Q&A: How Alexandra McCalla is adapting to a new normal.

Alexandra is an ex-business consultant who has also worked at numerous scaling tech start-ups in Toronto and Silicon Valley, gaining experience in strategy, product management, operations, and client services/sales. She then turned her attention to the drone industry, joining AirMatrix as their Chief Operating Officer to build the future for our skies. She was recently awarded the Communitech Fierce Founders $100k prize and has been featured on Women in Drones. She shares how AirMatrix is navigating the current landscape, from what areas of the business are getting the most energy and focus to the financial resources that they have tapped into. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Right now customer contracts and deployment, alongside building the team and strategy for international scale.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Due to a lack of infrastructure, drone operations are unable to scale safely and efficiently in cities to benefit all sectors and aspects of society. With the rise of COVID-19, contactless modes of transportation, like drones, will play an increasingly pivotal role in society.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage, and enable drone operations by building millimetre precise drone roads for dense urban environments. With our network of drone roads we provide a software application for the 3D routing, and command and control of multiple autonomous drones simultaneously. Here’s a quick 2-minute video describing what we do.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?

Through regular zoom and google hangouts. Particularly scheduled one on one time with employees. This has been particularly important for new team members who we have hired and onboarded completely remotely. Building team spirit, even without meeting in person, has been a key to our recent successes.

 

“Focus on knowing, and healing, your inner critics and coping mechanisms – it will be the silent killer or winner to your success as a leader.”

 

What financial resources are you tapping into?

We have been accessing support through the NRC IRAP Innovation Assistance Program (IAP) as well as the $40k business loan. We are also a part of the Communitech Fierce Founders Intensive Track program and the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.

What has surprised you?

Government/enterprise selling cycles and adoption has accelerated significantly over the past 6 months. The urgency and understanding of our value proposition are ringing louder than before.

How far ahead are you planning?

At the start of the pandemic we planned to make sure we could reach the end of the year, now we are planning into the end of 2021. With our experienced acceleration, we must capitalise on this momentum to scale.

What keeps you positive?

My team and our vision. Both internally around building a company of supportive people and externally on empowering the world with technology that can better help us deal with situations like the pandemic.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

Focus on knowing, and healing, your inner critics and coping mechanisms – it will be the silent killer or winner to your success as a leader. 

A conversation with Pam Palmater on COVID, racism, and Indigenous communities

Within the first few minutes of the conversation, one thing is clear: it is impossible to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people living in Canada without knowledge of the centuries of struggle that came before it, and the racism, oppression, and genocide that they were experiencing already.  

On these topics, Dr. Pamela Palmater is an authority — a result of more than 25 years of focus on First Nations issues, studying, volunteering, advocating, and working as a lawyer, Associate Professor, and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. A Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, Pam has spoken internationally on Indigenous issues and authored three books on the subject; her latest, Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence, just became available for preorder. 

I spoke with Pam on June 3, the one-year anniversary of the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On the same day, Pam published an article that shows through statistics that Canada has a racism problem, and Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check. 

And so our conversation started not on COVID, but on injustice.  

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the complete discussion below.

 

Do you think the pandemic has been shining a bigger spotlight on the issues that Indigenous people in Canada face, or has it been a distraction? 

To me, COVID-19 has been used sadly as an excuse to deflect from the multiple crisis Canada was in prior to the pandemic. For months, we were in Wet’suwet’en Strong protests, that were anti-police violence, anti-police racism, anti-state oppression and breach of Indigenous rights — but even prior to that, Canada was already in the worst human rights crisis that it has ever faced. 

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found as a matter of fact and law — not theory or academic research, but fact and law — that Canada is guilty of historic and ongoing genocide, that Canada’s laws, policies, practices, actions and omissions are a direct cause of the crisis level rates of exploitation, disappearance and murders of Indigenous women and girls, and that Canada demonstrates it has a manifest pattern of intention to destroy Indigenous people — and that hasn’t changed, despite using different policy names. Everything is still about accessing our lands and resources and essentially assimilating Indigenous people, and they ignore all of the violence and premature death and ill health and poverty conditions as part of that. 

And so we should all be very concerned about COVID, but every pandemic in history has always disproportionately impacted Indigenous people, and in particular, Indigenous women. Indigenous people were overrepresented in H1N1, in terms of hospitalizations, intensive care, and death, and pregnant Indigenous women were also overrepresented in hospitalizations during that time.

 

Considering H1N1 disproportionately impacted indigenous communities in Canada, is anyone looking at those stats right now with respect to COVID?

Indian Affairs, which is so-called Indigenous Services Canada,[1] has been very criticized for not collecting enough data. They were reporting exceptionally low numbers, and so First Nations, knowing that this data was wrong and presenting the worst picture possible reported their own data to Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute — not all First Nations in Canada, but they got a large group to submit their numbers — and the numbers were almost three times higher than what Indian Affairs was reporting.

