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Lessons Learned: Creating a healthy culture with a faith lift


Valerie Fox is chief innovation consultant at The Pivotal Point, bringing entrepreneurial thinking to organizations around the globe. She is also known for her work at IBM Canada, as well as for developing and co-founding the DMZ at Ryerson University — the leading university incubator in Canada, and ranked among the top three in the world. She looks back on her own career to answer the question, how do we create a healthy work culture? The answer: a lift of faith.


By Valerie Fox


Over the last 10 years, since my introduction to the startup world, there has been a flurry of new concepts and popular catchphrases associated with the entrepreneurial movement. You know the ones: innovation, collaboration, collision, lean, mentoring, design thinking, evidence-based — and a host of others. They inform the baseline for what is required in many of the organizations that are being built to support entrepreneurship. 

To enable innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset for not only incubators and accelerators, but also growing companies, another popular concept for success is the importance of developing the “right” culture. Using the term culture may sound cool, but when it comes to business, what does it really mean?

A good culture, in many cases, refers to an environment that is conducive to success for individuals. It can refer to a feeling of belonging, an ability to contribute and matter in an organization — and the ability to excel (or not).

But what affects culture? 

I am wondering if a healthy culture at an incubator, accelerator, business, or ecosystem might be attributed to people spending time cultivating recognized talent with a lift of faith. A lift of faith is the support someone receives from champions who recognize talent, knock down barriers, and create opportunities and connections for those they believe in. Faith, in this case, means that an individual sees aspects in a person that they feel has great potential to grow, regardless of their present experience. 


“A good culture… refers to an environment that is conducive to success for individuals. It can refer to a feeling of belonging, an ability to contribute and matter in an organization — and the ability to excel (or not).”


The best work experiences I can recall tend to bring up memories of specific individuals who saw something in me, believed in me, supported me, and championed me in a number of my pursuits. One such individual is Sheldon Levy, then-President of Ryerson University, who invited me to leave IBM and join him in enabling Ryerson’s reputation for Entrepreneurship — which led to the building of the DMZ. 

More recently I’ve been championed by a number of women, including Wendy Cukier, head of the Diversity Institute; Vicki Saunders, CEO of SheEO; and Julie Deans, the then-CEO of Futurpreneur and now head of Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation. It was staggering to see how much more impact I had working with these fabulous women.

I also want to acknowledge a number of women and men that I work with in a mentorship and coaching capacity. They boost everything I am trying to do. We grow together. Just as they have faith in me as a mentor and coach, I have faith in them. Championing is a two-way street.  

One of my mentees, Prieeyya Kaur Kesh, founder of Our Wave Hub — a company that helps educate young people in much needed skill development, such as CyberSecurity — told me her own tale of championship. Arriving from Malaysia in 2015, she had been in Canada for six months and had been looking for a community of interest to belong to. Not having much success and feeling alone, she decided to attend a startup weekend. While there, she had a conversation with a gentleman from VentureLab. He saw something in her, and said, “You are me six years ago. I can tell you will do something of great impact.” He introduced her to his networks for employment and community. He’s still there for her as she is growing her company.  

If there is agreement in the definition of a healthy work culture as an environment where one feels they belong, are adding value, and growing in knowledge and experience, then it might be worth considering “championing” as a way to support that. All it takes is a little faith.