Michael Wood, Founder, Ottawa Special Events. Photo Credit: Nicole Murphy

 This is our first article for our new COVID-19 & Entrepreneurship series where we interview Canadian entrepreneurs and how they and their businesses are reacting to the pandemic. I would like to thank all the entrepreneurs for giving their time and participating in this segment. 

Just as COVID-19 brings Canadian businesses to a halt, some entrepreneurs are taking action by letting their voices be heard to their Federal, Provincial, and Local Government representatives. One of those entrepreneurs is Ottawa-based Michael Wood, Founder of the Ottawa Special Events company, a brand well known to the Ottawa community that has helped make possible events such as the Ottawa Comic Con and the 2019 Federal Leaders Debate.

Aside from bringing events to life, Michael and the Ottawa Special Events team has also volunteered their services to community efforts such as Free concerts back at Ottawa’s Washington Square. Michael has taken his next initiative in the community to be an effort to support the recovery of Canadian entrepreneurs who have been affected by COVID-19, and I had a chance to interview him on his ongoing efforts.

Daniyal:

For the few people that may not know about you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your business?

Michael:

Sure! From 20-30 years old I was a guitar player in a rock and roll band touring North America living the exact life you are picturing in your mind. At thirty, I was offered an opportunity to be a professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa and I jumped at it and moved home. At that point, I wrote a book on the business of music and toured that on the weekends. I become the American Idol Insider for Fox Television stations. I became a voting member of the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences for the Grammy Awards and went to awards show five times. From 2007 to 2010 I had a music management company and we were distributed across Canada by Universal Music Canada. In 2010, I purchased OttawaSpecialEvents.com with my business partner for eight dollars and the rest is history. We started an event rental company that employs(ed) 20 people during the slow season and thirty-five during the busy season.

Daniyal:

COVID-19 has become a global issue that has caused a vast majority of businesses in Canada to work at a snail pace or stop completely. How has the pandemic affected Ottawa Special Events?

Michael:

Unfortunately we became a zero revenue business. With that being said, we had to lay off our entire staff. Since we have no foreseeable jobs coming up, even if the Wage Subsidy was at 90%, no company can afford to pay the difference to have staff just sit there.

Daniyal:

You started an initiative to bring forward the voices of Canadian entrepreneurs as COVID-19 was continuing to partially or completely halt Canadian businesses, what was the catalyst that made you determined that you had to do something?

Michael:

Honestly, I saw the state or direction my business was headed in. I called a City Councillor that I know and I asked him for some guidance. He told me I should start calling my MPs. The first one I reached out to was Minister Catherine McKenna. Her team was ultra-responsive and we were meeting face to face over Zoom for thirty-five minutes about a week later.

Daniyal:

What steps have you taken so far to bring attention to your initiative?

Michael:

I have a large following on Linkedin and I used that platform quite often. I have 5000 followers on Facebook and use that as well too. I started reaching out to MPs and MPPs and have been extremely fortunate to have had positive responses. I am in the media in Ottawa a lot too. Recently, I have had the Globe and Mail interview me. I have been on Bell Media, Rogers Radio and the CBC among other media.

Daniyal:

Your goals to bring awareness have become a sensation in the Ottawa entrepreneur community, can you tell us what you hope to achieve in the near and far future?

Michael:

That is very kind. Right, I am just concerned about helping small business get the message to the politicians at all levels that we urgently need direct financial assistance to be able to re-open after the pandemic is over.

Daniyal:

Have your goals been met with resistance? If so, how?

Michael:

Honestly, virtually every department that I have asked to meet with has agreed to meet with me. Sure, there have been a couple but the ones that have agreed are empathetic and understand that small business is in crisis.  

Daniyal:

What platform(s) are you using to spread the word? Can you give us a link where others can follow you?

Michael:

Sure!  So people can follow me on:

www.facebook.com/musicmarketer
www.twitter.com/mikewoodottawa
www.linkedin.com/in/michaelwoodottawa

Daniyal:

What do you recommend struggling entrepreneurs focus most on to sustain their business during the pandemic?

Michael:

Defer, Defer, Defer. When I had a feeling that the pandemic was going to take hold and this was going to become a massive problem, I started writing letters to my vendors, my suppliers, my landlord, the bank, insurance etc and more. I was honest and upfront and tried to get ahead of it. Most people I have found to be fairly understanding. Granted I understand not everyone has had the same success with vendors and landlords but stay with it. Not straying from the plan.

Daniyal:

Declining mental health within entrepreneurs has heightened as a result of COVID-19 due to businesses failing at an incredibly high rate. With many saying that the risk of a failing business comes as part of the deal of becoming an entrepreneur, what would you say to them?

Michael:

Sure. During normal times, maybe that is true. Maybe that isn’t. But THESE are NOT normal times. The government has shut business down and created zero revenue situations. People need to be patient and understanding. These are very, very difficult times for people.

[Regarding mental health] Don’t wait. Speak to someone right away. Many feel the second part of the COVID-19 crisis is going to mental health.  

If you are going through anything during these times, please click here for a list of resources compiled by Michael that are there to help you.

Daniyal:

Final thoughts?

Michael

It is going to take a team effort for some of these things to come to fruition. Our voices must be loud and cohesive. We got this.