Maria Rasouli grew up in Iran but always pictured a different kind of life. One where she would be able to pursue education, enjoy fitness (primary biking) and be in charge of her own future. We catch up with her in this Q&A to learn about the start of her company Escape Bicycle Tours, the challenges she faces in her entrepreneurial journey and what she misses most about her home country.
Q: Why did you move from Iran? And how did you choose Ottawa as your next home?
The short answer is I moved from Iran to pursue my PhD in Ottawa, Canada. The long answer is I moved from Iran to simply be free to live and be respected as a human. The way women are treated and viewed in Iran was a constant source of frustration, anger and sadness in me. I felt I was not treated as a human but an object to be ruled by men. I love nature and outdoor activities but as a woman I could not bicycle, run, play tennis or soccer or do any outdoor activities in Iran.
I had applied for PhD programs to 4 universities in Canada and was accepted to 2; McGill and Carleton University. Choosing Carleton was as a result of listening to the wrong advice that I received from a professor at Carleton University. Once I came here, I realized McGill in Montreal would have been a better choice for me. But I tend not to regret anything and believe that everything happens in my life for a good reason that I may not be aware of at the time. So, I stayed in beautiful Ottawa.
Q: How did Escape Bicycle Tours come to be?
Escape came to be as a result of 2 years of self reflection and examination to know what truly made me happy and to take the courage to pursue my dream. When reflecting, I realized that if working at a company, I was working to build someone else’s dream. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and love to work for my dream. Reflecting on my life, I could clearly see that I was always the happiest when I was in nature and on my bike. So, I decided to build a business that makes me happy and allows me share with others the joy of being in nature and outdoor. Lots of us have cycled as kids but as adults we become too busy with life and our careers to take the time to cycle leisurely like a kid. I love bringing back that joy to my guests’ lives. I have had guests who said they did not remember the last time they were on a bicycle or they had not bicycled for over 30 years and they were so happy that they took a bicycle tour with Escape.
Q: What surprised you the most about moving to Canada?
The vast beautiful nature, bicycle paths and the peace. I always loved cycling but never knew there was such a thing as bicycle path. And here I am surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths where I can cycle peacefully and safely.
Q: What do you miss most about Iran?
My immediate family and the shores of Caspian Sea where we used to go swimming many summer days when we were kids. This of course changed when we grew up as we were required to be fully dressed even when we swam.
Q: What is the biggest challenge of running a business? And biggest reward?
The biggest challenge is being taken seriously by some other businesses who could be great partners for us from the get go. As a start-up, you have to prove yourself in many ways before getting calls back. Membership with and support of “Ottawa Tourism” has been a tremendous asset to overcome this challenge. We have also been so fortunate with having many gracious clients who have shown great interests in active tourism and given us positive reviews and recommendations.
The biggest reward for me is the happiness and satisfaction that our tours bring to our guests. I love to hear about the small but profound changes that we bring to our guests’ lives. One of our guests who had an old heavy bicycle bought a new light bike after coming to our tour and having lots of fun with one of our light hybrid bikes. She told us that she had been cycling a lot more since she bought her new bike. Another guest told me that she had been cycling 3-4 times per week after coming to an Escape tour and realizing how much she enjoyed cycling. Many of our guests tell us that the distance they cycled in our tours was more than they had ever imagined they could do and they felt extremely confident and happy about it.