Business Administration – Finance, 2002
Jay Downton loves to make things grow. And he loves to measure that growth, analyze it, prepare for it, foster it. Never was that clearer to the Edmonton-based entrepreneur than when he and a partner took on managing a blues bar in 2004.
“We had to deal with areas that weren’t our passions,” says Downton (Business Administration - Finance ’02), including the day-to-day demands of HR, customer service, even cooking. A little over a year later, they shut the doors and regrouped, and Downton refocused on his strengths as what he calls “a numbers guy.”
The result is a growing business empire that serves as an engine of Edmonton’s creative economy. In 2007, Downton co-founded the Nation Network (including the popular OilersNation.com), an ambitious hockey website that now measures visitors and revenue in the millions. Among his responsibilities is securing new income streams – through advertising, podcasting, the site’s expanding clothing line and more.
That website was just the beginning. In 2010, Downton applied the skills and financial literacy he gained at NAIT to his role as president of Oodle Noodle, an Asian fast-food chain currently positioned to expand across Alberta. On top of that, he’s busy working on another innovative entrepreneurial venture: commercializing Edmonton’s river valley.
"The biggest thing when you're starting a business is the unknown, the uncertainty about what you need to do. NAIT gave me an understanding of the things I needed to know to get into business."
“I had a lot of fun at NAIT. I met a lot of good friends – friends I’m still in contact with today.”
Little Brick Café and General Store – which he helped open in early 2015 – is the first example. Situated in a historic home in a neighbourhood along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, the café (and Downton’s business headquarters) is already a cherished community amenity, not to mention an acclaimed coffeehouse.
Without Downton’s finance and entrepreneurship acumen, these ventures might struggle, says business partner Clark Murray. "You need to have a businessperson somewhere near the top to make sure that this thing runs effectively and turns a profit, and Jay's that guy for our whole operation. The reason we are successful as a group is because of him."
Edmonton’s economy might benefit as well. Downton firms believes that the city is a great place to be an entrepreneur. Take the Nation Network and Oodle Noodle as proof. For a place to meet to make good ideas marketable, he offers Little Brick. Despite building all this, he still sees himself as just one Edmontonian interested in the growth of his city.
"We've got civic champions that are putting in the effort to make Edmonton a great place. It's starting to accelerate," he says. "And it's something I want to be involved in."