19 October, 2020
Looking back to the spring of 2020: A solution to every problem
At the initiative of Quebec's head scientist, The Québec Research Funds and OSEntreprendre have joined forces to promote the resilience, creativity and initiatives of enterprises having won the Student Founder of a Business Prize awarded by the OSEntreprendre Challenge.
Laura Ducharme, who founded Maïkana in 2019, loves nature and adventure interventions as much as she does pet therapy. So it should come as no surprise that her social enterprise specializes in both, the former aimed at corporate clients, and the latter used to help youth aged 15 to 25 with developmental or mental health problems, such as autism spectrum disorder.
"These types of interventions are not widespread in Montérégie, or even across Quebec for that matter. I work with a number of people who share my philosophy, which incorporates elements from human resources, psychology and outdoor activity," says Ducharme, a social worker by training. The originality of her entrepreneurial approach earned her both the first-place and jury's favourite awards during MEC's 2018 Sommet Génération plein air event.
But the COVID-19 pandemic halted the growth of the young start-up. Social distancing measures happen to be incompatible with Maïkana's in-person sessions offers. Overnight, Ducharme's small team found itself with nothing to do.
Laying the foundation for the future
Instead of throwing in the towel, Ducharme focused on developing her clientele through digital technology. For example, she produced several short videos to answer questions on topics pertaining to COVID-19, like how to handle children's outbursts or resolve conflicts with one's spouse. The purpose of doing so was to provide people with free stress-management tools.
She also created "adventure vignettes" showcasing different frontline workers and outdoor activity experts. "It's a way to promote the benefits of nature and outdoor recreational activities on mental health, which is the core of my intervention philosophy. I produced all of the added-value content on my own with the means at my disposal," she says. Enterprises interested in Maïkana's services have already contacted her.
Among Ducharme's other projects included reviewing her enterprise's risk management plan in association with Aventure Écotourisme Québec and SIRIUSMed, as well as putting two training sessions online with RESEAU, a network of a experts in her field. More recently, Maïkana was selected for Desjardins Entreprise's Créavenir program and reworked its business plan with Futurpreneur Canada.
"A few months ago, I had almost given up on Maïkana. I really thought that I had reached the end," admits Ducharme. "But today, I am optimistic about the future of my enterprise. All the investments I have made will pay off in the long run."
Participation in the OSEntreprendre Challenge
- Local prizewinner Business Creation section Montérégie 2019
- Jury's Favorite Student Founder of a Business Prize - Montérégie - Les Fonds de recherche du Québec