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Battle with illness spurs entrepreneur to start natural health company

Marc St. Onge is the president and CEO of Ascenta Health. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based company is a leading developer of natural health products

This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We've asked readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. Their answers are edited.

Introducing Marc St. Onge, president and CEO of Ascenta Health. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based company is a leading developer of natural health products.

1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?

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I founded Ascenta in 2003, combining my entrepreneurial and research background, with a specific focus on natural health products. During a time when Canadians knew very little about fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids, Ascenta became a catalyst for what is now the most talked about health product in Canada. Although fish oil supplements have existed for decades, their fishy taste and smell have prevented consumers from making them a part of their daily regimen.

Ascenta's proprietary research and technology created a whole new generation of fish oils that taste great. With no fishy taste or smell, the fruit flavoured oils are taken straight from a spoon. Ascenta's operations are located in Dartmouth and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?

I've been an entrepreneur since I was 12 years old, so you could say that it's the only form of employment I know of. After enduring several years of a serious illness, I became quite interested in the field of natural health.

As a young boy I spent many long summer days fishing the rivers and lakes of Nova Scotia, but what really ignited my new found passion for fish oil was the compelling body of research. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are one of few nutrients that hold the promise of radical improvements in the health of all Canadians including heart health, brain health, arthritis, mood, and even skin conditions.

3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?

Ascenta's products are distributed throughout Canada in health food stores, pharmacies, and grocery. If you are looking for a high quality omega-3 product, we are not hard to find. A lot of consumers find out about us through physician referral, television, public seminars, and in many cases, through their own networks of friends.

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4. What is your role in the business? Do you have any employees?

My primary function at Ascenta is as CEO however I have for the past 10 years also lead our research department. Currently, we employee about 70 full time people in Canada.

5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?

When it comes to our products we employ a very science-based approach which ensures they work exceptionally well and offer the highest quality for consumers. Based on continuous feedback we know our customers truly appreciate all the effort we put into making our products. What also helps make Ascenta stand out as a company is our culture.

Natural health is a very holistic way of looking at the world. We employ that same type of thinking when it comes to our operations. With a special focus on the environment we continually strive towards a culture of sustainability, learning, and collective prosperity.

Our company's intent is to "create health for people and planet" and our culture is defined by our core values: "integrity, creativity, love." As far as capitalism goes, we've strayed off the beaten path.

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About the Author
Report on Small Business Editor

Katherine Scarrow is the editor of Report on Small Business. Before joining The Globe, she worked at Yahoo! Canada, where she helped cover the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Ms. Scarrow holds a graduate degree from the University of British Columbia and interned at the CBC and the United Nations. More

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