The I Love Local partnership is helping Halifax discover its local creations
A new voice for an under-represented business communityBy Paula Bugden | Jul 20, 2012
Sitting in a conference room in downtown Halifax with two fellow board members, Jules Chamberlain has a welcoming smile on his face and looks eager to talk about InterQ: LGBT Chamber + Commerce Atlantic. Even though it’s only been four months, the new organization is already stirring interest.
The group kicked off with two successful meet-and-greet events. Fifty-six people attended the first one in March. Their most recent, called interQintermix was on July 5 and drew about 60. “Right from the get-go we’re getting support and recognition,” says Chamberlain.
An interim board for now and based in Halifax, InterQ focuses on creating business opportunities and networking, among other areas, within the LGBT community. As Chamberlain says, the ultimate goal is to “foster, support and encourage.” That includes gay business owners and employees, plus gay-friendly businesses and entrepreneurs.
The group’s mandate also states a focus on “community development organization, promoting the rich diversity of LGBT Atlantic business, cultural and service communities.”
With nine board members and biweekly meetings from the beginning, the organization has been busy drafting bylaws, organizing committees and membership details. Justin Mury, a fellow InterQ board member and mortgage broker, says the plan is to make it official by this fall. They already have subcommittees in place for membership and communications, finance and sponsorship.
“We’re still in the growing stages…we’re learning again how to grow things from the very beginning to make it larger,” says Michelle Clare, InterQ board member and bank manager at RBC Royal Bank.
The idea stemmed from a breakfast business club in Halifax several months ago. Chamberlain, a realtor by profession, has aimed to play an active role since moving here from New Brunswick three years ago.
“Anywhere I’ve ever been I’ve always sought to foster community. And being a business person and an entrepreneur, it seems like a natural thing to do,” says Chamberlain. Though there are many businesses within the LGBT community to consider, he says they’re not always easy to spot. That’s where InterQ comes in. “We can put a lot of people in connection with one another,” says Clare. “And the sharing of information; I’ve learned a lot about different businesses that I didn’t even know existed.”
Jessica Tasker first heard about plans for InterQ at the business breakfast club in February. Since then, she’s been looking forward to becoming an official member. Still in the early stages of building a business from the ground up, the 27-year-old former carpenter turned lead furniture designer is the owner of Trunk Studio, mixing Danish and Canadian modern styles for each piece.
With a plan to make an official launch in November, Tasker’s main goal is to begin selling her custom-designed furniture via her e-commerce website this October. As a new entrepreneur she’s already noticing the advantages of InterQ. “It’s kind of like being on a sports team where you have a group of instant friends – and an instant support network,” she says, comparing it to traditional networking events that take longer to make connections. “You have to nurture those relationships a lot more… it just takes a little more work and research.”
Another benefit of InterQ, she adds, is the ability to generate sales through those connections and helping other businesses do the same. “There was really no support network for actual businesses or entrepreneurs in the LGBT community,” says Mury.
For Krista Davis, special projects manager for the first annual OUTeast Queer Film Festival held last month, being invited to the InterQ meet and greet in March was an opportunity to mingle with potential sponsors. It was there she met Clare and, through that connection, gained RBC Royal Bank as the presenting sponsor for the festival.
Even though the festival is a non-profit event and not directly business-related, Davis says that meeting helped grow the audience and spread the word. OUTeast also received funding from the provincial government and other sponsors.
While networking is playing an important role, including social media updates via Facebook and Twitter, along with a mailing list of 160, Chamberlain says it’s not the only focus. Membership and sponsorship packages, along with membership fees, insurance, upcoming plans for workshops and business seminars are also at the forefront of what InterQ will offer members.
Other provinces have also formed their own LGBT chambers of commerce, including Manitoba, Ontario and Québec. On a national level, the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has been around since 2003.
Though InterQ does have an affiliation with the latter, Chamberlain explains how it will differ. “We’re not trying to bring in a product from elsewhere,” he says. “This isn’t a sort of Canadian model…that we’re trying to sell people on. Rather, we’re opening up the door for us to create it. Then it will reflect us.”
InterQ will have a booth during Halifax’s Pride Week celebrations this year for anyone interested in learning more. And with the annual event kicking off on July 20, it seems fitting that InterQ is already on a roll.