Meet Marie-Claude Desjardins, Owner & COO of Hardware Rebels.

Marie-Claude Desjardins never imaged that her lifelong interest in drawing, organizing space, and planning would one day be used to create products. She founded Hardware Rebels in 2019, a hybrid import/export and industrial design co-development company that supports manufacturing companies in the creation of products and the supply of specialized components in the field of commercial, residential, government and hospital furniture.

My first job ever was…

Working in the kids’ department of a Globo shoe store when I was 16 years old.  Who knew that sandy little feet, torn socks and Disney movies on a loop would be essential to solidifying English as my second language?

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

I saw a need in my industry for a new way to do things and I decided to go for it.  In that moment, I just felt it was my calling.

My proudest accomplishment is…

Aside from my kids, of course, my proudest accomplishment is to have made groundbreaking changes in a male-dominated industry. 

My boldest move to date was…

Leaving the comfort of a position as General Manager.  As a single mom with no safety net, I jumped into a gigantic void of unknowns to start my own business.

I surprise people when I tell them…

That I did my motorcycle licence and bought my first motorcycle at the age of 40.  I approach riding the way I face my entrepreneurship; I decide of the destination and I’m steering my way forward.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

I realized that the cliché of having to move on when you know you can do it better than your boss was true.  I just had to do it.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

My favourite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘’Do Not Go Where The Path May Lead, Go Instead Where There Is No Path And Leave A Trail.’’  It sums it up.

My best advice from a mentor was…

‘’Just try it!  If it doesn’t work, try something else.’’  For me it means, don’t give up and don’t believe those who would tell you that you are crazy.  Use it instead as fuel to succeed.

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

Well, Marie, grab a coffee and roll up your sleeves, because it’s going to be a long night…

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

Love to mentor young adults coming into the workplace in order to help them best develop their skills and achieve their full potential.

I stay inspired by…

The difference that my team makes in peoples’ lives through smarter designs, creative solutions and out-of-the-box thinking.

The future excites me because…

For the first time in my life, I get to truly lead, not follow.  I love what I do and I just can’t get enough.

My next step is…

To further develop two new business divisions within Hardware Rebels.  I guess that’s why people think I don’t sleep.

Meet Naomi Blackman & Mikayla Wujec, Co-Founders of Alder Apparel.

Founded by National Geographic Explorer Mikayla Wujec and fashion marketing leader Naomi Blackman, alder apparel was created in Toronto, Canada. Naomi and Mikayla met as childhood friends and shared similar frustrations with outdoor clothing options for women. With their combined backgrounds, they decided to take a chance at making something better. They offer inclusive sizing, community-informed design, sustainable and ethical production, and a playful brand that starkly contrasts with the performance-driven, hard-core athletic brands that currently dominate the outdoor space.

My first job ever was…

For Naomi: working at a neighbourhood sandwich counter/bakery. I was fired after less than a month for switching a shift so I could have the day off to celebrate my mom’s birthday. It took me years to admit that I was fired because I was so embarrassed. I can now see the influence that (and many other work horror stories) had on my philosophy around building a better workplace. 

For Mikayla: Working at Soft Moc shoes in Toronto during high school. It instilled in me a) a true love for comfortable shoes and b) a deep respect for retail workers. Being in the retail business now, I recognize how that early experience taught me the value of excellent customer service and the reward of helping people find products that will improve their everyday life!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…

For: Naomi: I wanted to be part of building something from the ground up. I’ve worked for a lot of big brands in my past and I was always excited by new initiatives and the possibilities of designing and growing something from scratch. 

For Mikayla: I believed in the purpose of alder and knew that time spent chasing a dream of getting more people outdoors was time well spent, regardless of the outcome. I’ve always been attracted to having the independence and autonomy of being your own boss, to succeed and to fail on your own plan of action and to the challenges of learning on your feet.

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Naomi: seeing alder in MEC stores. While we are still primarily direct to consumer, MEC was always a special place growing up and it was almost surreal to see alder merchandised in-store!

