive director of Synapcity, a non-profit organization focused on citizen engagement.
One of the secrets to good leadership, she told her audience, is to be curious, generous and empathetic.
“You’ve got to approach things with a beginner’s mind and a wondrous awe of what is happening with your people, your customers, your product and your service,” said Basi. “You have to be in deep questioning mode all the time.”
When it comes to generosity, she said, “It’s that generosity of time and the spirit of presence for that human connection that people need in your organizations.”
As for being able to understand or feel what another person is experiencing, it’s important to know the reality of an employee’s situation, said Basi, who followed up with the story of a woman who was at risk of being fired because she was regularly late for work.
It turned out she was a single mom with childcare issues. The solution was easy: Have her start later in the day when she was more available.
The Guild’s next talk is on June 13 with Diane Hodgins, the CFO of the Shorefast Foundation, which owns the spectacular Fogo Island Inn located in a remote part of Newfoundland. She’ll be talking about how business, culture and community can work together to strengthen all three elements.
The public can get more information at theguildottawa.myshopify.com or be added to the newsletter emailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org.