SMARTstart | Airdrie’s Entrepreneurs Start Smarter

Story by Jessica Williamson


Photos by Kristy Reimer with illustrations by Mackenzie Cox

Summer 2024

While the Great Resignation is ongoing in Canada, there is another trend that appears to be on the horizon – a great transition to Canadians creating their own jobs. According to FreshBooks’ Canadian Self-Employment Report, an estimated seven million Canadians expect to transition to self-employment in a short amount of time. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people work and has inspired a new age of entrepreneurs. According to the report, the top two reasons people are choosing self-employment are more career control (37 per cent) and more career fulfilment (36 per cent).

While small business is the engine of our economy, it is both rewarding and challenging. Statistics Canada reports that, of the more than 100,000 new businesses created every year, one-third do not survive their first five years.

However, it’s been shown that business owners with education in entrepreneurship have an 80- to 90-per cent chance of success. Airdrie’s SMARTstart program aims to provide that education and channel the energy and enthusiasm of new entrepreneurs into growth and learning through eight months of small business training.

This made-in-Airdrie entrepreneurial training program offers online learning, workshops with local experts, mentorship and business planning to people with a business idea and owners who have been in operation for less than three years.

The strength of the program comes from giving new entrepreneurs access to the knowledge and mentorship of those in the business community who have “been there and done that.” The slate of accomplished business professionals who have volunteered as mentors help participants navigate many of the challenges typically encountered when starting a business.

Each program participant walks away with a completed plan — feasibility, business or strategic — and connections to the supportive Airdrie business community.

In the past ten years, 144 entrepreneurs have completed the SMARTstart program.

Over the next two issues, we will feature our 2024 participating entrepreneurs.



Lesley Stasiuk

Please describe your business: Daytona Beach Seafood Tacos provides the young and young-at-heart with healthy offerings both on our seafood taco food truck and in the Airdrie Curling Club (Xtra End Café). Since the introduction of food trucks in Calgary in 2011, I have had a vision to provide a fresh take on beloved classics while promoting community and delighting people with quality food. Daytona Beach offers healthy Baja-styled tacos wrapped up with your choice of fillings: beef, chicken, cod, mahi-mahi, shrimp or tuna, with shredded cabbage, freshly made pico de gallo, mango salsa, house-made aioli and garnished with local microgreens.

Why entrepreneurship? I started my taco truck after realizing that there are very few food trucks in Airdrie, especially those that focus on healthy choices. I wanted to create something that was a fan favourite, but with a twist to ensure it wasn’t greasy. Food is my love language and I wanted to share that. I’m inspired by positive feedback and seeing people get excited over my culinary creations.

What I hope to learn: I am looking for guidance on my path to expansion. I want to get stronger as an entrepreneur and have my own restaurant or franchise someday.

Mentor: Ankur Goklaney, CIR Realty



Allissa Blondin

Please describe your business: We believe there is a message inside of you that the world needs to hear. We help authors, speakers and businesses create succinct and effective written communication so they can shine, and their ideas can spread light to their audience. Our professional team at The Feathered Pen of heart-centred writing experts will help you create impact with the written word through our ghostwriting, editing and copywriting services.

Why entrepreneurship? A few years ago, through a process called Ikigai — the Japanese art of finding one’s purpose — I rediscovered my love for writing. When the pandemic hit, I needed more flexibility, so I left my amazing job and started my own writing services company. This life-changing decision not only aligned with my purpose, but also empowered me to live my values, have more control over my schedule, and be there for my family — what a gift!

What I hope to learn: I hope to learn how to create a sustainable business model that supports local job creation and expand my business offerings to help me create a greater impact. I am a firm supporter of lifelong learning and I lead with the understanding that “I don’t know what I don’t know,” so I hope to gain a new perspective in every area of business, including how I show up for myself as a business owner.

Mentor: Michelle Tennant, Lochsmith Consulting



Dr. Mitch Colp

Please describe your business: Hexagon Psychology is a nationally operating psychological assessment and treatment clinic. We have a team of expert psychologists, social workers and speech-language pathologists who excel in offering high-quality services to children, youth and adult clients. Since opening our doors in Airdrie in April 2021, we have quickly grown to be the city’s largest psychological service provider.

Why entrepreneurship? I enjoy the intellectual freedom that owning a business allows me to have. It is nice to be known for operating a business that values its staff and the people we serve. Starting a business provided me and my colleagues the flexibility of lifestyle and allows us to have an impact on the greater mental health community in Airdrie and across Canada.

What I hope to learn: I hope to learn new business skills that I may have missed as our business grew at an exceptional rate.

Mentor: Dr. Melanie Beingessner, Blessingways Family Wellness



Chelsie Schmidt

Please describe your business: Chelsie Rae Photography is a lifestyle photographer that captures life’s little and big moments, everything from yearly family photos to newborn babies, weddings, couples, and lifestyle branding and content creation. I have a passion for capturing people in their element and making them feel comfortable in front of the lens. Photos are the one thing in this world we get to leave behind for our children’s children and I want them to feel as if they knew the person in the photo by capturing their personality.

Why entrepreneurship? I have always been very creative — as a kid, I won a photo contest in Airdrie. Over the years, I helped a friend with photos for her SAIT photojournalism class and my sister-in-law with family photos. I loved every step of the process and realized this was my passion. My vision is to open both an outdoor and indoor studio for my clients and to rent to other photographers.

What I hope to learn: I look forward to finding financial stability in my business, growing my revenue and my business skills.

Mentor: Tara Pickford, Ambition Performing Arts and Pickford Consulting



Sharity Mackintosh

Please describe your business: From the beginning, we didn’t want to be just another cleaning service; we love being a friendly face to our residential and commercial clients while getting to know them and their families. We take care of those dealing with tough times, whether it’s illness or the loss of a loved one. We also take care of our team, who are vital to our existence. We’re passionate about hiring and treating our crew like family and giving them the respect and care they deserve.

Why entrepreneurship? When I started my cleaning journey, it was with another company, and I found that we couldn’t get to know or help our clients with the extra things they needed. I wanted to be able to spend that extra time and truly care for them and their family’s needs. I am giving this vision life with Honeybee Housekeeping. In five years, it would be wonderful to have a warehouse location and at least a couple more teams out cleaning.

What I hope to learn: I want to learn more about staying organized and figuring out where to step back and delegate.

Mentor: Brent Park, Liquid Amber Landscape Management



Yvonne Koprnicky

Please describe your business: I was born and raised in Airdrie and graduated from Alberta College of Art + Design with a Bachelor of Design in 2012. After tattooing for ten years, I opened my own studio in January 2024. Sundog Studios has a warm and welcoming California vibe that embodies my love for community, surf culture and beautiful art. The space I purchased in King’s Heights houses myself and four other resident artists. We often have guest artists, as well!

Why entrepreneurship? After years of either feeling isolated in a private room, or clients feeling exposed in larger open spaces, I decided to design my own space that has the best of both worlds. I want to create an environment that I love, and that resident artists and clients enjoy being in. In five years, I envision Sundog being one of the most-recognized tattoo studios in Airdrie, and it being an integral part of the Airdrie community. I have a mission to create a positive environment of passionate artists, with a focus on community and growth.

What I hope to learn: I look forward to building awareness for Sundog and learning about strategic planning, growth and sustainability.

Mentor: Steve Walker-Duncan, Red Deer Polytechnic