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In the summer of 1997, Stig Larsson was in Costa Rica training with the Canadian World Cup kayaking team. On the weekends the athletes would head to the coast to go surfing. At that time, there was no real lifestyle brand for paddle sports. Stig noticed there were a lot of young people in the sport, who needed a brand they could identify with and call their own. That's how Level 6 was born.

A Surf Brand from Ottawa?

When Stig returned to Ottawa, he had the idea of creating cool apparel for paddling. Without any design in mind, Stig drove to Montreal to visit old fabric mills and purchased the last 100 yards of whatever they had in stock that would be suitable for board shorts and t-shirts.

Back in Ottawa he found a home seamstress who helped him with patterning, and he designed the type of clothes he wanted to wear for the sport. His friends thought he was crazy, starting a surf brand in Ottawa where there are no waves, surf or beaches. But soon this garage entrepreneur was travelling around the globe on the world cup circuit, selling his t-shirts and shorts to make some money.

Even though Level 6 was making money, it took about six or seven years before Stig was drawing a regular salary. He was on the kayaking team, had sponsorships and worked part-time at Mountain Equipment Co-op. Eventually he was able to get the Level 6 products into small stores in the Ottawa area, where they are still being sold today.

Taking the Business to the Next Level

Early on, Stig recognized surrounding himself with good people was fundamental to growth.

“It’s your employees who make a company,” says Stig. “I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room; I want to be the dumbest guy. I want the people I work with to know more than me in their areas of expertise.”

The brand has now been around for twenty years, competing with much larger companies. The product line has expanded into boards, paddles, gear and accessories. Level 6 is currently in 428 stores around the world, and still growing. It is the #1 paddle sport brand in Canada, #3 in the United States, and is said to be #5 in the world.

“Paddle sports represent a small industry and there is also a close community,” he observes. “We listened to people and the needs of the market to create the right products.”

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

For young entrepreneurs who are just starting out, Stig offers this advice: “Have a passion for what you do, and be all in.

He says, “With Level 6 it was not for the glory of making riches, but the passion of what we wanted to create. We have always kept to the core of who we are and never did anything that was not part of the Level 6 brand.”

Be sure to document your passion with a business plan. Whether you have yet to launch or are in start-up mode, use this business plan template to improve your chance of success and profiting.

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