Meet Soodeh Farokhi, Founder of C2RO and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Innovation Finalist

A visionary and energetic leader in the technology sector, Soodeh is the founder and Chief Technology Officer of C2RO, an enterprise software startup in Montreal, Canada. Soodeh is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Innovation Finalist

My first job ever was… a QA Engineer at a telecommunication software company.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I am passionate about building products that change our quality of life, improve business efficiency, and have bold impacts on the world! I wanted to work at a company where there are no limits to my creativity and imagination.

My boldest move to date was… leaving my home country to study my Ph.D. abroad.

My biggest setback was… being judged for being a young female executive. I still experience ageism and sexism in my professional life, which I hope, with the impact each of us is making, my daughter won’t experience. 

I overcame it by… having self-confidence, perseverance, strength, and staying focused on my goal to prove that none of these stereotypes and injustices matter when you can have the biggest impact.  

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I am a proud mom of an adorable girl and that I love astrophysics.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… that business is cruel and can be unfair. You can’t fight all the battles to make it fair so you need to focus and pick the ones that matter the most.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… that nobody can empower you but yourself. So believe in yourself, follow your passion, do your best, and do not be afraid of failures. 

I stay inspired by… reading success stories of top world leaders and knowing that success never happens overnight.   

The future excites me because… it is full of unknowns and I believe it is better than what we think.

Success to me means… building a life that I am proud to live using my full potential and doing what I am passionate about.

Meet Nicole Neuman, President and CEO of Synergy Engineering and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Innovation Recipient.

As the President and CEO of Synergy Engineering, Nicole Neuman leads a world class team of EI&C engineers specializing in the design and global delivery of large materials handling projects. Nicole is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Recipient in the Innovation category.

My first job ever was… a Red Cross swim instructor ahead of my lifeguarding years when I was 15. I was fortunate enough to selectively attend high school — provided my assignments were complete — so that I could work at the pools.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I’ve always enjoyed leadership roles and have been passionate about how I can contribute to people and our society. I found I had a knack for math and physics and I really enjoy working with people on new innovative technological solutions. I feel great when the people working with me are motivated and energetic encouraging that energy with a tangible goal we achieve together is extremely rewarding. I gravitated towards the senior leadership role at Synergy Engineering with the support and trust of my colleagues.  

My boldest move to date was… devoting my career to engineering in the mining industry!  I was originally discouraged from engineering by the people closest to me, but transferred into engineering from sciences at Simon Fraser University. Joining Synergy Engineering as a co-op student in 1995 and working at mine sites was extremely challenging — both emotionally and socially. At that time, there were very few women in electrical engineering and even fewer in mining, which presented huge challenges.

My biggest setback was… the first time I went to a large copper mine to implement a modification on a drive system I designed, and I was openly shunned by the mine employees (who were all men). They refused to work with me, sarcastically asking me what tool I needed to use to turn a screw as part of the modification, and then calling me the most horrible swear names to my face. At the end of that exercise I was driving away in tears.

I overcame it by… looking for women role models in the industry. The company leadership also helped shelter me from site work at local mines after that, often sending in a male electrician with me to interface with the mine staff while I led the electrician through the solution. Having a female role model was key to rising above the challenges that come with being a female engineer in a male dominated industry. Overcoming this particular type of challenge was empowering I hope to be that role model for others to encourage more women in this field.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… about my personal passion for the ocean and boating. Being on the sea revitalizes me, so I spend many days on my boat in various coves and bays along the BC coast whenever I can.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… more accounting principles, HR Law, and merger/acquisition tactics these are the areas that have been my greatest focus for learning and company growth and optimization most recently. These have been very fun to learn on the fly, but having a basic education in these areas would have been extremely helpful.  

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… follow your talent, your driving interests, and above all, reach out to more seasoned individuals to seek mentorship or to simply bounce ideas off of. Whatever your challenges, someone has gone through something similar, and I know from experience that when one overcomes challenges they like nothing better than to help others succeed as well.  

I stay inspired by… attending conferences and participating in engineering societies. There are so many passionate and ingenious people in this industry networking with them energizes the brain and encourages my drive to always do things better.

The future excites me because… I know I can contribute to mining technologies for greener solutions. The visibility we are gaining is connecting us with more diversified leading edge businesses and exposing us to interesting strategic opportunities that will keep all of our people engaged and excited for the work we do.

Success to me means…  success is really measured by how enjoyable the resulting work environment is for our employees. The biggest goal I can set would be to have everyone feel successful and proud of what they can accomplish in their career. If we can have that at Synergy Engineering, we will be truly successful in industry and in our society.  

Meet Sana Salam, Founder of Sodales Solutions and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Innovation Finalist

Born and raised in Pakistan, Sana Salam is the founder of Sodales Solutions, an award-winning SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) solution extension partner headquartered in Toronto. As a new immigrant to Canada, she worked hard to build her career in tech while self-funding her startup. She is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Innovation Finalist

My first job ever was… working as a mailroom clerk, where I spent my day folding envelopes and filing papers. At the time, the organization was going through the implementation of a system and I got an opportunity to volunteer in their testing team. This got me interested in learning about the systems implementation process and the required certifications and training programs. I saved up $17k USD to complete my first SAP certification course, which landed me a job at Capgemini Consulting. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… during my career in consulting, I had three promotions in less than four years. Despite the steep career growth, I felt that I had not maximized my potential. I finally found my sweet spot as a “Turn Around” project manager for complex failing projects. This is when I thought about having my own company where we could apply lessons learned and bring an agile approach to IT delivery.

My boldest move to date was… quitting a high paid job and deciding to bootstrap a Software as A Service (SAAS) business without any influential contacts, without a technical cofounder or any initial investment. All of my competitors had seed funding, multiple co-founders and a huge network. I felt very scared.

My biggest setback was… during the early stage of the business, I faced a huge financial loss due to a potential business partnership that did not work out. As a result, I also lost most of my technical team and top paying customers. This was also the time where I had a late miscarriage and faced serious health issues. I thought we would have to shut down the company.

I overcame it by… deciding to not give up. I saw this as an opportunity to begin again — this was a turning point where I began to focus on the SAAS business model and started to turn the company from a consulting service company to a product company. I also worked on improving my health by improving my diet and working out. I lost 40+ pounds and gained my energy back. With a disciplined approach and a positive mindset, I found a way out.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that most of the YouTube videos on my channel are shot in my kitchen. I used to record videos on my selfie camera to teach various trends in the Cloud space. One of the videos landed me my first product customer, which was a major railway company in the USA.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… My biggest weakness would turn out to be my biggest strength — all of my competitors had senior technical salesmen on their founding teams. The industry was at its turning point at that time, where the budgets began to move to the line of business users as opposed to IT, with marketplaces becoming the front door for selling. This new industry trend required a non-technical and educational approach to selling, which aligned perfectly with my background.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… that disruption means building a great product that solves a real human need effectively and in a less costly fashion. To do this, you must be open to learning, experimenting, and failing. Taking a disciplined approach to innovation helps. You can begin in one vertical and continue to build upon your strengths until you have a repeatable business model within a singular vertical; don’t go too wide too fast.

I stay inspired by… dreaming about the things that we could be. When I wake up in the morning, I feel grateful to live another day where I can try to stretch myself and see how far we can go as a team. I also get motivated by failure, pain, and criticism. It makes me want to try harder.

The future excites me because… it is always full of possibilities. Despite failures, we still have a fair chance to achieve great things because our failures make us wiser.

Success to me means… progress towards a worthy goal and becoming a better version of ourselves during this process. The real reward of success is the person that we become and the qualities that we develop during the process of becoming successful.

Engine for Change: How Sandra Odendahl is mobilizing social impact and inclusion for every future.

Scotiabank Vice President reflects on intersecting experiences as leader, professional engineer and woman of colour.


By Shelley White


During these challenging times, many in the corporate world are asking: are we doing enough to make things better? 

As Scotiabank’s Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability, Sandra Odendahl thinks about that question a lot. She is constantly evaluating how the bank is embedding good environmental and community practices into its business and operations. 

“The biggest positive impact we can have on society is through our business: the people we employ; the way we provide products, services and advice to customers; and how we help the economy,” she says. “But our community investment activities also contribute to positive benefits to society, and our business thrives when communities thrive.”  

Sandra and her team divide their work between four key pillars: donations to not-for-profits and charities, academic partnerships, corporate sustainability, and overall corporate responsibility strategy. The pillars are part of an overarching goal to make a positive impact on the communities where we work and live.

“If we’re providing grants or creating charitable partnerships, we’re evaluating them by asking: what is the social impact of this partnership? But we also consider, is there an opportunity for a positive alignment to our business? Is there an opportunity for employee engagement and employee involvement in that partnership?“ Sandra says.

The events of 2020 have made Sandra’s team more important than ever. For example, after the killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, widespread protests were spurred across the U.S. and Canada and the focus on anti-Black racism gained momentum at the bank, Sandra says. Employees across different areas of the business wanted to do more to address racism and discrimination. 

“Some businesses were looking at renewed product or service offerings, while other areas of the bank were more interested in enabling our people by deepening learning to help them confront bias,” Sandra says. “There was so much great work going on, but it needed to have a shared direction, so I was tasked with leading the charge to pull it all together.”

Sandra was asked to lead the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) Inclusion Task Force at Scotiabank, a project that is nearing completion. 

“At the beginning, we looked at the results of employee surveys and executive listening sessions with employees on the topic of racism, and then studied best practices across different companies in addressing diversity and inclusion to determine where the gaps were in how we are dealing with racism. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we best honour our commitment to anti-racism when it comes to our employees, customers and business partners? How can we demonstrate it within our community?’” she says. 

Following the assessment and recommendations of the Task Force, Scotiabank’s Inclusion Council will determine an appropriate framework for the bank’s anti-racism actions, in order to “sustain thoughtful and strategic activity over time,” Sandra says. “We don’t want to lose momentum once it’s no longer front-page news. It’s something that we’re permanently building into the existing D&I framework.”  

As the child of a West Indian mother and a German father, Sandra says that her life growing up in Ottawa was a “typical child of immigrant parents experience.” She was one of very few women in her chemical engineering classes at the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto, and as a result, she formed strong relationships with her small cohort of fellow women students, some of which have lasted for 30 years. 

Sandra began her career performing environmental impact assessments for pulp mills, mines and hydroelectric projects in Indonesia and across Canada. She eventually found her way into the financial sector, where she was a resource sector analyst for one of Canada’s top five banks and then led one of the first environmental risk management teams on Bay Street. Her passion for environmental sustainability issues runs deep — she recently completed a five-year term as Chair of the Board for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and is a Board Member of the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.

But while her workplaces were mostly male-dominated, Sandra says she feels fortunate that she didn’t encounter many barriers as a woman working in science and engineering.

“I know that I am really fortunate to have had many positive experiences as a woman of colour, and I realize that’s not always the case for people who struggle or feel alienated because of their race or gender.”

Having said that, there were moments “where I wanted to roll my eyes when someone said or did something ignorant,” she says. She remembers working at a petrochemical plant where an older male colleague put up a magazine centrefold of a nude woman in their shared workspace. (She moved it so she wouldn’t have to look at it.) And then there was the time as a grad student when a visiting international professor rudely asked her: “What’s with the hair?” 

“I don’t remember the exact words, but my hair was a little bit wild and unkempt — compared to someone with straight hair,” Sandra recalls. “I always wore my curly hair pretty much natural back then. So, I just laughed and said, ‘What’s with my hair? Well, it grows out of my head this way, just like your hair grows out the way it grows out.’ He didn’t pursue the conversation!”

Sandra thinks her pragmatic, no-nonsense attitude has served her well over the years in dealing with tone-deaf comments. 

When confronted with an uncomfortable comment or action in the workplace, Sandra’s advice is to assume positive intent, but to also stand up for yourself, “as politely and concisely as possible,” she says. 

“You can ask a question like, ‘I’m not sure what you mean by that — can you please elaborate?’ Sometimes you realize they didn’t mean anything by it. I think that’s really important.”

