North Yorker Susan Ho is putting a spin on the idea of tea and cookies. She’s putting tea in cookies — and she’s grabbing attention along the way.
The 33-year-old entrepreneur was recently awarded the Toronto North Job Skills Entrepreneurial Award, an honour bestowed on an outstanding graduate of Job Skills’ Self Employment Business program.
It’s an impressive achievement for someone who decided just two and a half years ago that she wanted to start a business. It was back in the summer of 2007, having recently lost her research job in a hospital, that Ho first started toying with the idea.
“I didn’t really know what to do from there, but I’d always been experimenting with baking and things like that,” says Ho. “My husband was the one who found the article (about S.E.B) and said ‘why don’t you give this a try’.”
She pitched a business proposal to Job Skills. They liked her idea and took her on in January 2008, helping her turn the business concept into a plan.
She spent a year learning about financial statements, time management and how to problem-solve.
“(They’re) teaching you basically the foundations of what it is you need to operate and sustain a business,” says Ho. “They give you the fundamentals and you build on it.”
But the biggest benefit of all, says Ho, is the mentor program.
“Even after you’ve finished the program, the mentor is there to help you and give you support. That’s essential in maintaining a steady pace when you’re starting up.”
Ho’s mentor, craft store owner Judy Robuliak, was also the one who nominated her for the award.
“I was at a loss for words. I started crying at the reception … It was exciting, very exciting,” says Ho.
A resourceful businessperson, Ho says she’s grateful for the help she’s had from groups like Job Skills, Canadian Youth Business Foundation, The Toronto Food Business Incubator and, of course, her family.
Ho chalks up her win to persistence and having a unique concept.
“In Canada there really isn’t a company that is doing the same thing as us,” says Ho.
That much might be clear from the company’s orders. Tea Aura cookies are now sold in approximately 150 stores, including recent deals with Holt Renfrew and Whole Foods.
But that doesn’t mean Ho is resting on her laurels.
“Our next challenge is to find a big facility so we can produce that much more product,” she says. She notes the company is looking to expand into Western Canada, the Eastern U.S., even Japan and Germany.
With a background as a nutritionist, Ho is betting that her all-natural, trans-fat free products will be as big a hit abroad as they have been at home.
“The majority of people who try our product like them,” she says.
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