Starting Smarter

Meet the final group of 2016 SMARTstart entrepreneurs!

Airdrie is home to 21 more well-trained entrepreneurs thanks to the 2016 SMARTstart program.

Between March and October, these new or prospective Airdrie business owners completed online business-skills training, attended 11 workshops and worked with local business mentors to complete a business, strategic or feasibility plan.

One of those participants was Jackie Astrom, owner of Ecole des Petits Amis. Astrom opened Airdrie’s only French Immersion preschool three years ago. A teacher by training, she was looking for a way to increase her business acumen. Astrom applied and was accepted into the 2016 SMARTstart program.

“SMARTstart covered every aspect of starting or growing a new business,” says Astrom. “But more than that, the fact that it included one-on-one mentoring, in-person presentations, great networking opportunities and an online course made it personal and comprehensive.”

Now – armed with an updated business plan and solid advice from her business mentor, Joan Bell – Astrom feels ready to grow her business.  She was excited to see her largest enrollment to date this fall and she continues to look for new services to offer the community.

Kaidy Morgan, another 2016 participant, started SMARTstart with a dream and a lot of dedication. During the eight months in the program, Morgan took her business, Social Supper, from idea to reality. Offering busy families meal-preparation services and healthy takeout options, Social Supper will open soon in southeast Airdrie.

“Through the program I have been inspired by some of Airdrie’s most amazing business people, made lifelong connections and learned critical business skills,” says Morgan. “I can absolutely say I feel 100 per cent more confident opening my doors after having completed the SMARTstart program.”

Local entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones noticing the benefits of SMARTstart. This fall, program organizers received the Above and Beyond: Economic Sustainability Award from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. This follows three earlier awards.

“Of course it’s gratifying to receive recognition for your work,” says Sara Chamberlain, SMARTstart Organizing Committee Member representing the City of Airdrie.

But what really motivates us is seeing an entrepreneur take the plunge and follow a dream. When I walk into a new Airdrie business knowing that SMARTstart played a role in getting them there, there’s no better feeling.

SMARTstart is a non-profit program designed and delivered by the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce, Bow Valley College, City of Airdrie Economic Development and Community Futures Centre West. It’s made possible with generous sponsorship and volunteerism from the local business community.

Applications for the 2017 program close Dec. 18, 2016. Learn more at

Mentors & Entrepreneurs

SMARTstart AirdrieMentor: Sid Van der Meer

Age: 59
Business: Retired (Northwest Equipment Ltd.)
Years in business: 30
Growing up I wanted to be: Pilot
My first year in business: I learned that I had a lot to learn.
Best advice you ever got: Spend 10 per cent of every day on what you want to do in three years.
Proudest achievement: Developing Northwest Equipment into the vision I had, selling it and achieving our retirement goal. 

Entrepreneur: Doug Wright

Age: 33
Business name or business idea: Siding and exterior company
Years in business: N/A
Dream/goal for your business: To grow the business to a point where I can focus on continued growth and managing the company.
What I hope to learn in SMARTstart: I want to learn as much as possible, from completing a business plan to different ways of marketing my business idea to accounting and administration aspects of business. Over my working years I have been fortunate to learn lots; however, I know there is always more you can learn. I believe this program with a mentor will significantly increase my chance of succeeding with my business idea.
Why I am an entrepreneur: It was always a dream of mine to open up my own business. Since I was in high school, I have always wanted to become my own boss. I believe after a decade-and-a-half of working for others I have developed some necessary skills that will help me to manage and run my own business. I realize that it is going to take a lot of discipline, and look forward to all the hard work that will go into creating, developing and managing my own business.


SMARTstart AirdrieMentor: Kerry Oswald
Age: 54
Business: Smart Auto & Tirecraft
Years in business: 19
Growing up I wanted to be: Firefighter
My first year in business: I worked 90+ hours a week.

Entrepreneurs: Rian Levick, Harley Harper
Ages: 31, 22
Business name or business idea: Ascension Float Centre Ltd.
Years in Business: N/A
Dream/goal for your business: (Rian) To be the first float centre in Airdrie; to be profitable so that we may one day expand to a second location.
What I hope to learn in SMARTstart: (Rian) Strategic business planning skills, finance and accounting skills; how to network effectively; what it means to have a business mindset; and basic business skills that will provide the foundation for my entrepreneurial journey.
Our biggest obstacle: Securing funding and finding a commercial location.
Why I am an entrepreneur: (Harley) I’m chasing my passion, providing value for others and building the life I envisioned. In doing so, I enjoy every bit of the hustle, the struggle and the personal growth. I am an entrepreneur because I believe I have greater gifts to offer this world, and I will not settle for a lifestyle I am not happy with.


Mentor: Joan Bell
Age: 59
Business: Retired – Airdrie Yoga Studio
Years in business: 10
My first year in business: I wondered what I had gotten myself into! I always enjoyed being self-employed, but there is a lot of stress.
Proudest achievement:  Being honoured with the Winning Edge Award for most outstanding business in Airdrie.

Entrepreneur: Jackie Astrom
Age: 41
Business name or business idea: École Des Petits Amis French Immersion Preschool
Years in business: 2.5
Dream/goal for your business: Owning our own space and paying it off; second location.
What I hope to learn in SMARTstart: I hope to learn a wide variety of business skills. I started my business with a great deal of industry-specific skills but no business background. With the changes we anticipate making over the next few years, I feel some solid business learning and mentorship can help us make our business better.
My biggest obstacle: Growth of our program in an uncertain market/cost stability.


SMARTstartMentor: Ron Farrell
Age: 42
Business: Beneficial Insurance Solutions
Years in business: 13
Growing up I wanted to be: Business owner. It didn’t really matter to me at the time what kind of business.
Proudest achievement: At the time (age 29) I was the youngest owner of an insurance brokerage that I knew of in southern Alberta.

Entrepreneur: Jackie Faber
Age: 43
Business name or business idea: Serene Health Services
Years in business: N/A
Dream/goal for your business: Provide health services in Airdrie and community to give choices to residents and enable people to live at home longer with a dignified quality of life.
What I hope to learn in SMARTstart: To build the ground roots of a company on a solid foundation.
My biggest obstacle: Accounting measures
Why I am an entrepreneur: Personal growth for myself and my career while providing a health service to the community and area.


SMARTstartMentor: Jody Keller
Age: 43
Business: Pharmasave, Carstairs and Didsbury
Years in business: 11
Growing up I wanted to be: Professional hockey player.
My first year in business: I realized I could be successful as an entrepreneur.
Proudest achievement:  2013 MJ Huston Award Winner as Alberta Pharmacist of the Year.

Entrepreneur: Linet Kiplagat
Age: 40
Business name or business idea: Reliance Support Care & Services Inc.
Years in business: 1
Dream/goal for your business: Provide customized, compassionate care to persons with disabilities through partnership with the individual family and the community.
What I hope to learn in SMARTstart: Improve on business management skills; learn networking skills.
Why I am an entrepreneur: To create my own purpose, destiny and a business that is based on my personal values, vision and expertise; and to give back to the community, specifically to those with physical and developmental disabilities by being a conduit to meeting their needs so that they can live life to their highest potential.

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