Three Atlantic Canadian success stories – all noted for their tenacity – captured national Startup Canada Awards in Ottawa on Thursday, including a businesswoman who was crowned the top entrepreneur for 2017.

Anne Whelan,​ ​President​ ​and​ ​CEO of ​Seafair​ ​Capital​ ​Inc. of St. John’s, was named Entrepreneur of the Year, having captured the same award in the regional finals last month. At the finals in Ottawa, Shawn Smith, Founder and CEO of Fredericton-based Don’t dis-my-ability Consultation Services, won the Resilient Entrepreneur Award, and the Hadhad family of Antigonish, N.S., captured the Newcomer Entrepreneur Award for their company Peace By Chocolate.

Startup Canada, which promotes entrepreneurship across the country, presented its national awards in 17 categories at the gala event in Ottawa. You can find the complete list of winners here.

Read our Profile of Shawn Smith and his Support for Neuro-Diversity

Here is a brief look at the winners from the East Coast:

Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Anne Whelan

President and CEO of Seafair Capital Inc.

St. John’s

Whelan owns Seafair Capital, a holding company she started in 2012 to invest in a range of businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador. The company now comprises 10 businesses, ranging from a home-care company to a fire-safety company to a pub and restaurant. It aims to buy mid-sized companies in complementary sectors and help them reach their next stage of growth. Seafair’s revenues range between $30 million and $50 million. But in a recent Financial Post interview, Whelan noted her businesses are subject to the ups and downs of the Newfoundland economy and the environment has been tough recently. Whelan sits on the board of the Business Development Bank of Canada and chairs the board of Newfoundland Power.

Newcomer Entrepreneur of the Year

The Hadhad Family

Owners of Peace By Chocolate

Antigonish, N.S.

The Hadhad family came to Nova Scotia from Syria two years ago and turned to the business they had been in before the civil war drove them from their home – making chocolate. Settling in Antigonish, they worked with neighbours to start producing chocolate out of a shed. Then the company began to grow and last month opened a factory in Antigonish, employing 10 staff and planning to add to the number. Tareq Hadhad recently joined the board of Invest Nova Scotia.

Resilient Entrepreneur Award

Shawn Smith

Don’t dis-my-ability Consultation Services


Smith specializes in the emerging field of neurodiversity -- an approach to life that says neurological conditions, such as autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, should be respected as part of normal human diversity. Smith, who was 30 when he was diagnosed with ADHD, set up his own business to help people who have been marginalized. The Fredericton native started his company in 2014. Most of his clients so far have been entrepreneurs and parents of neuro-diverse youth. He has recently taken part in the B4Change accelerator for social ventures at the Pond-Deshpande Centre in Fredericton. His videos on the subject of neurodiversity were noticed by training and consulting group Picasso Einstein. He spoke at the group’s conference about ways to create employment opportunities for neuro-diverse people.