STORIES THAT INSPIRE
Agent for Change: Andria Barrett
Andria Barrett wanted to be a public speaker.
She reached out to all sorts of agencies and organizations. She applied, sent demo tapes, did the follow-up, but didn’t get any response.
“Unfortunately, I’ve always felt like I was the only Black person in the room,” Andria says. At conferences, workshops or gala dinners, she says she would never see many people who looked like her. Yet, at the same time, she often found herself trying to help event organizers connect with diverse speakers. From that juxtaposition, Andria says she realized that if she wanted there to be an agency that represented people who look different from the status quo, “I would just have to create it myself.”
So, she did.
In 2016, Andria founded The Diversity Agency—a speakers bureau that specializes in representing BIPOC speakers. The agency also has a consulting arm that provides Diversity & Inclusion training and strategic consulting to companies that want to connect with and better understand Black communities.
Early in her journey, Andria sought entrepreneurial support from Rise’s Peer Supported Startup Program.
“Rise made us walk through our business plan from beginning to end to know what our product was, know who our target audience was, know how to break down out costs, [etc.],” Andria says. “It was so helpful because with a strong foundation, you save yourself from a lot of mistakes.”
Today, as The Diversity Agency CEO, Andria leads a team of three. She is also one of 15 diverse speakers on the bureau’s roster who represent a wide variety of expertise. She is a Wellness & DEI Speaker. As a nutritionist working with people who have prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, Andria speaks to managing blood sugar and leading healthy lives with diabetes. As a small business advocate, she speaks to corporations and fellow-entrepreneurs about learning how to balance stress, wellness and business—a talk that she has had to learn to walk for herself.
“As an entrepreneur, in the beginning you abandon all things healthy. For me personally, I was doing everything that I tell my clients not to do—working morning to night, just go, go, go,” she confesses. “Now, every day before I start work, I go to the gym. It’s great for me mentally and physically … and helps me perform better at work.”
For many entrepreneurs, mental and physical wellbeing are common sacrifices, but Andria says, “We need to make sure people are doing the little things [for their wellness] so that when they’re business is growing and flourishing, they are healthy enough to celebrate and enjoy it.”
And it seems, as The Diversity Agency gears up for major opportunities in 2023, including Black History Month and Women’s History Month, and looks towards expanding in the coming years, Andria is enjoying it.
“Rise was such a positive experience for me that helped me set the foundation to get started,” she says. “What motivated me was a lack of representation of BIPOC speakers, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to give people the opportunity to work and share their message.”
Congratulations to Andria Barrett on being named the 2022 Rotman Family Entrepreneur of the Year.
Teaching Resilience: Michelle Tasa
Michelle Tasa is the owner of Artpourings Studio in Calgary, Alberta—a safe space where people can take classes that teach everything from drawing and sewing to simple robotics.
But, Michelle says, “It’s not really about art or making anything. It’s actually about helping kids develop creativity, problem-solving and resilience.”
At Artpourings Studio, students don’t complete identical artworks or follow step-by-step instructions. Instead, they’re encouraged to design their own projects and work through the process of creating them.
“They’re going to come up against difficulties, and that’s where I can step in as a mentor to help them build their skills,” Michelle says. “But the goal is in their perseverance; in learning that they can count on themselves to fix a problem. That is resilience.”
In many ways, Michelle’s approach to education mirrors her entrepreneurial journey.
Once a small-town teacher in Northern Saskatchewan, in 2015 Michelle was made redundant. At the time, her husband was ill, her two kids were seven and nine, and the nearest job 40 minutes away. She says that she explored every option, but instead of the daily commute, decided, “I’m actually going to move to China, because that is going to give us life that I can actually survive in.”
Michelle spent five years living in China with her kids, teaching at international schools. Then, in early 2020 the pandemic struck. Suddenly, she found herself locked down in Shanghai, during which time her husband passed away.
After months enduring grief, trauma and uncertainty, Michelle decided to move back home to Calgary in the summer of 2020.
“That’s when I struggled the most [with my mental health],” she says. After three months in hospital, she was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). By the summer of 2021, she knew she would need to get creative again to provide for her family.
“I knew I couldn’t go back into fulltime teaching, and I didn’t want to go back into that box of the education system … So, I had to stop and figure out something else. For me that’s resilience.”
Two months after opening Artpourings Studio, Michelle came to Rise for a small business loan and mentorship support.
“My Business Advisor helped me to write my business plan,” she says. “It was exactly what I needed, and the loan from Rise literally sustained me and helped me market my business. Also, my mentor is really encouraging … I’ve gotten so much confidence from working with them.”
Michelle says entrepreneurship has been amazing journey that’s allowed her to push into employment while still prioritising her mental health.
That’s her priority for her students too – many of whom are kids experiencing anxiety – and for events, workshops and corporate clients looking to foster creativity and wellbeing.
“I want to be known as a businessperson who has a mental illness because I think the more we are open about it, the less stigma we’re going to have,” she says.
“And that word, resilience—I have absolutely accepted it as mine. I am resilient.”
Congratulations to Michelle Tasa, recipient of the 2022 Dr. Paul Garfinkel Resilience Award.
The Business of Storytelling: Reham Teama
Teama Publishing isn’t Reham Teama’s first foray into entrepreneurship.
Born and raised in Egypt, she moved to Dubai in 2008, where she had her own business for several years. Then, in 2016, she immigrated to Canada.
Initially, Reham worked for an insurance company here, but towards the end of her maternity leave with her first child in 2019, she decided she wouldn’t be going back.
Instead, she launched a small business-to-business consulting firm.
“I was enjoying what I was doing, but then COVID hit in 2020 and it was a nightmare.”
Without a stable income and with the pressures of isolation and lockdowns, Reham says she started to experience depression. She can’t quite explain it, but she also started writing her memoirs, “out of the blue.”
“I started writing my own blog on Facebook. I wrote about my life in Dubai and in less than a year this page grew from one follower to 10,000 followers!”
Soon, Reham began to receive messages from her readers complimenting her as an author.
“I didn’t even know I could write, but I thought, ‘maybe they are right,’ and that encouraged me to explore different aspects of myself.”
As the blog’s popularity grew, Reham decided the next step was to try and publish it. Because it was written in Arabic, she found a self-publishing company in Egypt to work with but needed financing to move the project forward.
As luck would have it, a couple of years before, she’d been introduced to Rise. She applied to the Small Business Lending Program and secured a loan to help her cover expenses such as printing, shipping, organizing a book signing in Canada and attending the Cairo International Book Fair.
Both Cairo and the signing in Canada were a success.
“I was on TV and then I sold like 500 copies in less than a year,” Reham says. “I thought, ‘ok, I’m a real author,’ and decided to believe in myself.”
Thus, Teama Publishing was born.
With the success of her book, the publisher in Egypt proposed making Reham its agent for North America.
“I went from unpublished writer to published author and publisher too,” she says. All in little more than a year. “It has been a journey.”
Today, Teama Publishing is working to increase the exposure of Arabic authors in North America by connecting them with the publisher in Egypt. It’s also working to raise the profile of Arabic literature. Recently, Reham organized the first Arabic book fair in Florida, and she’s currently planning the first Arabic-Canadian book fair, to take place in Mississauga, Ontario, in March 2023.
She’s also investing in having her own book, Rosy Dreams, translated to English—which, incidentally, is the first of a trilogy.
“Without Rise, my first book would never have been published,” Reham says. “I needed the loan, and I used every single dollar. Of course, I’ve invested more, but that was a great, great contribution to get me started … and I feel like my hard work is paying off.”
Congratulations to Reham Teama, recipient of the 2022 Bell Let’s Talk Start-up Award.
Paying it Forward: Shaun Pingitore
Shaun Pingitore says he’s always been an entrepreneur, kind of.
Growing up, he did the usual things like run a lemonade stand and shovel driveways, as well as some more inventive ventures.
“Every Saturday I used to go to garage sales to look for electronics and video games,” he says. “I bought things I knew the value of so I could flip them at school the next week.”
Despite his obvious penchant for business, Shaun says he decided to study psychology in university, with the intention of becoming a lawyer, like his older sister. But once he got to post-secondary, he realized law school wasn’t his path, and decided instead to apply his love for psychology to the world of marketing.
Today he is the CEO and Director of Strategy at Atlas Marketing Group Inc.
But it was while still attending Toronto Metropolitan University (then Ryerson) that Shaun launched his first “real” business – a successful window cleaning venture – thanks to a program called The Summer Company, which gave students training, financing and mentorship to start a business.
Perhaps more importantly, he says the experience set him on a path of volunteerism.
“After completing Summer Company … I realized the massive impact a strong mentor can make.”
In fact, Shaun says he’s benefit from mentorship in one form or another all his life. From childhood, he received guidance from his sister (the lawyer) and his dad and uncle, who both owned their own businesses.
