Capital Ideas: Creating a home for Edmonton’s entrepreneurs

Capital Ideas held its 13th event, "Building a Business," on Jan. 23, 2013 at the Edmonton Journal.
Capital Ideas’ October 2012 event ‘Creating a great customer experience.’

While the project is formally known as Capital Ideas, it’s also Postmedia’s Edmonton Experiment.

As well as a virtual space, Capital Ideas is a physical meeting place for Edmonton’s entrepreneurs. Monthly meetings allow for members of the city’s business community to connect and share ideas.

This doesn’t mean bringing in academics and consultants, but people who are already active in the business community.

“We’re based on idea that everyone who’s in business has learned a lot and wants to learn more, and that we can use the loud voice and the broad reach and the credibility of the Edmonton Journal to help them do that,” Karen Unland, Capital Ideas’ project lead,  said in an interview.

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Audio: Hear Karen Unland describe Capital Ideas and how it’s received by the community

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/97083863/Unland_final.mp3]

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How it works

Unland was a senior online manager when she left the Edmonton Journal in May 2011. A year later, she returned to the building for its parent company’s newest venture.

Today, she oversees free monthly events that see as many as  100 of  Capital Idea’s members gathering to share ideas on such topics as ‘how to build a business’, ‘successful networking’ and ‘getting funding.’

The space is free, as events are held in the Edmonton Journal’s downtown building.  Unland uses her journalism talents “for good”, also as moderator looking to hear a good story.

“When you come to a Capital Ideas event, you’ll get some tips that you can apply, but mostly you’re learning through the story of somebody else’s experience – and I think that people can find a lot of use for that. That’s what we’re trained in journalism to do: find the story.”

When it first launched in July 2012, Capital Ideas was hosting bi-weekly meetings and putting some of the content from these meetings into a two-page spread into the Edmonton Journal’s newspaper.

In the New Year, the decision was made to move to monthly events so that Unland’s team could “go out into the community and cover other people’s events.” (The day of this interview, Capital Ideas had gone to a Chamber of Commerce event.)

Revenues/Resources

As participants don’t pay to take part in events, I asked Unland about revenue.

She said the revenue model Capital Ideas is examining is partnerships with companies or brands to access the community – with a caveat.

“It’s important that this is done in a way that does not wreck our community,” Unland said. ” [Capital Ideas] has to be more than self-sustaining, it has to be profitable, that’s the point of doing this.”

As far as resources, Capital Ideas is run by Unland and her team: Brittney Le Blanc and Vickie Laliotis. LeBlanc comes from radio and Laliotis was one of Unland’s students at Grant MacEwan University.

Unland said the project costs roughly $25,000/month, and is funded by Postmedia’s research and development budget.

“No funds are coming from the [Edmonton Journal] newsroom,” she clarified.

Type of Content

Much of the content produced at Capital Ideas events isn’t a traditional written story: There are of course the thoughts of the panelists, and tweets that emerge from the event.

Stories that are produced out of gatherings are written by her team. User-generated content sees a good edit before it makes its way into the paper.

“Right now it’s pretty manual, and it requires somebody with editorial judgment to put together so I have a two person team who puts that together. What we have right now is not automated and possibly not even automatible which may be a problem in the future for scale,” Unland said.

“You’ve got to try something if you want to learn from it. If you don’t try something than you’ll get stuck and won’t accomplish anything. So right now what we do is it requires someone with some journalistic chops to pick the best quotes and edit it all together.”

A Capital Ideas audience member asks a question of the panel.
A Capital Ideas audience member asks a question of the panel.

Tapping into an existing community

Like Gastropost at Postmedia Labs which connects Toronto’s food lovers, Capital Ideas is tapping into an existing entrepreneurial community in the city, rather than trying to create one from scratch.

“There is a lot going on in Edmonton. There are lots of thriving institutions like Startup Edmonton. The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, a movement called ‘Make Something Edmonton’ that is about celebrating the makers and creators in our city, so it just felt like there is just a lot going on in that space, and that we could help.”

“We want to help local entrepreneurs share what they’ve learned and that in turn helps everyone in our entrepreneurial ecosystem in Edmonton.”

Serving that community

The big benefit to this and other community initiatives , Unland said, is that they shift a news organizations focus to the user. She raised a point Jay Rosen raised when he visited the Journal recently and said that in traditional journalism decisions are made on “feeding the production gods,” and “doing what we’ve always done.”

She said projects like the Edmonton Experiment turn that thinking on its head.

“It’s not always focused on what are the people who are reading this – or are participating in this – what do they want? How can we serve them?”

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