Q&A: The co-founders of Ryan Murphy Construction have successfully led their general contracting business through a few economic downturns.

Lara + Karen

Lara Murphy is one half of Ryan Murphy Construction, a woman-owned construction and contracting company based in Calgary, Alberta. Lara and her co-founder Karen Ryan met on a construction site in 2008. Acknowledging how rare it is to work with other women in the construction, renovation, and general contracting arenas, they teamed up to bring something new to the construction industry. Ryan Murphy Construction has been growing steadily and has been disrupting the industry with each of their corporate, commercial, and residential projects across Canada.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

Events like the global pandemic and fluctuations in the economy requires us to always maintain an in-depth working knowledge of our financial performance, and goodness knows there has been a lot of fluctuation in Alberta in the last 12 years! We launched our business during the 2008 global financial crisis, made it through the Calgary flood of 2013, and persevered during Alberta’s oil and gas market decline. Our team’s agility in accommodating these changes has been crucial to our momentum, and it continues to show throughout the pandemic. 

Hard decisions had to be made about staffing; we decided that we had to put some team members on temporary leave to ease cash flow strain, and fortunately, we were able to bring people back in September of 2020. 

Before the pandemic began, we were working with strategic consultants to evaluate the business and collaborate with our team on scalability. When the pandemic hit, we actually had the time to sit with our core team and personally evaluate our company goals and strategic direction, which wouldn’t have been possible without the “down time” during the pandemic. At the time, it seemed counterintuitive because we didn’t know how the pandemic would impact the company, but the insights we gained and the changes we made refocused our business and resulted in geographical and fiscal growth.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

During the pandemic people were shocked, sad, frustrated, and unsure of anything. Some of our clients and friends lost their businesses, and many people had lost loved ones. We knew this was not the time for traditional marketing and decided that we’d share uplifting, optimistic, comforting, and supportive messaging. Our social media posts were inspirational, humourous, informative, and provided people with a much-needed smile and the reassurance that we were in this together and were going to pull through together. 

Check-ins with clients, partners, and tradespeople were frequent and more focused on their well-being. Video calls with them became the norm and included a combination of laughter, vented frustrations, tears, and, occasionally, wine. This dedication to our clients resulted in strengthened relationships and new projects once the province began to reopen. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

Technology certainly helped prove to clients that remote work is effective, and it created an alternative, efficient work life balance for our team — a new hybrid model for people to move more freely while accomplishing their goals. We were able to encourage our team to continue feeling purposeful and supported during a difficult time, while placing emphasis on their ability to be successful — both individually and collectively. Video conferencing platforms replaced our in-person meetings for project and client management, and it was also used to check in with the team when we were all working from home.

At our sites, we wanted to prioritize the safety of our clients and people in trades, so we implemented and invested in a touchless QR code system as a new approach to an onsite safety measurement for required sign-in’s, health checks, meetings, and more. This allowed us to continue to work during the pandemic and was easy for our tradespeople to manage on their cell phones.

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

Because of COVID-19, I’ve learned to adapt to having a day-to-day mindset, and to appreciate small joys and achievements more fully. Pre-pandemic, I was constantly going from meeting to meeting, gone all day from the office and from home. Once lockdowns began, there were no more events or travel (and no hair colouring!), which was somewhat of a welcomed relief — I was able to spend time with my partner Liv and our dog, Ruby, during her final days. A few months after Ruby left us, we were lucky enough to adopt two new pugs, a mother and son — sweet Rosie and hilarious Bubba. Spending so much more quality time with Liv and the “kids” has been fabulous, and we even carved up the mountains on a ski trip together. This slower pace made me able to be more productive and focused, and allowed me the space to not only imagine new personal and professional goals, but to achieve them.

Our team felt the same way, at times choosing to work from home or adjust their schedules to better suit their work and their mental health during such turbulent times. We had many more check-ins, supporting each other and sharing our experiences. This work environment has lasted, as we saw that our staff were happier and just as productive — if not more so — when they are able to have flexible schedules.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

Make time to strategize as a team — no interruptions, no rainchecks. Get everyone in a room — safely in person or virtually — and have them do exercises to define the company and ways to envision growth and enrichment opportunities. During a brainstorm session, everyone can call out words that define the company, or write down ideas for change. This dedicated time is priceless. It creates a real investment in the business, allows everyone to have a chance to share their diverse voice, and strengthens team bonds.

Why it’s important to approach philanthropy holistically — regardless of your income.

Lydia Potocnik

For Lydia Potocnik, philanthropic planning is a career as well as a passion. Trained as an Estate Planning lawyer, she began her career working in philanthropy planning for a hospital foundation in Toronto. “That role really allowed me to appreciate the work being done by charitable organizations and the impact donors can have with their wealth,” she says. 

Now, as Head of Estate Planning & Philanthropic Advisory Services with BMO, Lydia says more Canadian women are making plans for philanthropic giving than ever before. Statistically, women tend to be more strategic in their approach to giving, looking for ways to contribute time and money, maintaining meaningful relationships with charities they’re supporting, and using their philanthropy as an opportunity to be a role model for their families. 

In order to account for personal financial needs and wants — both current and in the future — Lydia suggests that women take a more holistic approach to their wealth in order to ensure that their philanthropic goals are met. A good wealth plan, she says, will look at tax planning, wealth protection, estate planning, business succession planning, and philanthropy planning, and every aspect should consider a woman’s values, goals, and concerns. 

To help simplify the process and make sense of philanthropic planning, we sat down with Lydia to discuss. 

Where should a person begin when it comes to philanthropy?  

The best place to start would be to get clear on your values and determine which causes and organizations best align with those. If you decide you want to have an impact with your giving, it’s a good idea to think about what that looks like to you. 

Do you need to have a large amount of wealth in order to be a philanthropist?

No, you don’t need to have a significant amount of wealth to be a philanthropist. This is something you can build toward throughout your lifetime. However, it is important to note the difference between charitable giving and philanthropy. Charitable giving is often a one-time donation made in response to an immediate need, such as shelter or food or medical assistance. These contributions are often emotional or empathetic and provide short term relief — like donating to an emergency response fund. Charitable donors usually don’t enter into a long-term relationship with the organization. 

Philanthropy, on the other hand, is a much more strategic — and personal — undertaking. Instead of focusing on short-term fixes, philanthropy aims to have a long-term, sustainable impact by identifying and addressing the root cause of systemic societal issues — everything from addiction and poverty, to racism and environmental causes. 

What can someone do if they don’t have a significant amount of wealth but still want to begin their philanthropic journey?

There are several things they can do. Even without a significant amount of wealth, you can still make a difference with a charitable organization. I often tell individuals to reach out to the charity and find out what is important to them and what they’re trying to raise funds for. If you direct your giving toward a specific project, then you’ll be able to see the impact of your donation and that’s going to make it a lot more meaningful to you. 

If someone is looking to become more philanthropic and has a larger amount of funds to allocate, what advice would you give them?

I would suggest they meet with a wealth advisor to determine how much they can afford to donate during their lifetime and combine this with their estate planning. By giving some money away while you are alive, you can experience the impact that you are having while also creating a legacy. An advisor can assist you with establishing goals and aligning them to your vision and values by taking a more strategic and long-term approach. They will often include the charitable organizations you want to support in these discussions. 

Why is an advisor recommended? 

An advisor will have experience helping individuals identify their goals and values and will also make educated recommendations as to how you can meet those goals. They’ll also consider your financial ability to make donations while alive and provide advice on the most tax efficient way to do so. 

How important is planning and goal setting for younger women looking to begin their philanthropic journey?

For younger women, we typically recommend they divide their income into three pools: pay yourself (your savings), pay your expenses, and then give money to charity if you can afford to do so. We recommend a similar approach to children as they learn to navigate finances with their first allowance. 

With women, it’s especially important to make sure that your own needs are met. We have found that with Millennials, there’s often a desire to get more involved when it comes to philanthropy. They often like to do things more publicly, get involved in broad-based fundraising initiatives, get their hands dirty, and get involved with the charity rather than just giving money. Boomers tend to be a bit more private and don’t always want to reveal who they are when they give money. Philanthropy looks very different to different demographics. 

Regardless, the one thing that should remain the same is the plan. Having clear financial and giving goals will help you meet them without any added stress. 

Are there any tools that can help women establish philanthropic practices earlier in their careers?

The Donor Advised Fund (DAF) tends to be ‘step one’ for a lot of women before they establish a foundation. The goal of this type of fund is to put in a minimum of $10,000 up front, which is earmarked for charity. 

The whole amount is invested and every year, you decide how much you want to give to a chosen charity. You’ll get a tax receipt for the $10,000 when it’s invested. You can also choose to skip a year of donating if your focus is aggressive investment. When you’re no longer here, you can appoint someone else to take on the fund and continue to support the charities of your choice.

Q&A: serial STEM entrepreneur Sherry Shannon-Vanstone on launching and scaling a social network.

