Everything Yellowknife

Where are the Entrepreneurs

This is a post of me thinking out loud. It is something I have thought about a lot actually. I have been hesitant to share the thought, as I try to keep my opinions to myself and just generate the conversation, but I don’t think I can for this one.

I just finished reading the article in the Yellowknifer about how summer student numbers for the government jobs is a lot lower this year than last year. This got me thinking about jobs, life in the north, us as youth and entrepreneurs. I have always felt as though Yellowknife does not have a very large community of entrepreneurs, although Yellowknife is not a very big community. I have always gotten this feeling that working for the government, which is a large employer for Yellowknife, was an “easy” job to have. I’m definitely not saying that the job is easy to do, but rather it offers more security, benefits and money than working in the private sector.

During the last couple of years, I have seen more and more government workers who really can’t wait for 5pm Friday. They really care less about there job, just about the weekend. In my opinion, that is not a healthy way to live. Sure some may notDatacenter Work have much of a choice, but I believe, a person should at least enjoy what they do. Am I completely wrong about this observation? I have always wanted to do something I love, and that is what I am doing. Sure the money is not very good now, but it will start coming. If I am doing something I’m passionate about and willing to do without being paid, wont the end product be better?

To go off that thought and on to entrepreneurs, where are you by the way? Again, just an observation, which I  may be pulling from left field, but are those government jobs taking away from those who probably have great ideas a business but don’t want to risk it. If you look at other cities and towns around the country you’ll see small start-ups all over the place. Sure there is government, but it never seems as prominent. Maybe it is just the demographic of Yellowknife, and we can’t support both.

It seems that if you are an entrepreneur in this town you need to be well-connected to get off the ground, which is rare, unless you are high up. So when you have someone like me, who is not connected, it take a lot of work, time, sweat, blood, and money! I would love to see more in this town for small entrepreneurs, other than government funding. One idea I had, which I got from another town, was a possible sub-chamber off of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, but categorize for those under 35 or less that 20 or 10 employees. I’m not sure how exactly it would work, but something where a group of similar like-minded people could come together and support each other however that can.

These are just some scrambled thoughts from a small town entrepreneur who is building a business around a very new medium. Lets get the discussion going. Am I completely bonkers and out of my mind? Or do you see something similar? Hey and if you’re a small business owner trying to make your passion work, give me a shout. I want to help out the little guys (and the big guys).


About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, writer, baker, and Yellowknife Advocate who is addicted to learning as much as he can about the community and sharing it with anyone who'll listen. In 2009 he developed YkOnline.ca. A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.


  • To state the obvious, Yellowknife can’t survive as just a government town. We need entrepreneurs. Your idea for an under-35 sub-Chamber is interesting. How many other young entrepreneurs are there in town?

  • You raise a good point Kyle…it’s expensive to live here, so a huge financial risk to get a new business off the ground. Obviously government funding only goes so far, and their pot is pretty small when it comes to tourism and small business support as it is. However, I have to say that I do see a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in this town.
    I know that the at-home party sales companies do really well from August – May…they are entrepreneurs. Other fine examples include Ragged Ass Barbers (who cater to men) and Mystique Body Studio (catering to women). Recently, I talked to a dozen young girls, in their 20s who were born and raised in Yellowknife. Obviously they cut a deal with the government for free schooling, but some of them want to come back to Yellowknife and make a go of opening their own practices for various professions…I thought it was inspiring.
    Those obviously are professional services though, which are required…what I’m missing is the tourism and hospitality part of this town…for instance, where are the regular scheduled tours in Yellowknife? I know of a few companies that offer city tours, but I think the city should offer free services like they do in other places…
    Ok, that’s my rant 🙂

  • Thank you for saying out loud what i have been ruminating on.. We are a new start up small business and my gosh it is hard to find out what we need to know, to make connections etc – just like you say. Down south, the Chamber was always a “go to” place but even looking at their roster of directors – it seems to be mostly big business. And the rates to get a table at the “big events” ($1500 for example) is crazy high. Our prices wont be high because of the cost of supplies or labor (as entrepreneurs, we do that)- but rather the cost of “doing business ” in a government town.

