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Contest for free downtown Edmonton office space to give lucky start-up 'opportunity'

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An Edmonton company that once held a competition for free rent of its former office space is doing it again.

CommAlert wants to hear from young entrepreneurs who can use the space to get a head start with their businesses.

The emergency services company first held a contest two-and-a-half years ago offering up its vacant, furnished Jasper Avenue digs.

Tim Carwell, CommAlert's chief executive officer, says his company sent its employees home when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and never brought them back.

Instead of terminating the lease, he did something else.

"Somebody jokingly said, 'You should give it away,' and we laughed, and on the drive home, I went, 'Maybe we should give it away," Carwell told CTV News Edmonton.

He did just that.

RunWithIt Synthetics, a company that uses data modelling to help policy-makers with planning, won in 2022 and stayed in the office space for more than two years.

"It made a huge difference for us in how we were able to grow in the region," said Myrna Bittner, CEO of RunWithIt Synthetics, adding her firm is grateful to CommAlert and is paying it forward by helping non-profits such as United Way.

"Being on the receiving end of such a generous gift makes you feel compelled to help others."

RunWithIt Synthetics is moving to a bigger office, so Carwell is looking for a new startup to use the space, ideally one with Generation Z founders.

"Give a little bit of opportunity to a young person and they can do great things," Carwell said.

And when the lease is up in mid-September, the company chosen will get to take anything from the office that isn't bolted to the floor.

"I'm First Nation, so gift-giving, sharing, storytelling and supporting youth is sort of our culture," Carwell said.