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Meet Esther Vlessing, Co-Founder & CEO of Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers.

2021 Ones to Watch Award Recipient.

While pursuing her bachelors of science degree at U of T, Esther Vlessing built and scaled a national clothing line. She then went on to work on the Canada Goose design team. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Esther connected with the Deputy Ministers Office and Department of Economic Trade and Development in Canada to plan and execute a nation-wide emergency manufacturing response unit. She co-founded Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM) to tackle Canada’s personal protective equipment shortages and logistical needs. CEMM activated and retooled two dozen domestic factories, created hundreds of domestic jobs and supplied over a million units of PPE to various levels of Canadian government.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… There were problems I wanted to solve that other companies or individuals weren’t yet addressing. In the case of my current venture, Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers, there was a huge need for local manufacturing during the pandemic, and I stepped up to meet the need. 

My proudest accomplishment is… CEMM! Building a company with zero upfront investment into a profitable and meaningful enterprise within 3 months. We were able to manufacture sufficient isolation gowns to protect Canada’s front-line healthcare workers and kept over 450 local seamstresses and factory workers employed during the height of the pandemic. 

My boldest move to date was… cold-calling the Premier’s office telling them I’d be able to help set-up a national manufacturing effort. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I started my last company during a 3-day water-fast. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage” (from the movie, We Bought a Zoo). Mustering up the courage to do something you’re scared to do can move your idea or business forward in immeasurable ways. 

My best advice from a mentor was… As an entrepreneur you don’t have to be good at everything. There is a huge advantage to hiring other people who are better, smarter, and have more experience than you. Especially if you’re starting something that’s new for you, look for guidance in veterans who have walked the path before you. 

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…  to view set-backs, obstacles and instances of rejection as universal protection or redirection. A favourite mantra of mine is: “everything happens for you, not against you.”

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… walk to more places! So many of us lead such sedentary lives and travel from point A to point B without moving our bodies. I’m a big believer in healthy-body, healthy-mind, so the extra hour would definitely be spent moving.   

I stay inspired by… reading interviews and memoirs written by fellow entrepreneurs. There is such a wealth of knowledge from those who have walked the path before us, and so many are willing to share their experiences! Some of my favourite reads include “What I Wish I Knew When I was 20” by Tina Seelig, “Girlboss” by Sophia Amoruso, and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg.  

My next step is… to reach back and offer the support and guidance I wish I’d had as a post-grad entering the work-force. I’m currently writing a book that recounts my entrepreneurial journey from the first company I started during University to the second I built into an 8-figure business, and all the struggle, challenges and down-time in between. The book is an example of how trusting and listening to life’s signs and directives can help us navigate our path to build the career (and life!) of our dreams.