ANTIGONISH: Hannah Chisholm, founder of Eggcitables, a plant-based egg alternative, says she wouldn’t be where she is today without networking, and meeting the people she has.
Speaking at the Connect @ X event on January 17 at StFX University, the Antigonish native, who graduated from the university in May, provided anecdotes of her experience with networking, making connections and how StFX has helped her get to this point.
“I was quite shocked when I was asked to be the guest speaker for this career networking social event,” Chisholm admitted. “I had to stop and ask myself, ‘Do I even have a career? Wasn’t I in school literally just yesterday?”
Kelsey Bowman, marketing, communications, and events coordinator for the StFX Extension Innovation and Enterprise Centre, said the networking event, which was hosted by the connector program of the Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network, provided an opportunity for employers to connect with StFX students.
“The event is used to bridge the gap between indentifying and dealing with the uncomfortable situation of students approaching professionals – it’s kind of like a safe space to practice networking” she said. “Being a student myself, I think these networking events are so important because it can be what really sets you apart if your name comes up in a resume pile and if they met you at a networking event, you’re going to stand out a lot more than those people who are just another name in the pile.”
Gold sponsors for the event included; Sobeys, Highland Grow Inc., Micro Boutique Living, Sun Life Financial, Venture for Canada, and the ultimate X-Ring sponsor was the Department of Labour and Advanced Education (DLAE).
Bowman said networking events like the Connect @ X event allows participants to make a personal connection and allows an employer to see potential employees on a much more personal level.
“Which is very important, especially since we’re in a digital age now, where everything is done electronically,” she said. “Having those face-to-face interactions is very beneficial.”
The evening featured dinner, an insight into Chisholm’s rise to entrepreneurial liberty, followed by three rounds of speed networking, where students interacted with attending employers, the DLAE’s Margaret Schwartz picked a name out of a hat and awarded $1,000 towards the price of an X-Ring to Matthew McGlashan. The night finished with attendees participating in more of a one-on-one, relaxed networking opportunity.
This invitation forced Chisholm – who has a number of allergies including; milk, eggs, nuts, and shellfish – to begin thinking how exactly she got here. One year ago, she was in her fourth year, her future wasn’t really that clear but she wasn’t worried about the uncertainty.
“One of the pleasures of being a 20-something-year-old is you don’t have to have it all figured out.”
After noticing the increased popularity with vegan products on the market, she applied to the Wallace Family Internship with the concept of exploring her idea for a vegan egg; a chick-pea based recipe she had been using on herself for a number of years.
This is where Chisholm experienced her first taste of true networking. Over the 12-weeks, she completed market research, brainstormed strategies and connected with the Perennia Innovation Centre, a food-science agency based in Bible Hill.
Other than that, her business was still just an idea, she had a name and a couple connections but that was it.
She spent the first semester of her fourth year brainstorming possible business strategies, and pitched at the Innovation Pitch at StFX about a year ago. During the event, Chisholm connected with Mark VandeWeil, an Antigonish representative from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the owner of Pacha Mama, a lovely café in Antigonish, and several others who provided valuable advice.
“At that event, my business idea began to feel a little more real,” she said. “The positive feedback I got back from everyone really got me to see the potential in this idea.”
That same month, Chisholm received notification on the 100 Seeds Atlantic competition, a province-wide competition for young entrepreneurs. Qualifying for both pitch competitions, she began practicing extensively and noted her 13-year experience of participating in public speaking with the 4-H program was an asset.
Chisholm ended up taking home the top prize of $10,000 from 100 Seeds Atlantic, and connected with over 50 entrepreneurs and industry professionals including the DLAE, the Centre for Women in Business, the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Business Development, and several investment agencies.
“This opportunity enabled me to be a part of a huge network of professionals across the province, it provides me with a tool to solve any business problem with just a single email.”
Attending the Apex Business competition and being the only student from Nova Scotia, she was forced to meet people, and start networking; after two days of events and competitions, Chisholm took home an additional $4,000.
“I’d like to think the real win was making the connection with the owner of enVie, a popular vegan restaurant in Halifax.”
Accepted into the Summer Institute program, Chisholm accomplished more in that 12-week period than she would have in an entire year on her own.
“I connected with entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants, sales professionals, designers, CEOs and so many more individuals,” she highlighted. “Some of those people still play active roles in Eggcitables to this day, as advisors, mentors and paid professionals.”
Connecting with VandeWeil again, he assisted in securing a $5,000 grant to completely redesign Chisholm’s Web site into an e-commerce machine.
Today, Eggcitables is more than just an idea, they have real products in 23 stores across Canada, it has generated over $7,000 in sales in their first four months of operation; and are on track to reach sales projections of $60,000 in their first year – something Chisholm couldn’t have done without networking; as its played such a vital role in her success.
“If you accept the opportunities that come your way, and stay in touch with those around you, chances are you’re future will become crystal clear.”