Meet some of the previous finalists of Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge.

Team: Ladybug Arborists

Lady Bug Arborists

Idea: Tree Care

“The whole experience of the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge was excellent from beginning to end” Maureen Sexsmith-West

Maureen Sexsmith-West has been in the industry for 15 years. Her enthusiasm for trees and extensive knowledge about arboriculture made opening a business an excellent opportunity for Maureen. As a result, she opened Ladybug Arborists to provide care for trees, shrubs, and gardens. To further her business skills and help ensure the success of her company, Maureen participated in the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge.

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    “T he fact that many of the facilitators represented successful companies added insight into what it takes to manage and run a thriving business. The diverse subject matter covered all aspects of business management,” explains Maureen, “I would encourage any entrepreneur, prospective or new, to utilize this program.”

    Ladybug Arborists is a home based business that services clients in the Lethbridge area. It was opened in October of 2012 and through its first year has continued to thrive and grow. Her services include tree and shrub pruning or removal, plant health care programs, arboricultural consulting, and weed management programs. These are offered to residential and commercial clients, and because of the mild climate in Southern Alberta, Ladybug Arborists is able to operate year round.

    As no two trees are alike, Maureen sees a variety of problems in her work. She customizes her services to fit the needs of each site. It is her knowledge of the different species, pests, and hazards that contributes to the success of her programs. She builds solutions for customers and doesn’t “guess at solutions” as Maureen describes it. When faced with an overgrown or neglected sight, Maureen helps clients see the potential in their landscape and works with them to regain control of a yard they can love and feel safe in. Tackling the bigger tasks, Maureen then teaches clients how to handle the smaller ones so they can feel part of the process and a sense of accomplishment at the end.

    Maureen’s passion for her work is one of the reasons why she has lasted so long in the industry. Currently, she is the only female arborist in private practice in Lethbridge and she is working on obtaining her Master Gardener status by 2014.

    It’s easy to see Maureen’s passion and care for her work. She has tremendous experience in her industry and is committed to offering the best service.

    Website: ladybugarborists.blogspot.ca

Team: Pink Tie Events


Idea: Event Planning

“Wedding planning is stressful; there are so many ideas, so many opinions and so many choices. We just wanted to remove the anxiety and save some tears by offering a ‘one-stop shopping’ storefront for the bride” Whitney Christensen

Ashley Walker and Whitney Christensen are two young, vibrant women who have the passion to pursue their entrepreneurial dream. They love business, they love helping people and they love creating happiness. So when they identified a niche in the wedding planning market in Lethbridge, starting Pink Tie Events was an easy business decision for them.

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    T hey started small, renting decorations from their home basements but the demand for their services required more space. So they left their marketing and accounting jobs and took the entrepreneurial risk, moved to a storefront and increased their services to include rentals, decorations, gifts, wedding and special event planning, and event setup and takedown.

    Even though both women had Business Management degrees, Ashley and Whitney thought they could benefit by registering for the 8-week business training offered by Community Futures Lethbridge.

    “Each week there was a new topic taught by a professional from the community,” states Ashley. “We were eager to learn and excited to do the classes. Meeting other people starting their own business was priceless. We learned from others. The experiences, the feedback, the advice from the other participants helped us improve and define our business plan and clarify our vision, ” advises Ashley. “It opened up a whole new direction for us to go,” explains Whitney. “The program helped us improve, helped us validate our plans and gave us confidence.”

    The pair is creative and embraces innovation to keep their market fresh.They are often the same age as their clientele and nurture the business relationship. Every event offers a new experience, a new challenge as the little hiccups on the event day are certain to happen. But the strength of the partnership brings a sense of calm for this “take charge” duo, and the laughter and fun pulls them through the intricacies.

    In less than a year, the business expanded to incorporate event planning for fund raising, bridal showers, and a variety of other special events. When asked if they feel successful, Ashley and Whitney replied in harmony “Yes we do!” When asked what has contributed to their success, they agree networking and being involved in the community is key. “And you have to have the passion for what you are doing.”

    The two women are definitely passionate about their business, and passionate about creating happiness. And yes, most importantly they both agree ‘they are passionate about the color pink.’

    Website: pinktieonline.com


Team: Lethbridge Tactical Supply


Idea: Tactical Equipment Store

A good idea is great but without a plan, it is just a good idea Sarah Jorgensen

They were a young couple, with a young family who had a good idea for a business. However, their education and work histories were not in business management and they wanted some assurance to move forward. So she and her husband Shaun took their idea and went to Community Futures Lethbridge, where they attended the training workshops, worked with the professionals, completed the research and developed their business plan. At the end of the process, they entered the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge for Southern Alberta and placed in the top three finalists, confirming their idea was indeed a good one.

