Eight entrepreneurs reveal the tech challenges they are tackling now — and how it will make their business better

Technology can have an impact on an organization’s success — and these eight entrepreneurs know it. As participants in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, they’ve been paired with engineering interns with the goal of using technology to better their businesses. They’re sharing the challenges they’re solving with technology this year — could it help your company, too?




While looking for childcare for their first daughter, Irini Mikhael, an engineer for a global organization, and her husband Halim simply were not satisfied with the options available. So they opened Lullaboo — with the goal of providing top notch education and development to Canadian children, including their own.

Tech Challenge: Managing operations after growth
Since launching in Richmond Hill in 2008, Lullaboo has expanded to nine locations. They’re currently using a FileMaker solution to manage operations — but it’s time to develop their own custom app. Irini is in charge of IT software development (along with process strategy, new buildings, and other operation decisions), and is looking for a solution that can support further expansion.




Rebecca and Mandy Wolfe are the sister-duo behind Mandy’s. With seven branches across Montreal, the salad restaurant is known for their quality food and guest experience — as well as their charitable giving. They’ve found success not only through what they offer, but also by keeping operating costs low, and building out their backend technology and processes to maintain rapid but healthy growth.

Tech Challenge: Consolidating multiple systems
Mandy’s currently employs multiple small systems, and Rebecca and Mandy want to consolidate to better manage and optimize operations. They also recognize that they need support from a fresh, outside point of view to bring more efficiency to their backend.






Located in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Port of Stephenville is a fully operational seaport which works in tandem with Vinking, which includes an industrial estate with over 300 acres of land and 960 acres of sea-bottom currently in the process of development. Owned and managed by Theresa Keeping, she’s focusing the next five years on creating an aggregate mining facility, both shellfish and fin-fish aquaculture facilities, a cutting-edge compost facility, and alternative energy opportunities.

Tech Challenge: Integrating new lines of business
Given the future expansions planned and current port activities — which are anticipated to increase significantly in coming years — Theresa sees the need for an integrated management software platform which can automate, plan, and support on-going operations. Ensuring that all services and business threads are integrated is, and will be, a challenge for the Port.




Colette Cooper is co-owner and VP of Business and Operation of Renteknik, an energy efficiency engineering and consulting firm based in Burlington, Ontario.  The company is at the forefront of the energy industry, providing focused solutions that are cost effective, sustainable, and support North America’s mandate to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy and operational efficiency practices. The company’s current project: developing a real-time energy and operational efficiency monitoring software portal for HVAC, Make Up Air Units and Air Handling Units.

Tech Challenge: Developing a new tech product
The project involves the integration of different analytical platforms into a ‘watch dog’ type system that will allow for the identification of operational and energy issues within the various monitored building systems. By creating a new technology solution, their goal is to give visibility into business operations to achieve greater efficiency and cost savings for their clients.




Donna Enright opened her application development company to make a difference in the world. Based in Haliburton, Ontario, TechnicalitiesPlus has worked with many not-for-profits and innovative businesses to create web-based applications that help them support their clients and customers more efficiently. This year they are launching Assisted Cooking, an easy to use application delivering virtual support in meal preparation to people with cognitive challenges.

Tech Challenge: Making an online solution more accessible
Assisted Cooking is currently set up as a mobile responsive website, which can be problematic for universal functionality. Building a mobile app will provide more control over and consistency in the way the software functions on tablets, making it more accessible to the people who will benefit most from it.





Telelink was launched in 1965 as a traditional answering service in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Present Co-CEO’s Cindy Roma and Sydney Ryan have transformed it into a global leader in safety and emergency response monitoring with over 340 global customers. As their clients become more sophisticated, they are requesting social media monitoring services, a more omni-channel, connected experience, and monitoring of safety devices and platforms — which their current systems can’t handle.

Tech Challenge: Transitioning to a cloud-based client offering
With customers wanting more than just taking a message or relaying information, Cindy and Sydney know they need to evaluate new options in telephony and monitoring platforms. There are cloud-based systems available that offer a host of new services that they can provide to their customers, but it will take research to select the right platform, and transition systems.




Julie Mitchell says she likes to have a lot going on, which explains why she’s both a partner at Parcel Design, an integrated creative firm, and the owner of Torq Ride, an indoor cycling studio that hosts approximately 600 riders per week. While Torq and Parcel are both quite dependant on technology and have access to a lot of related data, they do not currently use it to their best advantage.

Tech Challenge: Making information accessible internally
Their main tech project for the summer is creating an intranet to make processes, policies, templates, and brand standards accessible to the team. As both Parcel and Torq expand, Julie thinks that this platform will have a huge impact on productivity and communications.






