The organic entrepreneurs
They studied in the same class at Queen’s, graduated, and now these two young alumni are taking a “road less traveled.” They’re building businesses, careers, and a life together in Kingston.
Aba (Mortley) and her Sc’02 classmate-turned-husband, Ted Bailey, laugh as Aba recalls their postgraduate, pre-automobile days in Kingston.
“Right up until we had our third child last year, we didn’t have a car. We live downtown, and so we walked everywhere,” Aba recalls. “My mother would look at us and say, ‘You two are so organic!’”
The adjective is spot on, in all its current shades of meaning.
Aba, who after graduating from Queen’s earned her MSc and PhD in Materials and Chemical Engineering at RMC, focused on organic chemistry, doing her Governor General’s Award-winning doctoral thesis on the effects of radiation on castor-oil-based polyurethanes. Ted, a civil engineer, turned his sights on solving environmental problems.
Today they’re operating their respective companies a short walk from one another in downtown Kingston, and they’re doing it on their own terms, following a shared passion for saving, conserving and giving back to their adopted community.
The couple’s backgrounds are rooted in entrepreneurialism – literally. Ted grew up on a farm in Carp, ON, where his family grew typical Eastern Ontario produce – strawberries, tomatoes, corn, pumpkins. “I loved the farm and always thought I’d have one myself,” he says. “Instead I came to Queen’s. Civil engineering gave me a broad base of skills, not just technical skills, but also critical business skills and a great network of classmates and teacher mentors.”
That winning combination, he says, gave him the confidence and the contacts to take “a road less traveled” by most young engineering grads; he started his own company, Aureus Solutions. It offers businesses simple, low-cost options and best-management practices to improve environmental performance. “I believe in people working with what they have in order to make things better, rather than always starting over from scratch,” he says. In other words, it’s an organic approach.
Aba, too, was born into a livelihood based on the organic world. A native of Trinidad, by the age of eight she was actively helping her mother, Cheryl Bowles, grow her business, The Herbarium Limited, and its international subsidiary, Cher-Mère spas. Founded in 1985, the companies offer natural, eco-friendly aromatherapy and herbal products based on botanicals native to Trinidad.
Today Aba uses her materials science and business acumen as Cher-Mère’s Assistant General Manager/International Marketing. Earlier this year she opened Canada’s first Cher-Mère spa in Kingston.
“I was raised with a conservationist ethic,” Aba explains. “It was about avoiding excessive use of packaging and materials and trying to be mindful about what we do, and not be wasteful.”
She hopes to continue that tradition in partnership with her husband. “We try to work together. For example, Ted implemented an environmental- and quality- management system that included installation of solar panels at our factory”.
The company also uses natural, cruelty-free ingredients, and recycles post-consumer waste for its packaging.
Like Ted, Aba credits her Queen’s education for her success to date. She acquired post-grad knowledge “tools,” but her drive to use them stemmed from her Sc’02 years. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says,” and Queen’s was not just about core subjects; there was also emphasis on doing – about walking the talk.”
The Baileys volunteer with Kingston’s highly successful Youth Diversion (YD) program, which helps promising youth. “We’re both lucky that we had good role models,” Aba says.
Aba and Ted love living in Kingston. Walkability aside, they say the city’s relatively low cost of living and geographic position in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle make it easy to be a small-business person here.