Sept. 11, 2001 is a memorable date for Caroline Kealey for more than the usual reasons. The the day of the terrorist attacks in the United States, she was laid off from her job while pregnant.
“Just as the World Trade Center was collapsing, I was let go by Nortel, along with thousands of others, during the largest corporate downsizing in Canadian history,” she says.
Rather than seeing the layoff as a defeat, Kealey chose to use it as an opportunity to pursue her long-held dream of starting her own business.
“A very difficult set of circumstances had a silver lining,” she says. “I became an accidental entrepreneur. If I hadn’t lost my job, I probably wouldn’t have taken the risk.”
From its humble beginnings in an Ottawa basement, Ingenium Communications has grown into an award-winning consulting firm, specializing in communications strategies and training. Its small but flexible staff consists of two full-time employees plus a dozen associates on call for specific projects.
Kealey counts a wide range of health care, sports, legal, not-for-profit and government organizations among her clients.
“When I started in 2001, I was able to draw on a network of contacts from places where I’d worked,” she says. “But that created a false sense of security and I soon realized we had to become niche experts to compete in a crowded market.”
Kealey found that niche in addressing what she says is a systemic problem: communicators who lack credibility.
“They are often perceived as undisciplined artists who improvise on projects and don’t produce measurable results.”
In response, Kealey set out in 2005 to “combine science with art.” With BDC support, she developed an online tool for communications project planning and training.
“I used my 20 years of experience to create the Results Map, a technology product developed from the basis of our consulting practice,” she says. “It’s a unique interactive tool containing 500 pages of original content, 40 downloadable templates, tips and tricks, guides, videos, a blog and podcasts. One client called it an MBA in a box.”
Kealey acknowledges that there are already many communications plan templates, but she says they have limited usefulness without proper guidance and training.
“We learned in the early days that clients want to build their communications capacity,” she says. “That’s where the training comes in. In addition to consulting services and software, we provide communications skills with face-to-face coaching, webinars and online support.”
According to Kealey, Ingenium attracts international clients because companies share the same communications problems regardless of country, language or culture. For example, a large furniture manufacturer in Colombia was one of Ingenium’s biggest successes, she says.
As a busy single mother, Kealey is aware of the need to balance work with family. The main challenges have been finding time and energy to deal with the marketing and technological complexities of her enterprise, while looking after her two children.
So what advice does the Ingenium president offer other “accidental entrepreneurs?”
“Belief in yourself is absolutely the first step,” Kealey says. “Many people actively discouraged me at first, saying: ‘pregnant women don’t start businesses.’ But if you’ve got the passion and see a need in the market, then go for it.”
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.
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