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Albertans skirt the downturn by launching their own unique businesses

[One example of the creative abodes made by Tyson Leavitt and Charmed Playhouses / Facebook]

A Lethbridge, Alta. entrepreneur recently made headlines with his over-the-top, unique and outright magical luxury Charmed Playhouses.

Company founder Tyson Leavitt told CTV News that despite the province’s job losses and weakened economy, sales of his playhouses – which can sell for six figures – is thriving, partially crediting it to the weakened Canadian dollar.

“Really our company is made to be in a global market,” he said.

Charmed Playhouses highlights a resounding notion that in the world of entrepreneurial endeavors, there’s no such thing as a recession.

“For the entrepreneurial group, I think this (downturn) was the kick they needed to get going,” says Chad Saunders, assistant professor of business environment, entrepreneurship and innovation at University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. “The Innovate Calgary (business incubator) has seen a massive influx of folks – typically numbers are 20 or 30 a month… that’s tripled in terms of people inquiring about starting a new business.”

By some perplexing logic, energy companies sending employees out the door with severance packages are essentially pushing entrepreneurs with great ideas and startup capital into the local ecosystem.

Saunders points to Andy Hill, the Calgarian who saw his job in the oil patch disappear into the ether when oil prices plummeted.

“He ended up buying this vintage fire truck and started this business cleaning windows,” says Saunders. “He’s been super successful very quickly because he got all this attention, plus he had the capital to invest in it which he wouldn’t have had, had he not gotten this package from this company.”

[Andy Hill’s fire truck, which he uses during the holidays as part of his company Springbank Christmas Lights. / Facebook]

It’s a hint of silver lining in a province that has seen employment insurance collection skyrocket 91 per cent since the start of 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In January, 63,800 Albertans were receiving EI cheques and even at 7.1 per cent unemployment in March, down 0.3 per cent from January, joblessness is still at one of the highest levels the province has experienced in 21 years.

But it’s not just severance-endowed energy sector workers tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit to insulate themselves from the struggling energy sector.

Hinton, Alta.-based entrepreneur Teras Cassidy, decided to take a more global approach after his fledgling travel businesses took a major hit during the first recession.

“No one was coming in, no one was buying anything, everybody was worried about whether they could fix their car or buy a fridge instead of going on trips,” he says.

So in 2010, he launched Geek Nation Tours, a niche travel business geared towards all things nerdy. From board game conventions in Germany to Zombie-themed trips to Atlanta retracing the steps of Walking Dead and coupled with survival training, Cassidy’s clients pay upwards of $2,000 to $5,000 at the higher end.

“In (2010) the goal was to bring geeks to cool destinations, now it’s about creating geeky communities wherever we go,” he says.

[Teras Cassidy’s Geek Nation Tours bring customers to all kinds of geeky fun events. / Facebook]

While he admits the global nature of his business – geek tourists from all over the world sign up for Cassidy’s tours – doesn’t entirely isolate him from the downturn back home, it does soften the blow.

“I’ve seen an upswing in the percentage of my American clients, the good news is when some markets fail, the others pick it up,” he says. “When it’s a world crisis there’s nothing you can do, you just hold your breathe for a year.”