In a her family's kitchen in Kanata, 12-year-old Ella Lorz, dressed in a crisp white lab coat, carefully measures out ingredients, looking every bit the serious scientist.
She's following a recipe she and her mom, Rebecca Truman, cooked up last year for a soothing, organic balm to protect dogs' tender paws from the winter ravages of snow, ice and salt.
Ella is on the autism spectrum and has some difficulty with her motor skills, as well as deciphering language and social cues. Sometimes, other kids pick on her.
"They bully me for who I am," Ella said. "It makes me upset."
But here at the stove, stirring the paw balm in a pot, Ella is completely in charge.
"There's been a lot of challenges for her throughout her life," Truman said. But since her daughter began building her own business, she's noticed Ella's self-esteem growing.
"Instead of being timid and bullied and concerned and having a lot of anxiety about everything," she's becoming a very confident kid who's out there trying stuff," Truman said.
Ella's in charge of making, packaging and marketing the product. Business has been good.
The tins of Pawsome Pets paw balm have found their way onto the shelves of three local pet stores, and are selling briskly online in the run-up to Christmas.
Business in the blood
The Lorz/Truman family has business in their blood. Ella's grandmother and mother are both entrepreneurs, and her 10-year-old sister, Abby, sells her own hair-care product and lip gloss online.
Truman believes the experience gives her kids the courage to dream and overcome obstacles. It also teaches them that it's OK to fail, and to learn from it when they do.
Truman hopes that in Ella's case, her daughter will learn greater self-reliance.
"If something ever happened to us, I want her to have something that she can do. Potentially, her own career."
At March Road Pet Food & Grooming in Kanata, the balm is a popular stocking-stuffer, according to owner Donna Dwyer.
"It's a great time of year for it," Dwyer said. "It's an awesome product, and it's been going really well."
Proceeds from Ella's sales are divided between a local cat rescue operation and travel expenses for her to swim at the Special Olympics. Last spring, Ella qualified for the provincials, which take place in May in Waterloo, Ont.
Ella knows she'll face more hurdles in life, but her motto shows she's ready to take them on.
"Try your hardest, no matter what it is."