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Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Rachel Pessah, Bright Spot Therapy Services

At Bright Spot Therapy Services, Rachel Pessah leads a team of professionals providing speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, reading intervention, and autism assessment services for clients in Timmins, Sudbury and remote fly-in communities.

A year into her career as a speech-language pathologist, Rachel Pessah had a secure, full-time job in her hometown of Timmins, doing meaningful work in a field she loved. But something was missing.

As she watched the waitlist for services grow, she felt she could do more, and before long Pessah began taking on additional clients on the side.

Demand quickly grew, and by the spring of 2019, she had walked away from the stability of public-sector work, complete with a robust benefits package and a generous pension, to launch Bright Spot Therapy Services.

“I feel like it was always my obvious choice, but I don’t know if I left school thinking for sure I would do private practice. But it happened naturally,” Pessah said.

“That need was there, so it just seemed like that was what I was meant to do.”

Today Pessah employs a staff of 10 who offer speech-language pathology and occupational therapy services for hundreds of children and adults in Timmins, Sudbury, and remote, fly-in communities in the North.

Speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat a range of challenges relating to speech. In children, they can help with articulation and phonology, or address social communication challenges like autism spectrum disorders. In adults, they might help those who are living with an acquired brain injury, or work with adults experiencing degenerative conditions.

Pessah said the most rewarding part of the job is watching a client experience a ‘bright spot’ during a session, when they’ve made a significant breakthrough.

“When a client says their first word, and you see their parent light up, and they’re so excited that they just said their first word, or they just say ‘mama’ for the first time, those are, still, I think, my favourite moments,” Pessah said. “Those keep me going.”

Originally destined for a career in teaching, it was a neuropsychology course in Pessah’s second year of university that introduced her to speech-language pathology, changing the course of her professional life.

“It took all the things that I liked about teaching and it took away all the things I didn’t like about teaching, and it was the perfect choice for me,” she said.

In her hiring practices, Pessah looks for like-minded professionals who share a love of learning and a diversity in the work, and her intuition has enabled her to both recruit from outside Northern Ontario and also repatriate others who were happy to return home.

She’s provided opportunities for students to complete their course practicums, and has even hired on some of her former placements to stay on permanently after graduation.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said of opening up her practice to student learning.

“All throughout my schooling I’ve had so many amazing opportunities to work with other speech pathologists, so I feel like now the speech pathologist that I am is a mix of all of them, and I owe it to them to pass on what I’ve learned.”

On Nov. 1, Bright Spot moved into a new office, which provides three times the space of its previous location. But already it’s full and Pessah is eyeing expansion once again.

Over the long term, she’s hopeful of expanding her practice so that more children on waitlists have access to services, and she envisions a growing need for telepractice services in remote and rural communities across the province.

Now closing in on two years of full-time business ownership, Pessah said it’s hard to imagine not working for herself.

Taking that leap into entrepreneurship can be daunting, she conceded, but for her, the benefits have far outweighed any risks.

“No one has it all figured out – there’s not going to be a point in time when you’re suddenly going to know everything,” she said.

“So just learn as you go, and if you have a skill that is needed, then you should be using it.”

Since launching in 1986, the Northern Ontario Business Awards has become the largest annual gathering of its kind in Northern Ontario. These awards serve to heighten the visibility and influence of business in the North and bring peer recognition to the business leaders who create prosperity and economic growth.