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MNP proudly congratulates the winners of the 2020 MNP Future Leaders mentorship program — Mei Chen of Vision AI, Akeem Gardner of Atlas 365, and Nikky Starrett of Pomp & Sass. These young business leaders will embark on a year of mentorship, receiving professional guidance and advice from an MNP partner, year-long memberships to participating local boards of trade and chambers of commerce, a consultation with media experts and profile enhancement strategy, as well as recognition as an MNP Future Leader.
To keep everyone safe during the pandemic, our award ceremony looked a little different this year. MNP mailed the awards to the 2020 recipients and honoured them virtually instead of at the standard in-person event.
We are proud to be part of the journey with these young business leaders and are committed to providing them with the support, advice, and tools they need to succeed in today’s dynamic business environment.
Thank you to all applicants, finalists, and program partners for helping us make the MNP Future Leaders mentorship program a success yet again
To learn more about their endeavours please see the article below, reproduced with permission from Star Metroland Media.
By Laurie Wallace-Lynch
Named as the 2020 MNP Future Leaders, three young local entrepreneurs are about to partake in the business opportunity of a lifetime! The recipients of the annual MNP Future Leaders award are Mei Chen, Founder and CEO of Vision AI, Akeem Gardner, CEO of Atlas 365 Inc. and Nikky Starrett, Owner of Pomp & Sass.
Chen, Gardner and Starrett will each receive one year of monthly professional mentorship, guidance and advice from an MNP partner, year¬long memberships at participating boards of trade/chambers of commerce, a consultation with media experts and profile enhancement strategy, along with the prestige of being recognized as an MNP Future Leader. Last year’s MNP Future Leaders included Radwan Al-Nachawati, Founder and CEO of LinkMentalHealth Inc., Emilee Feely, CEO of Feely Music and Arwina Mogul who is the CEO of Beam.gg. With COVID-19 recently turning the world upside down, things looked a little different for this year’s award ceremony. MNP adapted, mailing the awards to the 2020 recipients, and honoured them virtually instead of at the standard in-person event.
MNP, a leading national accounting, tax and business consulting firm in Canada, has partnered with key local stakeholders including Ryerson University, Sheridan College, University of Toronto Mississauga, City of Brampton, Town of Oakville, Brampton Board of Trade, Mississauga Board of Trade, Oakville Chamber of Commerce and Star Metroland Media, on the program.
“As an entrepreneurial firm built for Canadian entrepreneurs, MNP is proud to support our local business communities and young business leaders with this mentorship program,” says Jim Molyneux, Regional Managing Partner for MNP in Peel Region. “In partnership with local stakeholders, we created the MNP Future Leaders mentorship program three years ago to help young business leaders as they build their entrepreneurial enterprises and succeed on their own terms. We wanted to provide invaluable mentoring by top-notch professionals to support young entrepreneurs. We are delighted to add this year’s three winners to the six previous winners we’ve been working with.”
One patient who lost her sight due to diabetic retinopathy was one person too many for Mei Chen.
Chen has a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree from McMaster University and a Master of Applied Sciences from the University of Waterloo. During the last year of her undergrad program, Chen was working as an ophthalmologist research assistant when something happened that changed her life.
“We travelled to remote communities, setting up eye screening for patients with diabetes and found that people often had to wait long periods of time or travel great distances for their check-up,” explains Chen. “This screening is supposed to be done once a year for people with diabetes, as diabetic retinopathy is the world’s greatest cause of blindness, yet it is 97.5 percent treatable if detected early. I experienced an exceedingly difficult phone call when a patient I was following up with told me, ‘I lost my sight over Christmas’. I felt that the system had failed her. This is when I recognized the gap in the system and started to seek a solution.”
Chen and her team developed a revolutionary technology which automates the process of diabetic retinopathy screening by leveraging cutting-edge deep learning techniques in image processing for the early detection of eye disease.
“It works by processing the retinal image with our expert-trained algorithm on the cloud, returning a screening prediction along with the percent certainty,” explains Chen. “We service optometry equipment manufacturing companies that already have machines distributed in clinical settings with our software product, which is currently undergoing FDA approval.”
With the predicted rise of diabetes globally, Chen is ready to work with her MNP mentor to propel her business forward.
“I am excited to work with my mentor on the business component to put the product into the hands of manufacturers and to introduce the product to the right people,” states Chen. “I am in the early stages of this start-up and don’t have time to make costly mistakes. I’m also looking for professional guidance on getting clinical validation. My aspirations for this product are that it can save a lot of people’s eyesight by integrating computer vision technology on all levels of our health care system.”
Finding funding is an issue facing most young entrepreneurs, but Chen has found a solution. “We launched an arm of our business called Sky Screen, a brand of FDA and Health Canada approved masks direct from manufacturers, to assist with COVID-19 relief by addressing the PPE shortage. Proceeds go toward the Canadian Nurses Foundation as well as to help fund Vision AI’s R&D,” says Chen.
Chen’s dream is to have her eye screening technology used in optician offices across Canada and beyond. “This technology can change people’s lives by helping to prevent vision loss,” says Chen.
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Akeem Gardner co-founded and is the CEO of Atlas 365 Inc., a social enterprise utilizing industrial hemp and technology to enhance resilience and advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As an avid spokesperson for the industrial hemp industry, Gardner is a catalyst for the plant’s potential to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and revolutionize the natural health space.
