Episode #47 – Antoine Palmer – Innovation Sprouts Culture & Community

“There’s a lot of ways to develop commercial value but one of the ways is to understand that commerce follows culture.” – Antoine Palmer

Antoine Palmer was born and raised in Fort McMurray, Alberta with a curious and questioning nature. At the age of 17, Antoine left Fort McMurray on a 12-year journey to find purpose and meaning that led him to become a Hindu monk and travel around the globe.

For over 5 years, Antoine engaged in strict monastic practice and served at temples in Vancouver, Seattle, France, and Germany. After graduating from the monastic order, he founded a small monastery in Vienna that accommodated 20-25 monks in training. Antoine also launched several business ventures to support the economic needs of the community, including a vegetarian restaurant, an export business distributing Indian imports throughout Europe, a European branch of a US-based coach training institute, and a foray into real estate with the conversion of a 200-year old heritage building into modern condominium suites.

After a year sabbatical to study, Antoine returned to Canada in 2007 and founded Konscious Corp., a consulting firm that lead dozens of projects from restructuring large-scale real estate developments challenged by the 2008 economic downturn, to affordable housing and renewable energy projects, to serving as a public spokesperson for Edmonton’s Social Enterprise Fund.

In 2011 Antoine co-founded Sustainival, the world’s first green carnival – a full-scale carnival midway that operates entirely on renewable energy. Antoine is also the co-founder of Sustainitech, a technology commercialization company that builds high-density commercial lettuce farms in shipping containers.

Given the inherent risks of these social enterprise startups, Antoine launched a third company in 2012 called ‘Boring Investments’. This company was built to purchase commercial properties and establish a cashflow foundation as a hedge against the potential startup risks.

After stabilizing these ventures with executive teams in place, Antoine returned his focus to commercial real estate in early 2016. Boring Investments was rebranded as Sparrow Capital with the purpose of demonstrating how commercial real estate assets can be curated strategically to enhance the cultural fabric of neighbourhoods and the economic resilience of municipal regions.

Antoine holds a diploma in mediation and conflict resolution from the Vienna ARGE academy and a diploma in Indian philosophy from the University of Wales. Antoine is a Platinum member of the Real Estate Investment Network, a board member of IDEA – Infill Development in Edmonton Association, the Planning Director for the Riverdale Community League, and Chairman of the PowPow Brotherhood. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and 4 children and is an avid mountain biking and backcountry snowboard enthusiast.

  • Show Notes
  • [02:07] Patrick introduces his next guest, platinum REIN Member and entrepreneur, Antoine Palmer.
  • [04:47] Antoine and Patrick get right into it with Antoine’s 30-second elevator pitch!
  • [05:35] Antoine describes how his current commercial real estate venture, Sparrow Capital, is navigating Edmonton’s challenging economic climate with robust relationships and building communities through innovative thinking.
  • [07:37] To understand the model of Antoine’s commercial real estate endeavours, he turns back the dial to how it got started and the philosophy they are built on.
  • [11:57] Antoine illustrates how the Gibbard Block, one of Sparrow Capital’s current projects, represents a microcosm of their broader vision.
  • [15:03] Three ingredients are necessary for Sparrow Spaces to move forward with a project: property, capital and operators. Antoine explains the challenges and the solutions to finding and working with operators who are aligned with the culture they are developing.
  • [22:00] Antoine delves into their micro habitation ideology within Edmonton, a city of urban sprawl, where it could seem a bit counterintuitive.
  • [27:07] The importance of weaving the common thread of alignment in their projects extends from investors through to operators. In all cases, transparency and authenticity are at the forefront.
  • [30:08] The low-down on their investor community and the atypical bigger picture they are eager to cultivate.
  • [32:25] Antoine talks about growing up in Fort McMurray, Alberta and existential questioning at the age of 17 that led him to hang out in Whistler BC with like-minded friends.
  • [35:46] Who and what were some of the influences in Antoine’s life that guided him to contemplate bigger life questions at an early age?
  • [38:50] Antoine leads us through the stages of his apprenticeship in Vancouver to becoming a Hindu monk, running programs and ashrams in Europe, then to getting married, starting a family and building a community in Vienna which naturally led him to commerce and entrepreneurialism.
  • [45:11] The next pivotal stage for Antoine was his realization of the importance of owning assets to create time freedom and passive revenue. Enter, real estate.
  • [47:27] The journey Antoine and his family took back to Canada came in 2007 at the height of an economic shift in Alberta which led him to shift his focus within real estate and learn some new skills along the way.
  • [50:44] New relationships in Edmonton brought Antoine to a communications role in land development and syndication in the “wild west.” This led to a whole new level of complexity and a deep [and expensive] education on how not to invest in real estate.
  • [54:10] Antoine describes the disparity he experienced between his own moral standards and integrity while witnessing the land development company go off the rails along with the investors’ capital.
  • [58:27] The difficult fall out in 2009 from the failure of the land development projects.
  • [63:50] Antoine examines whether a cash injection and ousting of the principal of the company could have saved the project.
  • [66:00] Antoine shares how his education with REIN informed his perspective during that difficult time and how it shaped his decisions going forward.
  • [67:53] Re-visiting Antoine at 17 – what was his parents’ mindset around him leaving home at 17, bound for Whistler and creating a life as a monk?
  • [69:31] How Antoine’s Dad created context in his life for ideas, projects and entrepreneurialism.
  • [70:40] They years of 2010 and 2011 saw Antoine take a step back from real estate to step into consulting for start ups within the social enterprise sector. This served as a springboard to co-founding two of his own start ups: Sustainival and Sustainitech.
  • [72:43] Through the work he undertook within the social economic landscape, Antoine’s philosophical questions grew around economic impact and community sustainability which informed the next phase of his real estate venture in Edmonton.
  • [75:40] Antoine presents an analogy that if the same intense infrastructure that exists in Alberta for producing great hockey players could be duplicated for entrepreneurship and technology innovation, then Alberta could be the innovation center of the world.
  • [78:26] Antoine describes a new foundation that he is involved in building for innovation in Western Canada. It will inform project design that weaves together cultural fabric with innovation eco-systems in mixed-use commercial/residential spaces.
  • [79:37] Antoine introduces the core team which currently comprises Sparrow Capital.
  • [82:39] Patrick reflects on his appreciation for their conversation and Antoine’s view of the world.
  • [84:29] Diving into the rapid-fire deep end: favourite swear word, inspirational quotes, Antoine’s alternate scholastic profession, what he’s not very good at, impactful books and a tip for Audible membership, favourite movie, favourite tune and messages at the pearly gates.
  • [94:42] Antoine’s gratitude.

Connect with Antoine Palmer:

Selected Links and People Mentioned from this episode:
Sparrow Capital
RGE RD Restaurant
Real Estate Intelligence Network
Social Enterprise Fund
Edmonton Community Foundation
The Rhodora by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio
Kevin Kelly
Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty

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