By Andrew Seale
Or at least that’s the goal Ahmed set when she left her job as a travel consultant last year to launch Skymark Travel.
“I want to help bring tourists to see our wineries and know about our country,” says the entrepreneur, adding that she specializes in winery tours and culinary travel both domestically and overseas.
Born in India, Ahmed attended school in the U.S. That’s when she really caught the travel bug. She decided she wanted to know more about the world of travel and tourism so she signed up for courses from the American Airlines Training Center. After getting accredited as an American Airline travel agent, Ahmed worked in New York for a number of years before moving to Scarborough and taking a job at a global travel company.
“I was working with Thomas Cook and I thought ‘why couldn’t I use this experience to build up my own travel agency business?'” she says.
Ahmed had already registered the business Skymark Travel in 2004. And she was confident in her passion for travel. But she was lacking the business acumen to really get the agency off the ground.
“I didn’t have enough resources or know-how to run a business and I had no money for it,” she says. “In 2013, while I worked on opening (the business) up for myself, I took an entrepreneurship course at Centennial College.”
It was there that she found out about the sort of assistance offered by Enterprise Toronto. She started attending seminars, diligently educating herself on the various elements of running a business, like cash flow and business planning.
“I attended and learned from there. I’m really thankful to them,” she says.
When it came time to secure funding, Ahmed was armed with a rock solid business plan and clear focus for her travel business. When the banks wouldn’t offer her a bank loan she turned to the Access Community Capital Fund – a Canadian registered charity granting micro-loans for promising entrepreneurs held back by traditional lenders.
Ahmed used the $1,500 from the fund to purchase a computer and fax machine for her newly established office in Markham.
Skymark, it seems, had finally gotten off the ground.
But Ahmed realized that many wanderlusting Canadians yearn for more than just a visit to vineyards and gourmet gastronomy. They want adventure.
So she enlisted another entrepreneur to help her build out a website as a hub showcasing the full menu of escapades she offers – each customized to the specific tastes of the traveller.
“I think tourism is very important for any country,” she says.
It’s still the early days, and Ahmed knows there’s a long road ahead when it comes to building and running a successful business. But with the help of Enterprise Toronto and a sprawling local ecosystem that supports ambitious entrepreneurs with good ideas, she has faith Skymark Travel will succeed.
“I have a lot of love and enjoyment for my work,” says Ahmed. “If you focus on something, it'll work out.”