“I’ve avoided making a lot of my own mistakes because I’ve kind of always had someone tapping me on my shoulder [with advice],” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to have that, and I think being able to pay it forward to others is fantastic.”
Shaun began coaching people in the early stages of the business-building and eventually, “I came across Rise,” he says.
“As someone who struggles with anxiety and has been around a lot of mental illness in my life, I thought it would be a great opportunity to help people who are in need of particular entrepreneurial support.”
As a volunteer mentor, Shaun works with Rise training programs, taking part in group sessions and providing advice to new and aspiring small business owners. He says his approach to mentorship is shaped by the motto, “Play the cards you’re dealt.”
“I’m really resourceful, and I think that’s an important part of being a business owner … At the end of the day, you have to deal with what you have to deal with [and] I want to help people figure out how to best manage their individual challenges.”
To Shaun, the gratification comes when he can use what he’s learned on his own entrepreneurial journey to inspire “lightbulb moments” in others.
“When mentees leave calls with me visibly energized to tackle whatever business problem they’re facing, that’s the most satisfying feeling. Especially because I’ve been on the other end of it, hearing something that inspires me to persevere.”
Congratulations to Shaun Pingitore, 2022 Scotiabank Volunteer of the Year.
Rise Champion: Martin Traub-Werner
Martin Traub-Werner describes himself as a lifelong entrepreneur and his enthusiasm for business is clear.
“I just love the business of business,” Martin says. “I like talking about businesses, I like understanding how they work, I like unpacking them, I like poking holes in them, I like thinking how big they could be … [Business] is a magical process, and it’s something that has intrigued me ever since I had a lemonade stand on the corner as a kid.”
With a background in human resource management, Martin approaches business from the perspective of people, so perhaps it’s no surprise that when he learned about Rise’s holistic, mental health and people-first approach to entrepreneurship, it was the beginning of an important relationship.
Since 2020, Martin has volunteered as both a group and one-on-one mentor with Rise’s lending and training programs. He’s also a member of the volunteer Loan Review Committee and is a generous donor and advocate, helping to build Rise’s network of supporters across Canada.
That deep, multifaceted commitment is why Martin has been named the recipient of the inaugural Dave Richardson Champion Award. From 2022 on, the Champion Award will be presented annually to a Rise community member whose actions demonstrate a commitment to advancing Rise’s mission through various means.
In other words, a community member like Martin.
He says his dedication to Rise is rooted in the opportunity to help ease the challenges of entrepreneurship so that individuals with mental health and addiction challenges can create meaningful outcomes for themselves and their communities.
“People think being an entrepreneur is glamorous — but no, it’s hard,” Martin says. “It’s hard, it’s lonely … and the fact that there is an organization that not only provides money but also provides some infrastructure and business support is massively important.”
Just as Martin’s personal engagement extends across many aspects of Rise’s work, so too does his advice on getting involved.
To new mentors, he offers three tips for building strong relationships with your mentees:
“One, be invested but understand that it’s not your journey … Two, be available, be flexible, be realistic, and be a cheerleader … Three, listen a lot and be grateful.”
As for individuals looking to invest in tangible impact, Martin calls the opportunity to help someone define and take control of their own productivity a “golden” one.
“[Rise clients] are people who stand up and say, ‘a traditional job is difficult for me because I’ve got mitigating circumstances, but I can still be productive.’ And frankly, in many ways they become more productive because entrepreneurs are job creators … which is massively valuable to us all.”
And on the topic of receiving the first-ever Dave Richardson Champion Award?
“It’s always meaningful to be recognized by people who think you’ve done good work, but that should never be the end of the story, it should be the beginning,” Martin says. “Hopefully, in my case, it really is just the beginning of the story, because I love this organization and what it does.”
Rise hopes so too, Martin.
Congratulations to Martin Traub-Werner, recipient of the inaugural Dave Richardson Champion Award.
Sit Happens: Britnie Mousseau
Britnie Mousseau says she became very depressed and felt under stimulated working in the normal corporate environment, “but once I started working with dogs, a whole new world opened up for me.”
She says starting her business, Sit Happens Dog Training, was “a scary step,” but one that was vital to her mental health.
“I started to enjoy the freedom I had to plan my own day,” she says. “Having the ability to do different tasks that encouraged me to learn and take risks really gave me a sense of purpose.”
While it’s been 10 years since launching her business, the resident of Halton Hills, Ontario, says that 2022 has been her toughest year yet. In a changing market, she’s faced new competition and a general post-pandemic decline in sales as people get back to things like social activities and vacations. So, Britnie says she’s had to get a little creative. Currently, she’s on the hunt for a property to lease, where Sit Happens could offer services that do not require the owner to be present, such as day training and boarding.
“My main priority is to improve our cash flow and pivot with the market instead of losing sales.”
This story of perseverance may not have always been possible for Britnie, but entrepreneurship has helped her overcome a lot of her social anxiety and learn many skills for taking on new challenges—something she credits Rise with helping her achieve.
“Rise was the first ‘person’ to believe in me,” she says. “At the time that I [joined the Small Business Lending Program], I was surrounded by people who were not interested in my growth … Rise worked with me and gave me the chance to grow. The loan was like I finally had someone saying, ‘I believe in you, and you can do this!’”
Heart of a Man: Donovan McKenzie
Donovan McKenzie says it was the pressure to be seen as a “real man” that kept him silent about his depression for years. It wasn’t until he decided to see a therapist and open up about his mental health challenges that Donovan discovered an opportunity for himself to play a role in redefining masculinity.
“I started [my business] Heart of a Man to revolutionize manhood,” he says. “I wanted to inspire men to have the courage to share their pain and get the help need.”
But his entrepreneurial journey hasn’t been an easy one. As a speaker and community mental health advocate, he struggled to turn his passion into a business.
Before finding Rise, Donovan says, “I lost hope and felt like it was time to give up … [But] Rise believed in me.”
As a Small Business Lending Program client, Donovan says he not only accessed a loan to help him invest in merchandise and his digital presence, but he also gained the support of a mentor who taught him how to make sound business decisions.
Today, Heart of a Man produces unique t-shirts that symbolize mental health advocacy and hope; Donovan publishes blogs to help people learn about mental health issues and build coping skills; and he organizes open discussion groups that encourage individuals experiencing similar struggles to connect and communicate.
And that’s just the beginning.
Donovan says his priorities are to keep growing the Heart of a Man brand, to sell his socially conscious apparel in stores, to do speaking engagements for corporations and schools, and last but not least, get his Master’s in Social Work.
“My role as a mental health public speaker has inspired me to make a difference in the lives of those who need hope and support,” Donovan says. “Running this business has allowed me to see how important my brand is for this generation.”
And, importantly, he adds, “I have learned what it means to love what you do.”
Honourable Mentor: Glorie Averbach
Glorie Averbach is in the businesses of helping entrepreneurs succeed, literally.
As co-founder of myCEO, she is a small business consultant and coach, informed by her own dynamic entrepreneurial journey in the tech sector. It was through her work with the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP) at Community Futures B.C. (a Rise partner!) that Glorie first met Vancouver entrepreneur, Heidi Nagtegaal.
When Heidi joined the Rise Small Business Lending Program, Glorie did too.
“When Heidi ‘graduated’ to Rise from EDP, [Rise] asked if I’d like to continue to work with them in a new capacity—as a mentor,” Glorie says. “Knowing about Rise and the services and support offered, I didn’t hesitate.”
According to her mentee, Glorie has helped Heidi create a strong business foundation and understand how best to run their (two) companies for profit and growth.
“Heidi has a natural entrepreneurial bend and is extremely self-aware, so I hesitate to take any credit for their success,” Glorie says. “In my view, what I’ve helped Heidi with is confidence and self-belief. Coming up with a business idea isn’t hard; executing on it consistently and making money from it is. To do so, you’ve got to believe in your own strength and abilities.”
Getting to know your mentee and how best to support them from the start of the relationship is the advice Glorie would give to any aspiring mentor.
“Everyone is unique and that’s important to take into account. For me, this means asking lots of questions to help me get super clear on which personal skillsets and abilities I can draw on to best help my mentee … It’s also very important to be clear on the mentee’s goals. You have to know where they want to go before you can help them get there.”
By Tooth and Claw Clothing: Heidi Nagtegaal
Heidi Nagtegaal is a tarot reader by trade. Their business, Tarot Time with Heidi, was already established when the pandemic rendered their studio space too small to host clients safely.
“I’ve always wanted to make tarot-inspired clothing and decided [during the pandemic] was my time,” Heidi says. “My reading room transformed into a clothing cave, and By Tooth And Claw Clothing (BTACC) was born!”
In just over two years, Heidi has turned their long-time idea into a clothing and accessories line that sells online and consigns in 11 stores across Canada.
“I’ve had [BTACC] planned out in my head for years. To bring it out of the ether was pure joy—a lot of hard work and learning, but rewarding and fulfilling, too.”
