Gustavson School of Business
“What happens when two or three ACE students start their businesses? Or even better, what is the impact on a community if every person who participates in the ACE Program starts a successful business?”
Entrepreneurs have a unique impact on the economy and community they operate in. This impact is distinctive of entrepreneurship, which provides the opportunity to shape the business’ value in any way the entrepreneur sees fit. This may include centering the value on the needs of the entrepreneur’s community while also creating further opportunity. Michaela Tokarski, ACE Educator, is an entrepreneur, investor and instructor described by her clients and peers as “client-focused and results-oriented,” with a proven track record of “rapidly build[ing] businesses, displaying an entrepreneurial flair” (Marcia Morris, LinkedIn; Steve Bochen, LinkedIn). Michaela’s focus on impacting and creating value for those she works with is evident through her work as an entrepreneur, and also through her work with the next generation of entrepreneurs looking to make their mark.
Michaela was raised in Ontario, and is the youngest in a family that includes four brothers. Michaela attended the University of Waterloo, during which time she studied Chemical Engineering, was the Engineering Society Arts Director and was also recognized for her work through receiving the Caroline Fraussel Award. After graduating with her Bachelor of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering – Management Sciences Option in 1999, Michaela attended the University of Victoria for her MBA, specializing in Entrepreneurship, where she was recognized for her work as a winner of the Margaret Lowe Memorial Fellowship. Michaela says that one of her favourite University of Victoria professors took the time to discuss her career options and “convinced” her to take more risks.
In 2000, Michaela worked with her brother, Roger Hardy, to cofound Coastal Contacts Inc. Michaela was still in school studying for her MBA from the University of Victoria at the time, but negotiated a co-op term so she could found Coastal Contacts. Michaela continued working with Coastal Contacts after graduating with her MBA, and the company saw great success, with key company milestones including but not limited to generating over $2 million in revenue in its first year in business, over $1 million in sales in just one day in 2011, and surpassing over $1 billion in cumulative sales in 2012 before being sold to Essilor in 2014 for $435 million.
Michaela has also spent time as Vice President of Marketing for eBillme in Ottawa, and in April 2009, she combined her expertise in marketing and entrepreneurship to found Creekside Communications, a boutique digital marketing agency providing web design and development services for over 150 clients in the food, sport and technology industries. One client of Michaela’s describes that “[h]er experience and knowledge is second to none. Many web professionals and consultants can sound very credible and may have some good book smarts; however, few have built successful companies from the ground up” (Chuck Shabsove, LinkedIn).
In addition to her involvement as a founder and executive for her companies, Michaela devotes her time to community initiatives. Michaela has served in a variety of roles on the Old Ottawa South Community Association, including serving as Chair of the Program Committee, and as a member of the Executive, the Board of Directors in 2016. Additionally, Michaela has served in a variety of roles on the Board of Directors for the Entrepreneurs Organization, and has further shared her expertise as a guest speaker, including being a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator at The DECA Conference hosted by Carleton University, a guest speaker at the International Coaching Federation Ottawa Chapter, and a guest speaker to the MBA Program at the University of Victoria.
Michaela’s commitment to providing the next generation of entrepreneurs with the tools for success extends beyond her work as a guest speaker as well. At the University of Victoria, the Michaela Tokarski Entrepreneurship Bursary is available to graduate students in the MBA entrepreneurship specialization in the Faculty of Business. Additionally, Michaela actively works with entrepreneurs in the ACE Program, where she focuses on helping entrepreneurs learn how to best leverage the internet as they develop their start-ups. Michaela also teaches entrepreneurs in the ACE Program how start-ups can create stakeholder management plans. Shawn Nanaquewitang, an entrepreneur in the LD-ACE Program, describes that his favorite part of the ACE Program has been working with Michaela, who has shared insight about marketing through the Internet and helped him with setting up a webpage for his business, Iron Eagle Safety.
Michaela says that “[t]here is a lot of potential in every ACE classroom. Students receive a wealth of practical, useful information on all of the key areas that they will really need as they start and grow their businesses.” Michaela further explains that she has “a fair amount of real-world experience and quite a few lessons [were] learned first-hand, the hard way, and [she] believe[s] these [lessons] are helpful for others who are pursuing entrepreneurship as a career path to hear and learn from.”
Michaela believes that the ACE Program “is unique in that it delivers entrepreneurial education on site so people don’t have to travel far to Universities or Colleges outside of their communities – making it more accessible than other programs.” Michaela describes that “the opportunity to participate in a truly impactful experience,” is her favorite part about teaching the ACE Program. “The program has a genuine and lasting impact which spans from that entrepreneur and their family, on to their staff and their families, and even further throughout the community. What happens when two or three ACE students start their businesses? Or even better, what is the impact on a community if every person who participates in the ACE Program starts a successful business?”
For current students and graduates of the ACE Program looking to build their business, Michaela notes that her main advice is to “have a clear vision in your mind of why you are doing this. For example, by knowing in advance that you are working for job creation in your community, you will know when you have achieved a step along that path (by hiring someone). Then, you can keep re-focusing on that goal, and celebrate each step along that path.” Michaela also strongly recommends that entrepreneurs conduct “some advance thinking about [their] support network. Being an entrepreneur has highs and lows. Some very big highs, but also some lows. Knowing who your real friends and supporters are can help get through the lows and celebrate the highs.” For entrepreneurs considering joining the ACE Program, Michaela says “Apply. Today. You never know, you might get in. And you never know, your ideas may evoke enormous change in the world.”
We at ACE are grateful for the support Michaela provides to entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses to the next level as they work to impact the community. To learn more about Michaela and her work, visit these links:
Michaela Tokarski is an instructor of the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs Program. Many Aboriginal Entrepreneurs have graduated from the award winning ACE Program, which focuses on bridging Aboriginal culture with the key elements of entrepreneurship and business creation. The ACE program made possible through the collective efforts of our partnering regions, communities, institutions, and faculties.