Meet Elen Steinberg, President and CEO of SPP Marketing Services Inc. and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Elen Steinberg

President and CEO, SPP Marketing Services Inc.

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award, CENTRAL

 

SPP Marketing Services Inc. (SPP) had already been in operation as a promotions and experiential marketing agency for ten years when founder Elen Steinberg saw her winning opportunity: creating an innovative program using Canadian airports for marketing credit cards to the public. By overcoming challenges and bringing value to her bank clients, the company has been able to focus solely on premium credit card acquisitions since 1998. As the leading North American new credit card customer acquisition agency, SPP has enrolled over 5 million people for credit card products.

 

My first job ever was… Selling clothes in a boutique in Montreal. 

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Full time jobs in TV journalism were scarce and I needed to pay the bills.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… Having been able to give many people an opportunity to succeed – such as immigrant women and also raising two wonderful children while building a successful business.

 

My boldest move to date was… Switching the company into commission sales from being paid hourly as an event marketing agency.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… That they may not know me personally, but I can almost guarantee that they know what I do.

 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… Be open to opportunities. Be bold. Ask for the sale, the contract, the promotion. If you get a no you are not any worse off than you were before- if you get a yes, it changes your world.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… Get up and make 10 sales calls before lunch.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Golda Meir. I believe she was the first female world leader.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… Always trust your instincts and never lose that unwavering belief in yourself.

 

My biggest setback was… When we lost 90% of our business in 1997.

 

I overcame it by… Not taking no for an answer and finding a solution to turn it into a yes. We came back stronger than ever from near bankruptcy and increased sales by 500% from before the setback.

 

I never go a day without… Being grateful for the great people I work with and the opportunities and continuing support from our clients.

 

The last book I read was… David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

 

I stay inspired by… Seeing the big picture, looking for opportunities for expansion into new markets and showing new clients our capabilities.

 

The future excites me because… I see more opportunities for the company. 

 

 

Meet Caroline Roberts, President and CEO of Thoth Technology Inc. and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Caroline Roberts

President and CEO, Thoth Technology Inc.

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award, CENTRAL

 

When Caroline Roberts co-founded Thoth Technology in 2001, she saw a market opportunity in Canada’s vibrant space sector, providing services to validate equipment for spaceflight. The space and defense company now has three divisions — Space Tracking and Navigation, Space Test, and Space Systems — with a headquarters at the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO). It’s here you’ll find Earthfence, the world’s first commercial deep space radar, which utilizes a 1,500 tonne antenna to track satellites in a 50,000 km range — the equivalent of detecting an insect at a range of 50 km.

 

My first job ever was… working as a cashier at an Elizabeth Drugs Store in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The store was one of a chain of drug stores that my grandfather owned. He was a medical doctor, a very successful entrepreneur, and a great inspiration to me. “Invest in banks,” he often said. “If the banks aren’t making money, nobody is.”

 

I decided to be a space entrepreneur when… I visited the European Space Research and Technology Center in Nordwijk, the Netherlands. The facility features massive thermal vacuum chambers for testing spacecraft, and I could see an opportunity to create a commercial company in Canada specializing in qualification services to validate equipment for spaceflight. We were the fourth country in space and the first to fly a domestic communications satellite. Canada has a vibrant space sector, and I foresaw a market to provide space-test services to large companies in need of overflow capacity as well as small companies who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this specialist equipment.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… having developed the world’s first commercial deep space radar. Earthfence utilizes a 1,500 tonne antenna to track satellites in geostationary orbits up to 50,000 km and is virtually undetectable. An equivalent performance would be to detect an insect at a range of 50 km.

 

My boldest move to date was… taking over the Algonquin Radio Observatory in Algonquin Park. The Observatory features a 46 m diameter radio telescope – the largest fully steerable antenna in Canada and one of the largest in the world. At the time it was transferred to my company, Thoth, it had just suffered major bearing failure. The refurbishment of it was a mammoth undertaking requiring around 20 person years of effort.