And when someone really does mean something by it? That’s when it’s time to speak up for yourself, speak out and raise your concern, Sandra says. “Sadly, there are ignorant people in the world, and you’ve just got to figure out how to go around them.” 

One of most effective ways to make a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in the Canadian workplace is to set a good example for the next generation, Sandra says. “As a successful woman engineer and professional, who is also a person of colour, I feel that it’s important to support and mentor young people.”

That’s why she volunteers with the University of Toronto’s engineering school and has also served as an advisor to Ryerson University’s Social Ventures Zone, where she mentored engineering students and advised student-founded startup companies. 

Representation matters, Sandra says. 

“It matters to see somebody who you can identify with doing something you may never have thought of doing,” she says. “I hope I am inspiring other women and people of colour to think, ‘Of course, there is a place for me in all this.’”

Meet Lissa Ricci, VP of Small Business Solutions at Cisco Canada

Lissa Ricci has always been a sales leader — managing her first sales team when she was only 23 years old. Now the Vice President of Small Business Solutions at Cisco Canada, she understands that these entrepreneurs have different needs than enterprise companies, and is excited to be leading the charge to support them with tailored solutions. Lissa is passionate about technology and how it can help businesses grow, transform, and achieve their goals.

My first job ever was… A Youth Coordinator at our local Youth Centre in the very small town I grew up in. It was a not-for-profit called T.Y.P.S. (Take Young People Seriously). I was 14, and responsible for supervision during drop-in hours and helping to set up activities that appealed to 12-17 year olds. I worked with the board as the “voice” of the youth, providing feedback on improving opportunities for adolescents in the town, and helping to promote healthy extra curricular activities.

I decided on a career in sales because… I grew up observing my Dad building his career in sales and transforming our lifestyle. When I was 17, and it was time to choose my post secondary education, I remember telling my Dad I didn’t know what the job was called that I wanted to do, but described to him how I saw myself. He said, “Lissa, everything you are saying, you are in sales.” He then went on to explain the concept of earning a commission, and I was convinced that was the path for me. I took Business Sales at College and never looked back.

My proudest accomplishment is… Anytime someone shares with me that I had a positive impact on their career or life in some way. It’s a gift that keeps on giving and I am addicted!

My boldest move to date was… Quitting my career that I absolutely adored to be a stay-at-home Mom with my two kids — then re-entering the workforce almost five years later, completely vulnerable and terrified, yet genuinely ready and excited.

My best advice to people starting out in sales is… Don’t overthink it. The first step is just having the confidence to keep a general conversation flowing. When you think about it, we mostly do this all day, every day, in so many different ways! The rest will come with time and training. And you need to be motivated by making money.

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Don’t overthink it! This is especially true for me when it comes to presenting.

My biggest setback was… “Judgy McJudgersons” — Sarah Knight has a great and quick read, You Do You, that devotes a chapter to this.

I overcame it by… Staying focused on what was within my control and what I was striving to accomplish.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Read more! I always swap between having a business book or a personal book on the go. It takes me way longer than I would like to get through a book!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I took a year off before I graduated College and lived abroad in Australia. To earn money I was a telemarketer and sold 25L barrels of cleaning chemical to janitors and mechanics. It was an amazing year in the most beautiful country. I kept my commitment, came back and graduated college, and began my career right away.

The best part of my job is… The super smart and commendable individuals I get to learn from every day.

I stay inspired by… Knowing who I want to be in this world and how that represents my family, my team, and my organization. The more remarkable role models I meet, work with or read about, it allows me to continue to shape and mold the vision of ambitions I have. When you think you’ve achieved your wildest dream, that just means it’s time to create a new dream to go after.

The future excites me because… I have so much I still want to do personally and professionally. There are so many people out there I still need to meet and learn about and obtain knowledge from. Finally, watching my kids grow up and see how they will show up in the world and the great things they will choose to want to accomplish in their lives.

Meet Glori Meldrum, Founder of Little Warriors and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Finalist

Glori Meldrum is the founder of Little Warriors, a national charitable organization focused on the awareness, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse. As a  survivor of child sexual abuse herself, in 2014 Glori opened the Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch, a first-of-its-kind, world-class, evidence-based treatment centre to help children across Canada who have been sexually abused. Glori is a finalist in the Social Change category of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.

My first job ever was… a playground supervisor.

I chose my career path because… I always saw myself more in my dad than in my mom; my dad was an entrepreneur and a part of me always wanted to be one like him. I always knew as a little girl that I would do something big, so it was not surprising when I started my own business at 23.

When starting out, I wish I knew that I was lovable and that I could do anything. I didn’t always feel lovable and I had many experiences in my life where I felt unlovability or not enough. Knowing that I am lovable has allowed me to lead with love, find acceptance, be vulnerable and to fully surrender myself.

The part of my role that I love the most is… healing kids. My dream of Little Warriors and the Be Brave Ranch has finally given kids a safe place to go and heal.

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… navigating the government and raising enough money to fill the beds. A personal one for me is the weight of survivors’ stories, being a survivor myself.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I am an introvert and I recharge when I am alone. It sometimes comes as a surprise to people when they find out that I’m a true introvert at heart, and when my mental battery is drained, I can’t find the energy to interact with people until I’ve done something to recharge it again.

My best advice from a mentor was…  to slow down and take care of myself. Remembering to slow down has allowed me to be present — in the moment — and not the past or worrying about the future.

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… to never give up and to believe in yourself. It is one thing to discover your life’s purpose, but it is another to take a risk and really do something about it.

One thing for-profit businesses can learn from the not-for-profit world is… the impact that their money has on the charities that they support.

I stay inspired by… my community. I am inspired by people coming together because they believe in something, support something or want to create positive change. I am also inspired by the positive stories of the kids who have come through the Be Brave Ranch.

Success to me means… living in a place of love and grace filled with inner peace and joy. 

Maryam and Nivaal interview Producer and Filmmaker Wimberly Meyer

In our fourth interview for our Perspectives column, we interviewed the incredible Wimberly Meyer. Wimberly was our mentor and such a big support in our journey when we were filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess Project. In this interview, we speak about her incredible journey starting her own production company, Summerjax, what it was like being the production company leading Disney and the UN Girl Up Campaign’s Dream Big Princess project, and her hopes for the future of this field, and her own company. Wimberly has led creative and production for brands such as Disney, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, ROXY and Vans, working on innovative and impactful projects like Dream Big Princess, and Hollister and Khalid’s “Sit With Us” anti-bullying campaign, which won a Billboard Live Music Award.

Our first question for you is what inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I think there’s a lot of different things that inspired me to become a filmmaker. When I was in high school and college, filmmaking wasn’t my dream. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do. And it wasn’t until I had, had a few different types of careers and had many different jobs, and entered my professional career following school, that I realized production and filmmaking was something that I could potentially really enjoy and like. 

I started having conversations with people who were in the field, and who had been doing it for years, and just asking questions and digging. That’s when I met Lauren Franklin, who is my business partner now, and we just started talking and we said, “Well, why don’t we try it out? Let’s just go for it and see if this is something we can do and make something out of it.” And then from that, it was like, love at first sight. I never looked back again. 

I don’t want to say necessarily that that’s dumb luck, because I think that a lot of the things that I had done previous to filmmaking were actually getting me ready and preparing me for the career that I have now. A lot of those have actually been things that I would never do again, and I’d call the worst job you’ve ever had in your life, but you’re so grateful for it, because there’s an element of that experience that you can draw on, and is actually helping you today. Some of those experiences in my past, that had nothing to do with filmmaking, actually have made me a much stronger filmmaker and a much stronger producer today. 

What was the biggest challenge that you faced when you were starting your filmmaking career and how did you overcome that?

The biggest obstacle was that I had never done it before. So I was trying to figure it out through trial and error, and figuring it out as I went. I did not go to film school, so sometimes there can be some bias and judgement around that. But I didn’t let that deter. 

People always say, “Don’t take no as an option. Don’t take failure as an option.” Yes, you can fail and you can learn from your failures, but don’t let it keep you down. You have to keep moving, you have to keep going. And in that moment, when you’re so passionate about something and you’re loving what you do, you never even consider stopping. It’s not even an option. You just keep going. So I don’t know if those were obstacles, I think in hindsight now, looking back, we were moving so fast, and I was learning so fast, and I was learning every day, something new was happening, and I’m still learning. We’d had Summerjax for seven years, and every day, something new comes and you go, well, we’ve never dealt with that before, so let’s go figure it out. And I think that’s the awesome thing about filmmaking too, is, you never stop learning. It’s constantly changing. If you are a person that could easily be bored, this is a great career for you, because everyday is different. And everyday is exciting, you’re talking to new people, there’s new challenges. 

You mentioned that you started Summerjax with Lauren, and we know that you were inspired to go into the filmmaking journey there, and what has your experience like with the company, and could you describe that journey?

It has been fast! It’s like being on a freight train that just doesn’t have a speed limit, you’re just going as fast as you possibly can. Lauren has two children and I have two children. So, when we started the company, we each only had one, so we both had two since and I feel like we’ve been raising our families and our kids have very much been a part of that journey. Jax is her son, and the company “Summerjax” is named after him. And it’s really important to us. Family is really the root of what we do, and why we do what we do, it’s for our families. 

But that being said, it’s a balance, right? Because we’re travelling a lot, I mean, not now during the pandemic, but before that, we were always on planes, we were always gone, we were always away from our families. So trying to find that balance, and Lauren and I supporting one another, like, “You go this time because I need to be back with my family, and I need to make that the focus right now.” And then, I would go another time and then she would stay back for the same reasons. 

There’s been really, really good highs, and good moments, working with you girls and all of the Girl Up girls. Doing that program with Disney and Girl Up was probably one of the biggest highlights of my career, something I’m so proud of, and I would love to do more of that. And then there’s been really low moments. Moments of, “Wow! We didn’t see that coming, and that’s not great.” Sometimes you have to have really difficult conversations with people and as a business owner, you have people that work for you, and that need your support and leadership and you need to be there for them. You have clients that are sometimes wonderful, and sometimes not wonderful. And so there’s relationships and conversations that you have to learn to navigate through. 

And so all of that is, I would say, on day one when we started, I never would have been able to tell you that those things would be where we are today. I never would have been able to say, we’re going to have children, so Lauren’s going to be out on maternity leave, and calling from the hospital and still working, and I’m going to be making sure my kids get to school to Kindergarten, but also jumping on a plane and taking a red eye to go see this client. I think you take it day by day, and you make the best decisions that you can for the company and for the creative that you’re trying to get across that finish line. But it’s a wild ride when you have a company, and when you’re leading a company. 

It’s a really wild ride but it can be so much fun if you let it be. Just really enjoy the moments, and like I said, there are really great memories. We call them the “Remember When’s.” Sometimes they can be really crazy moments, like we’ve evacuated out of hurricanes before, we’ve evacuated out of major storms, there’s just an endless amount of stories that you have that, I think when you set out as an entrepreneur, you don’t know what those stories are going to be, and that’s the excitement, that’s the chase. 

Absolutely. That sounds amazing, and it’s so great to hear that there have been moments when it might not have been the best, but it seems like the journey itself, you’re enjoying it so far and it’s so great that you’ve had so many accomplishments as well to accompany that, and it’s a testament to the hard work that you all do in putting this company together, so that’s awesome. On that topic of different projects that you have worked on, what is one project that was the most memorable for you? 

The Disney Dream Big Princess project with Girl Up was by far the most memorable. That experience, of being able to mentor all of the girls and make those connections. To see what you’ve all gone on to do in the last three years — I still get chills talking about it, and start to tear up because I think there needs to be more programs like that, and more girls need to have opportunity in this industry to know that it exists. That it’s an option for them, and it’s fun, and you can be successful, and you can enjoy what you’re doing, but you just need to be exposed to it. I was never exposed to it as a young woman or a young girl, so I had to find it later in my life, and that was my journey, so that’s okay, I’m grateful for that. But, I think that if we can expose more girls to filmmaking and other careers, it doesn’t just have to be in filmmaking, then we’re all going to collectively be better off. 