Heidi says that effort and education includes overcoming “straight up gaps” in their experience. As a Small Business Lending Program client, they’ve received mentorship and financial support to help bridge those gaps. Self-described as “extremely neurodiverse,” Heidi says they run their business like an art project—which has its advantages.
“But pair that with my mental health and the fact that I didn’t really have any business experience before this, and I’m a mess when it comes to time management and knowing how to grow. [My Rise Mentor] Glorie helps me prioritize things so I don’t waste my time and helps me understand how business works so I can maximize impact.”
As for their loan?
“Rise helped me invest in merchandise, so I could grow my consignment … Since I was able to use the loan to release one of my early lines, I was able to get feedback from the stores I consign with, and they are game for the new lines when I release them.
“Knowing that I have active buy-in to scale is a great confidence booster to expand and grow!”
A Greener House: Joanne Stirling
Joanne Stirling is a 56-year-old woman with no pension. Never married, she’s a single mom who says she has spent her life raising her now 27-year-old son. From Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Newfoundland, she spent 30 years as an outside sales rep, delivering industrial supplies to marine, oil and gas, construction, and hydro operations.
Then, last year, at 55, Joanne was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—to a rather unexpected outcome.
“That change in my life … really made my business side kick in,” Joanne says. “Starting new medication has been like winning the lotto for me. It turned my jumble into reality … ADHD made me scared to speak. I felt fake; like my body and my soul were not connected. Now, I have confidence. I have hope.”
Joanne’s hope translates into hope for her home province too.
She says 75% of Newfoundland’s food is imported from the mainland, subject to myriad disruptions and delays caused by climate change
“I decided to start small—to learn to grow and sell my own produce. I have my application accepted at the farmer’s market, and I have spent over a year researching, writing my business plan and sourcing funding.”
As a client of Rise’s Small Business Lending Program, Joanne secured a loan to buy a greenhouse where she can grow produce year-round.
“My happy place is watching plants sprout and grow,” she says. “It gives me a sense of purpose and beauty.”
Like her plants, Joanne hopes to eventually grow her business, A Greener House, into a commercial farm. Using Controlled Environment Agriculture with Solar Greenhouses and Energy-Efficient Systems, she will cultivate produce that she can sell into the local distribution chain to give back to her community.
“I have sold industrial products for other companies my whole life,” Joanne says. “When I start selling my own produce that I have grown myself, I will be proud.”
Honourable Mentor: Kareim M. Abbouda
“My values include openly sharing knowledge and learning from the process of giving back and paying things forward,” says Kareim M. Abbouda, Founder and Executive Director at Kinsey McAllen and Chief Strategist at ZenBillions.com. “I knew that volunteering with Rise would be the best platform for me, given its support system geared towards clients and volunteers.”
Kareim has been volunteering with Rise since 2016 and has worked with clients from both the lending and training programs. He says his approach to mentorship is to be an active listener and help entrepreneurs work through their business challenges holistically.
As an example, Kareim says that with one mentee, helping them see the connection between their personal well-being and their professional progress was an important support.
“For example, we uncovered intricate issues relating to their cash flow and how discrepancies in a positive inflow may affect their ability to withstand personal emergencies … Ensuring they understood and felt right about taking only measured risk, meant that they would be better prepared.”
To anyone contemplating volunteering with Rise, Kareim says that what you give, you get back in spades.
“Be prepared to be amazed by your own ability to grow and by your accelerated learning. Your involvement with Rise will uncover new possibilities in your own life and business that you may not have even thought of.”
By distilling your own values and experience to support others, and by helping them delve into their unique challenges, Kareim says that, as a mentor, you will go on a journey of exploration and discovery that is rare and exceptional.
“That, in my opinion, is the value of being a mentor at Rise.”
The Artist to Watch: Brittany ‘Exmiranda’ Manu Otchere
You may already know the name Exmiranda.
Perhaps you’ve seen it on a billboard in Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square. Or maybe on TikTok. Or on one of dozens of editorial playlists on Spotify.
And if you haven’t seen it yet? Well, just keep watching.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Exmiranda, which is the stage name (and middle name) of Brittany Manu Otchere. The Toronto hip hop artist has built a fan base of more than 123.5k on TikTok, amassed more than 2 million streams (and counting) on Spotify, and recently released her debut album, Funk Break.
The momentum might fool you into thinking her success has come quickly or by chance, but that’s not the case at all. It’s the result of years of hard work, perseverance, and good business strategy.
“Music has always been a part of me,” Brittany says. “I was always singing as a kid and in so many different talent shows. As I got older, I got more into poetry and did a lot of spoken word; then I started releasing music in about 2015.”
Within a couple of years, she was ready to go all in.
“By 2017, I was taking it really seriously—I was making a lot of videos, trying to work with different producers, and figuring out ways to be more business-minded as an artist.”
While researching different opportunities, she discovered Rise and applied to the Youth Small Business Program. In it, she started developing a business plan aimed at accessing funding, building her fan base, and finding other ways to sustain her career as an artist.
“My main goal is to be successful enough that I can transition out of working a nine-to-five.”
Brittany’s current job is as an antiracism policy consultant, where she says she has a lot of opportunity to evoke change and create space for people from racialized and diverse communities to actually see themselves represented. But leaving that work won’t mean leaving the advocacy. Brittany is passionate about using her art to create platforms for social justice and inclusion. For example, in April 2021, she curated a Women in Hip Hop digital exhibition for Myseum of Toronto—a project she’s received funding to repeat on a larger scale.
Accessing grants is one area where Brittany says she’s exceeded her own expectations. In fact, she’s already surpassed a few milestones outlined in her business plan, such as signing her first official sync deal (i.e., having her music licensed to moving pictures). And it was a big one—her track “Steam” is featured in the premiere episode of the Gossip Girl reboot.
“That was super exciting,” she says.
As for other highlights, in August, TikTok brought her on for a campaign where she got to freestyle challenge Ludacris. She’s also been invited to perform on Citytv, was named one of ET Canada’s “Black Social Media Creatives to Watch in 2021,” and did we mention that her Yonge and Dundas billboard also featured Drake?
“There are tons of really, really great things that I’ve been so blessed to be a part of, and I really consider my success the result of generating a mindset of not giving up,” Brittany says. “Rise helped me understand that there’s always opportunities to succeed, but sometimes you have to create them for yourself; you can’t wait for other people to do it for you. You have to develop the business side of things and have a plan to ensure your success.
“That’s been really monumental for me as an artist.”
Congratulations to Brittany ‘Exmiranda’ Manu Otchere on being named the 2021 Rotman Family Entrepreneur of the Year.
(Bee &) Key to Thrifting Success: Rebekah Thibeault
The idea of becoming a business owner always held a bit of romance for Rebekah Thibeault—romance, but no realism.
“I didn’t think I was smart enough,” she says. “And even though there were a million things happening in my brain, who was going to believe in me when a lot of my peers, teachers and so forth, didn’t?”
Rebekah lives with Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Irlen Syndrome, and even though everything told her she couldn’t be her own boss, that romance deep inside still drove her to try.
It was after leaving a career in the funeral industry that she decided to gamble on something she’d been passionate about since childhood: fashion.
More specifically: thrifting.
She found a business partner and set out to open a consignment boutique. After being rejected by the banks, she discovered Rise and applied to the Small Business Lending Program.
More than a loan, Rebekah got the support and mentorship to help her build a solid business plan and eventually launch Bee & Key Boutique.
“I think the people at Rise were the first people to actually believe in me,” Rebekah says. “They broke down so many business things that I didn’t think I could ever understand, and I got to join a community of people just like me, who were experiencing the same troubles.”
And there were troubles.
Within just a couple months of opening their doors, Rebekah and her partner reached a breaking point. Suddenly she faced a major decision: fight to keep her business or quit.
“At one point I thought about giving up,” she says. With her anxiety and depression triggered, she remembers saying to a close friend, “maybe I should just back out before it’s too late.”
Her friend responded, “What do most successful people have? Perseverance. And I know you have that.”
Rebekah decided to fight, and eventually won, taking the company solely in her name.
She says her husband and three kids have been an invaluable support system, and that Rise has helped her understand how to manage it all. Through mentorship she’s learned how to identify and avoid burnout and has also learned to trust her entrepreneurial instincts.
Instincts that have helped her not only survive but thrive during a pandemic.
Once lockdown restrictions were loosened, Rebekah introduced private shopping appointments. As things opened up more, she contracted an in-house stylist to add to the experience and started allowing small group bookings so friends could shop together, complete with wine and charcuterie.
“We created a VIP experience like Gucci. You come in and there’s champagne waiting—but it’s a thrift store and we’re not creating any clothing waste.”
The goal of “wasting not” is central to Rebekah’s ethos. She’s built partnerships with other local boutiques to bring specific items in for her customers, and also to give their unsold merchandise a second chance.
