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19 Stories of Entrepreneurial Spirit

These 19 women were all contenders for the 2013 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. Between them, they manage more than $160 million in annual revenue. Collectively, they employ more than 2,700 people, and donate untold hours to philanthropy and mentorship. When it comes to starting, growing and sustaining a successful enterprise, they know how it’s done.





Finalist, Deloitte Start Up Award

With three business ventures under her belt before the age of 30, Michele knows a thing or two about getting results. She is the CEO of one of Canada’s top bargain sites where customers save money on great deals, products and promotions available in Toronto. Her strategies? Turn “no” into “yes”, chase big investors and plan less, try more.

“I think that especially in an entrepreneurial environment (and especially with the internet), when things move so quickly and you can try things so easily, we don’t want to sit there and plan things out. We just want to put together a trial and see if it works.”



President, T-Rail Products Inc.

Winner, Deloitte Start Up Award

Railway companies are always improving their equipment, materials, and more. Think of it like upgrading your cell phone: the old unit works, but isn’t the latest model, so you get a new one – and toss the old into landfill. Lisa saw a better way. She partners with the largest rail companies to broker deals for smaller rail companies, mining operations, or industrial clients to find a market and use for this discarded surplus. Lisa’s success is driven by passion to change the perception of railways into the most sustainable mode of transportation for the economy, the environment and our communities.


“When we began, I had an idea and a vision for railways that was different than today; I wanted to create inspiration for the industry to redefine



President & Owner, Optique Boutique Inc.

Finalist, Deloitte Start Up Award

Proud Newfoundlander Lorelei Woolridge runs a trendy, fast-growing eyewear company.

“I had no idea how much fear was involved in owning your own business. Fear can certainly be inspiring. I think it’s part of being an entrepreneur and, quite truthfully, if you’re not fearful, it’s not going to give you that push and that drive that makes you want to be your very best and make you excel. A little bit of fear underneath it ignites a fire.”


Tamara_Barker_Watson_CWEAwinnerTAMARA BARKER WATSON

CEO, Whitestone Developments Ltd.

Winner, TPH Sustainability Award

In 1994, before she became an entrepreneur, Tamara was working for a housing builder and grew frustrated with the poor quality products on the market. One year later, Whitestone Developments Ltd. was up and running, building energy efficient homes in Halifax. Declaring hers a “family company,” Tamara also co-owns several complementary businesses that help families find their dream home. “We’re not just building homes, we’re making friends along the way.”

“We intended to be better for the planet. We didn’t necessarily start and go ‘we’re going to be green’ because when we started out green was not cool. It wasn’t the ‘in’ thing to do, so we were kind of green before it was gold.”



Co-Founders & CFOs, Kids & Company

Winners, RBC Momentum Award

Did your babysitter cancel? Not to worry. Kids & Company can accommodate your child care needs at the last minute notice. After 14 years, there are over 50 licensed centres in 20 cities across Canada.



“Make decisions quickly and move on.
You can’t always have perfect information to make decisions with, you need to make the decision and move on to the next.”



“I’m the mother of eight children, and it was just prior to the birth of my eigth that I met Jennifer with her first. We immediately felt connected from a personal and business perspective. So it’s
been a great relationship,
starting out almost 20 years ago.”




President & CEO, A.Net Solutions Inc.

Finalist, TPH Sustainability Reward

One way to protect the environment from pollutants and toxins from the pulp-and-paper industry is to use less paper, something that’s strangely hard to do. A. Net Solutions creates software to help companies rely less on hardcopies by organizing their data and correspondence electronically. Knowing she’s making a difference to both the environment and her clients makes the long work hours worth it for Annette.

“My clients are like my family: the loyalty they have shown, the passion they have for using the software…when they come back and they say, ‘Wow, it just saves me so much time, it’s so user friendly, it just makes my life so much easier,’ then I know I’m on the right track.”




President & CEO, AOG International

Finalist, RBC Momentum Award

“I think things happen for a reason. You know, when you grow up you think you’re going to be XYZ, and then you end up doing something totally different. And that’s kind of what happened to me.”

AOG is a freight logistics company. But Christina studied Hotel Management before launching the business in 2003 from the basement of her Leduc, Alberta, home.



Suzanne_West_headshotSUZANNE WEST

President & CEO, Black Shire Energy Inc.

Winner, PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship

Suzanne flips oil and gas properties the same way some people flip houses. Fearless in her ventures, this oil woman recently sold her fourth company, Black Shire Energy Inc., for $358 million.


“I got really tired of working for people who didn’t understand how to get the potential out of people. I mean big organizations have command and control and it just never made sense to me. So I quit, remortgaged my house, busted open all my piggy banks and started my first company.”




