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Skills development

Every entre­preneur needs a mentor

April 5, 2021

Being an entrepreneur means constantly making decisions. The pressure can sometimes be intense—especially on young entrepreneurs. What’s a good solution? Find yourself a mentor! Cynthia Savard, owner of Oraki, and Philip Oligny, President of Kartus, explain how mentoring has changed their entrepreneurial journey.

The call of entre­preneurship

Selected from more than 400 candidates, Cynthia Savard and Philip Oligny are part of the 2020 Adopt Inc. contest cohort. These proud entrepreneurs were lucky enough to be “adopted” by experienced business leaders.

A designer in the fashion industry for some 15 years, Cynthia Savard started thinking about going into business for herself when a supplier came to her office with a sample of fabric created from recycled plastic bottles. Concerned about the environment, the yoga enthusiast and vegan mother of 2 kids decided to start Oraki based on her deeply held values. One of her goals with Oraki is to produce clothing in such a way as to minimize the environmental footprint and avoid surplus inventory. Five years after starting her business, Cynthia Savard entered the Adopt Inc. entrepreneurial contest. She was primarily looking to expand her network of contacts in order to socialize and find solutions to some of her issues.

“Mentoring came my way at a specific and very important time in my entrepreneurial journey. I needed guidance and a trusted, experienced mentor to support me, and it made a world of difference to me.”

Philip Oligny launched Kartus in July 2018 after having completed an important phase in research and development. The company, which grew out of a university project in mechanical engineering, provides wheelchairs adapted to running and outdoor activities. A year later, he submitted his application to the Adopt Inc. contest. The entrepreneur wanted to obtain advice to make informed decisions.

Perfect matches!

At an Adopt Inc. event in March 2020, Cynthia Savard presented her business to adopter Jean-Yves Bourgeois, Desjardins Group’s Executive Vice-President, Business Services. “During his introductory speech, Mr. Bourgeois said that he wanted to work with a young company that cares about the future of the planet, which is exactly Oraki’s mission! ”

Also in attendance that evening was Philip Oligny, President of Kartus. “I had the good fortune to be adopted by Gérald St-Aubin, Desjardins Group’s Vice-President, Strategies and Marketing. He was attracted by the social dimension of my business. Knowing how to build a strong network is a well-known entrepreneurship principle, and that’s what Adopt Inc. enables me to do. In addition to mentoring, many people at Desjardins work hard to help us—it’s motivating!”

Experience with a capital E!

One of the benefits of the Adopt Inc. program is the annual $24,000 contribution. Young entrepreneurs can use this money to focus 100% on growing their business. A training program and several other financial benefits are also provided.

Starting a business has its share of challenges. Decisions have to be made every day. For Philip Oligny, the conversations with his mentor were productive.

“This opportunity came at an important time when I’d hired a friend to develop sales opportunities. I wasn’t convinced that he was the right person for the job. I expressed my concerns to Gérald and, diplomatically and objectively, he pointed out that my decision had already been made.”

In her first conversation with her mentor, Cynthia Savard got straight to the point. As she describes it: “I had huge financial decisions to make, and I was thrilled to have an experienced businessman to guide me. Among other things, Jean-Yves helped me write up my financing application to obtain my line of credit with Desjardins—it was a major step for Oraki. I feel free to discuss my business, my concerns and my business vision with him. I’m a passionate entrepreneur, whereas Jean-Yves is rather calm and thoughtful. He helps me take a step back to steer a better course for my actions. Having a mentor by my side who has worked with a number of entrepreneurs during his career is a great opportunity to expand my network—even in the midst of a pandemic.”

A unique entre­preneurial immersion

Much more than a helping hand for the next generation of entrepreneurs, mentoring provides advice and tools for starting and growing a business.

Gérald St-Aubin’s advice and instruction helped Philip Oligny believe in his entrepreneurial abilities. “I’m fortunate to have this tremendous support. The meetings also forced me to take stock of my achievements, which are sometimes quickly forgotten. I want to see the bigger picture, to have more reach. People with reduced mobility living as far away as New Zealand and Australia are using Kartus adapted wheelchairs!”

For Cynthia Savard, being adopted by a mentor also helped her grow her business. Oraki is designing a collection of men’s clothing and other products made from recycled materials. In the near future, she wants to break into the English-Canadian market. “The advice, contacts and coaching support I’ve received from Adopt Inc. have allowed me to take my business to the next level. This is an opportunity that young entrepreneurs shouldn’t pass up!”