“We’ve built a beautiful little community,” she says. And she extends that community to helping empower other women as entrepreneurs. In July 2020, a Bee & Key Boutique opened in nearby Beaumont, Alberta, but Rebekah doesn’t own it. One of her consignors-turned-franchisee does.
“I want to create a franchise to help women succeed,” Rebekah says. “What Rise did for me was give me a foundation, and the process was so easy. Why not make the process of opening a thrift store easy for someone else? We call it Rebekah’s Recipe to Success. I did all the dirty work so nobody else has to.”
A romantic idea that the unstoppable Rebekah Thibeault is making very real.
Congratulations to Rebekah Thibeault, recipient of the 2021 Dr. Paul Garfinkel Resilience Award.
Advocating Openness & Inclusive Employment: Karen Clarke
After a 20-year career that spanned everything from journalism and sales to the labour sector, Karen Clarke decided to take a step away from her full-time job.
“I finally had to face the fact that I have severe anxiety and depression,” she says. “I was on leave for about a year and a half; then the pandemic hit.”
Karen has three children—her son, Julien, 25, and two daughters, Sheridan, 20, and Simone, 17. The eldest and youngest both identify as neurodivergent. During lockdowns, as the hours of Netflix began to wear, Karen and Julien (a recent Psychology grad from the University of Toronto) started to brainstorm what might come next for them.
With her labour experience, Karen knew all about the service gaps that exist for people who face barriers to employment due to mental health or variant abilities. She’d witnessed the typical cycle—wage subsidies would get an individual hired, but without proper support, they would almost inevitably end up unemployed again.
“Frustratingly, this could still be seen as a positive outcome for funders, because there was employment,” she says. “But big picture, that person stayed on the hamster wheel of unemployment—a cyclical pattern that is devaluing, demotivating, and hard to watch.”
Karen decided to stop watching and start acting. In August 2020, she incorporated ASpectrum.
Serving the neurodiverse community, which includes individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, similar Autism Spectrum profiles, Tourette Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorders, ASpectrum specializes in strength-based, trauma-informed job coaching and professional development. It provides neurodivergent career seekers with support services to help them find and retain employment and works with employers to create inclusive spaces where neurodivergent individuals can succeed.
To hone her business plan and for the financial support and mentorship, Karen applied to the Rise Small Business Lending Program.
“One of the great things about Rise is it gives an opportunity to really new start-ups,” she says. “I also knew that an organization that puts mental health first would be very compassionate—and they were.”
In little over a year, ASpectrum has developed multiple community partnerships, and a national one with Ready, Willing & Able. And while Karen would like to grow to international scale, she’s not rushing it.
“One of the things that makes us unique is our individualized support, and when you grow too fast or too large, you can end up losing some of that.”
This first-time entrepreneur also wants to be sure not to lose herself—something she says her Rise mentorship has helped with.
“A lot of what I work through with my mentor isn’t necessarily the nitty gritty of the business; it’s more how I can remain authentic to myself and my self-care while running the business.”
A business that now has 12 professional coaches and three full-time employees, including Julien, her co-founder.
Her daughters are involved too.
“It’s actually a lot of fun,” Karen says of juggling the roles of mom and boss. She’s also embracing her role as advocate.
“I didn’t want to talk about my mental health before because of the stigma. I think working with Rise has taken away that fear. I feel like I’ve found a place where I’m respected and appreciated and seen as a whole, not just a diagnosis.”
Now, Karen pushes herself to speak openly about her challenges.
“I want people to know that there’s always the possibility of movement. It’s so important not to remain stagnant because you feel like you have no options. There are always options, you just have to find them.”
Congratulations to Karen Clarke on receiving the 2021 Bell Let’s Talk Start-up Award.
These Boots Were Made for Confidence: Meryl Cook
Meryl Cook owns a very important pair of red cowboy boots.
In a roundabout way, that story begins in 2015, when after 20 years as a homeopath, Meryl was diagnosed with breast cancer. Wanting to commit her energy to healing, she made the decision to leave her practice and shifted her focus to journaling and rug hooking.
“I’d been a rug hooker for years, but this meant sitting at the frame, hooking and writing full time,” the Nova Scotian says. “In the first year, I wrote a couple of books and started a new business.”
Before homeopathy, Meryl had worked in management consulting. Drawn back to the corporate world, she developed a way to introduce her art into the boardroom.
As founder of Meryl Cook Engagement by Design, she began facilitating hands-on leadership and team-building workshops centered on rug hooking. Bringing her equipment into workplaces, she’d lead teams through the process to create a rug design representative of their corporate vision. After the session, Meryl would leave behind her tools so groups could work on their rugs, to eventually be displayed in the office.
“It was pretty great,” she says. But of course, this was all before COVID. As it did for so many people, the pandemic pushed Meryl’s work online.
Which brings us back to the red cowboy boots.
“I like to incorporate chakra colours into my work and red is the colour of grounding,” Meryl says. “When I do presentations, I wear my red cowboy boots – even if no one can see them – because they give me a boost of confidence.”
She now runs virtual workshops focused on joy and self-compassion. She facilitates one called “Red Cowboy Boots: Choosing how to show up when life feels out of control,” where she explores intention and moving from feeling vulnerable to empowered.
With Meryl’s philosophy so closely aligned to Rise’s mission and values, it’s no surprise that she’s a good fit for mentorship.
“I’ve had so many mentors who have helped me, and it’s a great way to give back,” she says. “I’m especially interested in Rise because, by supporting individuals who might otherwise have difficulty getting into or sustaining entrepreneurship, it’s making a really decent attempt at breaking the cycle for people living in marginalized communities or in poverty.”
In 2020, Meryl was paired with Rise lending client, Colleen Moffatt.
Based in Yarmouth, N.S., Colleen is the owner of 3C’S Custom Leather Works, a family business that does saddle repair and makes all manner of leather products, from belts and bags to phone cases.
“Colleen’s work is beautiful, and I see huge potential for it, but I have to remember that it’s up to her to set the pace,” Meryl says. “I’ve learned to resist the temptation to just share everything I’ve learned in my 25 years as an entrepreneur. It’s Colleen’s business, and how fast or slow it grows is also Colleen’s business. The most important thing I can do is hold space for her to work through her experience.”
Having submitted Meryl’s name for Volunteer of the Year, Colleen clearly appreciates the empowering approach.
In her nomination, she thanked Meryl and wrote: “I was in a dark place when I applied for Rise. Now, I am finally starting to see a light.”
“Feeling like I can actually help has been very rewarding,” Meryl says. “I’ve watched Colleen progress over the year—she’s gaining knowledge and experience, and she’s really gaining confidence.”
Almost like she’s got a pair of red cowboy boots on.
Congratulations to the 2021 Scotiabank Volunteer of the Year, Meryl Cook.
“Although I was always intrigued by the idea of starting a business in apparel and design, never in my life did I think that this would be my career,” says Becca Meadows.
But then one day in 2012, she woke up unable to walk.
“It was during this experience, following my diagnosis with a chronic illness, that I started Sadelmager Design House,” she says.
Following in the footsteps of her father, who started a leather and tack business in retirement, Becca began developing her concept for using traditional saddlery techniques to create durable custom leather apparel without compromising quality or style.
“Mostly bedridden then, I spent what energy I could drafting a business plan, drawing designs and seeking inspiration,” she says. “I wanted to create something sustainable, both in how it was built and how it could be used.”
Becca dedicated herself to Sadelmager full time in September 2020, and through March 2021, continually met and exceeded her monthly sales goals. Now, she’s focused on scaling her business—a goal Rise is helping her to achieve through the EnterpRISEing Youth Plus Program and a microloan.
“Rise has helped me grow my business through financial support, and most importantly, personal and professional mentorship,” she says. “I’ve gained confidence in my ability to run my business and find work-life balance.”
And the flexibility of entrepreneurship means Becca, who lives with chronic illness, can prioritize her health when she needs to.
“Like any entrepreneur, my business is a part of who I am,” she says. “But Sadelmager isn’t just a passion for me; it saved my life. It gave me purpose on days I had none. For that reason, I will always give it everything I have.”
In 2015, Katy Evans was injured in a car accident, which left her with chronic migraines that contributed to the end of a 20-year career and the start of a deep depression.
She describes it as the “lowest point” in her life.
“The loss of my career was devastating to me, yet it also presented a unique opportunity to start something completely fresh,” says the single mother of two. “I made the brave choice to start my own business.”
With support from Rise, in Fall 2019 Katy launched Cloud 9 Kids, a re-sale boutique that curates brand-name, gently used children’s wear and new/nearly-new books, toys and gifts.
But just six months after Cloud 9’s doors opened in Lucan, Ontario, they were forced shut by the pandemic. And Katy was forced to expand online much sooner than planned.
“The most fulfilling experience over the past year has been learning how resilient I can be. Being agile, creative and flexible has been key to surviving—skills I’ve discovered I’m pretty good at!”
