Recap: DesignMeets… Designtrepreneur

Ottawa’s most recent DesignMeets took on a markedly different tone in the friendly confines of the Lieutenant’s Pump this past October 4th. A strong lineup of speakers discussed a timely theme that clearly resonated with audience members not only for its design relevance, but also for the emerging identity that is being forged in Ottawa’s creative community. The night was punctuated by an emerging call to arms for Canadian designers to stand up, take a chance, and be heard. The sight of nearly 100 of Ottawa’s designers and creatives rubbing shoulders well into the night left a genuine sense of excitement and possibility in the air.

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Much of the buzz of the night could be attributed to the theme of the ‘Designtrepreneur’, which was a conversation around the emerging opportunities and societal shifts that are occurring to enable designers to pursue entrepreneurship like never before. As the design and creative industry undergoes significant shifts in the balance of power and previous barriers to entry crumble in our midst, our five speakers shared their inspiring words of wisdom, sprinkled with some cautionary tales from their unique perspectives on the topic.

Co-Founder of N-Product, relentless thinker, maker, and doer Dom Coballe kicked the night off with an impassioned story detailing the process undertaken to bring their vision of leveraging the popularity of Apple products into an upscale, beautifully crafted watch piece to reality. Throughout his emotive talk, Dom managed to genuinely connect with the audience and share the ups and downs that are inherent to any foray into entrepreneurship, and by the end, it was obvious that he wouldn’t dream of having it any other way.

Stay humble, do what you love, embrace your opportunities, and be grateful. His call for designers to share more amongst each other struck a chord with many.

Matthew Wallace of NaCoille Studio (and recent N-Product collaborator) picked up where Dom left off with the need to do what you love (gasp, even if you haven’t been trained!), surround yourself with like-minded hard-working people, and follow your passions. Formerly from a graphic design background, Matt traded in his mouse for a hand plane and now basks in sawdust glory hand-crafting gorgeous furniture using reclaimed and salvaged wood from the Ottawa Valley. Matt’s work embraces the story and sustainability of salvaged wood that built this city, and the community based feel of his materials sourcing left him with some DesignMeets homework over the weekend in checking out an attendee’s backyard Ash tree for furniture suitability.

Next up was social innovation starlet Grace Poon. Grace, aka. Grayspoon is responsible for not only branding and communications at Ottawa’s home for social entrepeneurship – HUB Ottawa – but also brought a varied and layered experience in her own entrepreneurial pursuits to the table to share with DesignMeets’ keen ears.

Grace furthered the discussion to shift to ‘design doing’ from ‘design thinking’ and shared how the road she has taken has led her to a position where she herself is now in a position to enable and foster what she’s passionate about as a designer – social change.

On the home stretch, Daniel Weinand, Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer of DesignMeets sponsor Shopify captivated the crowd with his story about the value of having a designer as co-founder, and the life decisions that went into his choice to take a risk and fight the urge to play it safe. The payoff is obvious as Daniel’s motivational words filled the pub and Shopify continues playing a large role in Ottawa’s creative community. An enthusiastic Q&A followed in which a discussion around Shopify’s culture emerged and what primes the engine that is in many ways driving design entrepreneurship internationally.

Bringing us home and kicking off the lively post-talk affair was Graham Rapsey, Creative Director, and Executive Producer of A Crafted Story. Graham’s well respected status in the city Is well deserved given his jaw dropping skills and colloquial attitude, which was a breath of fresh air and genuinely summed up the pulse of the night.

He spoke about the value of discomfort, and setting off into personal uncharted territory to test yourself and do your best work (in other words, to “sh*t your pants).

Coming from a consummate pro like Graham, the humble words and sincere approach to sharing his story left an indelible mark on the crowd, and kicked off a lively post-talk discussion that left Ottawa’s designers with tons of food for thought, as if the hearty offering of sliders, wings, bruschetta, and crudite from the Lieutenant’s Pump wasn’t enough…


This Designmeets in many ways represented the growing noise and energy emerging from Ottawa’s slowly unifying design community. As previous DesignMeets Ottawa speaker Robert Smith said during closing remarks “take a moment and appreciate what’s happening here. To have this much talent, and these people in the room tonight… this just doesn’t happen…”

If the event was any indication, now this DOES happen, and we need to keep momentum rolling in Canada’s unified design scene to keep on dreaming, thinking, and doing.

A big thank you go out to Mark Adam for his help with videography (see the video here), Zara Ansar (fantastic photography viewable on Flickr).

– Michael Grigoriev