Shaping the growth of uptown

Local businesses form the backbone of Uptown Waterloo, making our urban core an area with a unique draw.

These entrepreneurial endeavours contribute to the local economy by reinforcing the Uptown area as a destination spot and employing both students and long-term residents of Waterloo.

Three of those businesses, the Princess Cafe, Loop Clothing and Sustainable Waterloo, are owned and/or operated by young entrepreneurs.
Marc Lecompte is the 26-year-old owner of the Princess Cafe, located at 46 King St. N. Although he has been working at the cafe since its opening in 2006, he bought it on Oct. 1 of this year.

The cafe serves fresh, homemade soups, salads and delicious sandwiches, as well as locally made desserts and pastries. His food philosophy in three words is “simple…but awesome.”

He continued, “The fact that we just focus on soups and sandwiches is important. It’s what we’re good at and that’s why people come here, so the emphasis on simplicity is important.”

Alnoor Keshvani is the 32-year-old owner of Loop Clothing, which he started in 2004. Loop is a streetwear boutique that sells high quality, exclusive brands, and is located at 56 King St. N.

When asked what his original concept for the store was, Keshvani answered, “The key for me was that I wanted to open up a shop that wasn’t just a shop. I wanted it to be a destination for people to come and be active participants in the culture.”

Mike Morrice is the 26-year-old executive director and co-founder of Sustainable Waterloo, a non-profit that works with organizations in Waterloo Region to help them reduce their environmental impact.

Currently, this mission takes the form of the Regional Carbon Initiative, where businesses set voluntary goals to reduce their carbon emissions and work to lower their emissions over time.

He said that what he loves about his organization is that they are “adding to the discussion around meaningful reductions and tracking that action — as opposed to all the greenwash that exists out there — and providing a vehicle for communicating that change.”

The difference of being a young business owner

Getting a new business or non-profit off the ground is no easy task. It means working long hours, sometimes without pay, and spending less time with family and friends.

For Lecompte, the biggest drawback of working such long hours is spending less time with his two-year-old daughter, Clover.

At the same time, having a daughter helps him to stay focused and keep business going well.

“All my priorities shifted when I had a child, so now it’s like I just want to work hard and do a killer job so that she has a good situation,” he said.

When asked how being young adds new challenges to an already stressful task, Keshvani laughed, “I remember walking into major banks and being like this is what I’m looking to do, and they’re looking at me like ‘how old are you kid?’ So there was that sense of ageism right off the bat.”

Morrice stated that his biggest challenge being a young entrepreneur was building a network and making connections with the business world.

“One of the biggest take-aways for me in the past few years is the importance of building long-term relationships with people across the community,” he stated.

Despite these drawbacks, all three people stressed the benefits of starting young.

Keshvani and Lecompte both benefited from loans and mentorship through the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), which aims to help young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 34 to start their own business.

Keshvani also pointed to knowledge of new media as being a benefit of being young.

“One of the things I was able to do because of my young age was finesse my PR channels really well, letting major publications know that this is who I am, this is what we’re doing,” he said, “And because I was young they were interested, so that was the spin.”

Morrice emphasized that particularly when the people involved in an organization are young, a strong sense of passion shines through.

“A real benefit of it all was the passion we brought to the whole thing, and I think people really find that refreshing and are excited by it and rally around that.”

Sustainable Waterloo certainly makes use of young talent, as the organization is driven by volunteers and co-op students.

According to Morrice, engaging students “adds to the diversity of the organization so that when we have our team meetings and talk about how we’re going to approach this issue that we have a younger perspective as well an older perspective.”

“When it comes to volunteering for us, it’s about not just having them contribute to what we’re doing, but having them focus on their professional development and what they’re going to get out of it,” Morrice also noted of mutual benefit that arises from engaging students as volunteers.

Why Uptown?

