When your gourmet organic cookies win two prestigious food industry awards in 2021 and are sold in over 400 locations across North America, seven years of hard work is paying off.
Jacqueline Day of Cochrane, Alberta, started Real Treat, her food-based business, through frustration at being unable to find good-tasting, organic cookies. A long-time healthy food enthusiast, she is committed to organics but also believes in food for pleasure. "I come from a family of cookie monsters!"
Her path to becoming a recognized force in the organic gourmet cookie realm was a winding road, a journey she feels is often the experience of many entrepreneurs. " I always knew I would start a food-based business one day, even when working in other fields."
It was a random day in 2014 when the perfect business idea materialized. "I was looking for organic cookies that also tasted good and couldn't find any. An anvil hit my head - I need to make them myself!" An avid recipe developer, Jacqueline scoured her files for inspiration, then refined her favourites. "I started selling at the local farmers' market, and when they regularly sold out, I knew I was onto something. My original plan to take a year to write a solid business plan and do some number crunching while still working in oil and gas, was immediately accelerated when I was suddenly laid off."
Free to concentrate full time on her business, by November 2014, ten stores carried her cookies – a great start, but far from the international distribution her brand enjoys today.
Jacqueline's dedication and passion for her product received recognition from two prestigious food industry associations. She is the 2021 Expo West – Nexty Award recipient, the highest honor for organics and natural products. She also is the 2021 recipient of the Specialty Food Association (SFA) Gold SOFI ward in the cookies and bars category – earning a stamp of approval from Michelin chefs.
Since then, orders and inquiries have taken a leap, a welcome turn after challenges of the pandemic temporarily affected her operations. "It's great to be on the upswing after a difficult time. COVID-19 allowed us to look for efficiencies, and we've become leaner and better at what we do." Her team produces and packages all products in their production facility in Cochrane.
Jacqueline credits her local Community Futures Centre West office for their support before and during the pandemic. "The group at CFCWest has been integral to our success. Whenever I call them, they are interested in me – and my business. They were there when I needed financing to buy equipment for growth and expansion.
Returning to the "why" always guides me - I believe supporting organic agriculture is critical to helping our ailing planet. By offering indulgent and delicious products, we might persuade more people to choose organic. People eat what makes them happy, so let's create organics that spark joy!"
Two significant awards later and with a growing clientele, Jacqueline is on the right path.
Photo credit: Synthia Mosnier
Entrepreneur Margot Anderson had never heard of Community Futures Highwood before COVID-19.
As CEO of PrairieWind Productions, she produced films in Alberta, provided animal health and therapy services and was busy running a successful small business.
As the impact of a global pandemic abruptly halted film production, she began to look for support.
Margot began connecting with other small business owners as part of online business resiliency workshops facilitated by Community Futures and engaged in business mentorship with coach Pamela Morgan. Together they focused on identifying and observing opportunities that are often overlooked in small business.
“My coach showed me that COVID-19 was an opportunity in a crisis. It was a time when the even tougher get going. It was a time to join the Community Futures Zoom Meetings, get involved with other like-minded businesses and charities,” she said. “I’ve learned about embracing the positive and being visionary. I started dreaming again. Dreaming of what my business will become.”
By combining grants, relief funding and specialized business programs all provided by her local Community Futures Highwood office, she was able to shift her business model throughout the pandemic towards equine and animal therapy and focus on being a mentor to a growing community of local practitioners.
She used Community Futures supported funding to buy specialized equipment for detecting pain in horses, dogs and cats, and also began lending some of her equipment to other local women just getting started in the field.
“Community Futures gave me a chance to relaunch my business, but they also gave me the tools to relaunch my confidence,’ said Margot.
Working with multiple community stakeholders, three Community Futures office teams brought together resources supporting mental health, education and coaching to aid in the recovery of small and medium-sized enterprises in their communities.
The Building Business Resiliency program was a joint initiative between: Community Futures Highwood, Community Futures Alberta Southwest and Community Futures Crowsnest Pass.
Kim Dechaine from Bonnyville Alberta has always been involved with helping people.
Realizing that so many people needed help navigating how to prevent overwhelm and burnout, she started her business Inner Powered Leaders. She works with clients teaching, speaking, and facilitating workshops to educate them on how to take back their lives.
Taking a leap in 2020 to online teaching was a huge challenge for Kim. She needed to figure out how to get her skills and knowledge online for people to use from all over the world. This is when she learned about membership sites and how impactful they are and that they allow for great revenue growth.
She reached out for advice on how to build a membership site which was now her primary goal. With the financial support from Community Futures Lakeland, she was able to launch the Membership Site Program that helped her find clarity in the audience, vision, and mission statement. She launched the site, Female Changemakers, on March 30, 2021. With the funding and assistance from Community Futures Lakeland, she now has this new business up and running.
“I am so grateful for Community Futures Lakeland and what they offer, and for their guidance and support. Without them, I would not have a business today,” says Kim. “I am so excited for the growth of my business, continuing to expand the offerings within the site and to see more women find such transformation in their lives.”
Kim’s next steps are to reach as many female leaders as she can worldwide and help them end overwhelm and burnout in the workplace and in their personal lives by embracing their feminine energy. She holds free monthly training classes and continues to learn how to invite and welcome more women into the membership site.
“Find support and guidance. We cannot do it on our own. There are so many amazing resources right in our own community. Do not be afraid to invest in your business and in your own personal and professional development. It is a necessity to have growth.”
Project Gazelle is a women’s economic empowerment project. Headquartered at Community Futures Lloydminster & Region and delivered through 15 CF offices and other community partners. Gazelle supports female entrepreneurs and business owners in Northern Alberta and Northwest Saskatchewan with individualized business coaching, specialized training and mentoring services, special events to celebrate and promote female entrepreneurs and co-working spaces to provide networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
This is the story of one of the recent participants in the program, Selena Moberly.
“Entirely self taught, I was inspired by the legacy of my late aunt Doris McDonald and late grandma, Marie McDonald. I remember looking at YouTube tutorials for the basics of sewing. I would practice on small pieces of fabric and find old shirts around my house to work on straight lines. My late aunt and grandma’s crafts included sewing, quilting, painting and beadwork. I admired them for continuing and practicing their art through illness and challenging times.
After my aunt’s passing in 2019, I often looked back on her Instagram and that is what inspired me to sew. I wanted to do something different, so I began working with ribbon and jean jackets. Once COVID-19 hit, I ran out of jackets during the lockdown. I was bored quickly and taught myself how to make ribbon skirts. They became popular and in 2020, I made over 80 skirts that were shipped across Canada and even the United States. Additionally, I was approached by the ‘Bearhead Sisters’ to make matching skirts for them to be on the cover of their next music album. My biggest project yet, was making over 600 reusable face masks for Aseniwuche Winewak’s Nation COVID-19 care packages. They were safely distributed to Aseniwuche members in December of 2020.
Project Gazelle has helped me on a professional level. After attending the retreat in Jasper (hosted by Community Futures West Yellowhead), I was able to identify my core values and apply them to how I envision my business. I learned about understanding problems and their causes, focusing on my strengths and defining success on my own terms. I learned tools that will help serve my purpose, passion and presentation. This was a huge help and has opened opportunities for myself as an Indigenous small business owner. I’m looking forward to what Project Gazelle can continue to do to help me and other female entrepreneurs.”