So you’re starting a small business? Here’s how the City of Edmonton’s One-On-One Support Program can help

Edmonton’s Trial & Ale is quickly brewing up its own recipe for success. 

In less than two years, the sour and wild ale specialists have expanded their operations twice and won several Alberta and national beer awards for their concoctions. During a pandemic, to boot. 

What’s their secret? The brewers credit the City of Edmonton’s One-On-One Support Program for small businesses. 

“We would not be in business today if it wasn’t for the City’s small business team,” says Ryan P., one of Trial & Ale’s co-founders.

One secret he will likely never share? His last name. It’s all part of Trial & Ale’s accidental mystique. “When we released our first beer, people were like: ‘Who are these guys? They just came out of nowhere!’” says Ryan P. “So we just ran with it.”

One of Trial & Ale’s concoctions. Photo courtesy Ian Breitzke and Trial & Ale.

Business 101 

Starting a small business can be just as mysterious: 

  • What type of permits and business licences do you need? (The City recently updated its Business Licence Bylaw, one of many ongoing initiatives to make business easier in Edmonton.) 
  • Where can you open your new shop/restaurant/office? (Zoning bylaws determine which locations are suitable—the City is also in the process of renewing its Zoning Bylaw.) 
  • How do you apply for all this stuff?  

That’s where the City of Edmonton’s One-On-One Support Program comes in. Its team of advisors can help answer these questions, troubleshoot potential challenges with applications, and/or facilitate meetings with the City’s zoning, licensing or safety codes experts.

“It’s one thing to have the capital to start a business, but knowledge is more important,” says Ryan P.  

Customized support 

Aspiring business owners can contact the program through 311 or the City’s website. (A list of frequently asked questions and answers is also available.) 

“We tailor our support to meet your needs, whether you’re opening a web store from your home or opening a brewery,” says Jackie Ferner, one of the program’s advisors. 

“When we meet with you, we not only get an understanding of what your business is, but where you are in the process. Do you know where you want to open? Are you planning to sign a lease? 
“We can then walk you through the steps you need to take, such as getting a business licence, zoning approval, and any building permits or trades permits. We work closely with our partners in Development Services to provide you with the advice you need to include in your applications to make sure the process goes smoothly.”

More selections from Trial & Ale. Photo courtesy Ian Breitzke and Trial & Ale.

Trial and error 

In Trial & Ale’s case, Ryan P. and his business partner Jeff B. wanted to open their first location on the second floor of a commercial building. It wasn’t necessarily an ideal choice for a brewery, and, unfortunately, they failed their first safety codes inspection. 

With the help of the One-On-One Support Program, the brewers were able to meet with one of the City’s safety codes experts to resolve the issue and receive their permit. (Trial & Ale has since outgrown the location and moved to a larger industrial space—with a main floor—in northwest Edmonton.) 

“I owe so much to this particular program,” says Ryan P.  “I cannot name a part of city, provincial or federal administration that is more critical than this team when it comes to assisting new businesses. They don’t just point you in the right direction, they actually take the lead on putting the pieces together to solve problems.”

Kind Ice Cream in Highlands, one of the company’s two shops in Edmonton. Its owners have also used the One-On-One Support Program.

Destination Edmonton

The One-On-One Support Program has helped more than 3,300 business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs since its inception in 2016. The last two years have seen an increase in calls and queries—up 24 per cent in 2020, and 12 per cent in 2021. 

“They’ve been our go-to when we had any questions about the permitting process,” says Candyce Morris, one of the co-founders of Kind Ice Cream. “For a while, we were talking to them once a week while we were building out our production kitchen and our shop in Highlands.” 

The majority of Edmontonians seeking support are looking to start businesses in: food, beverage and entertainment (18 per cent), retail and markets (14 per cent), and personal and health services (12 per cent).  

“We’re a champion for businesses within the City’s organization,” says Tom Mansfield, Director of Local Economy & Investment Services with the City of Edmonton.

 “We’re a voice for a business-friendly culture that respects the needs of businesses and understands the roles of our subject matter expert colleagues, striving to help us as a municipality be competitive. We want to be seen as a destination for businesses.”

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows some of the wine barrels used to make Trial & Ale’s sour and wild artisanal ales. Photo courtesy Ian Breitzke and Trial & Ale.

Developers, builders and investors with large, complex commercial or industrial projects can also get help navigating the City’s permitting, licensing and regulatory services. Learn more about the Client Liaison Unit, enhanced customer service for major development projects.