Rogayeh Tabrizi is a recipient of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. In 2018 she Co-Founded Theory+Practice, an advanced data science company, where as CEO she has led the strategic growth of the self-funded private company that now employs 20 highly skilled people.
My first job ever was… translating science articles for a university magazine geared towards highschoolers. Making knowledge accessible to those who previously didn’t have access to it was very fulfilling.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it seemed like the natural path for me versus a conscious decision. I didn’t decide to be an entrepreneur as much as my desire to question the status quo and contribute to a better future led me to be an entrepreneur. It has been an iterative process.
My proudest accomplishment is… being at the ground-level of starting the African School of Physics (ASP) 10 years ago. ASP is an NGO dedicated to capacity development in fundamental physics in Africa and socialize learning on the continent. To date we have hosted 700 students from 17 countries, with 70% completing their PhDs or post-docs in North America and Europe, and 35% returning to their country of origin.
My boldest move to date was… switching from MSc Physics to PhD Economics with no background. I had worked to be a physicist for my entire life and it took a lot of soul searching and hard work to change paths. I went from being at the top of my class to having to basically start over. The move has paid many dividends and I am happy I had the courage to be bold at that time.
I surprise people when I tell them… I would jump the fence when I was in grade 9, walk a few kilometres by the highway and then jump the fence to sit in physics classes at the local university. I did that for two years and my poor parents were called to school often. Another funny surprise is that the Dalai Lama fell on my lap after he came down the stage! I had helped to organize his last visit to Vancouver.
I knew it was time to launch my business when… I left physics to pursue a career in economics as a way of applying my technical skills to more real-world problems. I was talking about this — with who would eventually become my co-founder — and it became clear that there was an opportunity to bridge the high-level theoretical knowledge and leading edge thinking researchers do in academia to the practical issues facing businesses and society today. It was then that Theory+Practice was born.
To constantly try to improve and that the journey is about working to make things better, but at the same time, you need to know when something is good enough for now.
My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… don’t be idealistic about the monetary benefits of being an entrepreneur. Commit to working, particularly when you feel stuck. Ground your decisions on your values and principles. Being an entrepreneur will challenge you in ways you can’t imagine. Persevere and stick to it, but also ask for help. You won’t be able to succeed on your own. Get advice from everyone you can and find mentors to help you reflect on your progress. Dig deep and find the strength in our heart.
My best advice from a mentor… came in the form of a question. One mentor asked me “are you a perfectionist?” and I proudly responded with a yes. With a straight face, he said to me, “Quit now, you would never finish anything.” I realized then that it is more important to strive for excellence than perfection. To constantly try to improve and that the journey is about working to make things better, but at the same time, you need to know when something is good enough for now.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself… “I am not playing two dimensional checkers, this is chess in Star Wars!” I focus on what is right here, right now in front of me and remember the goal. I remind myself of the positive moments and how grateful I am for all the resources around me and that I am not alone. I ask for help and remind myself that I am working for my team and together we can and do manage through tough times. It is actually very rewarding and fulfilling to deal with and manage adversity.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… paint more. I would just grab a canvas and let the creativity take control.
I stay inspired by… my team. Every day I am inspired by the power of teamwork with diverse thinking and perspectives that accompany it. There is truth in the cliche, “The sum is greater than the parts.” At Theory+Practice we are often trying to solve problems that have never been solved before. We deal with a lot of complexity, but focus on simplicity. There is a magical moment when clarity emerges and a team becomes radically aligned. I crave these moments for myself, and for my team.
The future excites me because… even with the vast disruption and impacts of COVID-19, there are endless possibilities for a better future. Never before have we had such an opportunity — in so many ways — to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
My next step is… to continue the journey that Theory+Practice has put me on and find new and bigger opportunities to impact the world around me, while staying open to change. It is about showcasing — big or small — what is possible and questioning the status quo. I am excited to continue to learn and share my experiences with others, and mentor young people to help them on their own journeys as well.