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone is a serial entrepreneur, mathematician, innovator, philanthropist, and mentor. Passionate about STEM, business, and philanthropy, Sherry is the Founder and CEO of Profound Impact Corporation, a social engagement and interaction platform that helps universities, colleges, research institutions, and social impact organizations increase connectivity, collaboration, and measure their impact. Additionally, Sherry is the co-founder and co-chair of the Waterloo Region chapter of Women in Communications and Technology (WCT-WR), and co-chair of Perimeter Institute’s Emmy Noether Council.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

As the pandemic progressed, factors related to our socioeconomic systems shifted, forcing businesses to change their traditional models and adapt. Many small businesses and startups were disproportionately impacted due to a lack of cash reserves and borrowing power to sustain operations. Like many others, Profound Impact focused on reevaluating our current position and trajectory so we could further understand exactly what we needed to do as a business to continue to scale.

When managing our own finances throughout the pandemic, it was crucial to remain informed and ask important questions. Some of these included: How can we ensure sustainable financing and stable cash reserves? How can we adapt our business model to reduce costs, both in the short and medium term? How can we best invest in our team to keep our momentum?

Our team operated under the terms that we can always run leaner. When focused on scaling, you’re not always focused on efficiency. The pandemic forced us to reevaluate every area of spend and every contract to achieve better terms, find savings, or determine where to cut altogether.

We did take on an operating line of credit to ensure that we have the cash flow required to add functionalities and features to the digital community platform, and also expanded our product offering, including our recently launched career trajectory solution and a soon-to-be announced research/researcher matching solution.  

Prior to COVID, we decided to maintain a virtual office with rented meeting space at locations across North America. Because we did not have the overhead of an office space and because the majority of our staff are contractors, we did not participate in any of the COVID wage subsidy or rent relief programs.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

Profound Impact officially launched its next-generation social network and interaction platform during the pandemic — a time where the capacity for in-person interactions was very limited. We leveraged this in our sales and marketing approach to position our platform as a solution during and post-pandemic. To connect with customers, we refined our messaging and positioned our platform as an inclusive digital community used to connect people and empower collaboration — two of the primary challenges that our customer base were facing as a result of the pandemic. 

We focused our sales and marketing on providing solutions to our customers within the changing technological landscape. This involved adapting our marketing strategy to expand our approaches and develop new channels for connecting with our clients. We placed an increased emphasis on social media and content marketing, exploring new ways to connect with our audiences. Profound Impact hosted a variety of webinars over the last year and conducted research to understand what pain points our customers are talking about, what challenges they are facing, and how we can provide a solution. 

As in-person events and networking shifted in 2020, emphasizing the importance and value of online digital communities became a key message in much of our marketing. As the world shifted to virtual workplaces and classrooms, people have been spending more time online than ever. The focus of online engagement, through tools such as webinars, surveys, and engaging social media content, have been essential to our marketing strategy and growth. 

Through trial and error, we’ve gained an understanding of the interests of our target audience and use that in our marketing and communications on social media and other owned channels. Ensuring the content is relatable and engaging has been crucial while doing this, emphasizing the human and relationship building aspect of our platform. For example, instead of looking at our platform as a way to grow your network, we emphasize it is a place where like minded people can foster long-term and meaningful connections. Ensuring that our messaging aligns with the needs of our customers and the current socio-economic landscape has been crucial to helping us reach our audience and grow organically while pushing towards profitability. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

Technology has played an integral role in our ability to reach our target audiences and build relationships with stakeholders. At the height of the pandemic, in-person events and meetings were not an option for us to connect — whether that be internally or with our customers. Like many other organizations, we had to adapt to a completely remote environment. We not only utilized video conferencing platforms for internal and external meetings, but also seamlessly integrated it into our Profound Impact platform so that our customers can engage in more robust virtual experiences. In addition to integrating several other third-party applications, we continued our own development of features such as discussion boards, LinkedIn sign-on, and automatic uploading of profile data using PDF and other formats.

With a virtual, tech-enabled workforce, the Profound Impact team was set up for success using multiple platforms to keep close on the information that mattered. All team meetings are done virtually and synchronously at this time. 

The acceleration of digital during the COVID-19 pandemic influenced additional product offerings. We invested heavily in tech, data, processes, and people, allowing us to deploy digital strategies such as leveraging data analytics and AI, investing in privacy and security, and integrating the scalability of our product offerings at rapid speed. 

When it came to connecting externally with customers and stakeholders, our marketing approach and business model transformed to account for remote sales and marketing. To do so, we utilized our Profound Impact platform to host webinars and other virtual events. Understanding that digital communities are one of the most important tools that businesses can leverage to continue innovating, scaling, and strengthening as we come out of the pandemic, our team capitalized on building our Profound Impact digital community while leveraging our online channels and placing a heavier focus on digital marketing. 

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

It is incredibly important to remain positive when scaling a business, especially during times of uncertainty. Looking back at the past 18 months, the pandemic not only made us stronger, but I can confidently say it also made us better. Remaining agile, resilient, and purposeful during times of change will help shape a positive mindset.  

Managing a team during times of crisis has proven to be a rewarding challenge. It sounds simple, but those who believe in your mission, bring an internal sense of gratitude to your company, and are willing to see the hurdles through with you make all the difference. With that said, putting employee well-being above all else is of utmost importance. Your people are your greatest asset. Putting the health and safety of employees first, emphasizing support, and managing team morale in your organization is crucial. Some ways we’ve been able to achieve this at Profound Impact are: Our monthly all hands meeting; highlighting and matching team members’ volunteer and philanthropic donations; providing professional development programs; and timely communications. 

Some of my best tricks for staying positive would be to try to find a silver lining in every situation and ensure you set boundaries. Many of us are working from home or hybrid — and do not have a distinct boundary between work and home life. It is important to set boundaries (this can include anything from turning off email notifications, putting your phone on do not disturb, etc.) at specific times to ensure that you have dedicated time to unwind and decompress. 

On that note, prioritizing time for yourself and for your family and friends is important. Life is all about balance — and boundary setting is key to achieving that balance. This is something we encourage every team member to embody.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

The one piece of advice I’d give to all entrepreneurs is to think about the true impact your business can make on society. Businesses can be profitable and purposeful at the same time. I grew up in a time when not many girls studied Mathematics and it has always been important to me to open everyone’s eyes to what’s possible in STEM. I am able to align this societal impact with my business as an important element of how we make decisions, how we build team engagement, and how we support the next generation of tech-skilled workers. All entrepreneurs (big and small) can start early in identifying their purpose and how it will positively impact society. 

Divya Tulapurkar mastered analytics — and it accelerated her corporate career.

Divya Tulapurkar

By Hailey Eisen


Divya Tulapurkar was 25 years old when she came to Kingston, Ont. from Bangalore, India in the middle of a cold winter, and enrolled, nearly simultaneously, in two master’s degrees. Five years later, she’s one of the youngest directors at Scotiabank in Toronto. 

She attributes her success to her education and expertise in the field of data analytics. “So many people still find analytics to be intimidating,” she says, “but it doesn’t have to be. The need for this skill set in the corporate world is great, and there are tools and courses available to help simplify things.” 

Besides, intimidating isn’t something that has ever phased Divya. 

Having studied engineering and worked in technology solutions as a performance engineer in India, Divya says she knew early on she wanted to complement her technical skills with a business education. Interested in studying abroad, she chose the Full-time MBA program at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, because she liked the idea of a team-based learning model and felt it would offer a safe space to immerse herself in a new country and culture.  

Despite the bitter weather that greeted her in Kingston, and the experience of living alone for the first time, Divya says she quickly overcame the culture shock and found her groove in the MBA. She also realized early on that it was her technical expertise that really differentiated her from the other business students. She was eager to find a way to hold onto this skill set and expand upon it.

“That’s when I decided to enrol in Smith’s Master of Management Analytics program simultaneously,” she says, which made her the only woman at Smith to pursue two master’s degrees in different cities at the same time. “In order to complete both I had to travel back and forth between Kingston and Toronto every week. It was a challenge, but totally worth it.”  

“Analytics was required in every industry I explored, but I found that the financial services sector in Canada was doing really interesting work, and that stood out to me.”

In just over a year Divya completed both degrees, and upon graduating started her career with Scotiabank. “Analytics was required in every industry I explored, but I found that the financial services sector in Canada was doing really interesting work, and that stood out to me,” she recalls. “I met with a Smith alumnus from Scotiabank who introduced me to the right people, and I got my first job as a manager.” 

Within her first year, leading a small team of data scientists, she worked to build the analytics practice from the ground up for the small business banking vertical. The experience not only delivered value to the bank — it was also personally satisfying. 

“My first job in India was in coding — which meant sitting at a computer, day in and day out — but at some point, I realized I wasn’t able to see firsthand the value of what I was bringing to the table. In my first job with Scotiabank, I was able to make a difference by applying the technology to enable the discovery of key insights and strategies that would improve the customer experience.” 

