STORIES THAT INSPIRE
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 Ottawa 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.”
It wasn’t long after Rebekah Thibeault started Bee & Key Boutique in Leduc, AB, that her entrepreneurial dream faced a major challenge—within two months of opening the consignment store, she had to buy out her ex-business partner.
“That struggle really opened my eyes to the complex part of business,” Rebekah says. “I learned a lot through trial and error, but afterwards had a hard time trusting anyone with my store.”
Fortunately, Rebekah had another partner in Rise.
“From a loan to re-doing my business plan, I finally felt like someone in the business sector believed in me and believed that I was worthy of being my own boss no matter the challenges I would face,” Rebekah says.
She’s come through her struggles a better, more creative business owner, which is reflected in her shop’s success.
Since opening in July 2019, Bee & Key has found a strong customer base. Within six months, its list of consignors extended beyond the store’s area code, and by July 2020, Rebekah had hired two part-time employees (a year and a half earlier than planned!).
Over the next three years, she hopes to open a second location in B.C., then grow her online store to reach limitless customers.
“I’ve loved fashion since I was five,” Rebekah says. “Everything about being able to inspire women to look their best while renewing clothes is a game changer to me.”
But she’s not just doing this for herself, her customers or the environment.
“My 12-year-old daughter is my inspiration. I wanted to show her that if you fight for what you want, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
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
Heart Of A Man (HOAM), owned and operated by Donovan McKenzie, helps men elevate their mental health, and understand the power of vulnerability. The business offers a space to find useful information and advice, inspirational merchandise, and a supportive community, while working to end stigma around mental health. For every purchase, 10% of the sale is going to important community programs and non-profit organizations to support mental health treatment.
During COVID-19 pandemic, Donovan has been giving his community hope by posting inspirational quotes, vlogs, and by providing virtual motivational speaking engagements.
“Rise has given me hope when I needed support for my HOAM Vision. They were caring and compassionate and delivered quality support throughout my business journey.” – Donovan
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
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
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