For Mikayla: Starting the non-profit Riparia with two fellow National Geographic Explorers, Andrea Reid and Dalal Hana. Through Riparia we run free canoe-camping trips & day camps on rivers and lakes in Canada to steward a love for science, learning and fresh waters in young women aged 13-18. Working with young women to build their confidence in the outdoors, expose them to exciting scientific tools and methods like underwater drones and portable microscopes and watching lasting friendships emerge between them has been so unbelievably rewarding. That age is such a difficult time for so many and the difference a week in woods and on the water with supportive women around you can be truly transformative.

My boldest move to date was…

For Naomi: quitting my well-paying, full-time job when alder was just an idea! I quit my job at Joe Fresh in September of 2018 and we launched alder in September 2019. It was most likely a bit premature, but I was so excited about the idea of alder and was so confident in our vision for the brand that it felt like the right decision. 

For Mikayla: Other than starting an e-commence apparel business with zero business and fashion background or experience? I would say quitting my job, giving up my apartment and booking a one-way ticket to the Solomon Islands to work on marine conversation project for National Geographic in my mid-20’s. The professor’s, scientists and researchers thatmet with my co-researcher and I before we left laughed in our faces and said there was absolutely no way two women could do research there solo. Look who’s laughing now!

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Naomi: that I’m a registered Canadian amateur boxer.*

*I did a charity boxing match during my advertising days and would 100% still lose in a fight. 

For Mikayla: I’m an advanced SCUBA diver with over 500 dives! Being in the water is one of my favourite ways to spend time in the outdoors and scuba diving is such a spectacular way to see underwater environments. Swimming with bull sharks in the south pacific is one of my top scared-as-all-hell but exhilarated-beyond-belief experiences to date. 

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Naomi: it just felt right. I’ve had ideas for businesses in the past, but there was always an excuse not to go for it. When Mikayla and I started talking about alder, everything just clicked into place.

For Mikayla: My cofounder Naomi and I decided to do it together. Our skillset was perfectly matched with her background in marketing and apparel and mine in sustainability and the outdoors. We became absolutely captivated by the idea of launching an outdoor brand that centred belonging in the outdoors instead of performance and building products that were versatile enough for adventures + everyday life. We talked about it non-stop, researched our eyes red and were full to bursting with excitement about building it together. Within months we quit our jobs, got a small loan from Business Development Canada and didn’t look back. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Naomi: find a group of likeminded entrepreneurs and be vulnerable together. It WILL get tough and the attitude of going it alone or pretending everything is great when it isn’t won’t help you. Commiserating and celebrating with entrepreneurs who are either in our stage or a little bit ahead of us has been unbelievably transformative for my mental health and for our business.

For Mikayla: My top three tips would be: 

1.There truly is no perfect time to start, just get going.
2. Done is often better than perfect.
3. You don’t have to learn and know everything yourself. Outsource competencies you don’t have, ask for advice and hire people who are better than you!  

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Naomi:” You’re probably putting tough expectations on yourself that no one else has for you.”

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Naomi: to be grateful for what these past few years have given me. It can be tough, but the engagement with work, mental challenge and flexibility of running alder has made my life so much more rewarding than I could have imagined. 

For Mikayla: How stoked would 8-year-old Mikayla be to be living my life. How proud will 80-year-old me be to look back at it? I find I feel the lowest when I’m focusing on specific challenges and frustrations and taking a step back to view the larger landscape of things gives me so much gratitude.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

For Naomi: sleep. We underestimate the power and importance of rest, particularly in the entrepreneur community. I love my full nights and sleep ins and don’t think I could do this if I burned myself out with 3-4 hour sleeps. 

For Mikayla: Write more terrible poetry. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer and before I write some good stuff I know I have to write a lot of bad stuff. I’m firmly in bad-stuff-stage but writing uses such a different part of my mind and takes me completely into another world. It’s a wonderful break from work and fuels creativity in other areas of life. 