Divya’s combination skill set has allowed her to rise quickly within the bank, moving into the area of global risk management. “There aren’t a lot of people who can translate the technical into business understanding, and what they’re looking for at the bank is how the tech will drive better decisions and value.” Every decision you see in banking comes from data analytics, she explains, because it can help highlight what’s working and what’s not, point out pain areas and act as an early warning indicator. 

And it doesn’t have to be complicated. “The easiest way to get started with analytics is through data visualization,” says Divya. “Just like the best presenters are storytellers, the best way to present data is also through stories. It helps you connect with your audience and explain a rather complicated analysis in a way people can understand. And the best part is you don’t need any coding experience to get started. Be it 10 rows of data or millions of them, you can easily visualize that data into charts and graphs to provide insights for decision making.”

Divya’s passion for the subject is contagious. And given all of her early successes, it’s hard to imagine her struggling with self-confidence. But as with many young professionals, she says it’s her inner voice that’s the hardest to contend with. “Back in India I had a lot of confidence, but that shattered when I arrived in Canada,” she recalls. “As a young, brown, immigrant woman working in the field of tech and analytics, it hasn’t always been easy. It has taken a village to get me to where I am today.” 

“I’ve learned that speaking up for yourself and bringing your diverse perspective to the table is a work in progress, and the more you do it the easier it gets.”

From mentors to family members, and especially her husband, Divya says she’s had a huge amount of support. She also credits the Smith MBA program with giving her an opportunity to build herself back up. “I spent that year learning to understand my value, and I can’t imagine being where I am today without that experience,” she explains. “I’ve learned that speaking up for yourself and bringing your diverse perspective to the table is a work in progress, and the more you do it the easier it gets.”

Divya is now passionate about mentoring young women in STEM, and encourages them to follow in her footsteps. Even today, there aren’t that many women in analytics — and for many, Divya explains, the journey starts with seeing someone like yourself in the field. “Every single time a woman gets to a leadership role within an organization, all women benefit.” 

She often shares the advice that she’s taken to heart over the years: “Don’t be afraid to take on something more, even if you think you’re only 30 or 40 per cent ready for it. Do it now, because if you’re 100 per cent ready, you should already be in that role. Take a chance, bet on yourself and go for it.” 

It’s this advice that helped her move into the director role at the bank after having only been a senior manager for a short time. “In my head I assumed I hadn’t been in the role long enough to apply for the director position, but my husband pushed me to go for it,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t opt yourself out before you even try, what’s the worst that can happen?’” 

To her surprise, after a fabulous interview, Divya was offered the role. “You want to work with people who can see not just what you’ve done, but what you’re capable of doing. My boss took a chance on me and it worked out really well.” 

Looking ahead, she’s excited for what’s to come. “I hope I get an opportunity to make an even broader impact,” she says. “We are just scratching the surface with what’s possible in data analytics, and it’s going to grow in so many ways.”

Canada’s first zero-waste grocery store founder offers simple tips to make your shopping more eco-friendly.

Brianne Miller

Brianne Miller’s zero-waste journey began several years ago when she was working in ocean conservation as a marine biologist. Faced with the dramatic impact plastic pollution was having on the animals she was studying, she felt helpless in her role and decided to shift her career path to counter all the “doom and gloom.” 

What began with a few pop-ups and farmers’ market stalls morphed into Nada, Canada’s first full-service, package-free, responsibly-sourced grocery store. Located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Nada is also a thriving community hub that promotes education and activism. 

Brianne is extremely well versed in conscious consumerism and how to take steps toward reducing waste and leaving a smaller footprint on the planet — from less packaging to more meal-planning. She sat down with us to share surprisingly simple and often overlooked tips to help you get started on your own zero-waste journey.  

Your career in marine biology inspired your transition to founding a zero-waste grocery store and community hub. Can you share a bit more on how you decided on the issues of plastic, packaging, and food waste as the ones you wanted to tackle?

In my decade working as a research scientist and marine mammal biologist, I was fortunate to do a lot of travel and work in remote field sites. It quickly became apparent just how global and widespread the plastic pollution problem was. For me, the start of this journey began when I saw the direct impact plastic pollution was having on the endangered species I was studying. Over time, I’ve learned a lot more. I dove into understanding our industrial food systems and their impact on oceans, from shipping noise, to agricultural runoff, to marine debris. 

How did you come up with the idea for Nada?

I had started personally trying to reduce my waste and carbon footprint and was finding that while it was possible to make strides in other areas of my life, doing it with food was next to impossible. There were so many items you couldn’t get package-free, and you definitely couldn’t do all of your shopping in one place. That was my impetus to create this type of store. 

Nada was started to address the plastic pollution issue and quickly morphed, along with our commitment, to focus on creating a more just, equitable, and regenerative food system — while keeping in mind climate action in the decisions we make. Soon we were having a much more holistic conversation about our food system and were making commitments around our sourcing criteria and the companies we chose to work with. And our goal was always to make this type of shopping easy and more accessible to our customers.

How does zero-waste shopping work exactly?  

First off, the myths people tend to believe about zero waste shopping is that it’s expensive, pretentious, and unavailable to the vast majority of people. Our mission is to dispel these myths. This starts with understanding that you don’t need to go out and buy a whole bunch of expensive containers. We encourage our customers to use upcycled containers when they’re shopping. Think hummus containers, yoghurt tubs, and tomato sauce jars that are cleaned out and ready to use again. 

For us, anything that can be used again and kept out of the landfill one or more times is a big win. That’s where cost-savings also begin. When you’re buying spaghetti sauce in the grocery store, you’re paying for that heavy glass jar, not just the product within it. In our store, people weigh their containers and pay only for the cost of the products themselves. While people can pay a deposit fee for a reusable container, we are finding that 95% of our products are going out the door in upcycled containers — both from in-store and online sales. 

What if you don’t have a store like Nada in your community? Where can people do their shopping to reduce waste?

While these stores are starting to pop up across the country, there are lots of things you can do even if you don’t have access to a zero-waste store. The first is shopping the bulk bins at your local grocery store and bringing your own containers or reusable bags. Also, many stores will support people bringing their own containers or bags for produce purchases as well. I also recommend shopping at farmers’ markets, which is a great way to support the local supply chain. Many farmers’ market vendors will take back things like egg containers and re-use them. 

Beyond changing how you shop, what would you say is the most important first step in making conscious choices around grocery consumption? 

I believe the most important thing people can do, which is very much the mission of our company, is to learn more about where your food comes from. Start by understanding how your food is grown and produced, who is growing it, how it’s getting to you, how it’s transported, and what happens to it if it’s not consumed. There are a few resources I like to recommend: the first is the podcast, How to Save a Planet, and the other is Project Drawdown. Education is a key part of this journey. 

Plastic pollution inspired your own journey. In terms of reducing an individual’s carbon footprint, is packaging and plastic the most important thing to begin with?

No. I would actually say the best thing people can do is ensure they are using all the food they buy. The food waste conversation is a much bigger and more important conversation in the grand scheme of things. It starts with meal planning, and only buying what you are going to use. Spend time thinking about how you store your produce so it lasts longer, how to cook with leftovers, how to make sure you’re saving and preserving anything that could go bad by freezing it or chopping it into soups. Repurpose ugly or bruised fruits and veggies into sauces or smoothies. The reality is, 25% of the food consumers bring home is lost to food waste or surplus food. We want to prevent, all the time, energy and resources that go into food growth and production from being wasted. 

As a retailer, we know there are many barriers when it comes to removing waste from the food supply chain, which is why we choose to support vendors who prioritize sustainability in their packaging choices, product design, and raw ingredient sourcing. And we as a store are committed to producing little to no food waste and have achieved a food diversion rate of less than 1%. The only things that go to compost in our store are things like banana peels and avocado skins. 

That’s really interesting and something that’s probably often overlooked. What other efforts can help? 

The next most important thing, I would say, is buying local. From a carbon footprint perspective choosing local growers that focus on organic, regenerative agriculture is way more important than what the food is sold in. If your food is traveling from a short distance, even if it’s in some sort of packaging, it’s going to be a much better option than buying something package-free that’s being flown halfway across the world to get to your grocery store. 

How has your life changed since starting this journey professionally? Do you always walk the talk at home? 

I’m definitely still learning as well and incorporating new ideas all the time. I do eat a vegan diet, mostly local. And my biggest thing is trying not to buy anything new, that’s one of the best things you can do for the planet. That’s a principle I live by and practice when running Nada as well. I buy second-hand clothing and my entire house is furnished with second hand furniture. Our store is also made of all repurposed materials as well — from the wood to the fixtures, we didn’t buy anything new.  

There’s a lot to think about here. Any final advice?

What I’d like people to start thinking about going forward is how they can translate their individual actions into collective actions. A lot of us are now taking individual steps, and that’s wonderful, but the reality is we are so tight on time to tackle this climate change issue that we really need more people engaged. It’s things like, if you’re trying to reduce food waste at home, can you convince your workplace to do the same? If you work in a hospital, can you get involved in conversations around waste and sustainability? Can you work with your apartment building to do more? To be honest, it doesn’t matter as much which actions you take, as long as they bring you joy. If it’s something you’re passionate about, then that’s the most important thing. Combine something that makes you happy with your skillset and begin there.

