SMARTstart takes off, in and out of Airdrie

When SMARTstart was launched in Airdrie two years ago, organizers were confident the program would catch the attention of local entrepreneurs. What they didn’t expect was the interest they’d draw from the rest of Alberta.

Since the SMARTstart program launched in 2014, 32 people have completed the program – which provides entrepreneurship development training in the form of online courses, in-person workshops and mentorship.

“We had great success with the first two intakes of the program,” says Jodie Eckert, with the SMARTstart organizing committee. “We heard very early on from our participants that SMARTstart was hitting the mark. What took us by surprise was the attention we got from outside Airdrie.”


SMARTstart received two awards of Excellence from Economic Developers Alberta (EDA) in April 2015. From left: Kevin Turner (Office of Small & Medium Enterprises), Leona Esau, Jodie Eckert (SMARTstart Committee Members) and Jeff Penney (EDA president).

Last April, SMARTstart organizer Leona Esau, along with Eckert, was invited to make a presentation about the program at the Economic Developers Alberta conference. “Economic developers were literally lined up to ask us questions after our presentation,” says Eckert.

At the same conference, SMARTstart went home with two awards of excellence, including the 2015 Alex Metcalfe Award which recognizes Alberta’s best Community Economic Development project. Later in 2015, SMARTstart received another award. The program was recognized by the Community Futures Network of Alberta with an Excellence and Innovation Award.

Program organizers continue to receive inquiries from people across Alberta interested in implementing the program in their own communities.

“It’s just remarkable how this program has taken off,” says Lorna Hunt, organizing committee member and executive director of Airdrie Chamber of Commerce. “Being recognized with awards makes us very proud of the hard work we’ve put into developing the program and seeing it grow. But what makes me even more proud is to hear how positively people are talking about SMARTstart around Airdrie.”

Christine McLeod, owner of Tri Fit Training, is one of those people. McLeod and her business partner, Tracy Winger, completed the SMARTstart program in 2015.

“SMARTstart helped us to think bigger,” says McLeod. “We opened our business to have a place to do what we love. With the help of SMARTstart, we are now building Tri Fit Training to be a successful business in Airdrie. We are so grateful to have been part of such a forward-thinking program.”

McLeod and Winger are two of 12 participants representing nine different businesses that completed the program last year.

SMARTstart is now in year three, and the next cohort of business people and entrepreneurs with an idea have just begun the program.

“The interest in SMARTstart for 2016 was tremendous,” says Hunt. “It’s exciting to see the wide variety of businesses and business ideas that are represented in this year’s program.

“It’s going to be another fantastic year for SMARTstart,” she adds.

Sara Chamberlain is economic development officer with the City of Airdrie

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