I stay inspired by…

For Naomi: listening to podcasts and reading articles about other founders’ stories and fantasizing about the future of alder. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I go for a walk and play my favourite music and just daydream about what it will feel like to open alder’s first store or hire our 100th employee. 

The future excites me because…

For Naomi: of our team. We’ve been so fortunate with our team so far and I’m excited to continue growing it! One of the more motivating and exciting parts of owning a business for me is the ability to structure a work environment that I’ve always wanted to have. We work hard at alder, but both Mikayla and I wanted to create an environment that recognizes there’s life to be lived outside of work. We also wanted to build a workplace that feels both supportive and exciting while also providing opportunities for growth and ownership within the company. We started alder from the beginning with work hour flexibility, work from anywhere and a 4-day work week so that our employees can structure their work around their lives and not the other way around. We also decided early on that our employee happiness is the most important thing and to us, that meant focusing on lots of touch points, feedback and communication to make sure our employees feel heard and supported. 

My next step is…

For Naomi: raising funds! Mikayla and I are gearing up for our Seed Round this Fall. We’ve had amazing success to date and have some big plans for 2022 and beyond. 

 

Meet Esther Vlessing, Co-Founder & CEO of Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers.

While pursuing her bachelors of science degree at U of T, Esther Vlessing built and scaled a national clothing line. She then went on to work on the Canada Goose design team. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Esther connected with the Deputy Ministers Office and Department of Economic Trade and Development in Canada to plan and execute a nation-wide emergency manufacturing response unit. She co-founded Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM) to tackle Canada’s personal protective equipment shortages and logistical needs. CEMM activated and retooled two dozen domestic factories, created hundreds of domestic jobs and supplied over a million units of PPE to various levels of Canadian government.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… There were problems I wanted to solve that other companies or individuals weren’t yet addressing. In the case of my current venture, Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers, there was a huge need for local manufacturing during the pandemic, and I stepped up to meet the need. 

My proudest accomplishment is… CEMM! Building a company with zero upfront investment into a profitable and meaningful enterprise within 3 months. We were able to manufacture sufficient isolation gowns to protect Canada’s front-line healthcare workers and kept over 450 local seamstresses and factory workers employed during the height of the pandemic. 

My boldest move to date was… cold-calling the Premier’s office telling them I’d be able to help set-up a national manufacturing effort. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I started my last company during a 3-day water-fast. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage” (from the movie, We Bought a Zoo). Mustering up the courage to do something you’re scared to do can move your idea or business forward in immeasurable ways. 

My best advice from a mentor was… As an entrepreneur you don’t have to be good at everything. There is a huge advantage to hiring other people who are better, smarter, and have more experience than you. Especially if you’re starting something that’s new for you, look for guidance in veterans who have walked the path before you. 

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…  to view set-backs, obstacles and instances of rejection as universal protection or redirection. A favourite mantra of mine is: “everything happens for you, not against you.”

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… walk to more places! So many of us lead such sedentary lives and travel from point A to point B without moving our bodies. I’m a big believer in healthy-body, healthy-mind, so the extra hour would definitely be spent moving.   

I stay inspired by… reading interviews and memoirs written by fellow entrepreneurs. There is such a wealth of knowledge from those who have walked the path before us, and so many are willing to share their experiences! Some of my favourite reads include “What I Wish I Knew When I was 20” by Tina Seelig, “Girlboss” by Sophia Amoruso, and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg.  

My next step is… to reach back and offer the support and guidance I wish I’d had as a post-grad entering the work-force. I’m currently writing a book that recounts my entrepreneurial journey from the first company I started during University to the second I built into an 8-figure business, and all the struggle, challenges and down-time in between. The book is an example of how trusting and listening to life’s signs and directives can help us navigate our path to build the career (and life!) of our dreams.

