SMARTstart 2024 | Smart Mentors

Story by Jessica Williamson


Photos by Kristy Reimer

Spring 2024

You’ve taken the leap — now, where’s your parachute?

That’s where a group of 30-plus mentors come in. Airdrie’s SMARTstart program matches new entrepreneurs with a one-on-one mentor who is eager to share their wisdom, experience and guidance. Together, the mentor and mentee pairings tackle business and strategic planning, build leadership skills, and navigate challenges and opportunities.

The mentorship group is made up of volunteers from the Airdrie business community whose background and knowledge are key parts of the experience for entrepreneurs. If you are interested in sharing your business expertise with entrepreneurs who are just getting into the game, and have about 30 hours to give over eight months, contact program organizers at to learn more.


Tara Pickford

Ambition Performing Arts

Tara Pickford is a serial entrepreneur, speaker and author. As the owner and CEO of Ambition Performing Arts (APA), Classion Designs and Pickford Consulting, Tara spends the majority of her time raising tomorrow’s leaders through the arts while providing direction and mentorship to her business and arts communities. Tara dedicates her life to teaching others to be more and reach further. When not mentoring, speaking, advocating or consulting, Tara can be found teaching dance classes or spending quality time with her family in Airdrie.

My a-ha! moment:

“When I became a parent, it became much more apparent to me how vital APA Studios would be; that we could change the standard for kids’ activities; that we could raise the bar for what is acceptable in our community. We could not only be a safe place for kids to grow, but we would also create leaders who would go out into our community and continue to build on the ideals and values essential for a thriving community with a bright future. When I realized that an arts-based children’s learning centre could be a community pillar, even though class is optional, the outcome is essential.”


Steve Walker-Duncan

Red Deer Polytechnic

Steve Walker-Duncan is an experienced general manager, chef and Associate Dean at Red Deer Polytechnic, having operated/managed all aspects of catering, conference and hospitality venues, including event/catering sales, comprehensive food services, community engagement and outreach, along with advocacy for sustainable environmentally conscious food systems. Steve’s concurrent role in post-secondary culinary education provides unique opportunities for students to share perspectives from both sides of the workforce.

What I wish I knew then that I know now:

“The road to business success is more than just keeping costs low and achieving high revenues. It is a responsibility to those whom you employ, as well as your own well-being and that of those you care about. The community and/or landscape in which any business owner operates is fundamental to achieving success. Whether a small locally owned and operated business or a global superpower, an awareness and dedication to the goals and visions of the operation as it aligns with the community it serves is absolutely essential.|


Michelle Tennant

Lochsmith Consulting

Michelle Tennant works with business owners as a consultant to improve their businesses and work-life balance. Michelle works with clients to set goals and keep them accountable and build systems and processes to streamline the day-to-day operations of their businesses, while providing insight and counsel based on her experience as a business owner.

What I wish I knew then that I know now:

“The importance of knowing and understanding your numbers. Numbers are the language of business, so it’s crucial that you learn it. They can scare a lot of people, but shying away or just hoping it will all work out is not a good approach. If you aren’t profitable, at best you just have a job with a lot of extra work and no reward. At the other end, you may not even be getting paid and are essentially volunteering and, at worst, you’re losing money. When you know your numbers, you empower yourself, you can make better decisions and you will feel more confident in your decision-making. Don’t be scared to ask questions and dig in. Lean on experts around you for guidance and set targets for yourself.”


Dr. Melanie Beingessner

Blessingsway Family Wellness

Dr. Melanie Beingessner has been a chiropractor for more than 25 years, starting her own clinic 13 years ago. In that time, Melanie’s practice has grown from herself and one massage therapist, with no additional staff, to three front-desk staff, two associate chiropractors and two massage therapists. Besides adjusting her patients, she takes care of payroll, marketing and advertising, and everything else that her business needs. In essence, she has two major roles to make her business work and it has taken a long time to learn how to navigate them both.

What was my a-ha! moment with my business?

“This is what I said to myself one day: Relax — your business will never be perfect. It will never be 100 per cent what you want it to be. If what you want to accomplish gets done, that’s all anyone can ask. If you have fun while providing your service and being with your people, then you’re absolutely on the right track!”


Ankur Goklaney

CIR Realty

Ankur Goklaney of CIR Realty describes himself as “your dedicated real estate advisor for life.” Whether a first-time homebuyer, investor, a family looking to upgrade or downsize, or a business seeking commercial space, Ankur guides clients through the entire process. He has expertise in both residential and commercial real estate, including certification as a condo specialist.

What I wish I knew then that I know now:

“If only I had known about SMARTstart when I launched my business! The level of support and guidance it provides to new entrepreneurs is truly remarkable. It’s like having a team of experts ready to offer insights and assistance to help you make informed decisions based on their knowledge, experience and expertise. When venturing into something new, mistakes are inevitable, and we often learn from them, but they can come with a hefty price tag in terms of time and effort. SMARTstart significantly reduces these costs by connecting new entrepreneurs with the right people.”