Mentor Spotlight: Andrea Courey (Grandma Emily’s)

Editor’s Note: 

Andrea Courey is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, lecturer and recipient of a McGill Dobson Fellow. She graduated from McGill, B Comm 1982. She worked in electronics, home décor and floor covering until 1997, when she founded Grandma Emily’s Granola – GEG. GEG manufactured homemade style granola cereals for the food service industry. The product line grew to include organic bars, snacks and gift amenities.

Andrea is now a member of the McGill Council on Palliative Care. Her first book, Conversations with Chloe, is being published and she is working on a second book. She continues to mentor and encourage entrepreneurs, young and old.

Andrea has kindly made her first book available to us here

Why did you you start Grandma Emily’s, and more specifically, why granola bars?

My case was one of the oldest case in the book; I was recently divorced and had three children to feed. I did not have a plan or money in the bank or a certain expertise but I definitely needed to start something. I needed money and flexibility in schedule, so I thought about what I was good at and finally based on my skills I decided to start a business. Now the question was, what was going to be my product? Granola was a product that I ate at home. I made it for my family, and before me my mother made it and before that, my grandmother.

It was one of those family recipes that I believed in and provided for my family. So it was a product that I already knew how to make the important bit was learning how to commercialize it. I did have a BCom from McGill University so I had a fair bit of knowledge about business. However, learning in class is very different to applying it in reality. You need to formulate it properly, scale it up and sell. It was a huge learning curve. But, I was so committed to the product that was putting in the market, that I managed to push through all the chaos.

Be really strong at home before you go to any other international city. Make sure you anchor your business at home and be financially secure before you move out of your own borders. – Professor Hamid Etemad

Why did you decide to keep your business relatively local?

I was asked multiple times to expand to the US as it is a close market and there is huge potential to do business. During my time at McGill University, I remember a quote from Professor Hamid Etemad’s International Business class. He said “Be really strong at home before you go to any other international city. Make sure you anchor your business at home and be financially secure before you move out of your own borders.” I remembered his words when deciding on the expansion and I finally decided to stay. For me, staying on my home turf was a smart choice because moving out would have been too precarious of a situation for me. I would have had to scale up so very quickly and risk putting so much capital and expenditure with potentially not enough sales. 

Left to right: (Top Row) Renjie Butalid, Jan Roos, Professor Gregory Vit, (Bottom Row) Phil Cutler, Andrea Courey and Richard Belitzky.

Did you miss our event about Women in Entrepreneurship? Find out more about Andrea’s story here.

What was one of the most important skills you learnt from your previous jobs that you used in your business?

The ability to manage people.  Every single job that I ever had taught me how to do that. Every crummy boss or every phenomenal boss, I ever had, served me in the way that I made a mental note of what I was never going to do that to my staff or something that I would want to try and nurture in my own culture. No matter how much technology started to take more place in marketing, it always still comes down to the relationships you build and the people you speak to.  50% of the success of the company comes down to the culture that the leader builds and the other 50% is the product.

Why did you decide to sell your business?

I started my business and kept myself going because my “why” was very clear. My “why” was to support my children to a point where they could support themselves and when I had accomplished that my goal was accomplished. After that I felt as though I was not having fun with my business. It sounds superficial to think that business is fun, but you have to remember to be passionate and that you are giving your 110% every single day. I got to a place where I was feeling like I was done with what I was doing with my business. I felt as though I was not the name on my business card. Being a founder was part of who I am and it is definitely something that I am proud to have accomplished but there are so many more things that I felt that I needed to do and which is why I decided to sell my business. 


Check out what our judges from the McGill Dobson Cup had to say.


What did you do after you sold your business?

I decided to leave for a month on a vacation by myself and be the travelling gypsy that I have always been. During that time, I got a phone call that one of my children was ill with cancer so I rushed back to Montreal. 

I was so grateful at the time that I had sold my business because when I came back to Montreal and was able to give her as much care as I could. I was able to experience first-hand how to say everything that might have been left unsaid and give her the best care that I could give to her. After her passing, I decided to write a book of conversations that I had with her. It was a very healing process for me. Now I am on to a second book which talks about us having more a discussion surrounding death and living with dying and loss, which are now subjects that have become front and center for me.

This has given me almost a whole new mission. I joined the McGill Counsel on Palliative Care and working with the university to try and implement something called “compassionate community”. There is so much dispassion going on in the world and the idea of creating a community, for example, a foreign student who has suffered a loss and can’t go back home. The idea is to give other students tools to support and help that student. There are so many aspects to a compassionate community and so that is why I am coming back to do this work with McGill. 

Grandma Emily makes chewy and nutritious granola bars containing different mixes of organic granola, the finest oats, nuts and fruits.

What is one piece of advice you would give to young entrepreneurs?

Have a team.

Even if you really want to do it yourself and want to be completely your own boss, it really makes a difference when you talk out loud about what your plans are. In hearing it, you begin to understand yourself and you create new ideas. I would say share your ideas and don’t worry so much about people stealing your ideas. Don’t worry about trademarking your idea right away or about someone coming along and stealing your idea.

However, be careful with the people you’re going to work with. Surround yourself with people that you know you’re going to give you their honest opinion. I tried to do too much by myself and I really felt lonely to begin with and I did not have enough discussion with entrepreneurs and I could have really benefitted from having a team.

What are some of the challenges you faced being a woman in business?

  • Running a business and managing a family at the same time is tough.

I could not get any credit and had no credit rating and so I had to bootstrap this business. I had ideas and I would have loved to have created a much bigger business but I had to be home at 4:30pm to help my kids with their homework and dinner. The supermom thing doesn’t happen. Everyone has their own recipe but managing my time was was definitely a huge challenge for me. 

  • Choose your life partner wisely.

That is 80% of your happiness or your misery in life. If you have children with that partner, they have to be there 100% as well and you two have to be raising those children together. Having a partner that supports you will help you substantially.

What gives you courage?

I am a very positive person in general. We are so very blessed to be here. I always have fundamentally believed that. We have air, we have water, we have electricity, we have so many tools around us to make things happen. I think that’s what fires me up. 

Want to meet more judges from this year’s McGill Dobson Cup? Click here. 

Sharanya Venkatesh

Sharanya Venkatesh is a U3 Geography and Social Entrepreneurship student at McGill University. Being a new member to The Dobson Chronicles team, she looks forward to learning more about the startup community at McGill and in Montreal.