Indeed, the online sales that supported Cloud 9 Kids through COVID closures now account for nearly half of weekly sales. Katy’s been taking social media marketing courses and with her bricks-and-mortar back open, she’s looking to expand again—this time to a larger retail space in a more lucrative location.
And while revenue is one of Katy’s measures of success, it’s giving back that sends the entrepreneur afloat.
Accordingly, Cloud 9 Kids sources from local vendors, fundraises for local charities, and runs clothing drives to ensure local kids stay warm in the winter—pandemic or not.
“I find that at our lowest, if we can reach out and help another, it comes back double.”
“It has always been a dream of mine to be my own boss,” says Danielle Shea.
In search of a way to help people, she studied psychology in university, but it wasn’t until she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease that Danielle discovered her business calling.
“After my diagnosis, I began learning everything I could about healthy lifestyles and soon found a niche for people who want to live healthier but don’t necessarily feel comfortable at a gym.”
Motivated by the onset of the pandemic (“I realized life is short”), she decided to take the first step towards her dream of entrepreneurship.
“I didn’t know how to start a business, so I sought help,” Danielle says.
It came in the form of Rise’s EnterpRISEing Youth Plus Program, where she learned answers to all of her tax and bookkeeping questions, had the opportunity to network with like-minded people, and benefit from the knowledge and encouragement of her peers and mentors.
Then, she made her dream come true, becoming the “boss” at Health & Fitness with Danielle.
A Certified and Fully Insured Health & Fitness Coach, Danielle helps her clients achieve their long-term health goals through coaching services that provide the education and support to build better habits and make sustainable decisions.
She helps people find balance, which is a personal goal too.
“I want to have enough clients to pay all my bills, but also make sure that I am not overworking,” Danielle says. “I have a tendency to overbook myself, so when I’ve balanced life and work, I will know this business is a success!”
More than a decade ago, Tara Omorogbe took a quiz that told her she wouldn’t make a good entrepreneur. Life, however, taught a different lesson, and today, Tara’s lived experience is at the heart of her business, Articulate Tee.
In both 2013 and 2016, Tara experienced homelessness. Living in Toronto’s shelter system, she saw how quickly mental health challenges, addiction, disabilities, and poor choices could derail lives. Ultimately, earning a scholarship from TD & WoodGreen and completing a Human Resources diploma helped Tara overcome homelessness. But still, she couldn’t let go of a burning question: Why, so often, does it take experiences like homelessness before people can get access to personal development services and life skills training?
She decided to start Articulate Tee, where she curates personal growth strategies to help people with challenging socioeconomic backgrounds become the best versions of themselves. Articulate Tee offers workshops on topics such as conflict resolution and diversifying revenue streams, and Tara offers keynote services on themes like manifesting success.
As a single mother diagnosed with several serious mental health conditions, Tara says, “I am still on a journey to recovery, and I use my lived experiences to connect with my audiences from a place of authenticity and openness.”
Tara has received support from Rise through the My Start-Up program, run in partnership with Elizabeth Fry Toronto. Currently, she’s focused on building her brand presence and authority in the self-development sector.
As for the 10-year-old quiz that told her business ownership was the wrong move?
“I was on a mission to prove that quiz — and myself for believing it — wrong, and Rise helped me do just that! I now live my life fearlessly and without inhibitions.”
Five years ago, Mary Kalanuk experienced serious health issues that resulted in a disability. Unable to work, she became reliant on provincial income support. Unable to drive, she became distanced from her community.
Secluded, she began to experience depression… Secluded, but not alone.
“I had three dogs, so regardless of how I was feeling, they still needed care and attention,” Mary says. “It’s thanks to my dogs that I came out of my depression.”
More than a pet owner, Mary had spent her life working with canines, from managing dog day cares and training centers to high-end boutique pet stores. So, when she began to revisit a lifelong dream of running her own business, the target audience was obvious.
Mary launched Honest To Dog, an online boutique for custom dog collars, leashes, and training tools, and she found start-up support in Rise.
“I knew a traditional lending institution was not an option because my credit had taken a hit,” she says. “Rise took a chance on me and approved my first loan. It was an incredible feeling—it meant that someone believed in my business, not my bank account.”
With her loan, Mary was able to buy bulk supplies and cut her four-week turnaround time on orders to just three days, drastically increasing sales.
But the payoff is much more than money.
“Having a dog-focused business brought me back to the community I thought I’d lost due to my disability,” Mary says. “I feel truly successful when I receive messages from satisfied customers. As happy as I am generating revenue, I’m thrilled to know I’m making a difference in the lives of people and their dogs.”
Ghinwa Merei, MBA, CFP, RRC
Passionate about helping to empower others, Ghinwa Merei was looking for volunteer opportunities to be of service in her community when she came across Rise.
“I was blown away,” she says.
As president and founder of EnVisionary Innovative Consulting and with more than 20 years of strategic leadership experience empowering financial service professionals and Fintech entrepreneurs, Rise’s mission felt like an immediate fit.
“Rise’s values were in total alignment with mine. It doesn’t just offer a quick fix to help ease the pain; it goes deep to empower people and lends them a hand to rebuild their lives and envision new futures.”
As a mentor in the Rise Small Business Lending Program, Ghinwa was paired with mentee David Kellett, a.k.a. Sunshine Dave. As founder of The Sunshine Bliss Project, he helps individuals seeking alternative healing options through services including Reiki, VortexHealing, meditation and sound healing. Though Ghinwa was not an expert in the field, with her years of experience helping leaders unleash their potential, she wanted to help Dave feel confident and empowered as a business owner.
“I did my best to be open-minded and let him educate me on the spiritual experiences and the services he offers. I tried to allow him space to be as authentic as possible, without fear of judgement, and encourage him to celebrate his resiliency.”
Similar is the advice that she offers to new and prospective Rise volunteers.
“Be as authentic and open-minded as you can. Enjoy the experience and be proud to be part of someone else’s transformation journey. This experience is not only impactful for your mentee but also for you and for the whole Rise community. It’s a win-win-win relationship!”
“When I heard about Rise, I was very excited about participating in the journey of youth who’ve had challenging experiences and are building from a place of resilience,” says Cybele Sack, senior content strategist, researcher, social innovation consultant, and Rise volunteer. “I love supporting young people to achieve their dreams.”
One such young person is Becca Meadows, founder of Sadelmager Design House, creating durable, fashionable and sustainable custom leather apparel.
Cybele was connected with Becca as a mentor after the leatherwork designer completed the Rise EnterpRISEing Youth Plus Program (EY+) and qualified for a microloan.
But that’s not where her Rise journey began. Initially Cybele was a guest speaker, invited to share her story and answer questions from Rise clients. Then, she signed on as a volunteer coach and supported a cohort of young entrepreneurs through EY+.
Most recently, she’s taken on the aforementioned role of mentor, and to great effect.
Becca says that the most important part of her Rise experience has been the personal and professional mentorship that she’s received.
Cybele says much of her support is about adapting to an entrepreneur’s needs and meeting them where they are.
“I think what I do to help is provide frameworks to identify the barriers that the entrepreneurs are experiencing and to transform them into opportunities,” she says. “Sometimes these barriers can be self-doubt or uncertainty about which goal to pursue; and sometimes the barriers are unanswered questions that the entrepreneur isn’t sure how to ask.
“Framing a good question is the first step to finding a good answer.”
OK, how’s this: Are volunteers like Cybele Sack an invaluable part of the Rise community?
Yes, they certainly are.
For Alex Smeall, much of the motivation to volunteer with Rise came from a desire to pay it forward.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have had access to high-quality education and career opportunities, and through both, I’ve met some truly inspiring and supportive mentors,” Alex says. “I wanted to find a way to give that support to others.”
Well, Alex found Rise — “a perfect fit.” He joined the Small Business Lending Program as a volunteer mentor and was paired with Alistair Melville, founder of Serenity Harbour Inc.
As a digital performance manager with experience in digital marketing, social media and digital retail, Alex felt the mentoring relationship was another great fit.
“When Alistair and I met, he had a business plan and a draft of his novel, Great Shep,” Alex says. “In the year since we’ve been working together, Alistair has published his novel via Amazon and has gotten up and running on Instagram to advertise it.”
The first-time author is also working on his second novel, which is almost ready for review.
Not a writer himself, Alex says the most important thing a mentor can do is simply be available to their mentee.
“You are not going to have an answer or a solution to all of the challenges that they are facing in their business, but you can always be in their corner. The best thing you can do is be an ally and help keep them accountable to their goals and timelines as best as possible.”
Paying it Forward: Zuberi Attard
Zuberi Attard has always been ambitious; always been someone who wants to succeed. But the day that he found himself walking towards a homeless shelter in Peterborough with his entire life in two garbage bags, ambition gave way to fear.
“My luggage was lightweight, but I was carrying a much heavier burden—mental health and addiction,” Zuberi recalls.
One day, some friends showed up.