Meet Alison Duke & Ngardy Conteh George, Co-Founders of OYA Media Group

In 2018, celebrated veteran filmmakers Alison Duke of Goldelox Productions and Ngardy Conteh George of Mattru Media joined forces to create OYA Media Group: a woman-led, award-winning production company based in Toronto. Named after a powerful African goddess, OYA brings an authentic perspective to media platforms, from film and TV to virtual reality through socially relevant, life-changing stories that amplify Black experiences.

My first job ever was…

For Alison: as a clerk in a department store. I was in the jewellery department and was responsible for changing watch batteries and bands. I got a lot of props from the customers for being a young woman working with tools. I enjoyed that.

For Ngardy: Delivering newspapers with my older siblings, I must have been 6 or 7.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

For Alison: I wanted to be an independent filmmaker who made socially conscious films that catered to underrepresented communities. Early on in my career, I knew that there was an untapped market that was hungry for quality entertainment and programming that reflected their realities. I thought it would be a great business model to make work specifically for this market. For 15 years I produced community films to understand the type of films this audience wanted. Now I’m incorporating this research into mainstream films.  

For Ngardy: Opportunities were not coming my way to tell the stories that I wanted to tell so I created my own production company to create the opportunities for myself.  

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Alison: I have two: being a co-founder of OYA Media Group, and turning it into an award-winning production media company with full-time staff in just a few years is something I am extremely proud of;  and creating the OYA Emerging Filmmakers program, which gives back by providing a pathway for young talent who are eager to work in our industry, is equally rewarding.   

My boldest move to date was…

For Alison: getting an agent. I am now represented by Gary Goddard Agency. (So is Ngardy) 

For Ngardy: Walking away from a full time job while being offered a promotion to work full time for myself.Then over ten years later pivoting from that to form OYA Media Group with Alison.  

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Alison: that I am inducted to the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Windsor for Basketball. 

For Ngardy: My age.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Alison: Ngardy and I were about to produce the television documentary Mr. Jane and Finch for CBC. We had similar business and creative sensibilities but working in different silos. It just felt like we would be much stronger working together under one company instead of in our separate companies with redundancies. Working together allowed us to develop more projects at a faster rate while lowering our business expenses.

For Ngardy: I realized how well we work together and that we clearly had a similar vision that would be better achieved together. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Alison: Start slowly, and build as you gather information. Understanding what works best for both you and your clients takes time. Finding successful entrepreneurs that you can talk with is key. We participated in a few different business accelerators that teamed us up with successful entrepreneurs. They gave us a fresh perspective on how to assess our business properly, in terms of productivity and growth. They were also able to advise us on how to overcome certain challenges that we were facing. It was great to hear that we were not alone. A lot of entrepreneurs go through the same things so why not get a mentor who can help walk you through some of the challenges. Getting information is the key. 

For Ngardy: Under promise and over deliver.  Listen to your inner voice, it’s there for a reason, trust yourself.

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Alison: find an easy way to communicate your business structure and how your business works to your staff.  

For Ngardy: Definite your long term goals and dedicate a percentage of your time and energy to them each day/week/month/year.  

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Alison: The sun will rise again tomorrow. 

For Ngardy: I’m strong enough to get through. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

For Alison: Learn to speak French. 

For Ngardy: Play tennis more often. 

I stay inspired by…

For Alison: Setting goals, working on our OKRs (Objectives, Key Results), talking to other female entrepreneurs through networking groups and accelerators. Also reading a lot of books. It could be fiction, biography, or even non-fiction. I am always inspired by a good story.

For Ngardy: Learning, constantly learning through multiple mediums, these days it’s mostly watching documentaries and television shows, listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

The future excites me because…

For Alison: We’ve planted creative seeds over the past 3-4 years and many of them are starting to sprout. It’s exciting to see our company grow in the number of staff and projects. I am excited by how well we are doing. 

For Ngardy: Underrepresented and systematically excluded perspectives are being centred in all aspects of creation and across the industry. I look forward to telling these stories and working with these creators.

My next step is…

For Alison: We are looking to expand our slate of projects internationally. There are a few Canadian companies that do that quite well and we are building relationships with them. Slowly but surely, we will find the right international partners because our audience is there too.  

