2023 SMARTstart launch marks tenth year of entrepreneur training program

Story by Jim Zang

Spring 2023

The 2023 SMARTstart entrepreneurial training program officially launched on Wednesday, March 1, with a dynamic group of local entrepreneurs meeting at Atlas Brewery to launch or expand their businesses.

The 13 entrepreneurs representing 12 businesses in this year’s program make up the tenth cohort of SMARTstart participants — marking a significant milestone for the Airdrie program.

“There is a huge learning curve that comes with starting a business and this program helps participants build strong entrepreneurial skillsets and ultimately establish successful businesses,” says Jessica Williamson, SMARTstart Entrepreneur Coordinator and Organizing Committee Member.

“We are extremely grateful for the robust community that has come together to support Airdrie’s new entrepreneurs over the last nine years and look forward to building on our success.”

Launched in 2014, SMARTstart has assisted 133 local entrepreneurs with their new business or business ideas. As a result, 26 new businesses have opened their doors and 36 businesses have expanded their operations or services.

Over the course of eight months, the entrepreneurs will complete the 100 Essential Business Skills online training from GoForth Institute, participate in 11 workshops and work with a local business mentor on the completion of a business, feasibility or strategic plan.

The mentorship group is made up of volunteers from the Airdrie business community whose background and knowledge is a key part of the experience for entrepreneurs.

“Over the last nine years the program has built a pool of more than 30 mentors which demonstrates a tight-knit business community that is eager to give back and support the city’s growth and entrepreneurship,” says Lauren Levay, SMARTstart Mentor Coordinator and Organizing Committee Member.

“We’re also thankful for the many local businesses that continue to support the program year after year with generous sponsorships and in-kind donations. The program wouldn’t be in its tenth year without this strong support from the business community.”

Participants and mentors were introduced through a “speed connecting” session to help them get to know each other.


2023 SMARTstart Participants

Entrepreneurs with an idea:

  • Gail Fuhr, Noggin Nutrition
  • Obiajulu Nnaemeka, Yummy Fantasy African Restaurant


New business owners (in operation less than three years):

  • Brianna Horncastle, Heidi’s Pies
  • Caelen Haney, Gummi Boutique
  • Cheyenne DeWitt, MI Social Consulting
  • Chris Gushue, Atlas Brewing
  • Jennine Kelly, Jennine Kelly HR Consulting
  • Michelle Speranza, Core Balance Centre
  • Pamela Payne, Empire Details
  • Samantha Barnaschone, Higher Frequency Travel
  • Sharla Crowie, Bloom Narratives
  • Tyler and Richard Baptist, Airdrie Renos


2023 SMARTstart Mentors

  • Ankur Goklaney, La Capitale Financial Security
  • Dr. Melanie Beingessner, Blessingways Family Wellness
  • Heather Harke, Shoplift Deals Limited
  • Gary Armstrong, Empowered Employee Education
  • Jennifer Benner, Benner Database Designs
  • Joan Traub, former owner of Airdrie Yoga Studio
  • Jo-Anne Yau, Robertson LLP
  • Kari Lines, Budget Blinds of Airdrie
  • Kelly Paisley, The I.T. Company
  • Michelle Tennant, LochSmith Consulting
  • Sid Van der Meer, former owner of Northwest Equipment Ltd.
  • Tara Pickford, Ambition Performing Arts
  • Tracy Goodbrand, Irricana Kountry Kennel


SMARTstart is an award-winning program developed by Airdrie Entrepreneur Common (AEC), a non-profit society providing resources, training and mentorship to support the start-up and growth needs of Airdrie small businesses. Locally, the program is delivered by City of Airdrie Economic Development (CoA) and Community Futures Centre West (CFCWest).

Since 2019, CFCWest has expanded this made-in-Airdrie program to 10 other Alberta communities, which is currently running in seven, including Canmore, Grande Prairie, Hinton/Edson, Lakeland, Leduc/Wetaskiwin, Red Deer and Okotoks.

In 2022, AEC also launched two new entrepreneur support programs: Discover and AdvanceSMART. Discover assists entrepreneurs to test new business ideas, products or services; and AdvanceSMART is a mentorship program for Airdrie businesses experiencing high growth.

Airdrielife is a strong supporter of local business and is proud to be a media sponsor for SMARTstart. We wish all the entrepreneurs every success and look forward to working with you to help your business grow in the future.To learn more about Discover, SMARTstart and AdvanceSMART visit