The Carillon - ONLINE EDITION
By: Jordan Ross
Posted: 02/18/2018 8:45 AM
A Marchand businesswoman has triumphed in a contest for rural entrepreneurs that saw her compete against 25 other contestants from communities across Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
"It feels good. We really, really wanted it," said Lorena Mitchell, who placed first in the seasoned entrepreneur category of the Just Watch Me! Prairie video contest.
The public had until Monday to cast online votes for four finalists, each of whom produced a video detailing their business plan or company.
The contest is organized annually by the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program, a branch of the Community Futures economic development organization that helps individuals with a disability or chronic health condition start or grow businesses in rural areas.
Mitchell will receive a prize bundle and $1,000 in cash for her winning submission, but she said increased exposure for her company and a chance to inspire others are the biggest benefits afforded by her win.
Mitchell is president of Evolve Green, an alternative energy business that designs and installs solar systems for lighting, heating, and energy storage applications in homes, farms, and businesses.
Over the past decade, Evolve Green has, as its name implies, diversified to serve Manitoba’s changing green energy landscape and keep pace with technological advances.
But the business sprang from a difficult chapter of Mitchell’s life when her health challenges were front and centre. She was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease.
Together, the afflictions produced pain she described as "extreme and intense." As she began her three-year recovery process, she also launched Evolve Green.
Her careers up to that point included a decade at the Royal Canadian Mint and a stint in the pharmaceutical industry.
"I have always been interested in environmentally friendly [lifestyles]. I grew up with passive solar and organic gardening," she said.
Evolve Green gradually shifted its focus from wind to solar energy. Mitchell said the local Community Futures chapter in Morris offered support as she launched a repairable LED program at a time when the lighting technology was relatively new and expensive.
Today, Evolve Green’s clientele is split evenly between farm and residential customers, and commercial and government contracts, and the business employs about 20 people in part-time and full-time contract positions.
"A lot of them are from Pansy’s off-grid community," Mitchell said.
While the company concentrates its installation efforts in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, Mitchell said she’s also completed design work on projects in Hong Kong, Germany, and Mexico.
She has no regrets about situating her business in Marchand, where she resides on a five-acre property.
"I love it here…my office looks out onto a forest," she said.
It’s also been a great place to publicize the benefits of solar energy.
"We’re in the sun belt of Canada," she said.
As she pilots her business into its second decade, Mitchell said she remains a "glass half full kind of person."
"You may have something you’re dealing with right now, but it’s not the end for you. It could be the beginning," she said.
Life as an entrepreneur offers accommodations and challenges. While Mitchell admitted she often works very long hours, she has also benefitted from the flexibility afforded by communication technologies.
"I can do my job from anywhere," she said.
When she addresses other entrepreneurs with disabilities or chronic health issues, she tells them to focus on skills and other sources of self-confidence, rather than dwelling on deficiencies or barriers.
"Don’t come to people and say all the things you can’t do; just tell them exactly what you can do," she said.
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