Meet Lauren Barker, CEO of Uresta — a company offering a simple solution to a very common problem for women.

During the pandemic, Lauren Barker became CFO of Uresta — and was subsequently promoted to CEO a few months later. The company offers a simple solution to a very common problem: Stress Urinary Incontinence (also known as SUI or bladder leakage), that affects one in three women due to pregnancy, childbirth, aging or other contributing factors like surgery. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she recently moved back to her hometown with her partner after spending the last several years in Toronto working in finance. Lauren is currently running Uresta remotely from Winnipeg, with employees and support functions throughout Canada.


My first job ever was… working at a clothing store.  

My proudest accomplishment is… I am proud of myself for being in a position where I can help women – whether that is mentoring a young woman pursuing a career in finance or talking with a very happy customer who tells me “Uresta gave me my life back” by stopping her leaks. 

My boldest move to date was… leaving a lucrative career in finance to run a startup that I was passionate about. I am making the least amount of money I’ve ever made and loving every minute of it. 

I surprise people when I tell them… Upfront I can be quite shy, but once you get to know me, I can be quite goofy and silly. Maybe in another life I could have been a stand-up comedian … 

My best advice to young girls thinking about a career in finance or entrepreneurship is… never let the feeling of being inadequate or anxious prevent you from pursuing a job or trying something new. You don’t want to regret that you never pursued a specific career path or opportunity because you were scared. 

My best advice to people who want to pursue their passions outside of work is… set a to do list each week with items that are small and doable. Boiling things down to small achievable tasks each week will help you towards whatever audacious goal – whether it’s learning to play the guitar or starting a business on the side.

I would tell my 20-year old self… stop worrying about the future and focus on the present. Things that bother you today are going to be miniscule to you in a few years’ time.

My best advice from a mentor was… Not necessarily advice but I’ve had many mentors give me the confidence to apply to an intimidating job or better advocate for myself in a work setting. In finance being one of the few women in the company or the only woman in a meeting can be intimidating. I remember someone saying, “you’re smarter than that guy,” when considering a job a peer was applying to. Whether or not it was true it was the push I needed to apply and I got the job! 

I meet so many women interested in pursuing a career in finance that are doubting their capabilities or intimidated by the lack of women in the industry. I’ve had men colleagues ask me how they can help further women in finance, and I often tell them that they need to encourage women more, make them feel worthy of applying for the job or encourage them to share their opinion in a meeting. 

My biggest setback was… I’ve definitely been disappointed in the past when I didn’t get a job I wanted or an opportunity that didn’t materialize. Looking back I wish it bothered me less.

I overcame it by… everything happens for a reason. Many of the good things that have happened to me have been the result of another door opening when one closed. I truly believe luck is when preparation meets opportunity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… I wish I had more time to call friends and stay in touch. My days are busy and sometimes calling up a friend vs. working out is a decision I have to make. 

I stay inspired by… speaking to our customers at Uresta. It doesn’t matter how hard of a day we’ve had and entrepreneurship has its ups and downs. When I have women literally crying tears of joy because their bladder leaks dictated their life and Uresta has been a game changer, it makes it a whole lot easier to get up and do it day in and day out. 

The future excites me because… change and the unpredictability of life – it may also be what scares me the most! But if I look back at where I was 5 years ago, my path has taken so many unexpected turns and I would never have imagined at 29 years of age I would be running an innovative women’s healthcare company focused on bladder leakage (I probably would have laughed at the idea!). 

Q&A: Chef Nuit Regular, Executive Chef and Co-Owner and Toronto’s top Thai restaurants, managed weeks with zero revenue — and then pivoted.

Nuit Regular _Photo credit Graydon & Herriott

Chef Nuit Regular is the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of PAI, Kiin, By Chef Nuit, Sabai Sabai, and Sukhothai. Creating authentic Thai dishes inspired by her roots in Northern Thailand, Chef Nuit has been instrumental in transforming the Thai food scene in Toronto, Canada. In addition to operating her many restaurants, Chef Nuit has also been a guest judge on MasterChef Canada and Top Chef Canada, is a resident judge on Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs, and is the author of Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand, which was shortlisted for the IACP Cookbook Awards and the Taste Canada Awards. 


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

Because we closed our restaurants for several weeks during the initial lockdown of the pandemic, we had zero revenue coming in. We had to adjust how we managed our finances, and we reached out to our bank to get lines of credit approved. We always had really positive relationships with our landlords and suppliers, so they were very understanding and willing to help us out in any way they could — whether it was allowing us to defer payments, or working with us to create payment plans that would make sense with our reduced cash flow. We also signed up for various government programs, including the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), and small business loan programs, which allowed us to continue to pay our staff wages, rent, and other overhead costs, even with greatly reduced revenue.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

I work in the hospitality industry, which is all about connecting and interacting with our guests in person. It’s been very hard these past 16 months to not be able to give our guests the full dining experience. I started hosting virtual cooking classes and events as an alternative way to connect and interact with my customers. It allowed me to have facetime with guests that I couldn’t have at the restaurants, and I could offer them something experiential and of value in return by continuing to bring my Thai cuisine and culture into their homes. I’ve also become more active on social media as a way of communicating and staying relevant and connected with my customers.

We’ve heard the word “pivot” a lot in the hospitality industry during the pandemic, and that is what we did — offering new products and services based on customer needs. When people were locked down in their homes and cooking more, we created meal kits so customers could easily cook their favourite Thai dishes themselves. Utilizing ingredients we already had available at our restaurants, we also opened an online marketplace selling Thai produce and products directly to customers, including items that are harder to find like holy basil and magrud limes.

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

With the various lockdowns, we were mostly only able to operate for take-out and delivery, so developing deeper relationships with our various delivery app partners was essential. Before the pandemic, take-out and delivery was only about 30% of our business. Suddenly, it became 100% of our business. To maximize ease and efficiency we upgraded our POS systems to ensure they were fully integrated to streamline all online orders, including incoming orders from our various delivery app partners.

The pandemic also helped move our business into doing more contactless transactions. Many of our guests inquired about purchasing gift cards as a way to support our business. Before the pandemic, we only sold physical gift certificates, but we finally transitioned to fully electronic gift cards.

From a business operations perspective, we transitioned to using electronic invoices versus paper invoices, and made payments via e-transfer over physical cheques. This not only ensured the health and safety of our team and our suppliers, but also increased efficiency and convenience for our business.

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

I think this pandemic showed me the importance of self-care and taking the time for myself and my family. During the early months of the pandemic, I was able to spend all this time at home with my kids and my husband — time I never had before — and I loved it! I loved being present with them. I was also able to take care of myself — exercise more, get some rest, cook with my family, and do some creative things outside of work. It helped reinvigorate me and allowed me to better focus on work. I was reminded that it’s important to take the time to reset your body and your mind, and to have quality time with your family and with yourself. Now that we’re back to somewhat normal business operations, I still ensure I take time for myself and my family every day. I have my mornings off for family time — whether it’s exercising together or just spending quality time together.

I also ensure that we bring that self-care mindset and positive energy to my team. Being a chef is hard on the body because we’re always on our feet and using our hands, using very repetitive motions. I’ve implemented regular exercise breaks for my team during work, where the team will stop what they’re doing and run through a program of stretches for the hands, the legs, the back, etc. This helps loosen up the muscles and joints and helps prevent chronic pain or long-term injuries. We’ve also created a healthier staff meal program to encourage a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and we have regular team-building activities and meetings to promote a fun and positive work environment.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

My piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to stay positive and to take care of yourself. Things may not always turn out the way you want them to, but if you approach your life and your work with a positive attitude, you can achieve anything.You also need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others — whether that’s your staff or your customers. I used to be go-go-go all the time, but the pandemic made me rethink my priorities and focus more on my physical and mental health. It hit me hard when I was forced to stop working, and I realized just how exhausted I was, physically and mentally. I discovered that I needed to have my “me” time. 

So don’t be afraid or feel guilty to take the time for yourself to enjoy the little moments in life. For me, I now start my mornings just enjoying the flowers and the birds in my backyard, and leisurely sip a cup of coffee. I make sure I set aside time to exercise. Adjusting your daily routine to ensure you’re taking time for yourself will help recharge your “internal battery,” and give you more motivation to work harder and achieve greater things at work.

Comment les personnes inspirantes peuvent contribuer à la réussite d’une carrière, quel que soit le secteur d’activité.

Indira Moudi

De nombreux entrepreneurs acquièrent les connaissances dont ils ont besoin pour lancer leur entreprise en travaillant d’abord sur le terrain pour quelqu’un d’autre. Indira Moudi, une cliente de longue date de BDC, a pris un chemin très différent. Elle a mené des carrières couronnées de succès en entreprise et en tant qu’entrepreneure, dans deux secteurs très différents. 