If I could go back and do that project every day, all over again, I would. It was just so fun! Talking to you girls, talking to Maud in London, and I was on a twenty four hour clock that I was working on and it was so much fun talking to Brazil, and Argentina, and Malawi, and China, and India, and just hearing what you were all doing. It was really interesting, and I didn’t know this going into the program, that you girls are all living in these different areas of the world, but you all had a similar thread. You were all trying to do something. It didn’t matter what language you spoke, it didn’t matter what your family background was like, where you were in school, or what stage of life you were in, you all shared this passion for wanting to learn something new, and that to me, was so cool to see. 

It was like, collectively, it truly is a small world, and it felt like that when I was working on this project. And then of course being able to see all of you in New York, and just the excitement of it, I was so proud. 

Yeah, it was amazing! And I think going off of how similar our mindsets and everything was, it was so surprising to see that out of all the applicants and everything, how Disney had chosen the girls, and we didn’t even mention much about our interests and things in our application, but there were so many similarities, and so much overlap. And we look now at people in general, even our political ideologies or our opinions about world issues, they were so similar, even though, you’re right, we’re all from so many different parts of the world but when we talk about something, anything that’s happening in the world, we all have a very similar stance on it. And it’s really amazing. We’re still connected with all of them, and we’re all friends still, and we have this one group chat that we all started before going to Washington and it’s still going like two years now, so just that connection was so special. And all the connections we made with all of you, it was just a mindblowing project, it was awesome. We loved it. 

Yeah, I think that has definitely been a major highlight in my career. 

Definitely. Our next question, it can be related to any company, how is working in a female-led company, and you lead Summerjax, different than a company that might be male-led or might have more men leaders than women leaders?

I could get in trouble for what I want to say about that. I think that I’ve worked with some really great female leaders, and I’ve also worked with some really great male leaders. So, I think personally, I’ve been very lucky and blessed in that way. 

Summerjax is female-led and our internal support is predominantly female. When we go out on set, and the contractors that we work with or our freelancers, and our creatives external of Summerjax, there’s a lot of men involved. Just by nature of our industry, it’s a very male industry, but obviously there’s a lot of females involved as well. I think what makes a really successful company is that you have to have everyone represented. It can’t just be one way or the other. 

It’s kind of like the Dream Big Princess project, you know? Everyone brings something different to the table. We all have different experiences in our past, and if there’s five Wimberly’s sitting at the table, that’s going to be really boring. Because you’re going to just go around the table and hear exactly the same thing. That doesn’t solve problems, or make anything interesting. You have to have male voices, female voices, and you have to have different perspectives on everything else, not just male and female. 

People from around the world, and around different backgrounds, from across the spectrum. You cannot exclude any one group. I do think that the women that I’ve worked with, have been able to bring a lot of compassion to their leadership style, and I appreciate that. I think that the other women and men that we work with, when we can bring compassion in leadership, even in difficult conversations, even if it’s something that we know is going to be a difficult subject to talk about, if you can bring compassion to the table and really talk it through, then everyone’s going to be stronger and better on the other side. That’s something that I think I’ve personally experienced with great female leaders. 

That’s such a great insight, and I think you’re right it’s so important to have men and women, and also people of diverse backgrounds represented. Not just in companies, but in every leadership position that we see, even in terms of our governments, or schools and things like that. It is so important because when people do bring different perspectives to the table, you’re able to make much better decisions that are reflective of the people that you’re serving as well. What are your goals for Summerjax in the future, and where do you see the company going in five years or maybe ten years?

About a year and a half ago, we started getting into documentary work. And that’s something that I would love to continue and push into. I think there’s a lot of stories out there to tell, and people want to hear those stories. Now more than ever, especially in this pandemic where we all feel locked down. In January, I was in a plane for the entire month. And by March, I was in my home not leaving, not moving my car, very much on lockdown. So you’ve got two very extreme spectrums. And my point in saying that, is when you’re travelling and going out into the world and seeing new things, and you’re having new experiences, it’s wonderful. It’s stimulating, it helps you inform yourself. When you’re locked down, you have less of that. You only have what is in your little bubble. Through documentary filmmaking and storytelling, you can bring some of that experience into a home, and into places that people don’t have access to go out and experience in the world themselves. And I think that’s powerful. 

That’s amazing! And as documentary filmmakers ourselves, we think you’re absolutely right. When we create documentary films, and even the films we created for Dream Big Princess, you’re able to tell the stories of people that are in real life. Fiction films are great as well, but I think with documentaries they’re real stories and people can really connect with that. So it is an incredible journey and it’s so great to see that Summerjax is looking into that as well and the Dream Big Princess project was like a lot of mini documentaries that you already worked on, so that’s amazing and we’re really excited to see what you all produce. What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?

I would say just don’t give up. I know that probably a lot of people say that about a lot of different things, but filmmaking can be very difficult, it can be very tedious, there’s very long hours, there’s a lot of challenges within filmmaking and within this industry. But don’t give up. If you truly love it, and you are truly passionate about it, there’s going to be a million reasons, and a million times when you want to just walk away from it, and when you want to say this isn’t good enough, or somebody says something about the piece that you have made, and that’s the thing, with filmmaking, it’s out there. So people can see it, which means they can judge it. And you can’t let other people’s judgement dictate what you’re going to create and what you’re going to continue to do, or not do. So be true to yourself, and if you have made something, you are successful. You made that, and that is something that came from you that no one can take away, and you should be true to that and keep going, keep moving. 

Absolutely. Thank you so much, this was really inspiring and we absolutely loved hearing about your journey and your advice, so thank you so much!

Meet Dr. Eugenia Duodu, CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Finalist

Dr. Eugenia Duodu is the CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a charitable organization that empowers youth from low-income communities through meaningful engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). A longtime community leader, she has an impressive track record in creating youth opportunities in over 40 low-income communities across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and is a finalist in the Social Change category of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.

My first job ever was… concessions at the Skydome, now Rogers Centre.

 I chose my career path because… my career path chose me. I never really knew what I wanted to be; I just knew what I wanted to do. I knew that I had to be a part of creating change for my community and it was this desire along with my passion for science — that led me to where I am now. 

When starting out, I wish I knew that I didn’t have to have everything figured out in the beginning; there was a lot of pressure to have things sorted out early on.

The part of my role that I love the most is… being able to work with a group of incredible people and create meaningful change in the communities we serve. I love the fact that our strategies and conversations are actually making a difference!

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… the fact that you can’t address every issue that you encounter. We are in the business of making communities better and sometimes it can feel as though there is so much to be done to realize this goal. We have had to make tough decisions on what we should focus on and what kind of change we will hold ourselves accountable to. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I am quite introverted. As much as I love being around people, I really value and need time alone. 

My best advice from a mentor was…  never trade passion for a paycheque. Follow your passion and you will never work a day in your life. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… stay focused on your mission and take things one day at a time. 

One thing for-profit businesses can learn from the not-for-profit world is… that purpose and mission matter!

I stay inspired by… my family, friends, community, and the work of our organization.

Success to me means… fulfilling your purpose


How to embrace change for business success

Once upon a time, business models only needed to be redone every now and then. Fast-forward to 2020, and change is a constant. The ability to transform is now a vital part of organizational DNA. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the task of mobilizing around change, and doing so quickly and successfully, is not impossible.

According to Elspeth Murray, Associate Dean, MBA & Masters Programs and CIBC Faculty Fellow in Entrepreneurship at Smith School of Business, it’s time to stop talking about ‘managing change’ and start talking about ‘embracing change’. In this webinar, Elspeth takes a refreshing look at how to embrace change and make it work within your organization. Outlined below are a few key lessons we learned:

Big change can be done, and it can be done quickly and successfully.

For an individual or organization to succeed in a changing environment, the following are key areas to strive for:

  • Resourcefulness – digging around and figuring out how to get the job done.
  • Adaptability – when plan A doesn’t work out, be okay with moving right into plan B.
  • Optimism – the glass is always half full, rather than the glass is half empty. You have to be optimistic in the change game.
  • Confidence – associated with the growth mindset (more on this below!)
  • Adventurousness – take risks and enjoy the thrill of ‘winning the game’.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity – not knowing the direct path but making assumptions and planning accordingly, while adapting to change.
  • Passion & Drive – loving the change game. This is the fuel that brings alive everything else.
Think about embracing change versus managing it (yes, there’s a difference!) 

The one element of those who embrace change is CONFIDENCE. This confidence will drive a shift in mindset: abandoning a fixed mindset (only believing you know what you know) and adopting a growth mindset (associated with believing that people can learn anything).

To hear how one leader’s story of navigating change has led to success, join us for our Women of Influence Virtual Spotlight on October 29th with the CEO of Mastermind Toys, Sarah Jordan.

About Elspeth Murray

Elspeth Murray is the Associate Dean, MBA and Masters Programs and a professor of Strategy and New Ventures at Smith School of Business. She holds the CIBC Fellowship in Entrepreneurship, and founded Smith's Centre for Business Venturing. Prior to joining Smith, she worked in industry for seven years for several firms including IBM and Canadian Tire. She is the co-author of the best-selling book, Fast Forward: Organizational Change in 100 Days (Oxford University Press). Her current research is focused on best practices in leading and managing change to create an analytics culture.

Meet Sylvia Parris Drummond, CEO of Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Recipient.

Sylvia Parris Drummond

Sylvia Parris Drummond is a lifelong community and public sector leader whose work is rooted in Africentric principles and guided by collaboration and active engagement. As the CEO of Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, she is the Recipient in the Social Change category of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. 

My first job ever was… running a summer program for young children. In reflection it was my first foray into learning from relationships and incorporating fun for all. 

I chose my career path because… it chose me. When I entered university, I knew what I did not want to do; but I was also not sure what I wanted. I followed my instincts and my strengths.  

When starting out, I wish I knew… that we all have fragile parts. When I understood that better, I could be easier on myself and be less judgmental.

The part of my role that I love the most is… learning by doing and being brave for the cause.  

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… holding tight to purpose in the face of structural pressures and expectations. The pressure and out-of-sync expectations often show up during financial negotiations and the need for meeting the needs and empowering the voices of those we serve.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… tons of the intimate pieces of me. I save those for my loved ones.

My best advice from a mentor was… grow confidence you do that by continuously learning, being open to criticism, being reflective, and taking risks. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… get clear in your mind the vision and purpose. Once you have that it is just a matter of staying the course. It most likely won’t be a straight path but with purpose in sight, you will get there. 

One thing for-profit businesses can learn from the not-for-profit world is… that they can start with learning that social change and justice can fit into a for-profit business model too.

I stay inspired by… prayer, affirmations, self-talks, and spending time with family and friends.

Success to me means… being nourished by what I am doing personally and professionally.




How Sleeping Giant Brewing Company has planned (and pulled back on) their growth.

As Vice President and National Lead, Women Entrepreneurs at BDC, Laura Didyk used to spend most of her time traversing the country, interacting with women business owners. She’s keeping those conversations going virtually — and this month it’s with Drea Mulligan, co-founder and CEO of Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, based out of Thunder Bay, Ontario.


When Drea and Kyle Mulligan founded Sleeping Giant Brewing Company in 2012, she was working as a kindergarten teacher, and he was a family physician with a home brewing hobby. Armed with a business plan, a talent for brewing, and a shared passion for beer, the husband and wife team started with two taps and a hand-painted sign, and steadily grew their business into a multi-million dollar craft brewing company — and all without letting go of their original professions. 

Based in Thunder Bay, the brewery is named after the nearby Sleeping Giant, a large mountainous formation on the North shore of Lake Superior — the first of many nods to a city and region that they love. Now in a 12,000+ square-foot production facility, tap room, and event space (that has recently been transformed into a daycare) their distribution network stretches across much of Ontario and into Manitoba.  

In the five years that they have been BDC clients, we have seen them through strategic growth, a major move, ownership restructuring, and more. I caught up with Drea to find out more about her unique entrepreneurial journey, navigating the challenges of 2020, and her advice for other business owners.


Laura: I love your story, because it’s the quintessential entrepreneurial tale of turning your passion into a business. This all started because you and your husband were craft beer enthusiasts, right?

