Annual Report Stories

Client Feature: Claire Theaker-Brown


Claire Theaker-Brown is Owner and Founder of Unbelts, the progressively-made pant perfector. The company has recently undergone a rebrand and expanded into new markets.

Claire Theaker-Brown has had the entrepreneurial bug since she was a child. Always art focused, Claire started setting up tables and selling her drawings, even offering bulk discounts to her customers. While in university, Claire studied industrial design and Mandarin. Her business began in 2011 while she was living in Shanghai.

“My business started out of total desperation. I have always had a shape that meant jeans don't fit me properly. Belts were too bulky!”

The company’s original name, Flatter:Me Belts was changed in 2017. As Claire describes her choice to re-brand, “Flatter:Me Belts was a name from when I was thinking small. When I first started, I couldn't imagine that we would be selling beyond the Canadian market.

Our initial value offering was a flat belt. It became clear that the selling proposition was comfort and flexibility. Our company is totally non-judgemental about size and we're uniquely comfortable. I realized that we needed a name that would highlight the unbelts-ness of our products.”

As the company embraced its new name, they also began to embrace new markets.

“Right now we are expanding in a few different ways; geographically is one way. We had never really pursued wholesale outside of Canada because I knew Flatter:Me was trademarked in the United States. However, now that we are Unbelts, we are starting to partner with US-based retailers. The second way we are expanding is with our target customers. We have realized that our belts are perfect for those who play sports and require a belt.”

As an entrepreneur, building supportive community around you is essential.

I belong to a mastermind group and have belonged to a few peer mentorship groups, including PeerSpark™. In the beginning, I found business owners I really clicked with in Shanghai and we met every single week for a brain slam. It was hard to lose that community when I moved to Edmonton. My first Canadian phone call was to AWE.

Between friends that own other businesses, the Venture Mentoring Service at U of A and AWE, I have built a great network of support. I really try to be brave about asking for help, but also offering it when it's asked of me.”

Learn more about Unbelts and their story at

Client Feature: Laura Asham

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Laura Asham is the Founder behind Asham Creations, an award-winning company that sells puppets for educational purposes. After getting her entrepreneurial start creating beadwork projects, Laura saw a market opportunity for educational puppets and embraced the potential for a new business concept .

Laura Asham has been beadworking since she was seven years old. After learning the art from her mother and sister, Laura found a love for the craft. In 2008, she began designing various beadwork projects as a part-time business while she finished her education in social work.

“Beading was a hobby, but something I am very passionate about. I love making things that people enjoy. I have sent beadwork as far as New Zealand, and created medallions for three Ministers of Canada.”

In 2010, Laura’s daughter was entering a princess pageant at her school and needed a talent to compete. “I suggested that she use a puppet to showcase Blackfoot words. Me being the person I am had to go above and beyond. It took me two days and 11 hours to create one puppet. I ended up having extra material left over, so I decided to create a native set for the elementary school on my nation.”

Her newfound hobby quickly shifted into her greatest business opportunity. She started selling puppet sets to schools across a variety of First Nation communities in Alberta. Since then she has had requests from schools as far as Peguis First Nation in Manitoba where they had a school-wide naming ceremony for the characters.

“It has been so good to see that the puppets are not only bringing joy to people, but they are teaching children how to speak Blackfoot. Many schools on the Siksika Nation are now teaching full immersion programs.”

Laura participated in AWE’s NextStep to Success Program for Indigenous Women this past year. She said it was great to have the assistance she needed to create her business plan.

“As I plan to expand my business and build-out a commercial space, I knew that I needed to get my business plan together. The NextStep program was very helpful to me.”

Laura is in the process of finishing her business plan and securing funding to open her first commercial space.

“Right now I have been so focused on my local market and keeping up with that. I hope that in 10 years time we have covered Canada and moved into international markets.”

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Dr. Linda Miller – Gaining Access to New Markets

Linda established EWI Works in 1991, a company that provides innovative ergonomic services and solutions to businesses locally, nationally, and internationally. She was a finalist for the 2016 AWE Upsurge Award.

In 1991, Linda established EWI Works, a company that provides ergonomic services and solutions to businesses. After 25 years in business, the team had become experts in their field, but Linda realized that gaining access to markets beyond Alberta’s borders would require new approaches through technology to extend the company’s reach. The decision to invest in innovation created a big shift in the business. Linda notes, “we really know our service business and yet, we’re like a start-up in the software realm.”

In 2015, Linda took part in AWE’s PeerSpark™ program. “We were now with a group that could support us in a logical pathway to make these decisions to change a business stream,” she said. “It felt like, to be absolutely honest, a safe place. We were able to actually talk about some of the concerns we had without feeling like somebody was going to judge us.” With AWE’s support, Linda and her team will be able to expand her business into the United States and beyond. To support this expansion, Linda secured a loan through AWE, which helped her business growth immensely. “I didn’t realize all the available financing options,” she said. “I think it’s quite common for female entrepreneurs to self-fund. I would do lots and lots of jobs, save up the money, and then self-fund the next step.” In addition to AWE financing, AWE’s team introduced Linda to other financial resources to support her efforts to build a market for the company’s new technology.

Continuous learning and adapting to new challenges are not new to Linda. She began the business with an Occupational Therapy degree and in order to better understand how products were developed she completed her Master’s in Environmental Design followed by a Ph.D. in Occupational Therapy from Boston University. Her curiosity and adaptability are two of her biggest strengths as a leader.

Her visionary approach to growing her business was captured in her selection as a finalist for the 2016 AWE Upsurge Award. “If there’s a new technology or a new way of doing something, I’m not scared to go out and try it.” Linda said. An example of this is seen in Linda’s interest in expanding EWI Works into the United States after twenty-five years inside Alberta’s borders.

“I went on a trade mission with AWE last year to understand the market and how people do business in the U.S.,” she said. “We’re going to want to penetrate into Europe and Australia down the road as well.” The team at AWE has the utmost confidence that Linda and her team at EWI Works will quickly become experts in their new field. 

Michelle Hordal- Support To Step Into Uncomfortable Territory

Michelle Hordal- Support To Step Into Uncomfortable Territory

Michelle is the founder and Executive Director of Alberta AdaptAbilities Association, a registered charity providing special needs children and young adults with a variety of quality programs that target the development of the whole individual, while providing peace of mind to the families in the stress of everyday challenges. Michelle is an alumnus of the PeerSpark™ program.

Meghan Dear – Making the Most of International Expansion Opportunities

Meghan Dear – Making the Most of International Expansion Opportunities

Meghan is the founder and CEO of Localize, an awareness platform to educate shoppers about where their food comes from. She leads the vision to build a service that shares better food information at the shelf’s edge, so consumers can finally shop in peace with the right information at hand. Meghan was the 2016 AWE Emerging Innovator Award recipient.