Sometimes, being stubborn pays off. Just ask Avery Swartz, who had a single idea nag her for years.
"It was an idea that wouldn't let go,” she says. “I've had other ideas, but nothing really captivated me like this one."
Swartz was working as a graphic and web designer when the idea first hit.
“I was working on websites for a lot of small businesses, charities, and non-profit organizations,” she says. “The people I worked with often asked, ‘How do I learn more digital marketing, desktop publishing, and tech literacy without having to learn from a book, or learn online, or go to a college or university?’ It was hard to fit that kind of training into their busy schedules."
Swartz could see the business potential, but tucked the idea away. However, the business idea popped up again and again. She saw the demand growing but no product or service to fill the void. Swartz decided to take matters into her own hands.
Together with a few friends, she began to seek out experts and invite them to run information sessions for startups. For example, when she decided to run a session on copyright, Swartz reached out to her network for recommendations on trademark lawyers. As new topic requests came in, they’d bring in different experts as needed.
Two people were critical to getting her idea off the ground, says Swartz. Michelle Darwin, a web designer and programmer, helped establish Camp Tech’s website, and illustrator Kinnon Elliott, created the drawings for the website’s illustrations and animated videos.
A business is born: Camp Tech delivers workshops in co-working spaces
In August 2012, Swartz founded Camp Tech to deliver beginner-friendly, hands-on workshops on web and digital technologies. It offered its workshops at co-working spaces and entrepreneurs loved it. Demand soared.
“We love co-working spaces, they were absolutely key to our success,” says Swartz. “We're a business that offers tech courses to other small businesses. Who hangs out in co-working spaces? Small businesses! It makes perfect sense, and this synergy has helped us to build and grow our community."
Swartz needed a home base for operations, so she opened Camp Tech headquarters in Toronto, complete with a dedicated classroom space. Her Ottawa and Vancouver sessions continue to thrive in local co-working spaces.
Filling a niche: building technology skills in the workplace
Upskilling is essential to stay ahead of the curve, but many small business owners struggle to find affordable and time-efficient ways to build up their technology skills. According to a Startup Canada survey of small business owners, 71 per cent of respondents said digital literacy is integral to their professional development, but 56 per cent said they dedicate just two hours a week or less to improving these skills. A majority of respondents called for more interactive how-to guides, video tutorials, workshops, and community initiatives.
Each year Camp Tech trains nearly 4,000 people in its public workshops. It also runs corporate and private training sessions for more than 50 organizations and companies. Powered behind the scenes by a core team of five, it has a network of 50 part-time instructors who share tech expertise and teach practical skills. Since instructors work on their own ventures on the side, they are directly connected to their fields of expertise.
“For example, in Ottawa, the person that teaches our SEO workshops owns a company called SEO Plus,” says Swartz. “Sometimes I forget how big our company is, since we have so many experts that work with us on a part-time basis."
On choosing a .CA domain
Camptech.ca is more than just a marketing site, it’s also a workshop ticket-seller and a resource library.
“It has feedback forms that we share with people who are taking classes at Camp Tech. We also use it to host our own podcast on all kinds of tech topics," says Swartz.
When it came to choosing the domain for their website, Swartz saw .CA as the best option for building their brand.
"We're very much a Canadian company,” she says. “It just made perfect sense to go with the .CA. There have been so many statistics that have come out about the trust that Canadians associate with a .CA over other platforms. It's been part of our brand from day one.” Camp Tech has multiple domain names associated with it, but all of them point to its .CA address.
"The .CA is the core and hub of our online presence,” she says.
Driven by desire
What started as a nagging idea has flourished into a successful startup venture. With workshop attendance healthy in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, Camp Tech is currently looking to expand.
Reflecting on the growth of the startup, Swartz says it’s been a learning experience from day one.
"There's nothing in my life that had trained me or prepared me for this,” she says. “It was really driven by a strong desire to want to do it, a want to succeed, and to have fun while doing it. I really love my job, and find it extremely rewarding.”
This article was produced with the support of StartUp Canada to profile Canadian businesses.
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