Andrea: Yes, we were those people who’d sit at the local bar and talk with strangers about beer, and how diverse it was, and how interesting. That’s where it started. 

Then my husband Kyle began home brewing, and things kept progressing with his passion and talent for brewing. Seeing people try Kyle’s beer, and the great feedback we got — we knew we wanted to eventually open a brewery. We were thinking, maybe we’ll do it when we retire, but we decided to take that first step of writing a business plan. Of course, the beauty of a business plan is it tricks you into saying, “Hey, I’ve got this whole plan, let’s open a business.”

Laura: So you decided to take the plunge. How quickly did it all come together?

Drea: We finished our business plan in the spring/summer of 2011. We incorporated our company in September, moved into our first location by the end of December, and sold our first growler of beer in June 2012. 

To be able to flip that in six months, and have our business up and running — some people will say you’re lucky, but I say, maybe it’s a bit of luck, but it was also a bit of common sense, focus, and a lot of hard work. We paced ourselves and were responsible. We followed our instincts. I’ll never forget when I talked to an owner of a larger craft brewery in Ontario before we opened, and he said, “Whatever your budget is, double it.” We said, “No way.” Our focus was to brew good beer, pay the bills, and make a bit of money. That was our little mantra when we were getting started. 

But people make that mistake. They want it all, and they want it all now. Our success came from being methodical while taking risks, being reserved and in control. It’s been a lot of us digging in our heels because we weren’t ready to grow faster than what we could control. We know the capacity to grow is still there — and it’s easy to get there if you’re following the growth somewhat organically, versus trying to be ahead of it. 

Laura: What I’ve noticed is that you take risks like any other entrepreneur, but you’re very strategic and intentional. Even though you knew it could and will be big, you started with the thinking that you were going to get there at your own pace.

Drea: Yes, we always had the plan to grow our business from the start. I was never afraid of failing. What made me nervous was I knew we were going to be successful. That’s not arrogance — it’s just I knew the supportive city, I knew what we were doing to bring a craft beer culture to Thunder Bay just as the resurgence of craft beer was taking off. I trusted our instincts and there was no option for failure. 

Laura: The city has always been a big part of your brand and business — from your beer names, to the local ingredients you use, to all the product collaborations you do, to giving back with Craft Cares. Was that focus very intentionally done or did it evolve organically?

Drea: In the beginning it was definitely intentional, because we love our city so much. It’s a beautiful place to live, great people — and even before we opened we knew we wanted to make Thunder Bay proud. So it started out intentional, became part of the fabric of our business right away, and it has developed organically after that. We’re now an anomaly in the brewery industry — unlike a lot of other breweries in Ontario, we sell so much of our beer out of our front door to our local community.

Laura: And you’re still active in the community in other ways, in that you’re still teaching, and your husband is still practicing. What has it been like trying to navigate two worlds?

Drea: That’s one thing I never thought about when we first opened. I never thought we wouldn’t be able to work our jobs. I’ve had to take leaves to be at the business, but I’m always torn because I love teaching. It’s not easy to manage, but Kyle and I are a good team and support each other. Our staff are also crucial to us being able to manage and grow our business while maintaining careers

I try to organize myself as best that I can. I also allow myself to not be perfect, because you can’t be when you’ve got a lot of balls in the air. I’m very open about that to my staff, I’ll let them know, I’m sorry, I can’t do this, or I didn’t get back to that specific email because I just opened a classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic. We cut each other some slack.

Our SGBC team is strong, which is really important. They understand our situation and support us, not just the brewery, but also as a couple, and as working members of the brewery. This is what everyone signed up for — to have Kyle be a physician, and he’s not there every day. He’s in contact all the time. I’m teaching, and I’m still available. Normally, I’m there right after school, or I go in on the weekends. It’s not easy, and it’s definitely not perfect, but we’re still doing it at this point in time. 

Laura: And what about with the added dimension of a global pandemic?

Drea: The pandemic was not in our business plan! I laid off 24 people immediately. The 10 people who were left, we put our heads down and we worked so hard for months and months. Kyle and I tried to put our needs after the needs of our staff, because we had to be there to support them. They supported each other, too. They didn’t argue, they didn’t complain. They did whatever needed to be done. It was a wild time, and has already made for some unique reminiscing with staff.

Now we have staff that are returning. How does the staff that lived and worked through that cope with returning staff with a different COVID experience of being at home, or being laid off? We’re still navigating those waters. I think the important thing is communication. We do our best to talk through it, to talk about what’s going on, to try to check in with each other. We try.

Laura: That’s a great segue into how you ended up opening a daycare on site. How did that new venture start? 

Drea: By the beginning of July, I was hearing grumblings from our staff about the lack of childcare options they had due to Covid-19. I’m a mom, I know how important childcare is, and what an impact it has on your family and your own ability of what you can do, and also how it impacts the development  of your children. 

Over a coffee one night I was telling Kyle about these grumblings and said, “I wish we could open a daycare.” He looked at me and replied, “Why can’t we?”   

It came together quickly from there. I held a meeting with all our employees with families, and said, “Here’s the plan. We’re going to open a childcare facility. We’re going to be unlicensed and you are going to have the priority to have your children here. I just need to know who’s in or who’s out.” 

We had already thought about how many people had to be in for us to do this, and made the decision that we only needed one. Kyle and I, our thought process was, If we can do this, we should do this. So now the Barrel House, which is our new, private event space, is also the Sleeping Giant Childcare Centre. We plan on getting it licensed, so we can have space for more children from the community. 

Laura: Outside of COVID, what have been your biggest challenges you’ve faced while navigating your growth?

Drea: To become more ‘corporate’ and to become a CEO, and what that role truly means. I’ve struggled to make an org chart; there is a hierarchy, but to put it on paper, it’s an interesting process when we are trying to maintain the grassroots of the brewery. Going from ground zero to a now multi-million dollar business with still a lot of room to grow, it’s a big responsibility and it can be overwhelming. 

That’s why it’s so great to talk with other women in business who are further ahead of me and have created large, successful businesses. And just before COVID hit, we had begun working with BDC to create a 3 year Strategic Action Plan. This alone is helping us all speak the same language and reach and strive for the same goals. Planning, organization, and follow through are essential tools for any growing business.

Laura: What advice would you give to others who are following their passion and becoming an entrepreneur?

Drea: We’ve learned after eight years that we trust our instincts. That’s my best advice: You have to trust yourself. Also, failure shouldn’t be an option. Mistakes are welcome, but when you hit a roadblock, there’s always a solution — you just have to find it. You can’t be ego-driven.

Lastly, try to take care of yourself. Every single time I drive by Sleeping Giant, with that view of Lake Superior — it’s just a little bit of a centering spot for me. As an entrepreneur, you need to find those little moments in your day where you breathe. Every time I look at it, and I look at it a lot, I’m reminded about my company and our city, and how awesome things are going and how lucky we are.  The future continues to be bright!


How Luan Tolosa went from commercial real estate professional to fashion entrepreneur.

By Hailey Eisen 


Luan Tolosa’s entrepreneurial journey was set in motion during the first few weeks of her MBA at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business. Standing in the halls before their next class, Luan and her female classmates, all of whom were preparing for the next phase of their careers as the next generation of business leaders, lamented that corporate clothing had not changed much since their undergraduate degrees. What would begin as a school project would go on to reignite an old passion and prove to meet a real need in women’s fashion.

“I had always assumed that as we progressed in our careers, we would have more corporate clothing options,” says Luan Tolosa, CEO and Founder of SEWT — Suits Especially for Women Tailored — a women-led business based out of Vancouver and Toronto. “But as I started to have more conversations with women that I admired, I realized that we were still all struggling with the same lack of choices and lack of well-fitting, accessible, tailored clothing.” 

Having started her career in commercial real estate straight out of undergrad, Luan hadn’t had much time to explore entrepreneurial ventures, but always had an entrepreneurial desire. Born and raised in Winnipeg to first generation immigrants, Luan often had thoughts about creating her own clothing, having grown up around sewing machines and even having visited a garment factory during Take Our Kids to Work Day. 

When she enrolled in the Accelerated MBA program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in 2018, she had the opportunity to put her ideas on paper and have her peers vet her business idea.  While Luan had gone into the program with the intent of continuing her career in the corporate world, she fell in love with entrepreneurship and finally got the courage to pursue something of her very own – a tailored suiting business especially for women. 

“It was in January 2018 that the idea popped into my head, it was May when we started the Entrepreneurship and Innovation class, and by October I had a full business plan with the vetting and input of my classmates. The hardest part is always getting started and my MBA put my idea on a rocket ship,” she recalls.  

By the time Luan finished her MBA classes in December 2018, she had a business plan, funding, and the support to launch. 

“I gave myself a goal to launch the business before convocation, which was in May 2019,” she says. “I knew if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it.” 

Over the course of five months between finishing classes and convocation, she followed almost exactly the business plan she’d created in school. Ten days before graduation, Luan launched SEWT. She went to Kingston to walk across the stage as an MBA grad and a business founder.  

“Everything from my MBA was strategic, and the last piece to launch was the practical, nitty-gritty stuff that I had to figure out,” she says, recalling that first part of the journey. “There were the many moving pieces all the way from legal, bookkeeping, tax structure and shares to how to setup an e-commerce store. It was literally a five-month crash course in taking theory and strategy and executing.” 

Establishing and maintaining corporate values was of the utmost importance to Luan, who also completed her Certificate in Social Impact while at Smith. “My mission is bigger than suiting; it’s about how I can help and what impact I can have when it comes to building women up to the next level of their careers.”  

She’s also woven sustainability into all of her practices, from the overall belief in “slow fashion” to sourcing materials, producing products on a made-to-order basis to avoid waste, and committing to donating or reusing all returns. 

Collaboration and support are a big part of Luan’s success. While she started SEWT on her own, she credits the people who have helped along the way. “There were classmates, professors, fashion industry heavy-weights, among others, that were so giving of their time and expertise in helping me. What I learned was that everyone wants to help if you are willing to share your idea and vision,” Luan says. 

With COVID hitting Canada in March, things have changed a bit for Luan, but she says the pandemic has given her the opportunity to look at her company in more creative ways.  

“We moved our head office to Toronto and I’m excited to have two new partners in Toronto, which will allow us to serve the market more broadly.” With a ready-to-wear line of suits launching soon, pop-up locations in cities across the country and a new e-commerce strategy that will open SEWT’s platform to support other women entrepreneurs, Luan hopes to scale her business while remaining true to her core values. 

Luan’s personal mission is to also inspire others to explore entrepreneurship. “I didn’t grow up in an entrepreneurial family – it was the get a good education and get a good job story – but I want others to have the courage to explore entrepreneurship and take risks. I think everyone should try becoming an entrepreneur at least once – it’s the most difficult, scary and rewarding thing I have ever done.”

To support other entrepreneurs, Luan also works as a consultant in the entrepreneurial ecosystem with Spring Activator, a global incubator, accelerator and advisory firm in B.C., sharing the knowledge she’s gained along the way. “I love helping others launch and scale their businesses, and it’s always a symbiotic relationship because I’m still growing and learning too.” 

Her advice for women looking to start their own business? Take the first step. “So many people have great ideas and ambitions but are scared to get started,” she says. “For me, if a goal or vision seems unattainable, I do the smallest most achievable things first. Small actions turn into big moves. And I’m always reminding myself that it’s a marathon not a race.” 


Meet Sharon Nyangweso, founder and CEO of QuakeLab


Sharon Nyangweso is the founder and CEO of QuakeLab, a full-stack inclusion and communications agency. Sharon specializes in a radical new approach to diversity and inclusion that is measurable, strategic, and based on a strong foundation of design thinking. A leader in empathetic community engagement and moving inclusivity from aspiration to action, Sharon is a regular contributor and panelist on CBC radio and television,, Live 88.5, and CTV. An immigrant from Kenya who has lived and worked in Canada for nine years, Sharon has worked across sectors with organizations in 11 countries. 

