Alumna Celina Rayonne Chavannes is the Toronto Board of Trade's Entrepreneur of the Year (photo by Jackie Atlas)

Alumni win Business Excellence Awards

Four University of Toronto alumni received top honours at the annual Toronto Board of Trade Business Excellence Awards on Nov. 15 at the Toronto Congress Centre.

The awards celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit and honour the contributions made by small and medium-sized businesses to the Toronto Region business community.

“I feel very humbled actually to be in a category with amazing companies and amazing enterprises that have all taken risk,” says Celina Rayonne Chavannes, president of ReSolve Research Solutions Inc., who was awarded the entrepreneur of the year award.

Chavannes, who received her bachelor of science degree in 1998, co-founded the Toronto-based clinical research consulting and site management organization in November 2004. The company manages clinical studies and acts as a research consultant for pharmaceutical companies, government organizations, NGOs and private companies.

“I couldn’t find a job after completing my MBA so I was forced to find an alternative way to create an income,” Chavannes said, who completed her MBA online through the University of Phoenix.

“During that first year we made $432.17,” Chavannes attributes patience, hard work and her husband’s constant motivation to keep her venture alive.

“We got our first major cheque in March 2006 and it was a down payment for our first home.”

In the Business Growth category, Pristine Property Maintenance Ltd., owned by Adam Watson won the award. Watson co-founded the company with fellow UTSC student Jonathan Agg while the two were undergraduates in 2005. The company has grown tremendously since then and now provides full service grounds keeping and landscaping maintenance services

“We are really excited and honoured to win this award,” says Watson. “So much of our time is dedicated to running the day-to-day aspects of our business that we don’t get a chance to just sit back and reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

The company has grown by focusing on the condominium market and by offering a wider range of services. Pristine’s sales have more than doubled from 2009 to 2011 and the company is well on its way to doubling those totals in 2012. Much of this success is owed to Pristine’s corporate strategy of “owning the supply chain” by acquiring companies that provide core services for their business.

The Board of Trade recognized ClearView Strategic Partners Inc., a corporate governance and compliance consulting company founded by Ron Paquette (BA, 1979), with its Innovation award. Founded in 1997, ClearView serves clients in the financial services, retail, transportation, packaging, natural resources, publishing, media, delivery and logistic services sectors.

ClearView was the first to introduce the concept of ethics reporting programs, allowing employees and third parties to report incidents that are contrary to the code of ethics of their organization.

By re-focusing these programs from whistleblower tools to ethics reporting, ClearView helps organizations to continually focus on doing the right things rather than catching employees doing the wrong things.

ClearView’s clients are encouraged to focus firmly on their code of ethics (or code of conduct) and not on the reporting process, representing a significant innovation in the field.

A wide range of successful entrepreneurial ventures have emerged from U of T in recent years, from companies such as Cogni-Wave, which helps hearing loss patients in crowded environments, to Pueblo Science, which works to raise science literacy in underprivileged communities in Canada and the developing world.

The university’s Innovations & Partnerships Office which supports commercialization by students and faculty, has created 26 new companies, signed 202 license agreements and filed 429 new patent applications within the past five years.

And initiatives to support student entrepreneurs, such as the Institute of Optical Sciences’ Technopreneurship program and the Creative Destruction Lab at the Rotman School of Management provide the kind of assistance that Chavannes believes to be extremely important for today’s students.

“It’s very important to give students that hands-on entrepreneurship type of training,” she says. “If you give students the opportunity to be able to learn how to become entrepreneurs, how to start and grow a business, it gives them just another option, and that’s what’s important.”

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