And that doesn’t even include all of the First Nations. If you don’t know where COVID is, who is infected, how can you contact trace that? How can you prevent it? First Nations for the last few months have been complaining that they haven’t been sent tests. There’s been no concerted, purposeful, intentional focus on the most at-risk, health-compromised population in this country, which is First Nations people.
 

Knowing that, do you think there has been an appropriate response?

The COVID pandemic should have resulted in a doubling of the effort to make sure that Indigenous women and girls are taken care of. That simply hasn’t been the case. There have been outbreaks in prisons, and Indigenous women are the fastest-growing population and already overrepresented in prisons — they represent 42 percent in federal corrections alone. Indigenous girls represent as high as 98 percent of the youth corrections population. 

So if you think about institutions and how they’re natural fermentors of the pandemic because of the overcrowding, lack of hygiene, lack of access to health care, then we know that Indigenous women and girls are at the highest risk because they are overrepresented in all these institutions. It’s just beyond belief that Canada didn’t immediately act on Indigenous women and girls with the report, but didn’t also immediately have a gendered pandemic plan for Indigenous women and girls, to target them first and foremost for protection. 

 

What gives you hope in all this?

I think the hope that I see is the ways in which specifically First Nations and Indigenous women have addressed murdered and missing women and girls, land-based protests and land-based defense, and even this pandemic — by asserting their own sovereignty. And we may be doing so in an underfunded capacity, in a marginalized, oppressed capacity, in a context of ongoing genocide and pandemic risk — but we continue to show our strength, and our resilience, and our leadership, and our commitment to our sovereignty as nations, to continue to do this for our people. 

There are literally a thousand stories of Indigenous women and girls serving their communities. They’re the most underserved, but they’re out there volunteering for elders, they’re cleaning, they’re bringing supplies, they’re advocating. They’re literally on the front line. And there are still women out there on the front lines of land defense and that’s where I find my hope. In the assertion and defense of our sovereignty and our territory, despite the overwhelming and monumental barriers, and the risk to our lives.

It’s really important that we get these stories out, and show Canadians that this is where hope is, supporting Native people in asserting and defending their sovereignty and territory, and the right to make decisions for themselves, that’s what will get us out of this. Canadians are starting to see that the things that we were advocating for and protesting against were the very same things that were going to benefit Canadians. So when we’re trying to defend clean water for First Nations, that’s actually a benefit to all Canadians, because we’re not going to live very long without clean water or farmable land. And similarly, when we’re defending human rights and civil liberties, that’s for everybody. And it’s a very slippery slope to say it’s okay to breach those rights for Native people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for Black people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for immigrants, now it’s okay to breach those rights for poor people — it never ends, and so we have to have an absolute stop against the breach of human rights, and that benefits all Canadians.

 

And what can all Canadians be doing to be better allies?

You don’t have to be working in a social justice advocacy organization to advocate loudly and strenuously and continuously. If you look at the Wet’suwet’en Strong solidarity action, again for most of the large marches and protests and rallies, the majority of them were Canadians, and again politicians took notice of that. So every letter, protest, large behind-the-scenes influence or donation — all of that makes a difference. But the thing is, it has to be vocal. It has to be aggressive. And when I say aggressive, I don’t mean violent — but it has to be pushy, and it has to be continuous, because that’s the only way it’s going to work.

 

 

[1] The Harper government replaced the minister of Indian Affairs with a minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2011; the Trudeau government changed it to minister of Indigenous affairs in 2015, and then split the department in two — to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and Indigenous Services in 2017. It wasn’t until July 15, 2019, however, that the Department of Indian Affairs Canada was legally replaced. Many Indigenous activists, including Pam, saw the change as “more superficiality than substance.”

Meet Monique Peats, clinician and co-founder of an award-winning health tech

Monique Peats has always had a passion for helping people, and her resume proves it; she’s an awarded clinician, entrepreneur, co-author, international presenter and health tech innovator. Recognizing the challenge of stigma, shame and accessibility had long plagued those seeking support, she co-founded Life Recovery Program (LRP): Inward Strong — an award-winning, simple and practical online program for people coping with addiction, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues. Based in Waterloo, she also maintains a private psychotherapy practice. 

 

My first job ever was… delivering a small local paper, the Waterloo Chronicle, at the age of 12,  as well as babysitting. I remember a neighbour hired me to look after her 3-month-old, and I knew nothing about babies. I laugh now, because I have no idea what she was thinking when she decided to leave her newborn with a 12-year-old (it may have had something to do with the fact that I lived two doors down and my mom was at home during the day so able to help at any time). Upon reflection, that’s who I am — curious and open — so even if I don’t fully know how to do something, I’ll try my best and allow myself to experience what often ends up being a growth-full moment. 

