When it was announced on prom night that her peers at Woburn Collegiate Institute had voted Michelle Lochan as the graduate that was most likely to succeed, she knew she had to meet their expectations.
The competitiveness and determination have been evident in her adult life despite some challenges. The single mother of five, including four-year-old twins, returned to the classroom to enhance her business skills and fulfill her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Last week, Lochan was one of three recipients of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award created to honour MicroSkills Women’s Enterprise & Resource Centre graduates who successfully realized their dream of starting their own business while overcoming obstacles. The awards are open to graduates who have been operating businesses for at least a year.
With the business tools and confidence gained in the program, Lochan officially launched her company – Marketstart – on the same night she graduated last Thursday.
Marketstart provides business planning, marketing and outreach, revenue development, business writing, project management and coordination, event coordination and conference management services.
“I have always been interested in having my own business,” said American-born Lochan who spent eight years in Florida. “After the birth of my first child, I made gift baskets for special occasions and that really took off.”
After separating from her college-sweetheart-turned-husband of 10 years in 2008, Lochan seized the opportunity to enhance her self-employment skills and qualities.
“I also needed to earn a living and support my kids,” said Lochan. “I worked with some great business advisers and facilitators who provided me with all the necessary tools I need to make my business work. It’s now up to me to make it happen.”
A 1996 Carleton University sociology degree graduate, Lochan moved to Florida and worked as a communications manager with an executive recruitment firm and a marketing coordinator at Keiser University and with a small advertising firm. She also completed a two-year marketing management associate degree program at Miami Dade College.
Lochan, the daughter of calypsonian and entertainer, Dick Lochan, shared the Entrepreneur Award honours with Ana Gisela Sandoval and Rijha Sadlier.
An immigrant from Guatemala, Sandoval started Hargis General Contractors Ltd. while Sadlier – a cancer survivor and mother of two – successfully made the transformation from hairstylist to the owner of Rijha’s Holistic Hair & Body Care.
MicroSkills executive director, Kay Blair, said she was impressed with the recipients’ character and openness.
“From the outset, we felt something quite different and unique about these women,” she said. “They were very grateful for the opportunity and they actually maximized it to the fullest by participating, mentoring and supporting other women. They were open about the struggles and challenges they have experienced and felt good to know there was a place they could go so they can help themselves and their children.”
Six years ago, MicroSkills launched the Margot Franssen Leadership Award to honour the Order of Canada recipient and former Body Shop of Canada president and partner who has helped the Canada Women’s Foundation raise thousands of dollars for violence prevention and recovery programs for women.
This year’s winner is Scotiabank vice-president, Christine Williams. A graduate of Jamaica’s Mannings High School and McMaster University, Williams is a former director of Tropicana Community Services, College Compensation & Appointments Council and Scarborough Hospital Foundation. She has been executive vice-president and treasurer of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) for the past 26 months.
Through Williams, many community organizations have benefited from Scotiabank’s financial support.
“Growing up in Jamaica, I had the choice of working in the financial industry or with government and I chose the former because I felt I could leverage money to assist my community and those in need of help,” said Williams, who has been with Scotiabank for nearly 35 years.
Previous award winners included PACE president and former Scotiabank senior executive and Ontario cabinet minister, Mary Anne Chambers; YWCA chief executive officer Paulette Senior and Ryerson University School of Social Work professor, Dr. Akua Benjamin.
MicroSkills presented its inaugural Business Excellence Award to Rina Rovinelli and Youth Leadership Awards to Devindra Lall, Kamoy Williams and Kadeem Dawes.
The founder of the Gay Straight Alliance, Lall is enrolled in Seneca College’s Tourism & Travel program while Williams – who graduated from Central Peel Secondary School – and Dawes were enrolled in MicroSkills Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship program.
A graduate of Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School, Dawes is a second-year Humber College Culinary Management program student.
“I love food and cooking and MicroSkills has prepared me well for that field,” Dawes said.
Starting with just four staff in one facility and a budget of about $450,000, the service organization now employs nearly 109 full-time staff in seven locations across the Greater Toronto Area with a budget this year of $9-million.
Blair said the organization has not been immune to the tough financial times.
“In the past three years, our budget has been slashed by about $4-million and two locations will close shortly,” she said. “The level of service has remained consistent, but we have had to rely heavily on our own partners, including the corporate community that has really stepped up to the plate.”
MicroSkills, which launched a provincial women’s trade network to help women access jobs in that sector, served over 25,000 clients in 2011.
BY RON FANFAIR