For Ngardy: To keep growing and to see OYA grow into the force it’s on track to become.

Meet Julianna Tan & Shawnda Blacklock, Co-Owners of The Little Market Box

Shawnda Blacklock and Julianna Tan were neighbouring vendors at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market who wanted to tackle the question: How do we support the individuals and the families who are relying on the farmers’ market as their livelihood? The day after the In comes The Little Market Box: an online platform for purchasing market goods that fosters the success of local producers who are doing what they love to do, like feeding their animals, planting and harvesting their crops, or getting up at the crack of dawn to bake fresh bread. Simultaneously, The Little Market Box offers customers accessible fresh food without the time constraints or parking complaints of a traditional farmers’ market and without compromising the dedication to locally produced goods.

My first job ever was…

For Julianna: as a dishwasher at my parents’ restaurant. I was in grade 3 and I had to stand on a milk crate to reach the sink!

For Shawnda: working for my Grandparents in their small town grocery store and then working for my mom in her own clothing store.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

For Julianna: I was just taking a “break” from my academics and it turned out to be a much longer break than I imagined!

For Shawnda: I enjoy the freedom of following my own path (plus I’m not really employable!).

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Julianna: building both of my current companies (Those Girls at the Market & The Little Market Box) with no formal business education or funding. It’s fun to have an idea, launch it with limited resources (we started our chocolate company with $300), and grow it into something that gives back to you and back to itself. 

For Shawnda: the sincere relationship I have with all of our customers and producers. 

My boldest move to date was…

For Julianna: signing up to have a chocolate booth at our local farmers’ market before I had any experience or knowledge in making chocolate. My sister’s life motto is “Jump! Then build your parachute on the way down.” It forces you to learn quickly and adapt- there is no room for excuses when you’re in action. It worked!

For Shawnda: opening The Little Market Box the day after the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market closed.

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Julianna: I was adopted! My sister and I are biological sisters, but we were adopted together when I was 3 months old and she was 2 years old. We reconnected with our biological parents when we were young and lived between the two families as we grew up. 

For Shawnda: that I’m a Certified Laughter Therapist.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Julianna: we needed a solution that no one else was offering (and I had a very enthusiastic friend and soon-to-be business partner aka Shawnda). 

For Shawnda: we could see the possibilities of our own vision becoming REAL.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Julianna: reframe the paths you wish to explore as “experiments.” Three-month experiments, one-year experiments, five-year experiments. With this reframing, you cannot fail- you only succeed or learn something. Remember, you can revisit the paths you strayed from after your experiment. Take the shot.

For Shawnda: baby steps, learn, develop as you go and don’t be afraid of change.

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Julianna: life is not a singular road you travel down. It is a vast journey through many mountains that will constantly change your perspective and consequently change your path as you explore yourself and the world around you.

For Shawnda: Learn SOMETHING from EVERYONE. 

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Julianna: we’re all here just spinning on a big rock that’s floating in the universe. You might as well have fun.

For Shawnda: DON’T GET in my OWN WAY.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

For Julianna: take a Spanish class!

For Shawnda: spend more time outdoors with my cats and the people I LOVE. 

I stay inspired by…

For Julianna: constantly listening to podcasts on a wide range of topics, reading books (I’m addicted to self-help), and using my Passion Planner (I highly recommend checking out this day planner).

For Shawnda: watching and helping others choose and follow their dreams. (When the pictures on the vision boards become real ~ I get goosebumps)

The future excites me because…

For Julianna: we’re building it now. I’ve realized it’s easy to overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time (in one week or a couple of months), but it’s easy to underestimate what we can accomplish over longer periods of time (one to five years). We’re planting seeds everyday that have the potential to grow into something bigger than we ever imagined they would be. How exciting!

For Shawnda: I believe in the products and the PEOPLE we support. 

My next step is…

For Julianna: Redefining our dream store and making the moves that support that dream.

For Shawnda: More space, expansion to support our dream store.