My first job ever was…Selling onions from my parents farm on market days (Tuesday) in a small village in Western Kenya

I founded QuakeLab because…I wanted to inject the industry with a different way of doing this work, ruffle some feathers, and make some good trouble!

I advocate for inclusion as an integrated business function because … Iniquity does not have respect for our organizational departments and barriers. It shows up everywhere, and your people, your team, deserve it to be addressed with the rigour you would give any other organizational challenge. It’s critical that we move into a way of working and building that centers the experiences and needs of the folks who have been marginalized and left out of important conversations.

My proudest accomplishment is…Getting a huge organization to completely rethink their strategy that was based on anti bias training. I’ve been in contact with a number of organizations who are set on leading the way forward with the kind of training that is ineffective at best and harmful at worst. Recently, I stepped into an RFP process and helped a huge national organization rethink this as a strategy. 

My boldest move to date was… Assuming a young, Black, woman and immigrant could have the audacity to thrive! When folks who most of our institutions weren’t built for – take up space, are ambitious, and move in a way that assumes they are meant to succeed, that is so incredibly bold! 

I surprise people when I tell them… I came to Canada alone at 18! 

My best advice to people starting out in business is… Assume you will succeed, figure out what you want that success would look like, what you don’t want it to look like, then stick to it! Also, there’s nothing wrong with quitting (temporarily or permanently), we have this idea that entrepreneurship is for everyone, and anyone who does not succeed or quits is illustrating a failure of grit. That is extremely unfair – not all of us are meant to be entrepreneurs. This is such a tough, and sometimes lonely road and it’s absolutely ok if you look around one day and think “this isn’t for me!”

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…  SLEEP! Hands down the most important things I could tell every entrepreneur is to step away from the 24/7 hustle mentality. I know it’s a struggle when there are things to get done, emails to answer, clients to deal with and admin work that piles up. But, none of that will happen if you’re a shell of yourself, so rest!

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… Have a functional and precise way of calculating what I charge, and what my time and expertise is worth. Especially for entrepreneurs whose product is their mind and time, it becomes so easy to underprice yourself, I did! Doing the research to understand what others were charging, the value of my products and time, then breaking down what it takes for me to complete a project and keep my agency moving forward gave me a good baseline for what my expertise cost. And I can stand by those numbers because I know how I came to them.

I stay inspired by… The fact that I know the work I do isn’t just for me. I’m cognizant of the fact that like many immigrants, I have a community of folks standing behind me and beside me who I want to support and who support me. I also understand that while working with my clients to help dismantle traditional, oppressive ways of working, then redesigning something equitable and good – I also have a responsibility not to replicate these oppressive ways in my agency. It’s so deeply inspiring to work with clients and consultants who teach me new ways of thinking and working that are disrupting all of the normalized but oppressive and toxic structures we’re accustomed to!

My next step is… Building an ecosystem under the QuakeLab umbrella for agencies, organizations and consultants who are focused on doing DEI differently, and a community of practice that centers the experiences and needs of the folks we work in service of. I want to set a precedent where organizations like QuakeLab understand that we are not accountable to our clients, but to the BIPOC, disabled, LGBTQ2S+, women, men and youth who we work in service of! Those folks, they’re my bosses!

Meet Desirée Bombenon, CEO of SureCall and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards RBC Momentum Recipient

Desiree Bombenon

With more than 30 years of experience in business and strategic leadership, Desirée is the CEO & Chief Disruption Officer at SureCall. Under her leadership, SureCall has been recognized for numerous industry awards for service excellence, ethics, and integrity. With an impact-driven vision, Desirée pivoted her company into becoming a Certified Benefits corporation (B Corp) in April of 2019. Her success was recognized with a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the RBC Momentum category.

My first job ever was… working in a doughnut shop; I was allowed to eat as many doughnuts as I wanted, but it came off my pay and unfortunately most times I ate my pay cheque away!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I realized that I had some very creative ideas and dreams, and I was willing to work hard to make them happen. I also enjoy helping others reach their goals and being an entrepreneur allows me to do that in a very meaningful way.

My proudest accomplishment is… being able to pivot my company to a purpose driven entity with full buy-in from my partner and team. This enabled me to create the Hero Girls program educating girls in underserved and developing communities. We have touched thousands of lives in many communities through scholarships, micro loans, and direct support. It’s been my life-long goal to bridge the gender gap through equitable education for all people. 

My biggest setback was… getting lupus at the young age of 30; I was incapacitated for nearly a year and many things were put on hold as I learned to deal with this autoimmune disease. 

I overcame it by… having a very supportive family and team at work. I started a regular health and fitness regime, watch what I eat and stay out of the sun to avoid flare ups. Giving up some of my favorite things seems inconsequential when your health is at stake and people are depending on you.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I was an air force cadet when I was younger, and I have jumped out of a plane! 

When starting my business, I wish I knew… that no matter what, the sun will still shine the next day so get on with life and don’t sweat the small stuff. I spent too many sleepless nights worrying instead of keeping my eye on the big picture; I had to learn to just trust my instincts and believe. 

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… don’t hold back. Take some risks because nobody ever grew a business without taking risks. It may not always work out and in fact you will fail along the way, but there are necessary lessons that come with failure necessary to grow your business, and more importantly to grow your leadership skills. 

A great leader is… someone who knows that their job is to create more great leaders to support and nurture others to success, and to give back selflessly to their communities. A great leader always sees a bigger purpose behind everything they do.  

The future excites me because… I still feel like it can be designed and that we are really starting to see the beginning of a cultural intelligence renaissance like we have never seen in our lifetime. I have great faith in future generations, the glimmer of a world that is peaceful and equal is on the horizon. 

Success to me means… being responsible for my own happiness and speaking my truth. It also means making a meaningful difference in the lives of others through good work, a bigger purpose, and leading with love. 

Meet Saba Chishti, Co-Founder of Choice Health Centre and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, Momentum Finalist

Saba Chishti is a physiotherapist and co-owner of Choice Health Centre, where she works collaboratively with her team to provide high-quality and smooth care to her clients. Whether as a young athlete or a business owner, Saba has always understood the important role of physiotherapy in the overall health and ability of a person to achieve their goals in their day-to-day life, which ultimately led her to co-founding her own health centre. 

My first job ever was… working at the farmers market with my father selling food that we prepared the night before 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love change and I love to solve problems becoming a business owner presented me with the opportunity to play to my strengths and present me with daily challenges while fulfilling a need within the community.

My proudest accomplishment is… how quickly I was able to help grow Choice Health Centre; creating 20 new jobs in the last 5 years has been a great sense of pride and accomplishment for me. 

My biggest setback was… HR. Growing a team that fast did present challenges on how to ensure regular communication and how to continue with the values we set out for the company.

I overcame it by… getting proper coaching. Learning how to manage a team of 20 was essential to our continued success. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that in the Grade 9 production of Alice in Wonderland I played Alice, and though that I might grow up to be an actor. 

When starting my business, I wish I knew… how important it is to delegate to those who are better at the things you are weak in and who are likely more enthusiastic about that type of work than you. Once I started to do this, I found the quality of work was higher and my time was freed up to do what I do best grow the business. 

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… to hire the right people, don’t just fill a role as needed. The right people in the right roles will be dedicated to your business, take pride in their work, understand your values and goals and help you achieve them. That is the fastest way to grow. 

A great leader is… someone who is open to being vulnerable, and has a willingness to learn and constantly improve themselves to better serve others. 

The future excites me because… of the unknown. Even when you have a strategic plan in place how that will exactly play out is unknown and the future is filled with all sorts of possibilities. COVID is a great example of how you have to navigate the times and can learn so much while doing so, opening new opportunities. Success to me means… a life of fulfillment. What fulfills someone is very unique, it can be family, money, experiences, however it is important to know what fulfillment means to you and to work towards attaining that.

Meet Dr. Erin Kempt, Co-Founder of Choice Health Centre and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards RBC Momentum Finalist

Dr. Erin Kempt-Sutherland is a Doctor of Chiropractic and co-owner of Choice Health Centre. As a young competitive gymnast, chiropractic helped Erin overcome various injuries and provided her with wellness and performance care to attain optimal health and perform at her best. Erin co-founded Choice Health Centre in 2009 after having worked in various multidisciplinary clinics in Ontario and Nova Scotia since she graduated from university in 2004. 

My first job ever was… raking wild blueberries in rural Nova Scotia. I was 12 years old, and it was the only job I could get (other than babysitting) at that age. A school bus came to pick me up at my house at 6 am and dropped me back off at 5pm. The rate was something like 50 cents an 8L bucket. I was tough but I was very, very small — probably 80 lbs and 4 foot nothing. I think I lasted 2 days and only made $10 for those two full days! 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I have a creative side that needed to be fed. Before going into chiropractic school, I chose the profession because I knew it would fulfill both my love of science and need to help people, as well as put me on the cutting-edge of health care. I also knew it was one of the only health care professions where there were no salaried positions (at that time), and everyone made their own opportunities through hard work and creativity. This spoke to me from a very young age, and as an 8-year-old I actually began envisioning my future health care clinic as a beautiful space for healing, wellness and innovation. 

My proudest accomplishment is… being able to prove myself that you can have a successful career and a successful personal life. My generation of little girls were raised to believe that we could “have it all” but as we grew into young adults, this societal message changed and reality was forcing many to choose between career and family. I will never forget the high school philosophy teacher who lectured, “you can’t have the BMW and the kids” — which was the first time I’d heard that message — and it shocked me into making decisions for years to come that ultimately led me to the work-life balance I enjoy today. 

My biggest setback was… probably this year, with Covid-19 forcing us to shut down our clinics, including our newly expanded clinic, which was a considerable risk even in pre-covid times. I overcame it together with my partner and team by setting a calm and focussed precedence, working diligently each day to brainstorm ways to keep Choice top of mind for our clients, and working on developing new business — such as an online shop and virtual assessments and treatments — to keep the company alive. As business leaders we attended webinars about leading a team through this crisis. We worked harder than ever to ensure our success. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I grew up sailing and living abroad aboard my family’s sailboat in the summers. This is not the bliss you may picture — our engine caught fire in the middle of the English Channel, and we were in an unexpected gale on the North Sea!   Through this form of travel, I was exposed to different cultures, adventure and danger. As an older teen, I worked as crew for 2 years on Bluenose II, representing our country through sailing internationally, an amazing experience that also put me in a few dangerous situations that altered my perspective on life to this day. 

When starting my business, I wish I knew… how much of an impact I could make on others’ lives and the growth I was capable of creating in the business so I would have been more confident and taken more risk in the early years. I would have followed my intuition, started Choice sooner after graduation, began as a bigger clinic, and grown the company at a more aggressive rate in those first few years.   

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… “it isn’t what — it’s who.” You need to focus on and ultimately find that right person who can bring your business to the next level. A new piece of technology will not help you if you do not have the right people administering it. Similarly, the right partner, assistant or consultant will bring you to the next level by fulfilling a skillset that you struggle with, allowing you to focus on putting your unique abilities to work.   

A great leader is… someone who makes a positive impact, however seemingly insignificant on each person they interact with throughout their day. Great leaders are excellent listeners, empathetic, intuitive and act with integrity. A leader is passionate about her cause, unwavering in her purpose and someone whose actions lead to outcomes extending far beyond herself. 

The future excites me because… it is just so darn bright! It is a very exciting time in history to be a chiropractor in Canada. I am grateful to now have the tribe behind me that I need to support Choice’s future growth and my own personal and professional growth. I am excited to witness Choice’s mission unfold — that of changing the face of health care, one successful patient outcome at a time.

Success to me means… accomplishing your goals without losing yourself or any of the relationships you care about in the process. Success is being able to look back on your actions from that place of accomplishment with confidence that you acted with authenticity and integrity throughout the process.

Meet Irah Nor, co-founder of Rêveur Marketing


Irah Nor hails from nearly a decade of experience in the marketing industry working in roles within marketing agencies, media publications, Mobile Apps, B2B/SaaS Startups and consulting for businesses globally. Currently, she is the co-founder of Rêveur Marketing,  a Toronto-based marketing agency that specializes in holistic growth strategies for SMB’s that accelerate their business and also in helping founders become more knowledgeable about various facets of marketing. Rêveur partners with global businesses (predominantly female-founded) in industries such as Food & Beverage, Automotive, Fashion & Lifestyle, Health & Wellness , Music & more. 