President, North Star Drilling Ltd.

Finalist, HUB HKMB Impact Award
When Barbara’s first husband suddenly died, she took over the company and started sponsoring courses at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She also began hiring graduates as a way to motivate the students. Barbara believes in giving second chances and the “teach a man to fish” philosophy.

“My [first] husband was a driller and I watched him work for other companies, and [employees] were like second  class citizens. And I said I would never treat my employees that way. I don’t want to see them  wreck their lives. One thing with my husband was the family didn’t come first – I make sure my employees know that the family comes first.”




President & General Counsel, Global Relay (electronic archiving provider)
Winner, TELUS Trailblazer Award

“It’s two steps forward, one step back. And sometimes that’s really good to remember when the going gets tough. As long as you’re making two steps forward, you’re going in the right direction.”



President & Founder, CASACOM

Finalist, RBC Momentum Award
When Marie-Josée returned to work from her four-month maternity leave, she realized that if she was going to work, it had to be really worth it. “I have to live a passion,” she says. So CASACOM, an independent Montreal PR firm with an office in Toronto, was born.

“We want to grow and keep our values of excellence and humanity. This is very important. So I’m more like polishing a diamond than growing fast. I want to enjoy the ride and I want to have an impact while we are on that journey.”




CEO & Founder, Henro Dairy Farms

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award

Henro Dairy Farms is the largest farm in Canada, producing milk and growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Henro began in 1997 when Rose and her husband Henry emigrated from the Netherlands on a one-way honeymoon to start the business. Competition is no threat to Rose who hosts annual “barn meetings” to help fellow dairy farmers who are struggling with production and are seeking guidance.

“I don’t believe success comes by accident, you have to create success and that’s what I like to pass on to fellow dairy farmers and other farm organizations. That’s my game.”




President & CEO, North Shore Sports Medicine

Finalist, HUB HKMB Impact Award

“When I was young, I did a lot of sports and I knew I was never going anywhere with that, but I wanted to be involved on a world level with sport, and so my goal as a child was to go to the Olympics. Now I’ve done that as a sports physiotherapist with Team Canada.”





President & CEO, Energy Aware Technology Inc.
Finalist, TPH Sustainability Award

“Self-doubt makes you hesitate, and when you hesitate you second guess. Then you say ‘okay maybe I’ll do it later.’ But if you take the approach you’ll do it later, you might never do it.”




Sherri_Stevens_headshotSHERRI STEVENS

President, Stevens Resource Group

Finalist, PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship

“It was during the recession, so there were no jobs to be found. I had no prospects or employment, so I decided that I would make my own employment. I remember sitting down in my mother’s one-bedroom apartment, in my pajamas, and getting a scrap piece of paper and writing down a basic business plan on how I was going to run my staffing service. And I guess you could say the rest is history.”


That “history” Sherri is referring to? Since opening in 1990, Stevens Resource Group has grown to 850 employees with seven branches in Canada and two in the United States.


Founder & President, Breathing Space Yoga Studio

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award

Jenny began developing her business when yoga wasn’t a popular practice in North America. But if you’re passionate about what you do, then others will follow your lead—since 2004, Jenny has built a franchise of five studios and is aiming for more.

“For me one of the success points was I landed a position as a weekly columnist in our provincial newspaper [The Daily News in Nova Scotia]. So it was an opportunity for me to really teach the public about the practice of yoga and that it’s a way of being – not just a physical form of exercise, but a way of being that can truly benefit their lives on all levels.”




President, Jacqueline Farrow Law Office Inc.

Finalist, Profit Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship

Frustrated with not being able to find office space for her practice, Jacqueline went into property development, both commercial and residential. So besides her general law practice, she’s also the president of three other companies.

“I always wanted to have my own practice, my own business, so I could have work-life balance, which is difficult to do when you’re working for someone else.”




President, Oceans Ltd.

Winner, HUB HKMB Impact Award
Oceans Ltd. contributes scientific studies to the oil industry, but also specializes in areas such as weather forecasting, iceberg profiling and marine search and rescue, to name a few. Judith heads a 35-person team of engineers, biologists, meteorologists and others who conduct research and development trials involving the beautiful, dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I was a physical oceanographer after I graduated from the Marine Science Center at McGill University. I was working for a company and I got injured at sea working offshore Labrador. I couldn’t work anymore in my chosen profession. So in order to keep working, to have a career, I created my own company.”


Stay tuned because on October 22, 2014 we are announcing the finalists for the 2014 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards! The winners will be announced on November 26th at the gala in Toronto.