Growing up in New Brunswick, Eireann Rigby was involved in competitive sports, even playing professional basketball in Europe.

Wanting to make sports and fitness accessible to the general public, Prince Edward Island’s UFIT was born.

The decision to start the company — which provides pay-as-you-go $5 fitness classes for people of all ages in “a party atmosphere” — “was a very scary journey at the start,” said the Charlottetown resident, now 34. “I think the first class in 2002 had eight people, and four of them were family. It’s difficult to start, but you’ve got to believe in it and put it out there.”

Seven years later, classes are held in eight locations across the island and attract up to 100 people per class.

Rigby, along with 18 other young people from each province and territory, were honoured at an awards ceremony in Ottawa to celebrate the achievements of young entrepreneurs last night.

To coincide with Small Business Week, the Business Development Bank of Canada held its 22nd annual 2009 Young Entrepreneur Awards for people aged 19 and 35.

The award recipients have realized their dreams in innovative ways, said BDC President and CEO Jean-Rene Halde.

In meeting all the winners, Rigby said there was a huge variety of businesses and achievements, but that all the entrepreneurs share a commonality.

“Everyone has a passion,” she said.

An avid cyclist, Corner Brook, N.L.’s Peter Ollerhead, 28, turned his passion for sport into a thriving cycle, cross-country ski and snowshoe shop that has since grown to include a specialty coffee shop.

“I started cycling when I was 12-, 13-years-old,” said Ollerhead. “My dad could leave me in the bike shops all day.”

At 20, he opened Cycle Solutions, and two years ago, opened Brewed Awakening.

“If you’re passionate about something, that’s what you’ve got to focus on,” he said.

That passion found Toronto’s John Carbrey early. He started Intrafinity Inc. in 2001, during his first year at the University of Toronto.

Now 27, Carbrey thinks “people have to go for what they’re passionate about,” he said. “Being an entrepreneur and trying something new — you might succeed, or you might fail, but you will be better for it,” he said.