At Work

Goodwill Abounds

Edmonton business demonstrates that supporting startups is limited only by imagination

By Lewis Kelly

March 25, 2022 •

Whoever coined that classic saying about buying low and selling high evidently forgot to tell Tim Carwell.

Carwell (pictured above) is the president and CEO of CommAlert, which provides emergency communication services for businesses. After COVID-19 compelled CommAlert to switch to a fully remote workforce, Carwell made the unusual decision to give away his business’ newly renovated downtown office space.

“We have no intention of going back anytime soon,” Tim says, “and I’m an entrepreneur — I have the grey hairs to prove it. I know that there are a lot of businesses in the startup phase that could hire a new person rather than pay a lease.”

The first person he needed to convince of the merits of this idea was his wife Tanis Carwell, ’90 BComm, a senior financial advisor at ATB Wealth. “Tim has an idea at least once a day,” she says. “Sometimes they are amazing. Sometimes I just go back to work.”

This idea, Tim soon convinced her, was one of the former. 

“I remember the gifts of time and mentorship I was given earlier in my career,” says Tim. “I felt like this was an opportunity to pay back the kindness and support I’d been given for free by other business leaders and mentors.”

With Tanis on board, Tim’s next step was to figure out a process for the giveaway. For that he called Lazina Mckenzie, manager of the University of Alberta’s ThresholdImpact Venture Mentoring Service (VMS)

“I actually met Tim in line at a coffee shop right before the pandemic,” Mckenzie says. “He bought a beverage for the next person in line and I happened to be that person.” 

ThresholdImpact VMS is a mentorship program to help entrepreneurs grow professionally and personally. The first one was launched in the United States in the 1990s. The U of A opened its own chapter in late 2013.

Mckenzie and the Carwells worked together to create a rigorous and transparent process for selecting a business to which CommAlert would give the paid two-year lease for its office space. They decided to name the initiative the Goodwill Project and put out a call for applications in late 2021.

More than 70 applications were pared down to five finalists. The Goodwill Project connected each finalist with a VMS mentor to help them hone their final pitches. In early January, the finalists made their pitches to a panel of six judges, including Tim, Tanis, Mckenzie, Kristina Milke, Cheryll Watson and Lynsae Moon.

“We were blown away by all five pitches,” says Tanis. “It was really hard for us to decide.”

After overtime deliberations, the panel selected RUNWITHIT Synthetics, an analytics business with Indigenous leadership that helps decision-makers think about the future. RUNWITHIT received the keys to its office space on January 11, 2022. But the Carwells and Mckenzie both hope that this is just the beginning of the Goodwill Project’s impact.

”It’s really given us an amazing boost as a company,” says Myrna Bittner, CEO and founder of RUNWITHIT. "We do a lot of R&D to advance our products, and we fund that with our revenue. So this allows us to continue to advance and innovate. And we’ve made two new hires since we took over the space.”

“It’s also a beautiful space. We brought in a few awards we’ve won and a mini-fridge, and other than that it was absolutely move-in ready.”

Mckenzie hopes that the generosity the Carwells showed will have a butterfly effect. “I hope businesses see what they were able to do and say ‘I could do the same.’”

“I think if you do the right things for people, it comes all the way around,” says Tanis. “It doesn’t have to be financial to be important.”

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