My first job ever was… working at a concession stand in a hockey arena- it was pouring slushies, selling chocolate bars, flipping hotdogs or making popcorn, you name it. To this day, I think concession stand popcorn is probably one of my favourite snacks.  

I founded Rêveur Marketing because… after years of freelancing and consulting for many different businesses, Rêveur was the natural progression. My amazing co-founder Alex and I saw a huge gap in the small to midsize businesses and the marketing services SMB founders felt they had access to from freelancers and agencies. Rêveur offers accessible executive/senior level marketing and consultation to founders within this space.

My proudest accomplishment is…building Rêveur from the ground up with my co-founder. Running a business, doing business development, and also executing on the services themselves is alot to manage, and I’m proud of what Alex and I have built.

I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve actually been in marketing for nearly a decade.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… to ask experts for help or advice. You truly don’t need to know everything it takes to run a business. Some of the best pieces of knowledge I’ve gained have come from just asking someone who was a leader in the space.

My biggest setback was… building a business in the time of COVID. There were a lot of uncertainties and apprehensions with regards to whether businesses felt that they could afford the extra expense or even if it would work from their past experiences.

I overcame it by… showing founders the value of marketing and taking your business online even during a pandemic. It has paid dividends for our partners as now they’re able to continue their business whether physically or virtually.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… definitely lay in bed a little longer to read in the mornings.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… more about accounting and small businesses taxes & write-offs – this is a really essential part of running your business that I’m unfortunately not that proficient with.

I stay inspired by… hearing experiences from other female founders and networking. We’re lucky at Rêveur to have partnered and met with so many female founders, hearing their stories and journeys to growing their businesses always keeps us motivated.

My next step is… continuing to grow other facets of Rêveur, there’s definitely a few other plans we have in mind that we’d love to expand.

Meet Kristi Herold, Founder of Sport & Social Group and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards RBC Momentum Finalist

Kristi Herold is a natural born entrepreneur whose passion for business and helping others led to the establishment of Sport & Social Group (SGG), an organization that helps people stay active, make friends, and build meaningful connections. With 45 full-time and over 250 part-time employees, the SSG now has over 130,000 participants playing sports annually.

My first job ever was… finding used golf balls at the golf course across the street from my house. I would find them in the woods, the ditch or in the pond I would wade around barefoot and pick them up with my toes then clean them off and sell them to the golfers at the second tee. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… my Dad was an entrepreneur who made family and lifestyle a priority. He was always home for family meals, he would watch me compete in sports and come to school events even midday as he was in charge of his own schedule. He ingrained a strong desire within me to be responsible for my own destiny and I aspired to create a similar lifestyle for myself. 

My proudest accomplishment is… when in 2018 the Sport & Social Club had it’s 100,000th team sign up to play in our leagues. Hitting this mark meant the organization I had started in 1996 had positively impacted the lives of over 1.3 million participants. This was an exciting accomplishment knowing we are impacting the physical and mental health of so many individuals in such a positive way. 

My biggest setback was… COVID-19. Over the last 3.5 years, we have completed 8 acquisitions, working to diversify our business across Canada and the US. In early March 2020 we were working on 2 significant sized acquisitions, that would have doubled the size of our organization when the pandemic hit. Due to the nature of our business we were hit extremely hard. The next 12-18 months will be challenging, but we will rebuild. 

I overcame it by…  taking swift action and cutting all costs possible, most painfully, the immediate layoffs of 26 of my staff all back once the wage subsidy was announced. We stayed true to our purpose of ‘connecting people through play’ and pivoted to start a new revenue stream, offering fun remote events for corporations. While we have not fully ‘overcome’ the effect of COVID-19 on our business, after 24 years of running a profitable business, I know we will rebuild. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…  that laughing and spending time with people who make me laugh is my favourite pastime. I have a passion for family, travel and adventure. I learned how to play guitar in my 40s. I had a secret childhood dream to act on Broadway – instead I helped start a community musical theatre troupe for adults. I’ve helped produce and perform in 11 musical theatre productions and raised over half a million dollars for charity in the process. 

When starting my business, I wish I knew…  that a successful entrepreneur is best to not complain about problems, as business is the definition of problems. Better to recognize that the people who do best in business are not the ones with the least problems but rather those that have the most fun solving the problems in the most creative way with the best people. 

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… remember you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Focusing on topline revenue growth is important however it is important to do so smartly a great key metric to keep a pulse on is revenue/employee. Further, word of mouth will always be the best form of advertising, so do your best to treat customers like gold. 

A great leader is… someone who has a ‘never give up’ attitude – when at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A great leader is not afraid to make mistakes and own them. As humans we learn the most from our mistakes. Great leaders set the example that we are better to try and fail than to not try at all, as long as we learn from our trials going forward. 

The future excites me because… I believe that people need human connection and people need to play. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge setback for my organization, after 24 years of running a profitable business, I’m confident that we will rebuild! I believe we have a strong team and I am excited to one day be able to say the Sport & Social Group is getting one million people off the couch and playing annually! 

Success to me means…  loving what I do so much that I’m excited to get up every day and get at it! I am incredibly grateful that my work is connecting people through play and reminding everyone of George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote, “We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Success to me means leaving a legacy that has positively impacted millions of people’s physical and mental health.

Meet Aminka Belvitt, Social Innovator and Founder of tech start-up, Wofemtech Solutions

A versatile leader and problem-solver, Aminka Belvitt is simultaneously a tech founder, advocate, mentor, and strategist. With a passion for innovation and advancement, both on the technical side and human side of the technology and inclusion sectors, Aminka is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible when we take a human-centred approach to planning and design. She is the founder of Wofemtech Solutions, an online virtual collective empowering professionals and businesses through  video conferencing and online course creation services. Aminka is also the founder of ForUsGirls Foundation, An international community organization provides skills-based, leadership, and mentorship programs for marginalized girls in Canada, the United States & the Caribbean. 

My first job ever was… a dishwasher at St.Jerome’s College at the University of Waterloo. I was 14 and wanted to be able to buy my own things and not ask my parents for money. 

I became an Innovation Equity & Inclusion specialist because… I was working in the tech industry while becoming an advocate for community development, youth programs and women and girl’s empowerment. I recognized that it was necessary to innovate and create equity-focused outcomes across these industries. I was experiencing challenges as a Black woman working in corporate tech and noticed the systemic lack of work and future readiness among members of the Black, Indigenous, and people of colour; and I wanted to ensure that these communities don’t experience further marginalization, as our society progresses toward even more digitization and automation. That is what defines the work I do with my corporate, academic, and not for profit clients. There are gaps that schools do not recognize they are not filling, for example, the fact that they have a low number of girls especially girls of colour in their STEM programs. I unveil the bias and provide tangible solutions to solve and fill these gaps with solutions. 

The best thing about what I do is… seeing that ‘aha!’ moment. Seeing a young person realize that they can do better, and have their teacher or employee recognize that as well. It’s an eye-level connection to the incredible things we can do when we are given that extra spotlight. It’s incredible! 

The most challenging thing about what I do is… working around systemic barriers. As much as corporations and governments are changing and doing the work to create more inclusive opportunities for BIPOC, it is still a long road. When you’re introducing new technology there is a push back.

My proudest accomplishment is… the ability to award young Black women from my hometown with scholarships to support their university and college education.

My boldest move to date was… creating and launching a social tech enterprise in New York City.

I surprise people when I tell them… I’m the Founder of my own tech company with a video conferencing platform.

The once marginalized, underrepresented and forgotten are inventing and creating solutions to the world’s most challenging issues and offering ourselves as the solutions we need for ourselves, community and the world.

My best advice from a mentor was… to always be ready. Be ready to pitch at anytime and kindness will open doors where your resume will not.

I would tell my 25-year old self… start sooner than later. Eliminate launch delays. Launch, build, improve, pivot and grow.

My biggest setback was… being overwhelmed at the beginning of creating and launching Wofemtech. I took a pause to focus on my two not-for-profits, my full-time marketing job, and side consulting contracts.

I overcame it by… taking a break. Creating a newer version with a stronger server with increased functions, sleeker design and during a world pandemic which provided us an added business opportunity. I believe the market was not as ready for a start-up video conferencing platform led by a Black woman in 2017, as it is now in 2020 post the uprising for racial equity and justice.

While social distancing, I’m spending my time… on morning coffee & talks with my mom and yoga on our family deck.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… prioritize yourself.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m a homebody. I like intimate settings, deep conversations and local initiatives, being outside in nature or on the beach.

I stay inspired by… listening to podcasts, reading interviews of other entrepreneurs and talking to my generation Z mentees. They also push me to do and be more. 

The future excites me because… we are creating it! The once marginalized, underrepresented and forgotten are inventing and creating solutions to the world’s most challenging issues and offering ourselves as the solutions we need for ourselves, community and the world. This is what’s most interesting. Beyond the continual advancement of technology the human development aspect is what’s really exciting me. It’s truly going to be the best of times.

Meet Ashley Freeborn, Founder of Smash +Tess and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Start-Up Finalist

Ashley Freeborn is the founder, principal and managing director of Canadian fashion brand, Smash + Tess. She was an educator for the better part of a decade, then made the leap to corporate training and culture where she worked in the finance sector for almost three years. Although she loved it dearly, Ashley still felt the need for a fun and fresh creative outlet – enter Smash + Tess. After finding a void in the loungewear market, she attended the summer fashion program at Conde Nast in London, UK, and the rest is history!

My first job ever was… I was 16 and was a hostess at one of the hottest restaurants in Vancouver. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… there was a hole in the market that I wanted to fill. That is what led me to starting Smash + Tess. It was the dream of creating the brand and the clothing that kicked off my business venture. I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur, but now I cannot imagine being anything else.

My proudest accomplishment is… my two daughters. They inspire me every day to grow my business and to create a legacy of women uplifting women.

My biggest setback was… my health. I struggle with Crohn’s Disease and sometimes it knocks me down pretty hard. But I’ve always managed to work through it. Of course I have moments of weakness or helplessness but I don’t rest in those moments for too long or it starts to wear me down. Mindset is key, and I try to keep a perspective of gratitude.

I overcame it by… advocating for myself. Even at my sickest, I truly believe that where there is a will, there is a way. I’ve struggled through different medicines, alternative remedies, lifestyle changes – and just like in business, I’m tenacious and won’t stop until I find a solution that works for me. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…  that I love music from the 60s and 70s – my parents passed along their vinyl collection, and nothing puts me in a better mood than listening to Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, or Janice Joplin.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to relish the moments where we feel off balance. It’s ok to feel frightened, because it’s in those moments of uncertainty that we do the most growing.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…  to let go. I am a natural problem solver and sometimes I have to learn how to let go of the things I cannot control. 

Success to me means… creating the kind of life you love living. There really is no such thing as a weekend for me. I love Monday mornings just as much as I love Sunday mornings. It’s a beautiful thing.

I stay inspired by… listening to our community. The dialogue that I’m lucky enough to have with our #smashtessfam continues to inspire me to be innovative and to disrupt the fashion industry with clothing made for every day, for every occasion, for every woman. 

My next step is… world domination… one Romper at a time!

Meet Sahar Saidi, Founder and CEO of LUS Brands and the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Start-Up Recipient

Sahar Saidi

Driven by motivation and a personal challenge, Sahar Founded LUS brands after feeling dissatisfied within the traditional job market. Funding a startup primarily from her own personal student line of credit — and built on a life-long struggle of not being able to find products that worked for her curly hair — Sahar wanted to prove to other budding entrepreneurs that you can start with very little and bootstrap your way to a hyper-growth, profitable business in a short time. She embarked on this path in 2017, and built a company that is valued at over $200 million in less than four years — earning her a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Start-Up category.

