Sheila Boudreau, principal, and senior landscape architect and planner founded Spruce Lab in spring 2020 as a social enterprise to apply professional consulting services to maximize social and environmental impacts, focusing on regenerative and nature-based solutions that bring people into closer contact with nature. The SpruceLab team includes Cat Sobotta, engineering project manager, Laura Lebel-Pantazopoulos, junior planner, and Natalie Sisson, landscape architectural intern.
Boudreau said they also aim to prioritize Indigenous voices in their work and use a transdisciplinary and co-design approach in working with the community and collaborators. Soboatta said to put it simply, they help make communities greener.
Spruce Lab sought out the help of Rhyze Ventures recognizing there were business skills they hadn’t been exposed to in their prior work experience. “I recognized my limitations and looked for help,” Boudreau said. When they initially applied, the company was too new, so they continued to work on their business and were accepted into the next cohort.
The program helped the team be strategic about where to invest their time and effort and they appreciated the support of the expert mentors who believed in their vision. Looking forward, they want to scale up their work, so they are prioritizing creating a strong foundation on which to grow. The Rhyze Ventures educational sessions and mentorship have been invaluable in their progress.
Soboatta said she especially valued the mentorship that was tailored to their business. “Mentors provided helpful advice and tips related to strategic marketing and networking that could be implemented immediately.” She also said that the mentors helped them focus the business model in a way that inspired future growth, encouraging new innovative ways to focus Spruce Lab.
Earlier support from University of Guelph’s Hub program (John. B. Wood Centre) supported the development of a clear business pitch. Having previously worked with UofG’s John F Wood Centre, who emphasized that their website needed to be the business’s workhorse, Rhyze Ventures helped them make it stronger. Another area of help was becoming more aware of their finances and project planning, and how to analyze and track them.
With the pandemic causing a shift to working remotely, Spruce Lab was able to get up and running outside of the requirements of office space and the associated costs. “Never let a crisis go to waste,” Boudreau said.
Having trusted experts on the Rhyze Ventures project team helped them make business decisions with confidence. Boudreau said they learned from the program, sessions, mentors and other entrepreneurs, and she began to understand their experiences were all part of the natural process for startups.
Boudreau advises other women entrepreneurs to understand that starting a business is a creative act that requires courage. “Know your craft,” she said. “Bring on others to help.” Both entrepreneurs agreed it is important to focus your pitch, have a strategic plan and work it while not being too hard on yourself.
“Focus the business idea with one main vision at the core of everything,” Soboatta advised.