Diplômée en génie industriel de Polytechnique Montréal, Indira a commencé sa carrière comme ingénieure sur le terrain dans le secteur de l’énergie. Elle a ensuite gravi les échelons jusqu’à des postes de direction, pour finalement devenir présidente régionale de Baker Hughes, l’une des plus grandes entreprises de services pétroliers au monde. Au cours de ses 20 ans de carrière dans le secteur de l’énergie, elle a vécu et travaillé dans le monde entier, notamment en Afrique occidentale et centrale, en Europe, aux États-Unis, au Canada et en Inde. 

La suite de sa carrière l’a conduite à Shawinigan, au Québec – à deux heures de route au nord de Montréal, ou au sud de la ville de Québec – où elle s’est installée pour diriger Viandes Lafrance, une entreprise de transformation alimentaire qu’elle a acquise en 2012 avec son mari, le Dr Guillaume Pham. Indira est présidente et directrice générale de l’entreprise, dans un secteur d’activité qui présente une similitude notable avec le secteur de l’énergie : ces deux industries sont majoritairement dirigées par des hommes.  

Indira a travaillé dur pour changer cela, à la fois comme modèle et comme leader. Elle a contribué au recrutement et à la promotion de jeunes ingénieures et techniciennes dans le domaine de l’énergie et, dans sa propre entreprise, elle a délibérément fait en sorte que son personnel compte 20 % de femmes. 

Elle m’a récemment rencontrée pour me parler de son histoire hors du commun et des modèles qui ont contribué à façonner son propre parcours professionnel, l’inspirant à relever de nouveaux défis, à apprendre de nouvelles choses et à apporter son appui aux autres en cours de route. 


Il est fascinant de constater que vous êtes passée du statut de cadre international dans le secteur de l’énergie à celui de propriétaire d’une PME de transformation alimentaire en pleine campagne québécoise. Comment cette transition s’est-elle faite?

À 18 ans, j’ai dit à ma mère que je posséderai ma propre entreprise, et c’est la principale raison pour laquelle j’ai étudié le génie industriel à Polytechnique de Montréal. Il n’est pas surprenant qu’après avoir travaillé pendant cinq à six ans pour une société, j’ai envisagé de diriger ma propre entreprise.  Au début, je me voyais bien à la tête d’une entreprise en démarrage. En 2004, tout en travaillant à plein temps, j’ai lancé African Suppliers, qui fournissait aux entreprises africaines une expertise en matière de contrôle de la qualité, de ressources humaines et de gestion de projet. J’ai constaté que les choses n’allaient pas assez vite pour moi, et j’ai réalisé qu’en acquérant une entreprise existante, je pouvais m’y mettre directement et avancer plus rapidement. 

En 2008, j’ai commencé à rechercher activement des occasions d’affaires. Je suis venue au Canada avec mon mari, et nous avons visité une quinzaine d’entreprises de la Mauricie, au Québec, par le biais de la SADC (Société d’aide au développement des collectivités). J’avais décidé de fonder une famille dans la quarantaine, et mon mari et moi voulions avoir nos enfants au Canada. Je n’avais pas d’exigences particulières sur le secteur; je ne voulais rien de trop petit, et je voulais quelque chose qui me mette au défi. 

Après des années de recherche, l’occasion s’est présentée en 2012 avec cette entreprise familiale qui était en bonne santé financière et qui avait des propriétaires compétents. Le marché de la production de viande était en pleine croissance et, bien que nous ne connaissions rien à l’industrie agroalimentaire, nous étions convaincus que c’était une occasion à saisir. Nous nous sommes vraiment bien entendus avec le propriétaire de l’entreprise, dont nous sommes d’ailleurs encore très proches aujourd’hui, et nous lui avons fait une offre.

« En réalité, cela a été l’une des années les plus chargées de ma vie. Au cours de cette année, j’ai donné naissance à mon premier enfant, j’ai acquis la société et j’ai commencé à occuper un poste de direction en tant que présidente régionale de Baker Hughes en Afrique centrale. »

Alors, c’était tout? Vous avez quitté le secteur de l’énergie pour vous consacrer à plein temps à Viandes Lafrance?

En réalité, cela a été l’une des années les plus chargées de ma vie. Au cours de cette année, j’ai donné naissance à mon premier enfant, j’ai acquis la société et j’ai commencé à occuper un poste de direction en tant que présidente régionale de Baker Hughes en Afrique centrale. Dans le secteur de l’énergie, ce poste chez Baker Hughes représentait l’un des sommets de ma carrière, et il m’était impossible de le refuser. Mon mari m’a dit : « Ma chère, tu es une femme de carrière, accepte ce travail et je m’occuperai de l’entreprise ». Nous avons donc mené ces deux activités en parallèle pendant quelques années.

Pendant cette année, nous avons eu beaucoup de choses à faire, et honnêtement, je n’aurais pas pu le faire sans l’aide de ma famille. Mes parents, tous deux médecins récemment à la retraite, m’ont aidée en prenant soin du bébé pendant que j’allais travailler. J’ai vu ma mère travailler et élever une famille, et je savais que je pouvais faire les deux, grâce au merveilleux modèle que j’avais en elle. En fait, mes deux parents ont toujours été des modèles pour moi.

C’est merveilleux de pouvoir grandir avec des modèles forts dans son propre foyer. En dehors de cet équilibre entre carrière et éducation, y a-t-il d’autres choses que vous avez apprises d’eux et qui ont influencé votre propre parcours?

Tout à fait. Je suis née en Algérie, je suis deuxième de trois filles et j’ai été élevée dans huit pays différents. Ce n’est que lorsque j’ai eu 16 ans que mes sœurs et moi nous sommes installées à Montréal, mais mes parents ont continué à voyager pour leur travail. J’avais des racines dans tellement de pays différents que je n’ai jamais eu peur de me déplacer, de relever de nouveaux défis, d’apprendre de nouvelles choses partout où j’allais, ou d’embrasser la diversité.  

Mes parents ont tous deux joué un rôle de premier plan dans leur carrière. Ils ont compris mon dynamisme et mon ambition et m’ont soutenu tout au long de mon parcours. Cela a eu un impact certain. Le premier emploi que j’ai occupé était un poste d’ingénieure de terrain au Nigéria pour Schlumberger, une entreprise multinationale de technologie travaillant dans le secteur du pétrole et du gaz, et trois ans plus tard, j’ai obtenu un poste de direction au Gabon. 

Ma fille aînée étudie l’ingénierie et je trouve surprenant de voir aussi peu de femmes inscrites dans ce programme, encore aujourd’hui. J’imagine que lorsque vous avez commencé, à la fin des années 1990 et au début des années 2000, le secteur était encore plus dominé par les hommes? 

Oui, mais le secteur mondial de l’énergie était très conscient de la nécessité d’attirer davantage de diversité. Le secteur en particulier était en plein essor, et Schlumberger était très avant-gardiste en matière de recrutement et de formation des femmes. En fait, en 2002, on m’a demandé de travailler au service des RH de Schlumberger, dans le domaine du recrutement, avec pour mission de rechercher davantage de personnes comme moi. Ce poste m’a conduit à Paris, où j’ai rencontré mon compagnon de vie, et pendant ces années, j’ai pu engager, avec mon équipe de 12 recruteurs, plus de 3 000 nouvelles recrues par an pour l’entreprise. 

C’est impressionnant! J’imagine qu’avec votre propre succès, vous étiez un modèle très inspirant pour les femmes qu’ils espéraient attirer.  

Oui, et j’ai senti qu’il était de mon devoir d’être ce modèle. Au cours de ma carrière dans le secteur de l’énergie, de nombreuses personnes ont participé à l’avancement des femmes leaders, puis c’était à notre tour de faire de plus grandes choses, d’aider d’autres femmes à progresser et d’être des modèles pour la prochaine génération de femmes dans le secteur.

« Chez Lafrance, nous avons non seulement augmenté la représentation des femmes dans nos effectifs à 20 %, mais nous sommes également passés d’une seule nationalité dans l’entreprise au début, à 12 aujourd’hui. »

Qu’en est-il dans votre rôle actuel, dans un autre secteur dominé par les hommes? 

C’est le même dévouement qui m’anime. En tant que femme et membre d’une minorité à Shawinigan, je crois qu’il est de ma responsabilité d’ouvrir la voie aux autres. Je ne suis pas arrivée là où j’en suis aujourd’hui sans aide ni soutien, et plus j’aide et encadre les autres, plus je me sens épanouie. Qu’il s’agisse d’aider les filles de mes amis qui poursuivent des études d’ingénieur, d’encadrer mon équipe à Lafrance ou de participer à des groupes d’experts ou à des événements, je consacre toujours du temps aux autres. 

