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From engineer to daycare owner: how one woman built a business from the ground up

Alicja Siekierska
·2 min read

Irini Mikhael was at the top of her field in 2008, working as a chemical engineer on the global team at a multinational gas company, when she decided to quit her job.

Then 25-years-old, Mikhael was pregnant, and quickly discovered that finding the right daycare for her growing family was a struggle. So she decided to engineer her own solution.

"I turned to my husband and said, 'Halim, guess what? We're going to buy a property and build a day care'," Mikhael recalled. She had made that declaration on a Sunday morning.

"By Monday afternoon I had found a property in Richmond Hill, Ont. and put in an offer. We knew how to build, how to design, and (I decided) I'm going to take my mat leave and I'm going to put everything I have into creating this beautiful building."

She opened Lullaboo Nursery and Childcare Centre to the public later that year and never went back to engineering. Today, Mikhael is the chief operating officer at Lullaboo, which has nine locations scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and construction is underway at several additional spots.

Mikhael's career path was an unconventional one that featured many unique challenges. While she had the engineering background that helped with constructing a building from the ground up, she had no experience when it came to operating a daycare.

"As I was building these centres, a lot of the time I found myself in conversations with my employees and I didn't understand really how (children) were taught, what is important in child development, what are the stages we need to go through," she said. A perennial student, Mikhael decided to go back to school to get her Early Childhood Education certificate.

"It actually opened my eyes to so many things."

Mikhael hopes her story will encourage other aspiring entrepreneurs to pursue their career goals – even if it's vastly different from what they expect.

"I've been there, where people have said, 'You can't do it. What are you doing leaving a good, comfortable, global engineering job?' You sometimes have to listen to your inner voice and just do it," she said.