Local Entrepreneurs Celebrated at SMARTstart Program’s 2023 Graduation

Story by Josie Randall

Fall 2023

Eleven entrepreneurs from 10 distinct businesses were celebrating last Thursday after graduating from the 2023 SMARTstart Airdrie program.

This year’s graduation marked the 10th year of the entrepreneurial initiative.

“When I think back to 10 years ago, we were worried about businesses in Airdrie failing,” says Patti-Jay Powell, Executive Director for Community Futures Center West. Powell helped create SMARTstart in Airdrie and continues to be a partner of the program.

“We wanted businesses to be successful so we said ‘Let’s do something about that.’ I look at this year’s graduates and I think all these years later we’ve really created something special here.”

Over the course of the past eight months, the 11 entrepreneurs dedicated themselves to refining business ideas or fortifying their existing ventures. The comprehensive program encompassed a spectrum of workshops, business skills training, networking opportunities, and personalized mentorship, all expertly curated by the locally-rooted SMARTstart program.

Guided by mentors, each participant crafted a robust business, strategic, or feasibility plan that lays the groundwork for their businesses’ success.

“When they started they were all so nervous and unsure, and you see them here tonight and they are just so full of confidence,” says Powell.

Among the celebrated 2023 participants were Brianna Horncastle of Heidi’s Pies, Jennine Kelly of Jennine Kelly HR Consulting, Obi Nnaemeka of Yummy Fantasy African Restaurant, Richard and Tyler Baptist of Airdrie Renos, Sharla Crowie of Bloom Narratives, Caelen Haney of Gummy Boutique, Gail Fuhr of Noggin Nutrition, Samantha Barnaschone of Higher Frequency Travel and Pamela Payne of Empire Details, all emblematic of the diverse and innovative businesses fostered through the SMARTstart program.

Dr. Michelle Speranza, owner of Core Balance Centre and a 2023 SMARTstart entrepreneur, spoke of her experience: “Being a new clinic owner, there is a lot I needed to learn about operating my business, as opposed to just working in it. The online and in-person classes deliver a wealth of information, and the mentorship and relationships built with others in the program has been invaluable.”

The SMARTstart program is currently open for applications for the 2024 program, running from February through October.

Entrepreneurs with novel business ideas or businesses operational for less than three years are encouraged to explore further by attending upcoming information sessions scheduled for November 7 at 12 p.m. or November 30 at 7 p.m. The application window remains open until December 11, 2023.