Since 2007, Yoga Tree Studios has grown from its first studio in Thornhill to five studios across the GTA, with a sixth opening soon. Yoga Tree offers over 2,000 yoga classes a month and an array of workshops and yoga teacher trainings. Debbie recognizes that the fitness industry is ever evolving and Yoga Tree is responding with innovative solutions — including integrating technology to optimize their digital and mobile presence to increase retention, communication with its clients, and increase brand awareness.  

Tech Challenge: Improving customer experience
Debbie’s focus is on the development and launch of a customized Chatbot, the design of a platform for online streamed classes, and a redesign of their website to be more responsive and intuitive to determine their customers’ fitness goals and align it with their suitable class options. Her goal: to elevate the digital experience of Yoga Tree students to a level that is ahead of industry practice.



The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.



How Marjorie Dixon is redefining the journey of fertility


Marjorie Dixon knew from a young age that she wanted to get into reproductive medicine. It was her experience running a cycle monitoring centre — and going through three rounds of IVF herself — that led her to open her own holistic clinic, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health. A recent winner of the RBC Momentum Award, her business has been growing rapidly, and redefining caregiving in the fertility space.


By Karen van Kampen



In grade 10, sitting in the library of her Montreal high school, Dr. Marjorie Dixon stumbled upon an article that would change her life. It was a story celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization. A story of hope, possibility, and the future of reproductive medicine. “I thought, this is me. This is my life,” says Marjorie. “Still to this day, when I think about what I do, I’m astonished.”

Marjorie’s career is its own story of inspiration. She has made it her mission to offer equal access to fertility care, regardless of a person’s orientation, identity, geography or socioeconomic status. Her company, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health, uses the most advanced technology and a holistic approach to patient care. She has created a Canadian business with a global reach — with patients as far as Japan, Australia and Qatar — and an impressive track record of growth.

Her success has not gone unnoticed. As owner and founder, Marjorie was the winner of the 2018 RBC Momentum Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has delivered 10% or more year-over-year growth for at least three years while creating a flexible, responsive business that adapts to a changing market.

While Marjorie didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, she says she always wanted to be a reproductive specialist. As a little girl, Marjorie spent countless hours in her dad’s laboratory where he taught high school reproductive biology. “I’m an obsessive learner,” she says. “I love to learn.”

After graduating from McGill University’s School of Medicine, Marjorie did postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto. She then pursued a subspecialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Vermont. During a gynecology internship at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Marjorie earned the nickname Gyne Spice for singing in the operating room.

As a fertility specialist at Sunnybrook (where she is still an active member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology), Marjorie is known for belting out the tunes including Queen, Air Supply and Stevie Nicks. Marjorie also takes song requests from patients and has their favourite music playing when they wake up from anesthesia. And she gives women “fertility lucky socks” so their feet don’t get cold in the stirrups. One sock reads “hope trust” while the other reads “baby dust.”

Her thoughtful, patient-centric approach can partially be attributed to being a patient herself. After undergoing IVF three times, Marjorie knows first-hand how stressful the fertility journey can be. Her experience running a cycle monitoring centre also highlighted how the medical system was disjointed, with patients having to travel to a variety of fertility sites for different services. “Continuity of care is a critical thing,” says Marjorie, “particularly when you’re dealing with women’s health.”


“When you find your solid group of peeps, lean on them hard and use them. People say it takes a village. It totally takes a village.”


It was the start of her entrepreneurial journey. Marjorie envisioned patient-focused fertility care under one roof, delivered by the same team of care providers to create a calm, comforting environment, “because the journey of fertility can be disarming on the best of days and disenfranchising overall,” she says.

Marjorie was also determined to be a culturally conscious and sensitive provider so that everyone could identify with their caregivers. “The fertility journey is the ultimate equalizer,” she says. “If you look in our waiting room, we have people from all ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and they sit together with one thing in common: they just want a legacy of their own. A family of their own.”

In 2016, she opened Anova. Launching with nine staff, Marjorie had to learn how to manage her own practice. She hired an operations manager, set up an electronic medical records system and continuously set new goals and created new strategies to keep moving forward. Most importantly, she kept her thoughtful approach; for example, Marjorie gives each of her “baby graduates” a onesie that reads, “I’m so cool I used to be frozen. Made with a lotta love and a little science.”

She also relied on a solid business plan. “You can’t pull it out of the sky and say, I think this should work,” she says. Anova Fertility now has more than 80 employees, offering a range of services that include cycle monitoring, IVF, and diagnosis of menstrual disorders. There is also the Anova Integrative Wellness group of naturopathic doctors, massage therapists and acupuncturists.

The road to success “hasn’t been this Pollyanna-esque perfect path,” says Marjorie. To succeed, you need grit and determination — which she certainly has. (When Marjorie was a kid, her dad used to say, “If you want to get Marjorie to do something, tell her she can’t.”) And you need to recognize the demands of an entrepreneurial life, she adds. “You can’t have it all, but you can definitely design life the way you see best for you,” says Marjorie. “You can have a family and work and follow your passion and do great things. You just have to make a path. Nothing happens by accident.”