My first job ever was…working as a ride operator at Fantasy Fair, an indoor amusement park for kids, inside Woodbine Mall.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…no one would hire me! 15 years of work experience plus a recent double-MBA, and I couldn’t land a great job! I have always been entrepreneurial this is what I was meant to do.

My proudest accomplishment is…LUS! Starting my company with less than $100K and doing that on my own was the hardest thing I have ever done. I am extremely proud to have turned that $100K into a company valued at over $200MM in less than 4 years.

My biggest setback was…not being able to convince investors to invest in me when I was first pitching the idea of LUS. No one believed a “shampoo company” would survive, let alone thrive.

I overcame it by… knocking on doors and ignoring all of the No’s. Finally an account manager at BDC understood my vision and encouraged me to apply through the Futurpreneur program for a loan. It worked. I received a loan of $45,000. I then drew the rest of the money from a personal credit line, and that’s what I used to start LUS!

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…that I’m married and extremely family-oriented. Everything I do, including building LUS, I do for my family. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…Let go of your safety net. As long as you have a “backup plan” you won’t succeed. If you’re serious about becoming a successful entrepreneur, you have to be all-in. It’s either success or failure, nothing in between. 

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…to make sure you have balance in your life. Take real vacations where you get to unplug completely to rest and recuperate. As an entrepreneur, this is by far the hardest piece of advice to actually follow. 

Success to me means…accomplishing your true goals. Success isn’t about meeting your parents’ or society’s goals, it’s about meeting your own goals! This isn’t easy though, because it means having a high level of self-awareness. You first have to know what you really want, before you can set out to achieve your goals. Learning how to set goals early on in life (I started at 18), and checking in on my goals often because as we grow as individuals, our desires and goals should evolve too has been one of the biggest factors to my success. 

I stay inspired by…zooming my lenses out often and looking at the big picture. It’s easy to get bogged down in details when building a company and in the details, you will find lots of challenges and problems but when I zoom my lenses out, I can see how many customers’ lives we have touched with our products, how many people we are employing, and the bigger “why” to everything that we do every single day. 

My next step is…to teach other aspiring entrepreneurs how to do what I have done. I have learned so much in building LUS and my next step is to figure out the medium I will use to achieve this objective. I want to help others build their own companies and hopefully avoid some of the setbacks I have experienced in my journey.

Meet Monique Fares, Founder of Signature Health and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Start-Up Finalist

Monique Fares is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Start-Up Finalist. Building on a long-time dream of becoming a doctor, Monique’s deep passion for healthcare led her to establish Signature Health, the only proactive and preventative medical clinic in Atlantic Canada. 

My first job ever was… a YMCA Camp Counsellor for children with disabilities.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was inspired by my family and I’ve always wanted to grow a business that fulfilled my passion and allowed me to meet my goals. 

My proudest accomplishment is… creating Signature Health and watching it grow into a successful business that is meeting its vision in helping others — while making a positive impact in their health. 

My biggest setback was… when I was not happy with how my career path was progressing. 

I overcame it by… going back to school to gain more knowledge and education to help me find new career opportunities that complimented my passion and goals. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my dream as a little girl was to be a Pediatrician and that my favorite food is chicken nuggets and fries. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… surround yourself with good people who can provide valuable insights, and to work hard and never give up on your business. Watching your business succeed out-values all the challenges you might experience along the way.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…  find a balance in life so that your business does not consume every ounce of you. 

Success to me means… progressing my business forward and providing valuable services to my clients, and making time for other important things in life, like my family.  

I stay inspired by… by the success stories of my clients and the health changes they are making.  

My next step is… to build on our current achievement and have Signature Health offer more extensive and comprehensive services such as more diagnostic testing. 

How to empower women in business during the pandemic — and beyond

While just about every business has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, some organizations found themselves in more critical situations than others.  Start-ups and small businesses felt the impact most acutely. Statistics Canada recently reported that it was small businesses that were most likely to see a drop in revenue, have to lay off employees, and seek credit just to cover operating costs during the pandemic. 

From what I have observed, conducting business through the coronavirus outbreak, I would say that even among those struggling small businesses, the hardest hit were women entrepreneurs and their women-led businesses. 

Women entrepreneurs in Canada have been the most deeply affected by the pandemic because women-led businesses have always been more vulnerable to economic downturns and have had to struggle harder to launch and to stay afloat. As with most aspects of business, it comes down to money. 

Women entrepreneurs often don’t have access to the same funds available to their male counterparts. VCs, investors, the business community at large have a — not surprising — tradition of putting their money in projects that are familiar to them, business leaders they can identify with and relate to. And even with the number of women-owned businesses on the rise globally, only 2.7% of total capital invested in the US were allocated to companies with a women CEO. Because the financing community remains largely male dominated, all too often this means bankrolling other men. 

So, we need to support each other. 

Women need to use their voices to lift and empower other women. Because that is the only way it is going to happen. 

Let me give you a couple of examples of the alternative as I experienced in a single recent meeting. I was reached out to by an investment firm because my company had recently done work, great work I might add, for one of their portfolio clients. I met in their board room with three male and one women executives representing the firm.  

In this particular encounter, I wasn’t looking for financing, but to initiate a partnership. As we have with many other leading investment firms.

When I addressed a question to the women member of their team, one of the male execs answered on her behalf, explaining, “She’s only here because we couldn’t have three men in a closed room with a woman.” 

I didn’t know what to say. It was a shocking admission. Not only was the only other woman in the room a symbolic gesture — just there because she was a woman with no actual input or impact on the decision making — but they also didn’t have the decency to at least pretend she was an equal participant. 

Blatantly telling me — in front of her — that she was merely a token woman, invited because I was a woman, disempowered us both. Men couldn’t meet with me alone because… Because what? I don’t even know. They seemed to be under the impression that something bad would happen. However, there wasn’t even a woman leader to include in the discussion, so they brought along a placeholder. A mute, powerless, non-participating team member to tip the gender balance. 

Believe me, that does not tip the balance. 

The meeting did not end well. I think their exact words were, “I wanted to let you know that we won’t be working with you; our clients tend to be on the conservative side, and you just have too much personality to be a good fit.” 

I can’t imagine this captain of industry telling a successful male entrepreneur, a CEO of an award-winning agency, that he wouldn’t recommend him to colleagues because he had “too much personality.”

That is only one example of a pattern I have noticed throughout my career. Conversations that should be peer-to-peer that aren’t. This wasn’t founder-to-founder etiquette. It wasn’t business-leader-to-business-leader dialogue. It was a man-to-woman speak. We hear it all the time.

It seems not to be any particular aspect of my character that is a negative, merely the fact that I display a discernable one at all. Or perhaps the issue is that my personality is different. Woman. Not powerless, non-participating, not fearful, or a token. 

We need to use our voices. Here are three ways to get started. 

Expect more

Expect more from those who want your business or want to work with you. Ask tougher questions. Ask potential clients, partners, or vendors what their commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is. What have they done to demonstrate their commitment? What are they doing to empower and support women and BIPOC? Who do their teams consist of? What about their leadership? Do this to determine if they will be worthy of your time and effort. 

Speak up and Reach out. 

If you yourself are a leader, reach out to women entrepreneurs. Show your support. Show up for them. How can you as a leader positively impact your team members and others around you? 

We all have a voice — and I don’t mean just on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. 

It’s about how we network, run our businesses, and choose our partners. Think about what you and your business can do to empower women leaders. 

My advice for other women business leaders is to reach out to your peers. Ask other women entrepreneurs, “How can I help you? How do we support each other? How can I promote your products or services to my network?” 

Show Empathy. 

Leadership starts with empathy. Understanding the challenges of our collaborators, colleagues, and clients is the key to successful sales, effective marketing, and generally conducting good business. Empathy and understanding are fundamentals of my personality, and I suspect this is true of many women — perhaps even more so than men. Throughout this COVID-19 crisis and down the long road to recovery that will inevitably follow, I suggest that we embrace this difference. Women need to reach out and back each other. Factor this support into our business decisions. 

The rebuilding of the economy will be an opportunity to implement change. And I submit that it is better to conduct business with too much personality than with too little character. 

About Jamie Hoobanoff

Jamie Hoobanoff is Founder of The Leadership Agency , the recruitment partner of choice for North America’s fastest-growing startups. With a mission to help build the most impressive companies of our generation, The Leadership Agency helps startups find and hire best-in-class talent. With years of impressive leadership in HR and recruitment, Jamie continues to contribute her expertise to notable publications such as Forbes, CBC, The Globe and Mail, Inc., and HRD Magazine.

How to transition from employee to entrepreneur.

The first time I realized what I wanted to do career-wise I was 10 years old. I vividly remember accompanying my father to open houses, his dutiful right-hand woman, eager and ardent. 

I idolized my father back in those days and was in total awe of how he would move from room-to-room, giving each person the liberty of envisioning their own lives in each house he showed. I loved how personable he was and so easy to like. An honest man, with an enviously laid-back, calm, cool, and collected demeanor. He was fervent about his job and looking back, I owe my passionate nature to him. 

As a young girl, I admired — and still admire — how he allowed me the freedom of the script. At his open houses, I would greet guests, hand them the feature sheet and parade them through each room. We would end the tour in the second bedroom, which was always the makeshift office where he would “close” the deal. 

This sentiment is something I carry very close to my heart as a business owner today. I think of my dad each time I hire a consultant or team member that may not have the most experience but just needs the opportunity to take a run at it. Like my father was, I’m always there to catch my teammates when they fall, and I’m willing to let people make the mistakes they need to make in order to flourish and succeed. 

When I was 10, what inspired me the most about real estate was the people I encountered along the way. It was the symbolic nature of buying a first home, upsizing to a second, or downsizing to a third, that was most electrifying. It was the glimmer of excitement, the way they scanned their eyes from wall-to-wall, envisioning their own selves living in that very place. 

Sometimes my “tours” were met with disapproval. Perhaps the kitchen was too outdated, or the rooms were too small. I knew at that very moment that “home” is something different to everybody. I knew then that the real estate industry was where I wanted to plant my flag.

I worked at a real estate consulting company for nine years before I decided to venture off on my own. One evening I was on a call in my condo living room, dealing with some personal items that had been causing me quite a bit of stress for a while with my previous company. All of a sudden, a large hawk started hovering over my balcony, facing directly towards me. I’m a spiritual person, and admittedly a big believer in “signs,” and I took this as one that was intended to offer me clarity and strength. 

The choice to leave my previous role and start my own business was a very spontaneous decision, and that one moment was how I determined to set the wheels in motion. I am nearing almost two years in business with Hirsch + Associates, and I can’t say I know everything, but in hindsight, I do know that transitioning from being an employee to an entrepreneur was a tough one. 

I faced two major challenges when I started. The first was that I’m a big team player and love to work with people. I wasn’t able to hire staff right off the bat, so I focused on working alongside my clients even more. This satisfied the “team” feeling that I was missing, and also allowed me to stand out amongst the crowd. 

The second was that I had expenses — and lots of them. I find the biggest apprehension with young entrepreneurs is that they don’t know where the money will come from for them to support their lifestyle and commitments. At 24, I had bought my first condo, so I feared not being able to make payments on the house I currently live in while supporting a mortgage at my other investment should I encounter any vacancies. I am thankful that in both situations I faced my fears and challenges headstrong. It wasn’t easy, but it has definitely been worth it. 

I’ve rounded up my top five tips below for how to transition from being an employee to an entrepreneur: 

Determine what you want to do and what your values are, not only as a business owner but as a brand.

It goes without saying that the journey you embark on must first be marked with a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish, and what you and your brand bring to the table. As an employee, you work under the guise of a brand ethos that was created before you got there. As an entrepreneur, you define this for yourself at the outset. Without intention, you’ll have no merit. 

A strong sense of self-worth and belief are the pillars of any successful person. Your hopes and dreams are the lighthouses that will guide you, even when times are tough. 

Take your time. Slow and steady wins the race.

Many of us want to embark on entrepreneurship and jumpstart our way to success overnight. Unfortunately, it usually takes some time. Success is many small moments of triumph that compound over time into something bigger. I like to see time as something that is on my side, rather than against me. Time affords us unique perspectives. Time allows us the opportunity to become seasoned and to become experts. Slow and steady always wins the race. Trying to fast track leads to burn out, and from my experiences, dropping the ball. 