“They told me, ‘You’re coming to live with us for the summer—we’re getting you a job, and into a new school,” Zuberi recalls. “It still feels like a dream.”
Just 16-years-old, that moment changed his life. Not only did Zuberi finish high school, but with the help of caring friends, teachers and colleagues he also found, applied for, and won more than 10 scholarships, enabling him to become the first in his family to graduate from university.
With success came the opportunity to pay it forward. As teachers and friends directed more and more students his way for advice on how to find and secure financial aid, Zuberi was inspired to turn his brand of student scholarship support into a business.
His story was writing like a fairytale, until a couple of years later his company, FundQi, underwent significant operational challenges that would require significant resources to move forward.
Then things began to unravel.
“It was a dark, dark moment for me personally and professionally,” Zuberi says. “I couldn’t see any way for us to get to the next step.”
Struggling with severe depression and other mental health challenges, Zuberi was thousands of dollars in debt, sleeping on garbage bags for bedsheets.
“I was so broke, I couldn’t buy a second pair of pants, how was I going to attract high-quality talent to my team?”
Then, a friend introduced him to Rise, and Zuberi secured a loan and the mentorship to do what seemed impossible—move forward.
Today, FundQi is a sophisticated, fully automated and affordable online service available to students at Carleton University, which helps them realize their full potential by creating matches to relevant growth opportunities—from scholarships, grants and bursaries, to internships and educational resources.
“FundQi wouldn’t be here without Rise,” Zuberi says. “Rise gave us a second chance and I want to be a success story to show them the ROI—to show them that they did the right thing.”
One year after nearly losing everything, Zuberi’s company has grown by 4,000%, helping clients secure an estimated $1.5 million in monies awarded, and now serving the entire Carleton undergraduate body for the foreseeable future.
And they’re just getting started.
“We want to get into as many schools as possible,” Zuberi says of future plans. “Our matching algorithm is pretty top notch and we’re constantly finding new ways to get more students more access to scholarship and internships.”
Today in Canada, $15 million in scholarships go unclaimed each year. Until that number is zero, FundQi has plenty of work to do.
“The way I see it, every scholarship that goes unclaimed is a Zuberi who didn’t get a second chance.”
For his vision and perseverance, Rise has selected Zuberi as the 2020 Rotman Family Entrepreneur of the Year!
A Picture of Resilience: Elizabeth Tremblay
Exiting the shelter system just over a year ago, Elizabeth Tremblay faced significant barriers to entrepreneurship, including the stigma of being part of the criminal justice system, financial bankruptcy, a lack of formal education, a mental health diagnosis and chronic pain. Since early adulthood as a young mother of four, Elizabeth had wished for mentorship to help guide her through life’s challenges; instead, she struggled alone with anxiety, depression and alcoholism, which led from couch surfing to street homelessness, to sleeping at drop-in centers and living in shelters, then a transition house.
“It was the worst time of my life, but it was also a time when I made connections within different social services,” Elizabeth says. “Those connections led to my finally learning the skills and tools that I truly needed but hadn’t known how to find.”
Among the support organizations she accessed was Elizabeth Fry. A counsellor there suggested she enroll in the Rise My Start Up training program, and in 2019, Mentor/Mentee Canada was launched as a seed organization to provide mentorship within the shelter system through Lived Experience Leadership and the creation of Lived Experience Employment.
“In the shelters we understood one another because of our lived experience,” Elizabeth says. “We helped one another navigate the system by sharing resources and learnings, and we saw how shelters, emergency rooms, and incarceration units could be made better for our own recovery and the recovery of our peers. But no one was asking us for our lived expertise. We were in a broken, expensive system that needed mentoring itself —mentoring to listen, share, learn and collaborate, like we were doing as a community of peers.”
Beginning by developing a 10-week Peer Support training program for recovery and wellness in employment and housing, in its first year Mentor/Mentee Canada graduated nine trainees. The organization then led a series of panel discussions for people with the lived experience of homelessness, sector staff, and executives to facilitate conversation, listening, learning and collaboration amongst stakeholders. Now, Elizabeth has evolved Mentor/Mentee Canada to be a model for others to build industry connections, and to advance the Peer Support movement by bringing Peer Support training and employment to street encampments, hotel shelters, and supportive housing across Canada.
Through support from Rise, Elizabeth was able to raise her voice to influence Toronto and Canada’s housing and recovery systems while working through her own personal recovery.
“I knew I wanted to develop my skills when I signed up with Rise, but I didn’t realize the motivation and empowerment journey I was in for,” Elizabeth reflects. “I’m continually managing my mental health, but I’ve overcome stigma, oppression, failure and regret, and most importantly regained my family, who are proud of the changes I’ve made.”
While correcting the present, she is planning for a future that includes developing peer programming for within new COVID-19 housing environments and scaling recovery-based peer support training for all, including Front Line Workers and management.
This and more is why Rise has selected Elizabeth to receive the 2020 Dr. Paul Garfinkel Resilience Award!
“If there’s one thing that it takes to be an entrepreneur, no matter how heathy you are, it’s resilience.” Elizabeth says, “I think that’s why the homeless are powerful —because we have such incredible resilience. It means there is hope.”
For Tammy Maki, Life is like a Box of Chocolates
Tammy Maki’s story is as complex, textured and diverse as a box of chocolates.
It begins with the 60s scoop, and a very young Tammy being taken from her birth mother.
“I’m finding out a lot about my Indigenous roots now,” Tammy says, “but I was adopted into a wonderful Finnish family, and many of my earliest memories are of me and my mother in the kitchen.”
Despite being a passionate baker since childhood, Tammy’s career actually started in the electrical trade alongside her father. It wasn’t until her 40s, while struggling with alcohol and a self-described mid-life crisis, that she decided it was time for a change—a big one.
She went back to school to become Chef Tammy Maki, certified Pastry Chef and Baker. Then, after many seasons honing her craft in some of the finest restaurants, hotels and bakeries across Canada, she realized, “I’m just not made to work for other people.”
Luckily, she discovered Rise in Sudbury, ON and secured a loan to help her start a pastry consulting company.
“If Rise hadn’t helped me, I still would’ve opened a business, but I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I have,” Tammy says. “I faced a lot of challenges, so just to get into a program and have somebody give me a bit of a hand, really helped me feel like I was doing the right thing.”
For two years, Tammy laboured with her consulting company; then in 2020, when COVID-19 hit, she made another big decision—to rebrand and relaunch.
The result is Raven Rising, an e-commerce business as unique as Tammy is.
Focused on using traditional ingredients sourced from Indigenous people in Canada and around the world, Tammy now offers “Global Indigenous” chocolates and pastries that reflect both her heritage as a proud Saulteaux Ojibwe Kwe from White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan, and her excellence as a Pastry Chef.
And with Raven Rising off the ground, recent personal discoveries have only reinforced Tammy’s belief that she’s on the right track.
“I just found my blood family and saw a picture of my (birth) mother for the first time,” Tammy says. “I didn’t even know that I was part of the 60s scoop. For 56 years, I believed my mom just didn’t want me, but that’s not true at all; so, all of the connection to my Indigenous self that I’d been missing, it’s something I identify with more and more.
“I know I’m two years into (being an entrepreneur), but this is the beginning of a different kind of journey with a lot more self-awareness; and Rise is like my favourite blanket—I know there are people who care about me and my business and want to see me succeed.”
For now, success is focused on Canada, particularly the market out West, but Tammy also hopes to eventually build a consumer base in the U.S., Europe and Asia. And she wants her work to raise awareness of Indigenous issues in Canada and promote other Indigenous farmers and producers around the world.
“I think until the end of my time, this is what I’m going to do—try and make things better in a way that makes pretty much anybody happy.
“For me, my hug is ‘eat a chocolate’. It’s who I am. It’s comfort—really upscale, really good comfort.”
Rise is proud to award the 2020 Bell Let’s Talk Start-up Award to Tammy Maki.
Mentorship Master: Meet our Volunteer of the Year, Ian Wayne
When he started looking for ways to volunteer his time, Ian Wayne didn’t have anything particular in mind. He’d never even heard of Rise.
Then, about a year-and-a-half ago, he stumbled on a call for mentors posted on a generic volunteer website.
“I read the Rise opportunity and it resonated with me immediately,” Ian recalls. “I really liked the mission—everything that Rise was about interested me, and it seemed like something I’d enjoy being a part of. And with the experience I’d gained in my career, I thought I could be valuable to a mentorship program as well.”
Ian has a diverse and interesting CV. Born in London, England, he has lived and taught English in Japan, worked in the film industry in Vancouver, and earned his Master’s in Organizational Psychology from the Manchester Business School.
After graduation, Ian accepted a job in Canada’s Capital at Human Resources tech firm, HRSG, where he currently heads-up product development.
“I’ve been in Ottawa for coming up on nine winters now,” he jokes.