During COVID-19, Atlas 365 has narrowed their focus to the development of CanurtaTM - supported by academic researchers and leading experts - CanurtaTM is a patent-pending plant extract with potent anti-inflammatory properties that are novel to the market landscape. “The idea is to detect, isolate and purify scarce hemp flavonoids (a phytonutrient found in almost all fruits and vegetables), that are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory activity and free from cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol), which has saturated the market. CanurtaTM can be used in a range of natural health products to help people in their wellness journey,” Gardner explains.
Among endeavours, his company also created EcopointsTM, a loyalty-based rewards program looking to incentivize green actions and sustainable consumerism. As a key pillar, blockchain technology underlies the entirety of the company’s operations from supply chain and carbon tracking for transparency to asset protection.
Gardner earned his BA from the University of Ottawa before receiving his LL. B from the University of Canterbury in Kent. Gardner’s efforts and forward-thinking and innovative mindset were recognized when he was awarded as a Brampton Top 40 Under 40 winner. He continues to advocate for social and environmental well-being through his position as Co-Chair of the Brampton Environmental Advisory Committee for the 2019-2022 term.
Adding to his accomplishments, Gardner is thrilled to be named an MNP Future Leader and is looking forward to working with his MNP mentor to develop business strategies.
“MNP is a leader in their industry and I feel they have a great deal of expertise to offer in terms of tax advice and strategies to scale up production for the Canadian market over the next 12 to 18 months” says Gardner. “We hope they will help us as we bring our product to market and help shape our future success.”
Starting with a 60-acre industrial hemp farm in Orangeville, Atlas 365 has worked tirelessly to help advance the Ontario industrial hemp industry. Their work will not only support local agricultural communities but will also contribute to the company’s carbon mitigation efforts (industrial hemp can remove up to 20 tonnes of CO2 per acre) and will support commercialization of CanurtaTM.
“The biggest challenge has been identifying the right investor with the correct risk appetite to look at our venture and see that, with the proper resources, we can scale to be global leaders in our industry. We want to be catalysts for hemp’s true healing potential and have CanurtaTM be the leading natural wellness ingredient brand in the world. All while being transparent and staying true to our principles through sustainably-farmed biomass, zero-waste manufacturing and give-back initiatives to encourage sustainable consumption.”
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Nikky (Nicole) Starrett, Founder of Pomp & Sass, an exclusive line of luxury woven Turkish towels created her social enterprise with an intention to give back to the community. “Our mission of giving is a faith-based decision,” states Nikky. “I was inspired by my late father to be an entrepreneur. My recovery was what allowed me to pursue entrepreneurship.”
When Nikky talks about her recovery, it was her recovery from a debilitating disease that allowed her to pursue her dream of entrepreneurship.
“I was inspired and transformed by the birth of my daughter, Fern, and named my flagship towel after her,” says Starrett. “For many years I suffered from fibromyalgia and lived in constant pain, but my pregnancy cured me! I now live pain free. My trademark design features two ferns woven into the towels. We also offer 5 other patterns which are joyful and approachable.”
Starrett earned her four-year degree in Illustration at Sheridan College where she is now a part-time instructor. She worked in the textile design industry for 10 years prior to launching Pomp & Sass.
“I designed children’s fabric and stuffed animals and then switched to home décor,” says Starrett. “I used my design skills to create the Pomp & Sass line of luxury towels that are eco-friendly, extremely soft, durable, and ultra-absorbent. Pomp & Sass is a social enterprise that is unique to the Canadian marketplace. We are the only company offering this exclusive line of luxury Turkish cotton towels with the design woven into the fabric rather than stamped on top.”
Launching a new business has not been without its challenges. “Due to COVID, my towels were stuck in production in Turkey for five months! There are no weaving machines in Canada for towels, so producing locally was not an option.”
Pomp & Sass towels are currently available through their e-commerce site as well as through Amazon.ca. Starrett hopes to expand her distribution channels and build her customizable towel line with the corporate market and fundraising sectors.
“This award provides recognition and access to the experience and invaluable mentorship offered by an MNP Partner,” says Starrett. “The memberships to the boards of trade and chamber of commerce is invaluable in terms of networking.The business to business connections are our primary goal to expand our line of fully customizable branded towels. As a woman I have encountered many push backs and feel women in manufacturing still face many challenges. I am relying on being backed up by more support systems which help women in business succeed.”
Starrett says her goal is to be a positive influence in the world. “This means pursuing my passion for entrepreneurship and developing a beautiful product that is both functional and makes a positive change. I currently donate one percent of our proceeds to charity, but plan to give ten percent to charity when it is viable to do so.”
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For more information on the MNP Future Leaders mentorship program, visit MNP.ca/futureleaders. Applications for the 2021 program will open in the new year.
MNP is also the proud National Presenting Partner of the Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award recognizing the exceptional achievements of 40 emerging leaders in Canadian business. Details about Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 can be found at CanadasTop40Under40.com.
MNP’s Peel Region office is in the Sussex Centre at 50 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Suite 900 in Mississauga. Contact Jim Molyneux, Regional Managing Partner, Peel Region at
[email protected] or 416.626.6000
Related Topics:Technology; Awards and Recognition
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