New life is being pumped into downtown Winnipeg.
Thanks to Downtown Winnipeg Biz’s 4th Launch It! Retail Incubator and Pop Up program, three local entrepreneurs have new retail space and a chance to grow their businesses.
Eric Olek, Josiah Koppanyi and Jason Abbot have set up shop at the former Warehouse One location on the corner of Portage Avenue and Carlton Street.
The program provides local, up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a rent-free space for three to four months. In return, the entrepreneurs take part in a series of workshops that focus on areas such as marketing, finance and real estate. After the rent-free period is up, the entrepreneurs can consider a long-term lease.
'It would be great if property managers and developers can offer their space to us so that we can continue to support more entrepreneurs'— Jason Syvixay, managing director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ
Jason Syvixay, managing director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said many young entrepreneurs don’t know how to get started in the downtown market.
"That kind of navigation can be a barrier," he said. "They don’t know where to go, they don’t know who to talk to... we see ourselves as being well-positioned as being the front door to entrepreneurship downtown because we have all these contacts.
"We think it’s really important to invest in that talent pool. They’re all so eager to invest in downtown, they need the support. They’re the ones that are cool, creative; they’re hip. They’re going to bring their audience into the downtown — that’s going to benefit everyone."
Syvixay said one of the challenges is finding more space.
"We have a list of entrepreneurs that want to take part, and sometimes you don’t have the space," he said. "It would be great if property managers and developers can offer their space to us so we can continue to support more entrepreneurs."
That was one of the challenges Olek faced last year. He reached out to Syvixay looking for space, but nothing was available until now.
Olek, 26, is the creative mind behind Friday Knights Clothing, which sells street wear in the form of T-shirts, tank tops and hats. According to Olek, the clothing is "very hip hop and skateboard oriented." He said he’s always had a thing about the way he he dressed, "even if I was just matching my sneakers to my hat when I was a little punk kid."
He started the brand when he was 21.
"At the time, I was unemployed and at the very worst point in my life," he said.
"I just got inspired by people doing stuff in the city, whether it was DJ-ing or promoting," said Olek, adding he always had very strong ties to the city’s hip hop community. He said the brand took off in the last 18 months and has now become "synonymous with Winnipeg hip hop."
For Koppanyi, 27, art has always been a part of his life.
"Being an artist was always this airy-fairy idea that was like, ‘yeah that would be really, really great, but completely impractical.’ "
He studied education at university but continued to paint.
"That’s what I really, really liked. That’s when my soul came out," he said. "It was like I was able to be me."
Koppanyi quit university and rented a gallery space on Arlington Street. Syvixay reached out to Koppanyi and offered him the chance to move into the space on Portage Avenue.
"This is the first time in my life where all of a sudden, this airy-fairy dream I had as a kid is not airy-fairy anymore — it’s tangible, and it’s actually selling," said Koppanyi.
The space will also feature the work of Jason Abbott, CEO of Oi Furniture and a former contestant on Dragons’ Den. His modular furniture will decorate the store, and is already being featured in the Manitoba Children’s Museum.
The Launch It! Retail Incubator and Pop Up Shop opens today and is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.