  • A good observation/thought and suggest researching the reasons why the North lacks start-ups and you may begin to answer your own question. Capacity, competency, well-established “welfare state”, lack of a competitive market place, northern mediocraty, sense of entitlement. As long as there is Government and Mining, the northern status quo will continue for generations. Having researched several potential start-ups, the bottom lines just don’t add up. Perhaps there is hope for the new age entrepreneur who develops a business model that doesn’t require bricks and mortar, can outsource labour and export to a world market. Just not sure what they could sell.

    • a business model already exists that doesn’t require bricks and mortar, ‘outsources’ labour, and exports to a world market. Its called network marketing, relationship marketing, or sometimes multi-level marketing. Check out the book called “Business of the 21st century” by Robert Kiyosaki. this is the future of entrepreneurship in my mind. But I do agree, Yellowknife could be much more entrepreneur-friendly. I would like to see more networking events, and lower costs to join the Chamber for those who are just getting started.

  • What do you mean when you write, “but categorize for those under 35 or less that 20 or 10 employees.” Do you mean under 35 years of age? Why have an age limit? Why exclude those over 35 who are just as unlikely to be as you say “unconnected” and also probably “stuck” in those government jobs. They have experience and ideas and passion too no doubt!

  • I think you misunderstood my sentence. I was only offering an idea, I don’t know what way would work best. Like I say in the post, I got the idea from another town who doing it that way, it doesn’t mean we have to as well.
    The whole idea of this post is to generate discussion around the idea, so if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

  • sure there is, someone has to take the initiative and get it going. Chambers dont start themselves. I know the YK Chamber has been revived a number of times, the NWT Chamber as well.

  • Fort St. John, BC has a very active Chamber of Commerce and a new junior chamber – Synergy FSJ – for members under 40 to connect. Very successful so far here!

  • Have you checked out the Small Business Service Center? I’m not sure where it’s located these days (it used to be hidden in the Scotia Tower a decade ago), but these federal/provincial/territorial offices provide a lot of info for entrepreneurs. There are an amazing number of resources out there, from mentorship to workshops to grants, but they are frustratingly hard to track down. A few years ago I was doing some research and I came into contact with a manager for a Small Business Service Center in the Maritimes. They had a bunch of really cool programs on the go and it seemed like they were actively pursuing opportunities to connect with entrepreneurs. I think that type of approach would bear fruit in YK.

    Next thought: what is the city’s economic development department up to these days? It does seem like the rate of start-ups has slowed. Are they worried?

    3. Have the banks started loosening their purse-strings yet? It was getting hard to access financing from anyone but the GNWT for a while.

    4. Franchises have a bad stigma attached to them in YK. I have no idea why this is. They take so much of the risk out of a startup. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean reinventing the wheel. Why not take a proven idea, and a proven system, and bring it to a new market that seems desperate for new products.

    5. It seems like there is a lot of retail space available for rent in YK. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing so much of it available. And some of it is new and in high-traffic locations. Rent is such a killer up North. I would think this current situation presents a lot of opportunities for would-be retailers.

  • The smaller number of government jobs available for summer students didn’t bother me; actually, I wish they cut back sooner rather than scratch their scholarship program. I’d much rather get money for my grades than for filing! I also don’t think I could work one of those jobs after having a “real” job, most of my friends who have worked in those positions don’t enjoy them. As you said, they work for the weekend! I enjoy my job and feel like I contribute something to the north.

    I also think the work, time, sweat, blood & money has to happen as an entrepreneur, even if you are well connected, but appreciate your point all the same. The north should definitely support small business rather than generate government jobs!!

  • Many young businesspeople cant get government funding for startup because of ridiculous market disruption rules ITI have imposed. Until those are revised this town will only have one of everything and we will pay for it!

    That would help a LOT! But YK (indeed the north) seems to be built on safety rather than taking a chance on the future businesses that will drive this town forward.

    Not just that but it’s also harder to get cash to start up a business if you live in the larger hubs in the NWT such as Inuvik YK and indeed Hay River, but if you live in smaller communities you have access to a lot more startup cash.

    Doesnt that sound a bit ridiculous? the main economic activity of the NWT comes from these larger hubs, but potential new businesses are cut off from a source of funding when these communities are getting more money? Thats not to say there aren’t successful businesses running starting up in smaller communities but i’m sure some of that money isn’t being spent properly.

    in short the select few in YK will keep winning while the rest wont, and it’s all because the majority of ministers have an IQ of room temperature and bow to the smaller communities sense of entitlement.

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