For bolstering Alberta’s small businesses during the uncertain economic times
Job Title: Executive Director for The University of Alberta’s Centre for Cities and Communities
When the pandemic hit, Heather Thomson found herself home alone with a colicky baby and a three-year-old. “All I had for company was the news,” she says.
She watched closely as the world’s scientists and government leaders solved complex problems associated with COVID-19 while a glut of businesses went under because they lacked the digital infrastructure to move online. It was a maddeningly solvable problem, she says.
“I was just irritated,” she says. “Like, we can do something about this.”
Thomson, who is the executive director of the Centre for Cities and Communities — an organization she’d co-established with the U of A’s Alberta School of Business academic team — came up with an idea. Why couldn’t business students help struggling businesses create digital platforms?
After snagging seed money from the City of Edmonton, she launched an initiative that connected students with 870 businesses needing digital platforms during the pandemic. Since its October 2020 start, the program — now a province-wide initiative called the Digital Economy Program — has helped 3,400 businesses stay afloat.
Now, Alberta’s businesses need more support “competing not just with our neighbours, but against the entire globe, because that’s the new market now.”