What distinguishes a good business from a great one? What makes a thriving business a true entrepreneurial success story?

These are among the questions judges of the Business Excellence Awards need to answer. The results of this rigorous process will be unveiled this month at a gala hosted by the Markham Board of Trade.

The Nov. 9 event, held once again at the Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Hotel and Conference Centre, rewards businesses and their owners for excellence in areas ranging from cultural enrichment to environmental leadership to innovation.

Now in its 27th year, the awards have a track record of helping start-ups become established, and keeping already-operating businesses going strong, said Richard Cunningham, the chief executive officer of the Markham Board of Trade.

The competition is steep, however.

“In a community as entrepreneurial as Markham…recognizing excellence and bringing it to the forelight in an awards process like this helps set the bar,” Cunningham said. “Any community should be rewarding or bringing to the forelight things that are being done by businesses that are new, innovative, different, and leading edge. These days, all of these things are difficult to achieve and (have) stay there.”

Finalists for the awards range from small businesses to larger corporations, in sectors as diverse as marketing, education, technology and healthcare. It may seem as though the judges are comparing apples to oranges when investigating businesses so distinct, but the award criteria are different for each category.

The award for ‘high quality and service’ looks at businesses that go above and beyond in engaging and supporting their customers, Cunningham said, in contrast to the award for ‘global business excellence,’ which has a high threshold of expansion and success in new markets around the world.

“Because the categories are all different, there’s no catch-all common trait for all finalists,” Cunningham said, though he did add that solid, driven leadership is a key similarity in the businesses recognized.

For Audrey Jamieson, the president of Markham-based Marketing Kitchen, the ‘entrepreneurship’ nomination was a major dose of encouragement.

Jamieson opened her business specializing in direct mail marketing campaigns in 2014, at a time when such a field was on the decline, critics said.

“When I told people I was going out to open up a direct mail company, they were like, ‘What? Snail mail? You know what year it is, right?’” she said. “There were a lot of naysayers out there…but this is the business I know and I love. And I think I can do this.”

Jamieson bought up assets and equipment from a company that was on its way out, and, three years later, hasn’t looked back.

Her entrepreneurship lies in delivering on a product that is almost two centuries old, she said.

“It’s really about the day-to-day execution of the idea,” said Jamieson. “I didn’t invent anything new. What I’m trying to do is just do it better than everyone else. I’m trying to be a little smarter about how we execute each job, I’m trying to get a little bit more in front of any issues or problems that I know can arise when we’re working on a campaign for a customer.”

Marketing Kitchen is a finalist alongside Pinnacle IP Solutions and the Thornhill Skin Clinic. All are in different sectors, but share a commitment to growth through entrepreneurialism, said Cunningham.

He also added that all finalists have already stood out in a city that is an innovation powerhouse.

“Markham is one of those unique communities that has a combination of diversity and entrepreneurship, and a tech cluster—it’s the envy of many cities. “There are so many untold stories here, it’s remarkable. Through these awards, we’re able to uncover these stories and put them in the spotlight.”

If you go:

Markham Board of Trade 27th Annual Business Excellence Awards

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Cocktails at 6pm; awards at 8:15pm

Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Hotel and Conference Centre

 

Nominees:

Business Employer of Excellence:

  • Autoliv Electronics Canada Inc.
  • JD Barnes Limited
  • Village Grocer

Community Relations & Cultural Enrichment:

  • Ashgrove Spa
  • Crupi Law Professional Corporation
  • StartUp York

The Donald Cousens Conservation & Environmental Leadership Award:

  • Park Property Management Inc.
  • Polaron Solartech Corp.
  • Pond Technologies

Entrepreneurship:

  • Marketing Kitchen
  • Pinnacle IP Solutions
  • Thornhill Skin Clinic

Global Business Excellence

  • Mediflow Inc.
  • Real Matters
  • Univet Optical Technologies North America Inc.

High Quality & Service:

  • CAA Club Group
  • Food for Tots
  • Fountain Place Co. Ltd.

Innovation:

  • Group of Gold Line (GL)
  • Huawei Canada/Seneca College HALP Program
  • York University

Photo:  Evan and Cathy MacDonald-Village Grocer is one of this year’s Business Employer of Excellence nominees.