2014 Winners

Parry Sound | Entrepreneur of the Year

Nicole Saulnier

Nicole Saulnier

Before she graduated from Georgian College with an advertising diploma, Nicole Saulnier had only been in a plane once, for a trip to Florida.

But soon after graduation, she got a job at an airport, and got to experience air travel from the cockpit's perspective.

"It was love at first flight," she said. Saulnier pursued her private pilot's licence, and later enrolled in Confederation College's aviation flight management licence program.

"After that I was hooked and wanted to continue pursuing that as a hobby, and then turned it into something I wanted to do as a career," Saulnier said.

With her pilot's licence in hand, Saulnier started to work as a bush pilot, first for Parry Sound's 30,000 Island Air.

She later worked in the small town of Ignace, in northwestern Ontario, where she flew with her future husband, Keith Saulnier.

In 2002, the young couple jumped on the chance to buy 30,000 Island Air's property, and started Georgian Bay Airways.

Saulnier said her youth – she was in her late 20s when she started the company – and her gender posed challenges when she and her husband first launched the business.

People often approached older customers thinking they ran the business, she said.

And before she started Georgian Bay Airways, she had been denied many jobs because she was a woman. "When I started my career I had lots of people hang up the phone on me when I called looking for a job," she said.

They started with one plane, and have since expanded their fleet to three. The company started with 10 staff and now counts up to 18 employees, depending on the season.

In 2012, Saulnier won the Elsie MacGill Aviation Business Award, which recognizes the role of women in the historically male-dominated aviation sector.

Now, Saulnier is the winner of the Influential Women entrepreneur of the year award for northeastern Ontario. Her husband Keith secretly nominated her, and Saulnier only found out when she received a phone call telling her she had won.

"He's my biggest fan," she said about Keith.

Saulnier said she hopes her win will help further promote aviation as a viable career path for young women.

"It's helpful in the awareness of women, persevering in a typically male-dominated industry," she said. "It shows the naysayers that hung up on me 15 years ago that they might have been wrong."

She and her husband have worked to promote aviation to young women and often give talks to youth about opportunities in the sector.

They have three children – two girls and a boy – who all want to be pilots and ice cream scoopers. Georgian Bay Airways also has an ice cream shop.

Saulnier said the company has a growing list of alumni, including a young woman who started at the ice cream shop and showed a strong interest in flying.

Saulnier and her husband encouraged her to pursue that interest, and she is now a working pilot.

In addition to her duties with Georgian Bay Airways, Saulnier said she has always made an effort to be active in the local business community.

She was vice-president of the Parry Sound Chamber of Commerce for a time, but has recently had to leave that position due to her other business commitments.

In addition to Georgian Bay Airways, Saulnier runs two other companies she has started.

The first is called SOS Media, a consulting firm that helps small businesses with their social media and e-marketing needs. She said the business allows her to put her advertising diploma to good use.

More recently, she and her husband have launched Parry Sound Tourism to promote the region to visitors and help put local businesses on the tourism map.

Despite her busy schedule, she said she still finds time to spend with her young children, but can often be caught taking photos for her three businesses while out on a family fishing trip.

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