 

I surprise people when… they see me riding a powered unicycle. Professor Ue-Li Pen, Director of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, introduced us to it. It’s very fun and really turns heads. The best reaction we’ve had yet was from a little boy who saw us riding and asked his brother, “Are they robot people from the future?”

 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… believe in your big, bold visions.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… from Allan Carswell, who advised me to have kids. Allan is the founder of Concord-based Optech, makers of Canada’s first lidar instrument on Mars. I was 36 at the time and debating whether to have children. I was and still am very career focused. To convince me, Allan said, “Caroline, my son now runs the Company.” It was what I needed to hear at the time.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be… my business partner and husband, Ben Quine, and I happily do most nights.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self to… keep up the good work! Also, in addition to banks, invest in technology companies, and start contributing to that RRSP!

 

My biggest setback was… the failure of the British Beagle 2 Mars lander mission. Thoth had secured rights from the prime contractor, EADS Astrium (now Airbus), to sell the lander technology in North America. When Beagle 2 did not return a signal, it was a blow.

 

I overcame it by… taking the opportunity to improve the lander design with fewer moving parts and greater robustness. We also studied everything that went wrong with Beagle 2. One of the mission’s biggest problems was communications, so when the opportunity to take over the Algonquin Radio Observatory materialized, we seized it, as it is the only asset in Canada capable of interplanetary communications. We are working on a private Mars mission called Northern Light and have all the elements apart from the launch. I am hoping Elon Musk can help us out with that. Elon was a student at Queen’s University when I was there too.

 

I never go a day without… being thankful for my job, my family, friends, and life in Canada.

 

The last book I read was… Canoe Country: The Making of Canada by Roy MacGregor.

 

I stay inspired by… looking up! I am fortunate to live and work in an area with very dark skies. Some nights at the Observatory, you can read by moonlight and see your shadow cast by the Milky Way. With our optical telescopes, we can see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons. It is inspiring and humbling.

 

The future excites me because… of the tremendous opportunities we have thanks to the internet. Everything is at now at our fingertips because of a technology that I feel is still in its infancy.

 

 

Meet Toni Desrosiers, Founder and CEO of Abeego and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Toni Desrosiers

Founder and CEO, Abeego

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award, CENTRAL

 

In 2008, Toni Desrosiers was looking for a natural way to store her food — and ended up discovering a way to disrupt the fully mature, billion-dollar industry of plastic wrap. Through extensive experimentation (and looking to lemon peels, cheese rinds and onion skins for inspiration) she developed Abeego Wrap, the first breathable, reusable, beeswax food wrap. It aims to “keep food alive” by protecting it from air, light, and moisture while allowing it to breathe — so it remains fresher longer than airtight plastic wrap. The self-adhesive wrap can last over a year with proper care (hand washed with cold water).

 

My first job ever was… not a regular job. I started multiple businesses and my most successful childhood business was a yard maintenance company which I ran with my friend Ricki when we were nine years old.

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it’s the work that aligns best to my natural big picture, innovative and inventive thinking style.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… inventing beeswax food wrap resulting in a new category of food storage that is trending around the world.

 

My boldest move to date was… to force myself to overcome my fear of public speaking by immediately saying “yes” if anyone asked me to be a speaker.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I never studied the properties of plastic wrap when I invented Abeego, instead I looked at lemon peels, cheese rinds and onion skins to develop food wrap that keeps food alive.   

 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… don’t study the model you are trying to disrupt too closely because you might unknowingly incorporate the same problems into your new idea.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… you don’t have ADHD and you’re not distracted. You’re a visionary and your unique entrepreneurial thinking style is valuable.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be... National Geographic Explorer, Elizabeth Lindsay. Her statement, “When an elder dies a library is burned and libraries throughout the world are ablaze” motivates me every day.