You will face challenges, but don’t let them set you back. Learn from them and move forward.

A successful individual is someone who tried just one last time. Mistakes, challenges, failures — these are all a part of the journey. Embrace them head on, allow them to teach you something, and go forward better equipped and more confident than ever before. 

Be humble. Celebrate your victories with your team. Have an “US” mentality vs. a “ME” mentality if you want to build a strong team. 

With entrepreneurship, you won’t have senior team members dictating decisions on your behalf, or more junior colleagues to pick up the more meticulous tasks you weren’t used to doing at your previous job. I find remaining down to earth is key when it comes to starting a business, and believe me, when I say, it will humble you in ways you’ve never imagined. Never forget where you started. Never lose sight of who you are. Always be the genuine, team player you once were and you’ll be sure to have a positive impact on all those around you. 

About Cara Hirsch

Cara Hirsch is the 32-year-old founder of Hirsch + Associates , a leading real estate consulting firm in Toronto founded in January 2019. With over 10 years of experience in the Toronto market, she has sold 7,800 units and has launched 30+ successful projects to date. In her first year of business with her namesake brand, she impressively launched two large developments just shy of 1,000 units, selling just under $1 billion in revenue

Meet Larissa Crawford, Founder and Managing Director of Future Ancestors Services

Larissa is a published Indigenous and anti-racism researcher, award-winning ribbon skirt artist, restorative circle keeper, and proudly passes on Métis and Jamaican ancestry to her daughter, Zyra. She is the Founder of Future Ancestors Services, a youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances equity and climate justice through lenses of ancestral accountability and anti-racism. Larissa is a CohortX Climate Justice Fellow, Action Canada Fellow, and a 2019 Corporate Knight’s Top 30 Under 30 in Sustainability.

I founded Future Ancestors Services because… I spent six years seeking to understand the sector, its gaps, and the opportunities to ethically create something new. One thing I was taught in my undergraduate International Development Studies program, and later in working in the non-profit granting sector, was that non-profit and humanitarian sectors are driven by a capitalist understanding of competition. There is an over saturation of organizations doing relatively the same things, thus raising the competition amongst them for sparse grant and sponsor dollars. Work may be rushed, may be done inappropriately, and the impact may be inflated in recognition of this competition. 

In being taught this, I was very conscious of not wanting to start something before I knew it addressed a need that wasn’t being addressed by another organization doing really good work. Furthermore, I wanted to find a way to contribute to a necessary shift of the influence competition has on how organizations and people working for social and environmental justice operate. 

After being offered one too many contracts that were clearly not a fit for me (and were likely being offered simply because I was the only Indigenous or Black speaker a client could find), I made the conscious decision to build my former business, Larissa Crawford Speaks, into something more. Instead of competing against other diverse service providers, who too face disproportionate barriers and are working to achieve the same goals of climate justice and equity, I saw the opportunity to shift our approach and business model from the traditional understanding of competition. Yes, we have a small team to deliver services directly under Future Ancestors Services, and yes, one of our support services, the Future Ancestors Constellation, promotes and supports service deliverers that would be our expected competitors; but, by uplifting their voices and their services, I understand this as contributing to our shared goals of creating more spaces that are equitable and that contribute to climate justice in what is currently Canada and around the world. This is social innovation in the interest of the well-being of our future generations and Mother Earth.

I knew what kind of leader I wanted to be; I knew how I wanted to treat my team. I knew that I wanted Future Ancestors Services to be a space of employment where we could feel respected, honoured, and when we didn’t feel that way, to feel like we could say something about it and it would be acted upon.

The best thing I’ve done for my business so far isnot prioritizing Western business education, and trusting in the direction I receive from my cultural communities and self. While facing ageism, racism, sexism, and ableism in most of my previous employment experiences, I got through that time by always taking note of what I appreciated and did not appreciate about how I was managed, how our teams were structured, and how the organization operated. When I left my last job in November 2019, I knew what kind of leader I wanted to be; I knew how I wanted to treat my team. I knew that I wanted Future Ancestors Services to be a space of employment where we could feel respected, honoured, and when we didn’t feel that way, to feel like we could say something about it and it would be acted upon. 

Some things we do differently stem directly from root causes that fostered undesirable workplace environments. For example, we prioritize a decolonized experience of time, where we are encouraged to set clear boundaries about our available time and capacity to meet aggressive deadlines. Like many of the ways we operate, I trusted in myself and my team to formulate a new way of doing business that we haven’t necessarily seen or experienced before. We carry wisdom through our lived experiences, and our business model is a direct result of our collective efforts to harness, act, and again, trust that wisdom.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… don’t do it alone. Group projects in school and work had me convinced I would never enjoy working in a team as much as I enjoy working independently. My first step to checking that assumption was to critically reflect on my deficit skills and personality traits, especially of ones that I could imagine being valuable and even necessary in starting a new business. The next step was looking in my network at people who are just as committed to me about the mandate I’m founding my business on; in my case, this was equity and climate justice. Finally, I sought to build relationships with my team members before approaching them to work with me, and after I did approach them I prioritized getting to know them as people. I am now working with the most phenomenal team I’ve ever had, a team that has become a support system, friend group, and a source of accountability.

We carry wisdom through our lived experiences, and our business model is a direct result of our collective efforts to harness, act, and again, trust, that wisdom.

My biggest setback was… being diagnosed with a chronic pain disability at 23 years old. My chronic pain definitely became my biggest barrier to my work, with a lack of understanding about and outright resistance to reasonable medical accommodations from my employers leading to working conditions that triggered hospitalizing pain flares and deteriorating physical health. But I also played a role in my deteriorating health… In November 2018, I delivered a Tedx Talk about being intentional about one’s impact and self-care regime. The irony of this was that I left at the staircase to the stage my cane, which I was using amid a pain flare that was brought on by my inability and outright resistance to honour my body’s need to rest. Up until my diagnosis of chronic pelvic inflammatory disease in August 2018, I was accustomed to an energy-intensive, jet-set schedule. My resentment to the perceived failure of my body only fueled my desire to prove that I could return to ‘normal.’

I overcame it by… Several hospitalizations, two surgeries, and months of recovery later, I find myself in a place of more peace and self-awareness. I put into practice what I preach with the recognition that I cannot be the best mother, daughter, sister, partner, and community member if I am not my best self, and that I too am worthy of the care and love I afford to those around me. With this understanding, I will continue to actively engage in the following practices while seeking new opportunities to grow this list. One of these practices includes land-based fitness; through therapy sessions and Elder hours I have come to understand that sharing land-based fitness activities with my family and friends is a significant determinant to my mental and physical health. I honour this need by regularly engaging in long-distance runs, walks, and hikes in the prairies and mountains, and in showing my gratitude through ceremony and meditation. 

There are better realities for future generations, and we can play a role in shaping those realities.

I stay inspired by…  the frontline activists and organizers advancing climate justice and ensuring that climate action is not separated from Indigenous sovereignty and racial justice. These people carry immense power in shaping the public, economic, political discourse and expectations, and they’re using this power to hold people, business, and states accountable to honouring people and Earth by any means necessary. While I participate in rallies and protests, I respect and actively support the labour of leading and organizing the frontline movement. They are required to be expert event planners, social service providers, and so much more, all while being unpaid in most instances. Witnessing and partaking in the fruits of their activism keeps me grounded in my own work, and in ensuring that my contributions to climate justice remain centered in land, community, and radical systemic change. 

The future excites me because… I find a great sense of empowerment and hope in understanding history, specifically the history of the emergence of ‘race’ and racism as we know it. It is not a universal truth that humans have always organized along racial hierarchies of superiority and inferiority; ‘race’ was not evident in ancient English texts, and its emergence coincided with the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. In understanding the colonial and capitalist interests in rationalizing groups of people as ‘less than,’ and in realizing that it is not inherent or natural for humans to divide ourselves in the way we experience now, I find power in our collective agency to imagine realities beyond what we know today. There are better realities for future generations, and we can play a role in shaping those realities.

My next step is… building out the internal infrastructure of Future Ancestors Services to meet the surge in demand we’ve experienced in our first four months of operations. We are currently managing about 100 clients and have tens of thousands in our online community, and because our team is so committed and pretty great at what we do, from the outside I think it seems like we’re working with a lot more than we actually have! My next step is to seek out more human support, like an Executive Assistant, and the financial resources to ethically compensate these administrative roles. One of my most cherished mentors, Meredith Alder from Student Energy, knows my life well and the Executive Assistant comes as her number one recommended next step!

Meet Kyla Lee, Barrister and Solicitor of Kyla Lee Law and Finalist for the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards in the WEKH Micro-Business category.

With a passion for legal education and access, Kyla Lee is a finalist for the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. Through her law corporation Kyla Lee Law, she provides legal services to other lawyers in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and volunteers as a mentor at the Canadian Bar Association and Women Lawyers Federation.

My first job ever was…. a part-time position over the summer at my dad’s school when I was 10 years old. I mostly did light administrative tasks like making mailout packages and stamping textbooks. But I loved the experience and the idea of being useful and having something to do. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I always wanted to be my own boss, and to pursue my ideas. I know that my best investment possible is in myself and being an entrepreneur is investing in yourself and your future. If you believe in that and work hard for it, it pays off. 

My proudest accomplishment is… continuing to find new ways to innovate in the legal field. A lot of people feel the law is something that can’t change and adapt and I am living proof that this is not the case at all. 

My biggest setback was… letting other people’s criticism of me hold me back from my full potential. There were people who told me what I was doing was wrong or too different or unique, and that it made them look bad. For a long time I watered myself down to conform to what others wanted. 

I overcame it by… making a conscious decision to be unapologetically myself. Even when others find that weird or different or criticize me, I am going to continue to be true to who I am and push boundaries. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I not-so-secretly run a YouTube channel where I rate and review unusual chip flavours that I have obtained from all over the world. I’ve rated and reviewed crab, spicy squid, garlic, voodoo flavours and more!

My best advice for small business owners is… Don’t forget to focus as much on your actual work as you do on your marketing. If your customers cannot find you because you do not have a good web presence and active social media, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best in the world at what you do. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to take time for myself. Even when I book time off for a vacation I find myself taking calls and checking my email and working on little tasks. 

When starting my business, I wish I knew…  where I would end up today. I think I would have felt a lot less stress and had far fewer moments of imposter syndrome if I knew that I would be successful and happy and having fun doing what I do every day. 

The future excites me because… I have no idea what it holds! But I know that I will have opportunities to help my clients, to market in innovative ways, and to continue to challenge myself and others every single day. 

Success to me means… living your truth and working hard.

Meet Nancy O’Halloran, Owner and CEO of BraveHeart First Aid and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Finalist in the WEKH Micro-Business Award category.

Nancy O’Halloran is a finalist for the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. With a focus on building confidence in individuals and strengthening her community in Nova Scotia, Nancy is the owner and CEO of BraveHeart First Aid, the largest, independent First Aid training and equipment provider in Nova Scotia. 


My first job ever was…keeping people safe and protected in the waters surrounding PEI, as a SurfGuard.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I felt that with my unique talents and personality, I could create a service that would make a difference in my community.

 My proudest accomplishment is… each and every time I receive a testimonial describing the impact BraveHeart has had in saving a life or helping people as a first aider. 

My biggest setback was… when I endeavored to break into a then male dominated industry.

I overcame it by… applying a strong work ethic, creating a characteristic approach, and developing a distinctive teaching style.  

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…the depth of my pride in being a female Indigenous entrepreneur finding success in a specialized industry.

My best advice for small business owners is… approach everything with heart. Show your team respect and gratitude, and always let them know how valued they are. Strive to be the employer for whom everyone wishes to work.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… learn to be comfortable with saying “no”.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… the importance of surrounding myself with a team who shares my mission, vision, and passion for BraveHeart.

The future excites me because my passion continues to burn bright; my goals are attainable, and my heart is still strong. 

Success to me means… leaving my heart print on the lives of those I meet.