We often hear how entrepreneurs made it big — but how did they first get that little idea off the ground? We asked the five recipients of the Ones to Watch Award presented by Freshco.ca, a category added this year to the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These stellar new business owners have all demonstrated incredible potential through their innovative ideas and solid plans for future profitable growth. And even though their ventures are very unique, we discovered a few similarities in their key steps so far.
“I wanted to solve a problem that I couldn’t solve any other way,” says Jessica Ching, co-founder and CEO of Eve Medical. Her company’s product is The Eve Kit, a home-based screening system that remotely connects users, doctors and labs for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) testing. Launched in 2017 as Canada’s first at-home HPV screening system (and now offering Chlamydia & Gonorrhea testing as well), the Eve Kit is simple to use and private, improving access to screening in a patient-centred way.
Many people assume Jessica’s background is in healthcare, but she actually studied design — which may be why she was able to spot the problem and come up with a unique solution. And she’s not done yet. “There are so many opportunities to make things better,” says Jessica, and that’s what excites her about the future.
“The best exercise before leaping in is to complete a full-sized business plan,” says Kate Latos, CEO, EcoFence and Decking Ltd. Her business is giving new life to previously discarded waste, using 100% post-recycled plastic to create decking materials that are resistant to moisture, mold, mildew, bugs, and weather — and divert on average over 6,500 plastic jugs from the landfill. And it all started with a business plan she created for the University of Alberta’s Business Alumni Innovation contest, which she ultimately won. “After endless research and late nights I realized I had a really good idea with great potential. The practice of the detailed business plan helped me lay out each of steps that I needed to take to make our business successful over the next five years. I also shared my business plan with trusted advisors to get their feedback and suggestions based on their expertise.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask other business owners for help,” says Sonja Mills, co-owner of the Port Rexton Brewing Company (PRBCo.), a microbrewery and taproom located in the small coastal town of Port Rexton, Newfoundland. Neither Sonja nor her partner, Alicia MacDonald, have a professional background in brewing — Sonja has a law degree and MBA, and was working as a Nurse Practitioner — but they’ve turned their passion into a very successful business. In less than two years, they have tripled in production capacity, brewed and released over 33 different beer styles, begun canning their product, and opened a retail shop in St. John’s. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the mentorship and advice from many other businesses,” says Sonja, “both from the local tourism sector as well as other microbreweries across the country.”
“I have no professional experience or education in baking or cooking,” Thao Nguyen, the founder of Montreal-based Bonbon Collections, confesses. “But, I had a solid 15 years experience in marketing and product development.” Thao has put this experience to work and created a brand that serves exactly what her community — one that includes her own family, who have dietary restrictions — needs. The bakery, which offers an extensive range of breads, desserts, and takeaway meals for the health conscious and those with diet restrictions, has grown to three locations and a production facility in under 18 months, proving the power of focusing on your strengths, rather than your weaknesses. Another strength in her arsenal? An entrepreneurial spirit that was cultivated at a young age. “I was 3 years old and as new immigrants, I was dipping rice sheets in warm water in order to make spring rolls that my mum would sell to moms and pops stores.”
“I always like to quote Winston Churchill’s ‘Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm,’” says Humera Malik, the CEO and Founder of Canvass Analytics. It’s a fitting mantra: Humera had originally put all her money in her first business, which was building and running a chicken farm. She found success on a very different path with Canvass Analytics, which is using AI to to take a radically different approach to data-driven decision making. Not only has she secured Google as an investor, she’s also part of the Pan-Canadian AI strategy, a key innovation initiative of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Still, she’s been through countless “twists and turns” with her new business, but she credits the genuine people she keeps around her with helping her through the challenges. “These are the people that are there to celebrate the wins, give me the confidence when I get knocked down, and challenge me to aim for more, even when I just want to sleep!”