Et cela va au-delà du genre. Chez Lafrance, nous avons non seulement augmenté la représentation des femmes dans nos effectifs à 20 %, mais nous sommes également passés d’une seule nationalité dans l’entreprise au début, à 12 aujourd’hui. Pourtant, notre effectif compte seulement 40 personnes. Je peux vous dire que la création d’une entreprise diversifiée n’est pas une mince affaire. Trouver les bonnes personnes et faire en sorte que tout le monde se comprenne et travaille ensemble demande du courage et de la patience, mais c’est la bonne voie vers la prospérité et l’inclusion.  

Compte tenu de votre expérience, quels conseils donnez-vous aux autres femmes qui souhaitent emprunter une voie similaire à la vôtre? 

Le conseil que je donne aux autres femmes est le même que celui que je donne à mes propres enfants : lorsque vous tombez, relevez-vous et allez de l’avant, avec courage et résilience. Rêvez en grand et poursuivez votre rêve. 

Je crois aussi qu’il est important que les femmes sachent que le temps de l’épuisement est révolu. J’ai pu mener toute cette carrière sans m’épuiser, et c’est parce que j’ai pris le temps de prendre soin de moi, à la fois physiquement et mentalement. Je demande de l’aide et j’accepte de l’aide, car aucun de nous ne peut y arriver seul. En particulier, si vous souhaitez vous concentrer sur votre carrière, fonder une famille et élever un enfant, il est essentiel de disposer de l’aide et du soutien adéquats. 

En tant que femme de carrière et mère, je tiens à exprimer une autre réflexion sur la maternité : nous ne sommes pas mères uniquement pour avoir donné naissance, mais aussi lorsque nous nous occupons d’enfants. Beaucoup d’enfants dans ce monde ont des parents qui sont absents de leur vie quotidienne, pour quelque raison que ce soit; pour moi, c’est une grâce d’avoir des neveux, des filleuls, des enfants de la famille ou d’amis dont nous pouvons nous occuper et qui nous considèrent comme leurs mères ou leurs tantes. Dans certaines cultures africaines ou indiennes, par exemple, il est très naturel d’élever un enfant qui ne vous appartient pas. Si au cours de notre carrière de femme, nous ne pouvons pas donner naissance à un enfant pour une raison quelconque, la possibilité de s’occuper d’autres enfants est vraiment une source d’épanouissement. Mon père a toujours dit que nous ne sommes pas uniquement le fruit de l’éducation de nos parents, mais aussi de la contribution de nos professeurs, de nos voisins et de la communauté qui nous entoure. Il faut un village pour élever un enfant.   

J’ai consciemment choisi d’avoir des enfants à la quarantaine parce que je voulais me concentrer sur le développement de ma carrière, et aussi parce que je voulais être en mesure de consacrer du temps de qualité à nos enfants. Mon père disait toujours : « Voyage loin, mais fais-le tant que tu es jeune. » Et il avait raison. Plus récemment, j’ai été heureuse de pouvoir ralentir un peu le rythme, de diriger Lafrance ici au Québec et d’élever nos deux enfants. Le prochain chapitre de ma vie consistera à redonner, à partager mon expertise en tant que leader mondiale et à inspirer la prochaine génération. Nous devons laisser un monde meilleur à nos enfants, et cela se fera en montrant l’exemple tout en étant responsable.

How role models can help shape a successful career — regardless of the industry.

Indira Moudi

Many entrepreneurs gain the knowledge they need to launch their business by first working in the field for someone else. Indira Moudi, a long-time client of BDC, took a very different path. She has had very successful corporate and entrepreneurial careers —in two wildly different industries. 

Graduating with an Industrial Engineering degree from Polytechnique Montréal, Indira started as a field engineer in oil and gas and worked her way up into executive roles, ultimately becoming a regional president with Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oil field services companies. During her 20-year career in the energy sector, she lived and worked all over the world, including cities in West and Central Africa, Europe, the United States, Canada, and India. 

Her next chapter brought her to Shawinigan, Quebec — a 2-hour drive north of Montreal, or south of Quebec city — where she settled in to run Viandes Lafrance, a food processing business she acquired in 2012 with her husband, Dr. Guillaume Pham. Indira is CEO and chair of the business, which does share one notable similarity with the energy sector:  both industries are dominated by men.  

Indira has worked hard to change that — as a role model and a leader. She helped to recruit and advance young women engineers and technicians in the energy field,  and with her own business, she’s purposefully built up her workforce to be 20% women. 

She joined me recently to talk about her unique story, and the role models that helped shape her own career journey — inspiring her to take on new challenges, learn new things, and support others along the way. 


It’s fascinating that you went from being a globetrotting executive in the energy industry to the owner of a food processing SME  in the Quebec countryside. How did that transition happen?

At 18 years old, I told my mother that I will own my own company, and this is the main reason for studying Industrial Engineering at Polytechnique of Montréal. It’s no surprise that after five to six years of working for a corporation, I had been thinking about running my own company.  At first, I thought I’d like to have a start-up. In 2004, while working full time, I launched African Suppliers, which provided expertise in Quality Control, HR, and Project Management to African companies. What I found was that things weren’t going fast enough for me, and I realized that by acquiring an existing company, I could jump right in and get going more quickly. 

In 2008, I actively started looking for business opportunities. I came to Canada with my husband, and we visited about 15 companies in the Mauricie Region in Québec, through the SADC (Société d’aide au développement des collectivités). I had decided that I wanted to have kids in my 40s, and my husband and I wanted to have our kids in Canada. I knew I wasn’t picky about the sector; I didn’t want anything too small, and I wanted something that would challenge me. 

After years of looking, the opportunity came up in 2012 for this family business that was in good financial health with competent owners. The market — meat production — was growing, and while we didn’t know anything about the agri-food industry, we felt really good about the opportunity. We really hit it off with the company’s owner, who we are still very close with today, and we made an offer.

“That was one of the busiest years of my life. In the span of that year, I gave birth to my first child, acquired the company, and started in an executive role as President of Central Africa with Baker Hughes.”

So, was that it? You left the energy sector  behind and started to run Viandes Lafrance full time?

Actually, no. That was one of the busiest years of my life. In the span of that year, I gave birth to my first child, acquired the company, and started in an executive role as President of Central Africa with Baker Hughes. In the energy sector, this job with Baker Hughes was one of the summits of my career, and it was impossible to turn it down. My husband said to me, ‘My dear, you are a career woman, take the job and I’ll run the business.’ So, we did that in parallel for a few years.

During that year we had a lot on the go, and I honestly couldn’t have done it without the help of my family. My parents, both young, retired medical doctors, helped me with the baby while I went to work. I have seen my mum  working and raising a family, and I knew I could do both, thanks to the wonderful role model I had in her. Both my parents, in fact, have always been role models to me.

It’s wonderful to be able to grow up with strong role models in your own home. Outside of seeing that balance of career and parenting, are there other things you learned from them that impacted your own path?

Absolutely. I was born in Algeria, the second of three daughters, but I was raised in eight different countries. It wasn’t until I was 16 that my sisters and I settled in Montreal — but my parents continued to travel for work. I had roots in so many different countries that I was never afraid to move around, taking on new challenges, learning new things wherever I went, or embracing diversity.  

My parents both had leadership roles in their careers. They understood my drive and ambition and supported me along the way. That definitely had an impact. My first job was as a field engineer in Nigeria with Schlumberger, a multinational tech company working in the oil and gas sector — and within three years, I had moved into a managing role in Gabon. 

My oldest daughter is studying Engineering and I’m surprised by how few women are in the program, even today. I can imagine when you were starting out, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was even more male-dominated? 

Yes, but the global energy sector was very conscious about the need to attract more diversity into the field. The sector in particular was booming, and Schlumberger was quite forward thinking when it came to recruiting and training women. In fact, in 2002, I was sought out to work in Schlumberger’s HR department in recruiting, with a mandate of looking for more people like me. That job took me to Paris —where I did meet my life partner — and during those years, I was able to hire, with my team of 12 recruiters, more than 3,000 new recruits a year for the company. 

“During my career in the energy sector, there were many people helping move women leaders forward, and then it was our turn to do greater things — to develop other women and be role models for the next generation of women in the industry.”

That’s impressive! I imagine with your own success, you were a very relatable role model for the women they were hoping to attract.  

Yes, and I felt it was my duty to be that role model. During my career in the energy sector, there were many people helping move women leaders forward, and then it was our turn to do greater things — to develop other women and be role models for the next generation of women in the industry.

What about in your current role, in yet another industry dominated by men? 

I have the same dedication. As a woman and a minority in Shawinigan, I believe it’s my responsibility to pave the way for others. I didn’t get to where I’m at today without help and support, and the more I help and mentor others, the more fulfilled I feel. From helping daughters of my friends who are pursuing an education in engineering, to mentoring my team at Lafrance, or participating on panels or in events, I’m always giving time to others. 

And it goes beyond gender. At Lafrance, we have not only increased the representation of women in our workforce to 20%, but we also went from one nationality in the company when we started, to 12 today — and we only have a staff of 40 people. I can tell you that creating a diverse company isn’t the easy path — finding the right people and getting everyone to understand each other and work together takes courage and patience — but it’s been the right move towards prosperity and inclusion.  