“I’m really proud to say that like 80 per cent of the time out of the year I’m walking to work,” said Keshvani. Indeed, this holds true for Lecompte and Morrice as well; all three men live within walking distance of their work and all three are invested and involved in the local Uptown community.

Keshvani continued, “I live Uptown, I own property Uptown, and I just bought a loft on the other side. It’s really important to me that I’m not just a business owner, I’m also a community member and I participate in the community.”

“Everyone wants each other to succeed because if one business doesn’t succeed then it’s bad for the area, you know what I mean? Everyone wants to see each other do really well so we can keep Uptown vibrant,” said Lecompte of the close community of independent business owners in Uptown.

From an environmental point of view, Sustainable Waterloo’s central Uptown office location also helps the business stay true to its values. As Morrice said, “If we were going to think about an office space, Uptown was preferred, on a bus route was preferred as well, in a central location was important.”

The office space itself has helped Sustainable Waterloo develop a better team dynamic. According to Morrice, “Having this office space has really done a lot to our team’s culture and our team identity, and I can’t say enough about how having a space really allows a team identity and a team dynamic to grow.”

Growing the Business

Being a young entrepreneur allows space for innovation and creativity, pointed out Lecompte, who stated, “I can put potato chips on a sandwich for a lunch special if I want. There’s just a lot more license to do what I want to do.”

Although Lecompte has only owned the Princess Cafe for less than two months, he has already renovated the space and has plans for putting a greater emphasis on catering and making the cafe more of a destination for community events.

“I want do like B-movie nights and music video nights. I feel like the environment, the way we’ve changed the way it is in here, is more conducive to hanging out and doing fun stuff in here.”

According to Keshvani, Loop Clothing has grown incredibly since its inception.
To grow it further, he has started a new initiative called Fresh Almighty, which will offer an expanded inventory along the same lines as Loop, but online.

“My goal is to be able to be Canada’s top online sneaker-wear retailer,” he said of his business objectives. Sustainable Waterloo will continue to grow membership in the Regional Carbon Initiative.

They currently have 29 member businesses who have pledged to reduce their emissions, and they aim to have 50 members by the end of next year.

The business is also looking towards new areas in which they can help businesses reduce their environmental impact.

Morrice is currently “looking at other environmental impact areas such as water, waste, product lifecycle and seeing which one of those might make sense for us to work on.”

In terms of advice for young entrepreneurs, Keshvani stressed the importance of having a good support system.

“It’s important for any young entrepreneur to surround themselves with like-minded people and a support structure that they can lean on, because, you know, it’s tough working day in day out, really long days, and eating Kraft Dinner when you go home.”

“It’s a tough lifestyle, but it’s one of those things that when you stretch it out, in due time, it will pay off ten-fold. I guarantee it,” Keshvani concluded.

The brightest and youngest entrepreneurs

Mark Zuckerberg, 26

Co-founder of Facebook, which is set to bring in about $1 billion in revenue this year alone according to various reports. Zuckerberg’s own wealth is estimated to be somewhere in the vicinity of $4 billion.

Stacey Bendet, 32

Bendet co-founded alice + olivia, a successful women’s clothing line that makes a reported $50 million annually, which she now runs by herself. Collections are now sold in over 800 stores around the world.

Dennis Crowley, 33, and Naveen Selvadurai, 28

These two founded Foursquare, which allows users to alert Facebook and Twitter friends and followers of the places they’ve been. The social networking and software combination is worth approximately $80 million.

David Chang, 32

Chang created Momofuku, a New York City noodle bar that now has overflowing restaurants across the entire city. He has authored a cookbook and made the 2010 Time 100 list.

Chad Hurley, 34; Steve Chen, 32; Jawed Karim, 31

These three youngsters co-founded the video-sharing website YouTube from an office in a garage in 2005. Its worth is unknown, but Google bought it in November of 2006 for $1.65 billion.

Kevin Rose, 33

Rose created Digg, a content-sharing website with an estimated revenue of about $31 million.