 

“There are many problems to solve and for an inventor like me that means endless opportunities.”

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… it’s all building to something bigger than you anticipated. Keep moving.

 

My biggest setback was… making the heart wrenching and critical decision to lay off almost my entire team two weeks before they went on Christmas holidays after a particularly tough winter season.

 

I overcame it by… surrounding myself by radically generous women who helped me get up emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually to come back stronger than ever. My sincerest thanks to all SheEO Activators that had my back.  

 

I never go a day without… telling my daughter that I love her to the moon and back.

 

The last book I read was… Meaningful by Bernadette Jiwa.

 

I stay inspired by… looking at every problem as an opportunity in disguise.

 

The future excites me because… there are many problems to solve and for an inventor like me that means endless opportunities.

 

 

Meet Heather Modlin, Provincial Director of Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Award Finalist

 

Heather Modlin

Provincial Director, Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador

Finalist, Social Change Award, EAST

 

Heather Modlin established Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador (KANL) in 2009 to provide therapeutic family-based care (foster care). Their mandate has since expanded; in partnership with government, KANL offers residential care and support services to young people and families with complex needs, as well as working to influence policy and practice. Creating safe, nurturing, therapeutic environments designed to facilitate growth and development for children and youth with emotional, behavioural and mental health issues, KANL is helping those who are unable to successfully reside in a traditional foster home.

 

My first job ever was… at McDonald’s. I started there as a crew member when I was 16 (I loved working drive-thru) and stayed until I finished university at 22. I developed my work ethic at McDonald’s. During my time there I was promoted to Crew Chief, Training Coordinator, and Swing Manager. And I was Provincial French Fry Champion in 1982 ☺

 

I chose my career path because… I have been interested in working with “emotionally disturbed” children since I was 10 years old and read the book A Circle of Children by Mary McCracken. Originally I planned on becoming a child psychologist and did an undergraduate degree in psychology. My first job upon graduation was in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. This was my introduction to residential care and I was hooked.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… it’s not really my accomplishment, but I am most proud of my daughter Sam. She is 31 years old, well educated, a successful business owner, and a kind, thoughtful person with a social conscience.

 

My boldest move to date was… leaving my last job, after 18 years, to start Key Assets.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I used to be extremely shy. And still am, in some situations.

 

My best advice to people starting their business is… be patient and persistent.

 

My best advice from a mentor was…  have received so much valuable advice from so many mentors! One thing that sticks with me, from a former professor, is that having a healthy organizational culture does not mean that there will never be problems in the organization – that is not possible. Rather, the sign of a healthy organization is that it can withstand problems without having them rock the entire organization. In dysfunctional organizations, on the other hand, problems tend to shape the culture. I always remind myself of this whenever we are dealing with difficult situations.

 

“Stop worrying about what others think of you, and stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.”

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… any of my mentors and colleagues from around the world. I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… stop worrying about what others think of you, and stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.

 

My biggest setback was… when we first started Key Assets in Newfoundland and Labrador, it took a long time (over 4 years) before we were approved by government to provide family-based care. There were moments when it felt like it would never happen and it was difficult not to get discouraged by the lack of progress.

 

I overcame it by… responding to the needs that existed in the community at the time, and being flexible in our service delivery. And staying positive.

 

The last book I read wasEducated by Tara Westover – it was fantastic! I am a bit of a bookworm – I usually read at least 2-3 books a week.

 

I stay inspired by… going to work. I am inspired daily by our staff, carers and young people. The obstacles they have to overcome to sometimes just make it through the day, and the strength and resilience they display, is incredible. I am also connected to many amazing people in the child and youth care field and through Key Assets International, and they inspire me with their ongoing commitment to improving the lives of young people, families and communities.

 

The future excites me because… there is so much left to do.

 

My next step is… continue to grow, learn, and get better.