It’s also important to ignore the “propaganda,” warns Marjorie. “Your competitors will propagandize and deprogram some of your novel thoughts, and discourage as opposed to mentor and build you,” she says. “When you find your solid group of peeps, lean on them hard and use them. People say it takes a village. It totally takes a village.”

For Marjorie, it’s incredible to think that before she opened the doors to Anova Fertility, “there were no babies growing on the sixth floor at Yonge and Shepherd,” she says. “Now every day in their sweet way, little cells are dividing into people. It’s fantastic. It really is.”




Why the CEO of YWCA Greater Metro Vancouver is Mobilizing for Gender Equality

As CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver, Deb Bryant is working to bring economic independence and wellness to vulnerable women. She’s also dreaming big about a better future through a global vision for change. That’s why Deb and the YWCA are taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voices with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.



By Hailey Eisen




Deb Bryant intended to have a career in fine arts. But in the early 1980s, after working for a few years, she realized the economic opportunities for women in the field were next to none.

“I discovered that there were very few female artists making a living at the time,” says Deb, “so I made the decision to move into the non-profit, education sector.”

The decision turned out to be a good one for Deb, who was named CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver last year — the culmination of two decades spent in rewarding leadership roles. For Deb, the ability to envision herself as a leader early on and work toward her goal came from the many strong female role models in the field, leading the way.

“I was very fortunate to have had access to a privileged upbringing, a good education and mentors who provided support,” she says. And, despite a few bouts of imposter syndrome, Deb has felt comfortable going after her professional aspirations. Today, at the helm of the YWCA, she’s helping to provide opportunities for other women, equaling the playing field wherever possible.

The organization’s focus is supporting single mothers and their children, providing housing (the YWCA operates 10 housing communities across Metro Vancouver), affordable, quality childcare, and wrap-around services to ensure these women can work and take care of their families. They also serve as vocal advocates around affordable housing and early learning and childcare — both required to achieve economic independence. The YWCA is also focused on stopping violence against women by raising awareness, educating youth, and fighting for reforms and supports to help women make successful transitions to personal and economic independence.

“We’re fortunate to have a huge network of women and people of influence that have come through the YWCA over decades, who understand our mission and are taking every opportunity to speak up for the policy changes and cultural shifts needed to bring about continued change,” Deb says.

With the YWCA’s 125th anniversary approaching in a few years, Deb says she has been looking back over how the circumstances have changed for women over the past several decades and the supporting role the organization has played. “To be part of that positive change,” she says, “that’s what gets me up with gusto every morning.”

Being in Vancouver and entrenched in the advocacy of women’s equality, it only makes sense that the YWCA was an early champion of hosting Women Deliver 2019, the world’s largest conference on gender equality, in Vancouver. The YWCA is also focused on having a strong local voice and movement alongside the Conference. To this end, they helped form Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada — the national movement to improve Canadian leadership on gender equality and drive progress globally and domestically in the lead up to the conference.

Through the Mobilization campaign, the YWCA is working with other Mobilizers to ensure the Conference results in real progress on gender equality. It is a unique opportunity for organizations traditionally active in this space, such as the YWCA, to connect with other sectors, including the financial, technological, educational and academic sectors, to bring about positive change together. It is also an important platform to strengthen the link between local and global issues.

“This opportunity to look at women’s issues from a global perspective will not only help our community, but also make the world a better place,” Deb explains, noting the YWCA’s network of 125 countries, servicing 25 million women and girls internationally. This global conference serves as a reminder of the importance of supporting women and girls as a way to support entire societies. “I hope this conference will leave behind the legacy of connecting the work we’re all doing locally with a global vision for change.”

Deb says the timing of this conference is significant. “So many issues around women’s equality and voice, as well as the day-to-day challenges women face, are on the public agenda right now, and I believe this conference will help to further amplify these issues and move us toward solutions focused conversations.”

Beyond having a delegation from YWCA Metro Vancouver at the Conference in June, Deb and her team have been involved in a series of events as part of Mobilization Canada, which are happening across the country to engage more Canadians in the gender equality conversation. They also have a Youth Advisory Council which will take part in these events with the aim to amplify the voices of young women and bring youth into public discourse and civic engagement.

Hosting Women Deliver in Vancouver, Deb says, is an incredible opportunity to welcome the largest international gathering of feminist thinkers here in Canada. “I know the insight, vision, and information they bring to the conference will ripple out through local networks and organizations — and allow us to put those to work here in Vancouver and beyond.”

As for the work she’s doing with the YWCA, Deb is looking toward the 125th anniversary with an eye to the future. “The question I’m asking myself as we move toward this milestone anniversary is: ‘if we were to be outrageously successful, what would the female experience look like 125 years from now?’”


To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.