STORIES THAT INSPIRE
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