The COVID-19 pandemic has re-written the rules for small businesses across Canada. Whether it’s dine-in restaurants adapting to takeout and delivery, or Main Street mom-and-pop stores going online, everyone’s had to make adjustments. But disruption breeds innovation, which in turn can improve the status quo for everyone.

Innovation, in order to revitalize small businesses, is the foundation of the 5-10-15 Main Street Innovation Challenge, created by TechAlliance. The intent is to inspire a collaborative recovery process for main street businesses across Southwestern Ontario. Cutting-edge, technology-enabled solutions will bring forth new, inclusive, and disruptive approaches for economic recovery and community prosperity.

Challenge recipients were awarded $15,000 in March and their community-driven projects are now in motion.

The third featured participant is Drinks With, a new podcast showcasing small local businesses in southwestern Ontario, run by two business owners – Erica Marchand, of Bear + Fox and Todd Pearson of Kintore Coffee Co.

If the title doesn’t already give it away, this isn’t a regular business Q&A podcast – the twist is that whoever is joining Marchand and Pearson for the episode needs to bring a drink to share with the hosts. 

“We talk about the drinks they brought us; that’s typically our icebreaker,” says Marchand. “And then we dive into questions.”

Marchand and Pearson might seem an unlikely duo, but the two have shared professional mutual respect since they met, a little over a year ago. Pearson opened his cafe around the same time Marchand launched her apparel business, and soon Kintore was selling Bear + Fox merchandise at the shop.

After both were nominated for the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce Outstanding New Business award (Kintore Coffee Co. ultimately won), the two separately came up with the same idea – to create a podcast highlighting local small businesses. Once they realized they were about to do essentially the same thing, Marchand and Pearson decided to team up, pool their resources, and create something together that would be even better.

They recorded their pilot episode in December and after the second provincial lockdown lifted, they finished recording the remaining episodes.

The first section of the episode generally runs 45 minutes to an hour, followed by an ad break featuring local businesses. Each episode ends with a section called The Nightcap when Marchand and Pearson have a short conversation to recap what their guest talked about earlier, or perhaps elaborate on a point they touched on or share news about their own businesses. 

“The Nightcap is one of my favorite parts because we’re normally on a huge high from talking with the guests,” Marchand explains. “And that energy – you can just feel it. Maybe it’s the drinks, or maybe it’s the good conversation, but we’re very energized and it’s a good conversation. I love it.”

The money from the 5-10-15 Challenge is a welcome boost for the podcast, according to Marchand. When they began, they viewed it as a marketing tool for their businesses that they hoped would eventually pay off. With these funds, however, they’re able to invest in quality sound equipment, hire a web designer, and properly compensate their editor. 

“We’re big believers in paying people to do what they’re good at,” Marchand says. “It’s really just pushing the podcast beyond what we ever thought it was going to be.”

Some of the podcast episodes are geared toward small business owners or interviewing people from organizations supporting startups – including TechAlliance. But there are also episodes geared toward consumers of local businesses as well.

Marchand adds that while there’s a robust “support local” movement happening right now, especially given the current climate, it doesn’t necessarily give consumers a look behind the curtain. She and Pearson want to use this podcast as an opportunity for patrons to get to know the people they’re purchasing from.

The Drinks With team is already looking toward season 2, with business owners lining up to be guests on the show. The podcast can be found on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.