What do a foodie, a water resource visionary and a doll maker all have in common? They’ve all impressively started their own businesses in the hope of building bridges and making meaningful change that reflects their values.
Roudelyne Pierre is the owner of Alékan, a Montreal restaurant offering a unique Haitian culinary experience. Eddy Dureuil is the co-founder of Ecotime, a firm that taps into unused water and energy resources. Clara D. Lewis created Brown Divas Dolls, a company that produces handmade dolls in dark skin tones. These 3 entrepreneurs are leaders building the future, and they've shared their story with us.
What made you start your own business?
Clara D. Lewis: My experience as a social worker! Personally and professionally, this led me to see how so many factors can influence kids’ self-esteem. I wanted to help give kids positive reinforcement.
That’s how the idea came to me to make dolls that reflect ethnic and cultural diversity. Children can identify with certain dolls and build their self-esteem. And when kids play with dolls that don’t look like them, they learn to appreciate different models of beauty and be open-minded. By starting Brown Divas Dolls, I wanted to make an impact on society and do something outside of my comfort zone.
Roudelyne Pierre: Personally, what led me to start a business was the history of Haitian immigration in Quebec. I saw that Haitian food was largely absent from food court offerings, and I thought people were really missing out. I wanted to make Haitian food accessible to all Montrealers, instead of it just being available within the Haitian community. I wanted as many people as possible to be able to try it. And that is exactly what we’re doing! I love food, and as a foodie I think it's time for Haitian dishes to have their rightful place on the menu!
Eddy Dureuil: I wanted to make an impact for the next generation and use my skills to reduce our footprint on the environment. Saving water and energy is something that everyone can get behind. I am good at making complex concepts easy to understand, and what I wanted to do was give ordinary people ways to reduce their water usage and be part of the solution while maintaining their comfort.
How do you see your company in terms of diversity?
R.P.: What’s important for us is to keep our Haitian food authentic and to have good people working for us. We’re a starting point for many newcomers to Canada. We offer them their first Canadian work experience and the opportunity to be part of a larger project. They also have less pressure because they’re in an environment where they feel understood. In the kitchen, we often speak in Creole, and as an employer, I lend a supportive ear and encourage them to take francization courses.
E.D.: When you see a person of colour forging their own path, it sparks curiosity and encourages others to do the same. Honestly, at companies in our area of expertise, there’s not a lot of diversity at the top. I felt that my field needed a bit more colour. And it’s actually the field that chose me! I wanted to do something for the planet, and all the better if that inspires others to do the same.
C. L.: It’s simple. With my company, we wanted to help the new generation cultivate their self-esteem and acceptance of others. Our mission is to give Black kids representation and expose white kids to differences. We’re a company that offers inclusive products.
Who inspires you?
E.D.: This won’t surprise you: Barack Obama for his public speaking skills and the ease with which he can adapt to any situation. The way he speaks inspires me, and I try to adopt his approach in my professional life. The way I speak helps me attract the attention of future clients or partners—it’s an asset. For me in life, either you win or you learn – a quote from Nelson Mandela.
R.P.: For me, it’s someone who’s in my life: Suzie Mondésir, Practice Leader at Desjardins Group’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office. When I see her, I think to myself that I can also be successful at what I do. Throughout her career, she has been able to make a mark as a Black Haitian woman. She encourages us and pushes us to go further. When you look for a role model, it’s also good to recognize people who are more in your orbit—they can make an impact, too.
C. L.: My grandmother, Tolo. She was a wise woman who always managed to see the positive in any situation. She taught us to always be proud of ourselves and proud of who we are. My grandmother is my inspiration. I embrace her values and have passed them on to my children. She was very down-to-earth and uncomplicated, never taking take herself too seriously. That’s how I also operate when running my business.
If you could give one piece of advice to business owners or people who are thinking of starting a business, what would it be?
E.D.: Remember that failure is not the end but an opportunity to be better. I would have wanted someone to remind me that failure is just part of being human and not a sign of weakness.
R. P.: My answer may seem cliché, but it’s to take a leap of faith and just do it! Ignore your fears! Look at us—we started out in the middle of the pandemic, a time where there was very little hope. Everything told us not to start a business. But we did it anyway, and we’re proud of it. Take a risk, go for it and believe in yourself!
C.L.: Take all the opportunities that come your way and don’t stay in your comfort zone. Forging your own path often leads to the greatest opportunities. Go for it and make your mark!