With all your experience, what advice do you offer other women who want to follow you on a similar path? 

The advice I offer other women is the same advice I give my own kids — when you fall down, stand back up and move on, with courage and resilience. Dream big and go after your dream. 

Also, I believe it’s important for women to know that the time for burnout is over. I’ve been able to have this whole career without burnout, and that’s because I’ve taken time to take care of myself — physically and mentally. I ask for help and accept help, because none of us can do this on our own. Especially if you want to focus on your career, have a family, and raise a child, having the right help and support in place is essential. 

As a career woman and mother, another thought I want to share on motherhood is this:  We are moms not because we gave birth, but because we take care of children. Many children in this world have parents that are absent from their daily lives, for whatever reason; for me, it is a grace to have nephews, godchildren, and family or friends’ children that we can take care of, who consider us mothers or aunts. In some African or Indian cultures, for example, it is very natural to raise a kid that does not belong to you. If during our career as women, we cannot give birth for whatever reason, the avenue of taking care of other children is really fulfilling in life. My father has always said that we are not made only from our parents, but with the help of our teachers, neighbors, and community. It takes a village to raise a child.   

I consciously chose to have kids in my 40s because I wanted to focus on building a career, and also I wanted to be in a position to give quality time to our kids. My dad always said, ‘Travel far, but do it while you’re young.’ And he was right. Most recently, I’ve been happy to slow down a bit, to run Lafrance here in Québec, and raise our two children. My next chapter is all about giving back, sharing my expertise as a global leader, and inspiring the upcoming generation. We must leave a better world for our kids, and this will be done by leading by example while being responsible.

Meet Sara Austin, Founder & CEO of Children First Canada.

My first job ever was… working as a babysitter, and then my first formal jobs were working as a summer camp counsellor and as a receptionist in a doctor’s office when I was in high school.  

I chose my career path because… advocating for children is what I was born to do and it’s the perfect combination of my skills, passion and purpose. I believe every child has the right to have a safe and healthy childhood and live in a family, community and country that respects their rights. It’s an enormous privilege to get up every day knowing that I’m making a difference in the lives of millions of kids all across Canada, and to have spent my life improving the lives of kids all around the world.   

The part of my role that I love the most is… being able to work directly with children and youth and watch them be so bold and brave in advocating for their rights, whilst at the same time work towards achieving systemic change that will dramatically improve the lives of every kid in Canada. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am an adrenaline junkie. Whether it’s trying the flying trapeze, white water rafting, traveling off the beaten track, or speaking in front of the UN – I am driven to get out of my comfort zone. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating.  

My best advice from a mentor was… take more risks. Her advice helped me to see that while I had been brave and pursued a lot of big risks in my life that led to some great rewards, I had gotten comfortable in my role and plateaued. It led to a pivotal shift in my mindset that spurred enormous growth and ultimately led to some major changes, including moving across the country with my family and ultimately launching Children First Canada. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… do your due diligence to figure out what already exists and whether there is a void that needs to be filled. There are more than 170,000 charities and nonprofits in Canada, many of which are doing amazing work. Your research and networking might lead you to join an existing organization, or it might clarify what the gaps are and lead you to start something new. We need less competition and more collaboration, so put your skills, passion and experience to use where there is the greatest need. 

I stay inspired by… working with amazing young change makers. Kids aren’t just the leaders of the future; they are leaders today. I get to see these kiddos achieve incredible things at a very young age and watch them grow up and reach even greater heights. Often when they join Children First Canada, they are learning about their rights for the first time, and its amazing to see this light come on inside of them and to see their creativity and passion to make a difference on issues like mental health, racism, climate change, and reconciliation. We provide them with knowledge, skills and mentoring, along with a platform to speak directly with key decision makers at the highest levels of government and to Canadians through national media. They have an enormous sense of urgency to address the problems because its very real for them. Every single day matters in the life of a child, and I’m inspired and motivated by their sense of resolve that we can’t afford to wait.  

Success to me means… every child being able to achieve their full potential. Canada’s future depends on the strength of our children and youth. What we do now, or fail to do, will change the trajectory of children’s lives and the future of a nation. As a society, our most sacred and solemn duty is to ensure that every child not only survives, but also thrives. The health and wellbeing of kids in Canada has declined dramatically over the past decade: Canada has fallen from 10th to 30th place amongst wealthy nations, and the pandemic has had a devastating impact on their mental and physical health. We need a big bold plan to improve the lives of all 8 million kids in Canada, and to make this the best place in the world for kids to grow up.

Meet Dr. Janét Aizenstros, Founder & CEO of Ahava Digital Group.

Dr. Janét Aizenstros is the Founder & CEO of Ahava Group Global — a modern media parent company compromised of Ahava Digital Group, LOVE Lifestyle Publishing Group, Twelve Twenty One Illustration, Luxe House Publishing, and Ahava Entertainment. An award-winning businesswoman, her company was 12th on Canadian Business’ 2020 Growth List — making her the first Black Canadian woman sole founder to be featured in the top 20 on the list. Through her leadership, Ahava Digital Group’s consultancy has swiftly grown into a 9-figure organization globally. 



My first job ever was… I worked at Zellers as a cashier. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to create sustainable impact. Also, I wanted to set a standard that you can forge opportunities as a Black person in sectors that traditionally have not had many Black faces. 

My boldest move to date was… working with underdeveloped countries to help stimulate economic growth with new technologies.

My biggest setback was… the setback was actually a setup for creating a legacy-initiative to empower women leaders to live harmoniously.  

I overcame it by… having healthy support systems surrounding me along with a solid sense of self.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… anything about me other than my business achievements and philanthropic efforts. Online is just touching the tip of the iceberg. 

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… stay disciplined, committed and consistent. Focus on your lane only. 

A great leader is… someone who continues to grow, inspires others to grow and helps elevate others in their growth.

The future excites me because… it’s wide open. Open to endless possibilities.

Success to me means… peace and seeing a vision come to fruition.

Meet Ratana Stephens, Founder & CEO of Nature’s Path Food.

Ratana Stephens founded Nature’s Path Foods with her husband Arran in 1985. As CEO and co-founder, she has grown Nature’s Path to become North America’s largest independent certified organic breakfast and snack food company, while remaining firmly committed to the mission of leaving the earth better than you found it. Ratana remains at the center of every development within the company, which operates on the triple-bottom line of social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and financial viability, in that order. Since 2008, Ratana and Arran personally, and additionally through Nature’s Path, have committed to donating almost $40 million to various philanthropic and community service efforts.  


My first job ever was… College lecturer in Literature

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I saw a need for something different in the market, be it owning a vegetarian restaurant, or creating an organic cereal. It was also in my blood, my father was also an entrepreneur

My boldest move to date was… Marrying my husband Arran and moving to Canada from India in 1969.

My biggest setback was… We all have setbacks and challenges from time to time. Nothing is insurmountable, you must be resilient.

I overcame it by… I am a person of action. I try to overcome challenges by putting one foot in front of the other, and slowly but surely making progress. Sometimes you must be patient but know that you will eventually get there.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I am a voracious reader. I studied literature in university and have carried my passion for reading throughout my life. 

When starting my business, I wish I knew… How to establish a cereal manufacturing facility! Instead we learned this through extensive trial and error.

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… Try to retain as much control as possible, which sometimes means growing at a slower pace than you would like.

A great leader is… Someone who leads with empathy, and by example.

The future excites me because… The future excites me because there is so much to look forward to – the end of the pandemic (god willing), the world opening up again, travel (which I love), new possibilities for our business. But truly what excites me the most, are young people. Their commitment to the environment, their purpose-driven attitude and outlook give me great hope for a better future!

Success to me means… Spending time with family and friends. That is when I feel the most successful.

Meet Andrée-Lise Méthot, Founder & Managing Partner of Cycle Capital Management

Andrée-Lise is the founder and Managing Partner of Cycle Capital, an impact investor and the Canada’s largest cleantech private investment platform. She boasts more than 25 years of experience in venture capital, management and engineering. Today, Cycle Capital manages four funds in North America and one in China and has more than half a billion dollars under management. In addition to serving on portfolio companies’ boards of directors, she is the Founder and Chairperson of the Ecofuel Accelerator and the Co-Founder of the Ecofuel Fund. 


My first job ever was… As a teenager, I was a swimming instructor at the local public pool.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I realized, as an ecologist, that the best way to make a leap forward on the climate change is to become an entrepreneur in finance and support climate tech enterprises and entrepreneurs.

My boldest move to date was… to become an impact investor dedicated to ecological transition and inclusion, specifically for women.

My biggest setback was… not detecting people with toxic personalities on time.

I overcame it by… educating myself on toxic profiles, how to detect them and how to be a positive support for kind people.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… my private life

When starting my business, I wish I knew…  that human skills, especially emotional intelligence, is as important as business plans, market studies and numbers.

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… to take the time to know your business partners and discover their level of emotional intelligence.