A sense of humor is just part of why Ian’s first and only Rise mentee so far, Krista Ryan, nominated him for our 2020 Volunteer of the Year award.
The two of them have been collaborating for more than a year to build Krista’s business, Sassy Threads, where she sells custom-made sensory items, such as weighted vests and blankets, designed for people calmed by deep pressure stimulus—like her son, who is on the Autism spectrum.
“Working with Krista, I’ve had a lot of exposure to stuff that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise,” Ian says. “What she’s trying to do is in a domain that I didn’t know anything about, so it’s been very interesting for me to uncover the questions that drive her business and how she can try to grow.”
Connecting every two or three weeks, Ian and Krista have truly built an award-worthy mentor/mentee relationship. In her nomination of Ian to our top volunteer honour, the Sassy Threads founder lauded him for encouraging her, respecting her definition of success, being responsive, honest and transparent in their communications, offering practical, realistic business advice, always listening and never judging.
“Ian has been a blessing,” Krista wrote. “He’s just been the most positive person I could have hoped for to help me reach my success.”
The feeling certainly seems mutual.
“I feel quite invested with Krista,” Ian says. “I’d like to see her continue to grow and help if I can.”
So, what is our 2020 Volunteer of the Year’s advice to anyone considering becoming a mentor?
“Do it!” Ian says. “It’s tremendous work. It’s very fulfilling and interesting, and it’s work that gives you something to learn while making a real difference in the community.”
In the spring of 2017, one year after moving to Toronto, a passionate yet unfulfilled Elyda Rotaru decided it was finally time to step away from her office job and pursue her dream of becoming a freelance graphic designer.
In a few short years, Elyda has found success with her business, Aru Creative + Design. She’s doubled her personal income since striking out on her own and has grown the business enough that she is able to hire designers and other roles for support. But the most fulfilling aspect of her work is the opportunity it affords her to mentor industry peers.
As an entrepreneur, Elyda is learning critical skills to share with more junior designers. Through working with a wide variety of clients, brands and third party vendors on a myriad of different projects, she has learned that transparency and communication are the key to overcoming any challenges that arise on the road to a project execution that goes above and beyond.
Through the support of Rise entrepreneurship training, she has also learned a lot about the importance of accountability and time management—both critical skills to any freelancer’s success.
In the coming years, Elyda hopes to continue growing Aru Creative + Design, but isn’t stopping there. An avid artist working to complete her Art Therapy Practitioner certificate, Elyda says she’d also like to “create a community arts-based program for Toronto youth to discover and explore hands-on career options within the arts.”
“I have always wanted to work in the wedding industry because I have always loved ‘love’,” says Jocelyn Wong.
She’s worked as a wedding dress advisor and a florist, even shadowed as a wedding coordinator and completed her wedding planner certification. It wasn’t until after she’d experienced an all-time personal low, however, that Jocelyn decided it was time to take a chance and do the one wedding role she’d always dreamed of, but never tried: photographer.
With a loan to help offset start-up costs, Jocelyn launched aster & lily. While there have been financial hardships along the way, her perseverance has translated into steady personal and professional growth.
Jocelyn says she’s become more level-headed as a business owner, building the skills to manage customer relations and diffuse high-stress situations. Always searching for effective ways to overcome her challenges, Jocelyn believes that there is light at the end of every tunnel.
Sandra Williams was hit by a drunk driver several years ago. It ended her career as a Pastry Chef, eroded her self-worth and left her in chronic pain.
“In the beginning, I was just looking for a bit of extra income,” Sandra says. “I thought, if I could get back what I’d lost in the accident—even just baking one or two cakes a week—I would feel like I had purpose again.”
Fast forward two years and her company, Cakes by the Lake, was turning away customers.
“I didn’t have the time or space to grow, so I applied for a loan from Rise to renovate my home with a commercial kitchen and take my business full time.”
Sandra’s monthly sales have doubled since finishing the remodel a year ago, and Cakes by the Lake is quickly becoming a wedding cake go-to in Niagara. With referrals from local wineries and the wedding industry, Sandra’s customers rave about her products on social media—no paid advertising needed. Now financially independent, she’s also created employment for two part-time helpers and a bookkeeper.
“Rise allowed me to take my business to the next level,” Sandra says. “I didn’t think I’d work again after my accident, but thanks to Rise I’m running a full-time, successful small business!”
Despite having doubled her capacity last year, Sandra still turns away orders daily. With plans to hire more staff in the near future, she says she may open a storefront in the coming years.
“I have my self-confidence back, and I have goals and dreams that are achievable again,” Sandra says. “Best of all, I have extra income to spoil my two grandchildren with, and that just fills my heart!”
Matti Charlton applied to Rise for help to turn their underwear business, retromatti, profitable. Using their art and engineering skills, Matti designed both the patterns for a collection of retro briefs and the original font jacquard woven on each waistband.
But when things didn’t work out, they found opportunity in what could have been defeat.
“Instead of being discouraged, Rise helped me see how else I could put my skill set to work,” Matti says.
Motivated to become self-sustaining through their creative talents, Matti has diversified their work across four income channels, generating passive but increasing earnings. Today, Matti has a video license and more than 20 publications on Amazon; their digital art downloads have actually increased during COVID-19; and their music is now available across all streaming platforms, earning royalties every month.
Much of Matti’s work, especially musically, celebrates diversity and the unique qualities that can often lead to torment, especially for kids—a message they connect with personally.
“I grew up very different in many ways—mental health issues, autistic, transgender, queer—and I was bullied incessantly at school,” Matti says. “I’d never been given a chance to shine in a classroom or as a leader like I experienced in the Rise program. Rise was a chance for me to re-form myself and, in a way, overwrite those childhood experiences with new ones where my differences were seen as strengths.”
It’s an attitude they wield as an antidote to failure.
“I know it’s cliché, but it’s true—a challenge is just a success that you haven’t seen yet.”
DONNA & SERENA MURPHY DEL CUETO
Donna and Serena Murphy Del Cueto’s business Magic Hour Cross Stitch Supplies started as a hobby, making and selling cross stitch patterns on Etsy. With an undeniable passion for the art and decades of experience between them, when the mother-daughter duo had the chance to buy a large amount of hard-to-find cross stitch materials at a great price, they were faced with a decision—keep dabbling as hobbyists or grow the business into something bigger?
Luckily for stitching enthusiasts, they chose the latter.
In 2018, Donna and Serena became a Rise lending client, securing a loan to help build a new website so that Magic Hour could increase its independent online presence and be less reliant on Etsy.
Today, 20-30% of their income originates from platforms other than Etsy, and Donna and Serena are focused on building their online community. Already they’ve more than doubled their Facebook audience goal, now with 680+ followers.
“We both love working with our customers and finding creative solutions to difficulties,” Donna says.
Difficulties like COVID-19. With the onset of the pandemic, sales unexpectedly increased 15-fold, making Magic Hour’s competitive advantage of shipping products within a few days a tough promise to fulfill.
“Sometimes orders took weeks to fill, and some customers got nasty,” Donna says. “It created a very stressful situation, but we learned a lot about prioritizing, handling unhappy customers and finding diplomatic solutions!”
With business booming, Donna and Serena are working towards providing a good living for themselves. They look forward to the prospect of hiring help soon and cementing Magic Hour as a go-to supplier for stitchers across Canada.
Linda Verde is a professional editor in London, Ontario with a steady roster of clients including the College of Nurses of Ontario. She is editor-in-chief of two peer-reviewed journals, is editing her seventh book and is authoring another that focuses on empowering women through finance.
Her prosperous run at a full-time freelance business follows a difficult period when she cared for her father in his final year. After he passed away, Linda experienced mental health challenges and needed time to recover both physically and emotionally, returning to the workforce two years later.
She seized that moment, back in 2015, to build a career out of her true passions: editing and writing. While Linda had attempted freelance editing and writing on the side for 20 years while working an assortment of low-paying jobs, she decided to take the leap and pursue her passions full-time. She received a Rise loan as well as a mentor who helped her chart the course on what her business could become. Rise was one of Linda’s first major clients – she wrote this organization’s 2016 and 2017 annual reports.
In the midst of launching her business, Linda also had another important job: helping her college-aged daughter who was going through a difficult time with depression. This took considerable energy, yet Linda persevered and maintained much-needed optimism. Now, as much as her business is on the right path, so too is her daughter.
“Rise first helped me buy a laptop that I still use today, and set me up with an awesome mentor. Their staff responds quickly and warmly, and makes me feel supported. As my business grows, I want to return that support because I so appreciate their help and their whole reason for being.” – Linda
Selina Rose is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, yoga teacher and author in Ottawa, Ontario. She has run her wellness business, Selina Rose, for five years, her Eats & Asana nutrition-yoga program for four, and published her cookbook “Everyday Eats: Uncomplicated Recipes for Time-Starved Healthy Eaters” last spring.