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    would recommend the process for anyone who wants to start a business,” states Sarah, “I learned the inner workings of a business, from target marketing, to researching the statistics. It was a confidence builder and confirmed we were doing things right.”

    Lethbridge Tactical Supply opened their doors in January 2012, and supply high quality gear and safety equipment to a variety of industries from police and emergency services, security corporations, construction, and oil field companies. Their small business provides products to customers in the Southern Alberta region and has been developing a loyal following as far away as Red Deer.

    “We supply tactical equipment which I describe as something small used for a higher purpose. The gear has to be efficient, reliable and dependable for the safety of our clientele.We focus on the quality of goods, services and warranties,” explains Sarah. She searches for the best product and develops her supplier lists to match her customer’s needs. “ You have to listen to your customers; they will tell you what they want and what they don’t want.”

    Lethbridge Tactical Supply is a husband-wife operation with Sarah doing the majority of the storefront operation. Recently they were able to hire an employee to help with store. The business plan has changed somewhat to accommodate the surprising number of different types of customers coming in the door and having to adjust their supplies and inventory to the market. Sarah describes her store as “the type of store you don’t know you need anything from until you come in the door.”

    The storefront is starting to attract an out door activity clientele. Hunters, hikers and campers are coming to the store to buy the high quality boots to keep their feet warm, the tough, durable pants that don’t wear out and to browse the variety of flashlights available. “We have a flashlight that you can see for three blocks with,” laughs Sarah.

    Sarah talks about her business with commitment and confidence. She knows her business and credits her husband for the variety of products carried by the store. Shaun works in the emergency services and is privy to the wants and needs of his co-workers for their safety. Lethbridge Tactical Supply is dedicated to keeping their clientele safe by providing top quality gear and equipment and the success of the business confirms the need.

    Website: lethbridgetacticalsupply.com

Team: Synbiologica


Idea: Technology

“We found the diversity of the workshops to be not only eye opening but also very informative.  The speakers that were brought in provided a lot of one on one time with participants to cater advice for their business. ”

Mackenzie Coatham 

Isaac Ward, Erin Kelly, Mackenzie Coatham, and Harland Brandon are four science students at the University of Lethbridge who are developing a hormone detection device called Biologically Enhanced Assay in Real-time (BEAR). As their studies at the U of L don’t include any business training, they signed up for the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge and its 8 week training program.

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    T he team of four students are currently working out of the laboratories at the University of Lethbridge, and are being advised by professors at the University. Isaac and Erin are currently obtaining their undergraduate degree while Mackenzie and Harland are master’s students. When asked if it is difficult to handle their duties for Synbiologica and their studies, Isaac responded “As with many start-ups it takes a lot of work but with integrating planning, dedication, and most importantly team work, we feel confident that our commitment to education will be enhanced through real world application.”

    While Synbiologica is still in the research phase and has yet to produce a prototype of BEAR, they are already looking to future applications of their product. They plan to market it to scientific researchers – more specifically ones focused on endocrinology and neuroscience – but also feel that BEAR will be useful in an agricultural or medical application.

    These four students are excited about their idea, and while it may be a few years until BEAR is fully functional and approved for use, they remain committed to their research.


2015 Grand Prize Winners:

Lady Bug Arborists

Project Co-ordinator, Geoff Rougeau, with Grand Prize award winners Paije Ottoson of Smudge Art Studio Inc. and Aubrey Demchuk and Zak Stinson of Nomadogen Biotechnologies Inc. during the 11th Annual Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge Award ceremony at the Galt Museum.




2016 Grand Prize Winners – General Stream:

Team: Halo Headware


Project Co-ordinator, Jason Bacon, with Grand Prize award winners Merena & Kyle Johnson of Halo Headwear, Megan McGough Lefebvre of MNP, Darlene Sinclair, Community Future Lethbridge and Darren Adamson of YPM during the 12th Annual Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge Award ceremony.

2016 Grand Prize Winners – Tech Stream:

Team: WebMonkeys


WebMonkeys’ Chris and Laurie Plumb during the 12th Annual Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge Award ceremony.

2017 Grand Prize Winner – General Stream:

Team:  Roo’s 100 Acre Wood Daycare Centre

Randi Ramage at the 13th Annual Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge Awards Luncheon

Idea: Child Care Services

2017 Grand Prize Winner – Technical Stream:

Team: On Site Auto

Idea:  OnSite Professional Car Maintenance Service