I decided to go into psychotherapy because… I simply wanted to help people, to try to make a difference. This desire to help people was quite strong even at a young age.  I tossed around several possibilities: lawyer, doctor, pastor, teacher, then clinician. During my studies at a private college, I stumbled on “systems thinking” and family therapy and became intrigued, and my passion and desire to help individuals and families navigate life evolved from there.  

My proudest accomplishment is… I’m extremely proud of my ability to be present and in the moment, even when it’s scary or painful. My dad passed away unexpectedly on May 21, 2020, and a few days later, I found a letter I wrote to him several years ago for Father’s Day expressing how amazing he was and how much I love him. Being present and in the moment causes me to give freely, express, share and process my thoughts and feelings without hindrances. We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic and the residual painful impact spotlighted in the media of injustice, inequality, disparity, pain and grief — and yet, I choose to feel it all, including the joy and gratitude of the gift of my life and all that it entails.  

I navigate my challenges by… As an entrepreneur, founder of an awarded online wellness program, who also juggles a private practice, being authentic with myself and others is imperative. I believe this perspective enables me to navigate some of the most challenging times and experiences both personally and professionally. It’s not always easy, yet authenticity of self enables me to acknowledge, reset, move through and adjust accordingly. 

My boldest move to date was… choosing to leave a salaried, secure job to work for myself as a clinician in private practice, to fully lean into my desire to be present with hurting people as they navigate some of life’s toughest journeys, and to take the leap to become a founder of a company that addresses the most stigmatized issues, mental health and addiction/behavioural.  Our company has experienced stigma because of the issues we’re trying to help resolve, yet it’s worth the bold effort because people are receiving help, one by one.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I co-hosted a late-night talk show and sang back-up for a friend who was a guest on City TV.

My partner and I started an online wellness program because… we both have clinical backgrounds and recognized that there aren’t enough qualified people to help all of the hurting souls who deserve access to mental health and behavioural health resources. We were saddened by the many stories and stats of people losing hope, suicides, broken relationships, and that so many experience blocks to access.

 

“Don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun.”

 

My best advice to people starting out as an entrepreneur is… don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun — if you believe and have passion, surround yourself with people who balance out your skills, focus on gratitude and choose to not take it personally, you’ll experience the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference, whatever that means to you.

My biggest setback… occurred a few years ago when we finally received funding, had an amazing new team member, and focused on what seemed to be the right vertical to target our sales. Everything seemed so promising, we predicted the best financial targets to date, based on all of the opportunities and positive leads. Then it all fell apart — our targeted ‘perfect’ vertical that all of the market research validated had high need, high stigma (both mental health/addiction/behavioural issues etc..) and high desire for our self-directed anonymous solution, ended up having a low response to technology, meaning they weren’t open to utilizing an online solution. We were gutted. The role of stigma and shame was not accounted for in the market research. On top of it all, a key member of our team experienced a personal trauma.  The ripple effect was that we had to cut back and go back to a skeleton team. It was a devastating blow and we were all exhausted.

I overcame it by… choosing to not lose hope, resiliently recharge, refocus and rebuild. Remembering why we started all this, which is our desire to help meet a need that continues to devastate lives and families, has enabled us to focus on new verticals and opportunities that expanded our vision. We are now exploring opportunities in both Canada and the US.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… maintain a healthy balance consistently and rest to recharge. The only time I take a break and experience true reconnection with myself is when my husband ‘forces’ me to book a holiday someplace far away, which often involves hiking a mountain, exploring a new country or city.  Rather a tricky undertaking during a pandemic. I juggle my private practice, our company, and a personal life, which means that I am tired and exhausted a lot of the time — yet I love what I do and I am so grateful for it all and the amazing impact our online Inward Strong program is having on the lives of so many. I am a passionate person by nature, yet my goal is to be more passionate or compassionate towards myself, be more attentive and more mindful to notice when I need a break — so that I can chat with friends, read a book, take a course or whatever it may be that sparks my curiosity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend time with friends and family, and then complete the four workshops and courses that are waiting in my inbox before they expire.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I took a course in hang gliding, sat on various boards, use to be involved in church ministry, sang in several vocal groups, performed in numerous musicals as well as performed and travelled as a soloist in a variety of venues across Canada and the US, and co-chaired and co-hosted the first Bell “Let’s Talk” event in the Waterloo region.

I stay inspired by… holding on to hope and faith. I know that there is a need, I know we have an awesome solution, and many have shared the power of our program and how it has made a positive difference in their lives. Inward Strong works — sometimes it’s easy to forget when you’re in the trenches that it really does work! — and for that I am grateful.

The future excites me because… Covid-19 has caused the tide to change in so many ways, and I believe the diversity that is now being highlighted across the board will become the new complexion of our world, it will become the norm rather than the novelty, at least that is my hope. 

My next step is… to choose to stand in hope for a better future for all of us, that diversity on all counts will become the new normal and to become a stronger voice that leads others towards hope, help and healing in whatever way I can, including and especially through our online resource.