How Colette Cooper transitioned from trained nurse to self-taught co-owner of a successful engineering company
With four small children and the challenges of juggling home, her nursing career, and her husband having his own business, Colette Cooper made the decision to step away from a demanding career as an intensive care nurse — and never went back. Instead, she joined forces with her husband Darren, ultimately taking on the role of Executive Vice President at Renteknik, their energy efficiency and operational management, engineering and consulting company.
by Shelley White
When Colette Cooper first entered the world of entrepreneurship alongside her husband Darren 16 years ago, she thought it was just a temporary career change.
Colette was an intensive care nurse by training, and had stepped away from that demanding career to look after her four small children. Darren had just started a renewable energy engineering company and asked Colette to help him structure the business. She found the new vocation suited her and that she and her husband made a great team.
“I’m a better mom when I’m doing things, and I’m a career-driven individual,” says Colette, who’s based in Burlington, Ontario. “Darren’s very entrepreneurial, very personable, he can inspire confidence to embrace change with anybody. I’m more behind the scenes — very organized, very ‘Type A.’ But everybody has their strengths and I think that’s why we work so well together.”
Now, Colette is Co-Owner and Executive Vice President of Renteknik, an energy efficiency and operational management, engineering and consulting company. She and Darren founded Renteknik with a since-retired colleague nine years ago. Colette says they came up with the name, which means “clean technology” in Swedish, around a kitchen table over a few cups of coffee.
“We are a boutique company working with our clients using state-of-the-art, real-time technologies to monitor their operations, efficiency and productivity,” Colette says. “If there is energy wastage, we can identify operational efficiency and energy management opportunities, helping them to be more competitive and successful and also sustainable from an environmental standpoint.”
The company’s clients include hospitals, arenas, recreation complexes, office buildings and manufacturing facilities across Canada (with some clients in the U.S.). Renteknik leverages innovative technologies like the ClimaCheck Performance Analyzer, which optimizes HVAC systems by recording and reporting on operations in real time. Another important technology is Panoramic Power, which provides wireless electricity monitoring through self-powering wireless sensors to identify malfunctions and inefficiencies through a cloud based software platform.
Colette says they are currently working on integrating their different analytical platforms into a single watchdog-type software portal that both they and their clients will be able to use.
“It’s going to provide the visibility that our clients need to achieve greater efficiency and fuel their business success,” she says.
Renteknik has been helped along in their quest to create this software portal through Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) — and more specifically, the Circle of Innovation program that’s a part of this broader initiative. WEC is designed to provide technological and advisory support for women-owned and part-owned businesses across the country, and the Circle of Innovation pairs up companies with interns from Canadian universities to help them complete specific technological goals and projects. Colette says she heard about the program through their relationship with BDC — Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, and a key supporter of the Circle of Innovation program.
“BDC brought forward this opportunity for us and said, ‘Your company is 50 per cent owned by a woman. And we think that this would be a wonderful opportunity for you,’” Colette says.
“I try and take every opportunity to influence and show other women that it is not just about getting a business education or being the smartest or prettiest. I am self-taught in business and have achieved success by following my core values which include responsibility, integrity, creativity, learning, teamwork and partnership.”
This past summer, Renteknik was paired up with Harsh Guraya, a McMaster University student in his third year of the Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Program. Colette says the experience was a positive one, and she would recommend the program to other women entrepreneurs.
“Through Harsh’s contribution, we are well on our way to completing the back-end stage of the project,” she says. “So we’re working now towards creating a front-end solution that will incorporate automatic analysis and machine learning algorithms.”
Colette says programs like WEC are crucial supports for women entrepreneurs. As a female business owner in a male-dominated industry, Colette says she sometimes struggled to get the respect she deserved. “It would be like, ‘Oh, you’re in business because your Darren’s wife,’” she says. Now, she hopes she can be a role model for other women entrepreneurs in male-dominated spaces.
“I try and take every opportunity to influence and show other women that it is not just about getting a business education or being the smartest or prettiest,” she says. “I am self-taught in business and have achieved success by following my core values which include responsibility, integrity, creativity, learning, teamwork and partnership.”
Colette says she also feels good about the WEC program because it provides valuable learning opportunities for the students who take part as interns. At Renteknik, providing opportunities to students and new graduates is a key priority, she adds, as they are our future.
“Our company is very multicultural, and we’ve hired a lot of people that couldn’t get their foot in the door in Canada,” she says. “And we have a lot of women professionals including engineers, we’re probably at about a 40/60 split.”
With their tech goals on the road to completion, Colette says she and Darren have plans to expand their services throughout Canada and beyond. She admits that being an entrepreneur can be challenging — “It’s not for everyone,” she says — but over the years, she and Darren have figured out how to keep their home lives and their business lives in balance.
“I think that it’s just all about communication,” she says. “And our kids, we’ve brought them up to know that you don’t get anywhere in life if you don’t work hard. We all just have to work together.”
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. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.