Struggling with an eating disorder for several years, Selina sought help in her early 20s. Her recovery was guided by many physicians, but she continued feeling ill – prompting her to take a keen interest in nutrition. Aided by a naturopathic doctor, Selina discovered a gluten intolerance and her life changed.
Through natural health, holistic healing and yoga, she finally felt “at home” in her body. She studied in these areas, became registered, and is now devoted to sharing with others what she has learned about healing and managing stress through diet and lifestyle.
“My clients inspire me every day as I watch their health improve and they take on goals they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” Selina says. “Their transformations amaze me.”
Her nutrition-yoga group program allows Selina to work with multiple clients at once. To grow her business sustainably, she developed in 2019 a digital version of Eats & Asana that allows Selina to help more people around the world improve their health. Next, she plans to grow her team, pursue public speaking, and create more content for her flourishing community.
“I needed to change my business model and the Rise loan allowed me to purchase the equipment, professional services, and advertising I needed to get my digital program running. I received much more than funding – I also gained an invaluable coach who asked the right questions and taught me to think of my business in new ways.” – Selina
What began in 2016 as a solo operation in Lisa Allain’s home kitchen quickly grew into an award-winning bakery in downtown Welland, Ontario. There, Lisa and her Talent 2 Design team design decorative “edible pieces of art.” Her cakes and treats have earned multiple local awards and she’s also been recognized as Welland’s woman entrepreneur of the year and a top 40-Under-40 business leader.
Lisa’s story is one of unique perseverance. After college, she worked as a nurse, but suffered a serious brain injury after a car accident in 2008 and required extensive rehabilitation. Two years later, doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor, ending her nursing career. A single mother of three kids, she relied on the food bank to feed her family.
After discovering a passion for baking, she launched Talent 2 Design in 2016. But challenges persisted. In January 2018, a flood destroyed her home and commercial kitchen. Lisa pressed on, opening the storefront bakery two months later in a “sink or swim” gamble. Then in June, doctors discovered her tumor had grown and she was rushed to surgery. Still, in this critical time for her business, she kept at it.
Today, Lisa employs a small staff – each of whom has a disability – and is eyeing expansion to a second location. She is also an ambassador for the Brain Tumour Foundation and the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation.
“Rise believed in me, saw something in me that I did not see myself. I was given a second chance, and my goal is to do the same for others with disabilities. I can not only provide for my children but give back to the community.” – Lisa
Multiway Service Dog Equipment
Amber had trouble finding her footing after graduating high school in 2007, but eventually found success running her own company, Pooch & Puddy, making bow ties for pets from her home in Ottawa. But in late 2013, Amber was diagnosed with PTSD, and she closed the business in early 2014, earning a profit.
She was encouraged to train her dog Peach to be a service animal, and so she did. Peach learned how to interrupt Amber’s self-injurious behaviour, alert to panic attacks and anxiety, and lead Amber to exits. Amber says Peach gave her life back.
But when Amber’s long-term relationship ended and her service dog abruptly had to retire, Amber was left feeling hopeless, and she needed to do something to once again find meaning in her life.
Amber had noticed a lack of innovative service products on the market for service dogs, and that’s when Multiway Service Dog Equipment was born. She first introduced versatile, made-to-order leashes for service dog handlers, and has since branched out into vests, capes, badges and other accessories with custom embroidery work.
With three separate small loans from Rise for both start-up and expansion, Amber has grown her business to the edge of what she can sustain on her own while simultaneously managing her disability. Despite the stress involved in growing her business, she is constantly improving her products and is proud of her creations and how they help others with disabilities. She even now provides her products to three small service dog training programs in Ontario, and equipment for independently trained teams across North America, Germany, Belgium, and the UK.
Currently, Amber is focused on reducing the wait times for her products to one month (down from seven weeks), and maintaining that commitment for her clients.
“It has been challenging to keep up with the sheer volume (and size) of the orders I receive but I will continue to persevere until my wait times are lower. I love seeing my items “out in the wild” on Instagram. I have Rise to thank for making this business a reality.” – Amber
For the last nine years, Ashley has operated AEG Designs, a successful graphic design and photography business in Sudbury, Ontario. She found it difficult to find full-time work in her field after being laid-off during the 2009 recession. With the help of the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program, she decided to follow her dreams and become an entrepreneur.
Over the years, Ashley has built an established clientele, most of whom have turned into long-term clients, and even some into friends. In 2017, she suffered a serious setback after sustaining a concussion in a car accident. She suffered from memory lapses and forgetfulness, which led to some missed meetings and appointments. When she spoke, she would often lose her words and slur her speech, which made it difficult when consulting with clients, causing anxiety and embarrassment. Exhaustion, severe migraine headaches and vision disturbances forced Ashley to reduce her work load, as it became difficult to work in front of a computer for long periods of time, or be in brightly lit environments. It was the biggest challenge she’d ever faced while running her business.
Despite lingering symptoms associated with Post-Concussion Syndrome, Ashley was determined to build her business while recuperating from her injury. By the end of 2018, while continuing to attend weekly rehabilitation therapy and counselling appointments, Ashley had doubled her business income from the previous year thanks in part to the loan from Rise which helped her purchase new equipment to continue to generate more business.
From January to May, 2019, Ashley surpassed the total income she made in all of 2017 – in only five months! On top of that, she welcomed her first born son Dawson, who arrived unexpectedly, one month early, in February, 2019 – and she was back at work a few days later with baby in tow.
“Rise could not have helped me at a better time. Throughout my recovery, business equipment was in need of repair and new items needed to be purchased. The loan allowed me to buy and repair office equipment that was crucial to the success of my business and allowed me to recoup the income I had missed out on since the accident. Despite a few setbacks in the last two years, my business continues to thrive and it truly is a rewarding and humbling feeling of accomplishment” – Ashley
As a Deaf person, Sage Lovell understood first-hand how hard it can be to navigate a world with many barriers. Even in Toronto, with its extensive population, they still found there was a noticeable lack of sign language accessibility for the Deaf community. They often witness their Deaf friends skip over important information if it wasn’t accessible to them.
Sage decided to fill this accessibility gap by founding Deaf Spectrum. Yet, having lived on a low income and a poor credit history, they found it difficult to access funds to grow the business. Sage also faced many other barriers getting the business off the ground, from hiring interpreters to battling ongoing stigma and misconceptions about their abilities.
Despite numerous challenges, Sage persevered, and was able to save money for a formal studio with a backdrop, new lights, and a proper camera – sometimes working other part time jobs to make ends meet while their business grew. They started with vlogs, eventually adding in services such as workshops, consulting, training and grant writing. They even began working with non-deaf people to help them engage with the target community.
In four years, Deaf Spectrum has produced almost four hundred vlogs and has helped Sage and others in the community gain meaningful employment opportunities. Sage’s company has hosted sign language classes at the University of Toronto, worked with several theatre and art festivals to ensure accessibility, created text translations into sign language videos, and offers grant writing services that boast a 90% success rate through three different arts councils.
Leveraging the support of Rise, though Rise’s Youth Small Business Program, Deaf Spectrum has grown to the point that Sage now generates enough revenue to support themselves as well as other contractors. Sage looks forward to bringing more opportunities to others through the Deaf Community Spectrum, which would enable the company to apply for grants to set up specific programs.
“I used to charge a really low rate for my services, but Rise encouraged me to charge more and also helped me put together a business plan. I honestly don’t think I would’ve been successful without the support of Rise, especially when they were more than accommodating by providing sign language interpreters during classes. There are not enough accessible business classes for members of the Deaf Community, but Rise changed that for me.” – Sage
T’S Bookkeeping and Tax Preparation
Melissa Fanjoy owns and operates T’s Bookkeeping & Tax Preparation in Kingston, Ontario, providing bookkeeping, administrative and tax services for owners of small businesses.
In a niche offering, Melissa offers affordable pricing to those who benefit from such an approach: students, social service recipients and even recently released inmates from Kingston Penitentiary trying to build small businesses.
For seven years, Melissa worked for a global tax preparation corporation, but found herself bristling at the fees they charged customers who often had little income. She felt she needed to serve small businesses in a different capacity, through affordable bookkeeping.
T’S Bookkeeping & Tax Preparation is now two years old. In that time, Melissa has gained 40 businesses for bookkeeping services and nearly 440 for taxes. Her clients are appreciative of her pricing and services, and Melissa loves the feeling of helping others succeed. She is growing primarily through word of mouth referrals.
Melissa is settling into her business, sometimes spending long hours working. She is still working out the ebb-and-flow of income coming in and her own expenses being paid. Nonetheless, she wants to widen her net through a website and potential advertising so she can serve more in-need small businesses and, in so doing, “feel good and sleep well at night.”
She is expanding her office to have more space to meet with clients – and has recently begun adding staff members, to support her business.
“Rise has helped me start my business and I wouldn’t be here today without them. My mentor has been so important, listening and lending much-needed advice any time I need it. She is amazing.” – Melissa