 

 

Meet Latha Sukumar, Executive Director of MCIS Language Solutions and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Award Finalist

 

Latha Sukumar

Executive Director, MCIS Language Solutions

Finalist, Social Change Award, CENTRAL

 

When MCIS Language Solutions was incorporated as a non-profit in 1995, its mandate was to provide interpretation services for victims of domestic violence in Scarborough. Latha Sukumar was hired as Executive Director in 1996, expanding the mission to improving access to critical information and services for all vulnerable persons who faced language barriers. Now, MCIS offers 50 different language services in over 300 languages, serving over 800 organisational clients, while sticking to its mission of improving the safety, wellbeing and security of its primary beneficiaries — vulnerable people experiencing language barriers.

 

My first job ever was… as a telemarketer.

 

I chose my career path because… I wanted to address gender inequality.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… building an organization with newcomer talent to address language access and equity issues.

 

My boldest move to date was… taking on our first large public sector project which doubled our volume and required us to ramp up service capacity overnight.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I love building a business as much as making a social impact – and marrying the two represents the best of all worlds for me.

 

“Show up for work every day no matter what and work towards incremental improvements, while embracing disruption.”

 

My best advice to people starting their business is… that you are in for the long haul and need to be consistent and work towards small wins to keep yourself motivated.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… to show up for work every day no matter what and work towards incremental improvements, while embracing disruption.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… George Carlin.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… no setback is as bad as it first appears .

 

My biggest setback was… losing my father suddenly to cancer.

 

I overcame it by… practising meditation.

 

The last book I read was… Journey to Ithaca by Anita Desai.

 

I stay inspired by… reading about disruptive innovation and technology.

 

The future excites me because… there has never been a time like now when you have to keep innovating and changing, to stay ahead of the curve.

 

My next step is… to shift our organizational culture to embrace and execute MCIS’ strategy of continuous growth, influence and impact.

 

 

Meet Ching Tien, Founder and President, ERGC and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Award Finalist

 

Ching Tien

Founder and President, Educating Rural Girls in China

Finalist, Social Change Award, WEST

 

As the founder of Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC), Ching Tien’s deepest belief is that educated women have educated children — so providing education opportunities to women has a long lasting ripple effect and is a fundamental way to change people’s lives for the better. Since 2005, EGRC has been helping girls and young women — 842, to be exact — that live in impoverished rural regions of Western China to receive high school and university educations. Their students achieve over a 99% graduation rate, despite the fact that most of the girls have experienced hardship, discrimination and even abuse.

 

My first job ever was… working in a factory in a poor region of Western China.

 

I chose my career path because… I did not have the opportunity to finish my education in China. I believe education, and educating women is the fundamental way to build better societies.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… The help I have been able to offer to nearly one thousand young women. This aid has changed their lives and they are now able to lift their families out of poverty, and to give back to their communities.

 

My boldest move to date was… Founding EGRC when I had not much experience, funding and few connections.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… How much of a difference one person can make to the lives of many.

 

My best advice to people starting their business is… Do what you love. Trust yourself when things get tough. Keeping the expenses low is the key, especially when you’re just starting out.  Stay focused on your goals and be flexible when circumstances change. Always be goal and impact focused.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… Start thinking and plan a way forward, have in your long term vision of a plan for succession.

 

“Dream big, follow your heart, and put ideas and thoughts into action.”

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… My mother who passed away too early.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… To dream big, follow your heart, and put ideas and thoughts into action.  Learn the skill of listening.

 

My biggest setback was… Fortunately I’ve not experienced a big setback. My biggest challenge has been to find the right people with passion, skills and experience to work side by side with me.

 

I overcame it by… I am still working on it.

 

The last book I read was… Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

 

I stay inspired by… The young women and girls I have helped: seeing firsthand the difficulties they have endured – how hard they’ve worked since from young age, and how much they have achieved.

 

The future excites me because… The world has realized the importance of empowering girls through education.

My next step is… To focus on the longevity of my organization