A great leader is… someone who can bring others to the top with them.

The future excites me because… after 15 years in climate tech and cleantech, I feel that now, things have a chance to move forward.

Success to me means…  that my company, Cycle Capital, will survive me.

Meet Lourdes Juan, Founder of Leftovers Foundation.

Lourdes Juan is a Calgary-based entrepreneur and Urban Planner, with a Masters in Environmental Design, who oversees dozens of staff and hundreds of volunteers at the diverse companies and non-profits she has founded including Soma Hammam & SpaHive DevelopmentsLeftovers Foundation and Fresh Routes. Shocked at how much unsold bread a single bakery in Calgary had at closing time, Lourdes founded Leftovers in 2012. Today, the large charity works with hundreds of Alberta restaurants, bakeries, and grocers to keep tons of edible food out of landfills annually, by repurposing it through partnerships with local businesses, or redirecting excess food to hungry Canadians who need it the most. Leftovers currently operates in Alberta and Manitoba with plans to expand globally.


My first job ever was… I was 14 and I started working at an architecture company. I did everything from making blueprints on an ammonia printing machine to gluing carpet samples on presentation boards.

I chose my career path because… For the Leftovers Foundation, I saw a lot of food about to go to waste and I was compelled to offer a solution. I wanted to help as much as I could and that meant mobilizing the community. 

When starting out, I wish I knew   that good things take time and that’s ok. Small steps each day add up to powerful strides. 

The part of my role that I love the most is… working with teams that are equally passionate about community work, people, and the planet. 

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… Non-profits have limited resources and the problems we tackle are huge, so even though we are making a difference, I wish we had the capacity to do more.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how much I love Star Trek. 

My best advice from a mentor was…  Keep a close group of subject matter experts as mentors to help make decisions and problem solve. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… Work alongside the community, listen first and solve problems together. Non-profit work should be the most collaborative work you ever do. 

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… how to contribute meaningfully to solve complex problems.

I stay inspired by… Being witness to community members working together. I love to see it! 

Success to me means… waking up excited to take on the day!

Meet Cindy Crowe, Executive Director of Blue Sky Community Healing Centre

Cindy Crowe is a band member of the Lake Helen First Nation, Robinson-Superior Treaty Area, located an hour East of Thunder Bay. In 2004, she launched her award-winning Indigenous consulting firm, Cindy Crowe Consulting, specializing in community liaison, engagement and development. In 2005, she founded the charity Blue Sky Community Healing Centre, which utilizes the principles of Indigenous worldviews, and encourages understanding and respect for all individuals through an open dialogue in an interactive learning environment. The multi-layered and comprehensive training sessions assist the participants to experience a safe environment to discuss these topics with ease and allow a sense of curiosity from the participants.


My first job ever was… working as playground supervisor in Val Caron, Ontario for two summers in a row. I can see now that my leadership skills and my great desire to include everyone in activities was already strong in my early teens.

I chose my career path becausemy heart desired to mentor people and illustrate the value of entrepreneurship. I have a gift that promotes individuals to be the truest versions of themselves. The vision of keeping the circle strong drives me to serve community.

When starting out, I wish I knew that listening to myself would have been the best thing that I could have done for myself and the people that I serve.

The part of my role that I love the most is… being me, leading by example, loving people openly, welcoming everyone into the circle, illustrating that if I can be successful – so can you!

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… keeping the faith that the financial matters will all work out.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my greatest messages that provide my divine guidance come from Mother Earth, especially the birds and animals.

My best advice from a mentor was… always bring gifts with you when attending a new community or business i.e., bannock, amethyst, beaded jewelry, or other handmade items. It’s a show of respect for the people you are meeting for the first time.

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… to follow their inner guidance and truly listen to themselves. That compass will always take them in the right direction.

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… there is great value in doing the work to benefit individuals rather than earning a profit.

I stay inspired by… ensuring that I am taking care of myself. I know that through self-care, my ancestors and descendants also benefit.

Success to me means… doing what I love and loving what I do. This isn’t a job. It’s a passion. Watching the impacts of our work on the youth and other individuals continues to drive me and recharges my batteries.

Meet Dr. Lloydetta Quaicoe, Founder & CEO of Sharing Our Cultures.

Dr.Lloydetta Quaicoe

Lloydetta Quaicoe is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sharing Our Cultures. She established the organization in 1999 in response to the findings of her research, “Psychosocial needs of new immigrant and refugee school children.” She holds a PhD in Education from the University of South Australia, Division of Education, Arts, and Social Sciences. Her areas of specialization are newcomer children’s education, acculturation, and belonging. She is passionate about providing opportunities for school children to be heard, seen, respected, and valued. In addition to being an award-winning leader, she is the creator, executive producer, and host of a multicultural television program on Rogers TV, the Chair of OMNI East Advisory Council for Ontario and Atlantic Provinces, and Co-Chair of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police NL Black Engagement Steering Committee. 


My first job ever was… with the national Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service. I was hired as a television announcer and read the news when the scheduled newscaster did not show up for work. Shortly after, I convinced the studio manager that I could produce and host a weekly television program, with children and for children, which I did for five years.  

I chose my career path because… I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and that made a positive impact on the lives of children and youth. I enjoy what I do, and I can do it for hours without getting bored or tired. The skills and experience that I gained hosting a children’s television program in Sierra Leone sparked my passion to continue working with school children, which I’m still doing today in Canada.

When starting out, I wish I knew… that the work would grow easier with time. Twenty years ago, developing networks in the community was challenging and time consuming. Now, I have leveraged those social networks and collaborative relationships with community leaders to increase the efficiency of my organization.

The part of my role that I love the most is… creating environments for school youth to nurture friendships and develop a sense of belonging. I am energized by conversations with youth as I encourage them to share their challenges and successes. I am inspired by observing newcomer youth overcome social isolation to develop self-confidence, friendships, and leadership skills.  

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… the lack of core funding. This leads to spending significant time writing proposals and the uncertainty of whether you will have sufficient funds to execute the necessary programs and projects as envisioned.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I like listening to Motown music and watching figure skating, even though I don’t know how to skate! Seriously, whenever someone shares with me that they are being treated unfairly or if I discover that they are experiencing systemic barriers, I feel compelled to help them find appropriate long-term solutions.

My best advice from a mentor was… “To your own self be true and you would not be false to anyone.” This has encouraged me to be my authentic self in my daily interactions. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… to get lots of sleep before starting! Value the importance of building community networks and nurturing collaborative relationships.  

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… flexibility, inclusivity, and community connections. The lack of core funding that some not-for-profits experience fosters an environment of nimbleness and the need to rely on a variety of partners to be successful.  

I stay inspired by… the remarkable resilience of newcomer school youth I am privileged to work with every day.   

Success to me means… advocating for social change that results in positive outcomes for vulnerable individuals, particularly newcomer children and youth.

Meet Carolann Harding, Executive Director of SmartICE Sea Ice Monitoring & Information Inc.

As Executive Director of SmartICE, Carolann Harding is leading a diverse, award-winning team providing the world’s first climate change adaptation tool to integrate traditional knowledge of sea ice with advanced data acquisition and remote monitoring technology. As a social enterprise, the company embraces a business model that aims to expand opportunities for economic and social development in northern markets while preserving local cultures and lifestyles. In addition to her role at SmartICE, Carolann is currently the Chair of FoodFirst NL and a director on the Women in Resource Development Corporation Board and a member of the ICD NL Chapter Executive.


My first job ever was… a sales representative at Radio Shack. I was 14! I cut my teeth in customer service and learned a completely new language of electronic parts, stereo equipment and coaxial cable. Before I knew it, I was doing daily reports, inventory, opening, and closing the store. Little did I realize at that point that it was setting the foundation for my career.  

I chose my career path becausewell…I didn’t quite choose this career, it choose me! The accumulation of all of my experiences have led to me to this social impact role, it feels like home! 

The part of my role that I love the most is… twofold. Firstly, building the team of like-minded individuals that all strive towards the same goals and in my case where I work with many young people, setting the environment where they can flourish and become the leaders of tomorrow.  Secondly, I love the fact that we are enabling change.  Whether we are working with youth specifically or communities in general, we always strive to build local capacity that will empower. 

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… positioning the organization as a game changer. This could be anything from external and internal communications, continuous cultivation of relationships and revenue generation and diversification.  As well, like most sectors these days, talent identification, retention and fit to organization is critical. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that in 1990 I won the Youth Entrepreneur of the Year award for Newfoundland and Labrador. Too long ago for coverage to show up on the internet!  

My best advice from a mentor was… never bury your head in the sand when a problem arises, face it head on, be honest with yourself and your banker!  Ask for help, there are smart capable around you that can contribute to the solution – together is better! 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… have a rock solid vision, mission, mandate and values. Take the time to find people that align and build a team of smart people to help you execute. Set milestones and celebrate when reached. Commit to continuous engagement with: staff, board, stakeholders and community. 

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… having a social mandate brings people together. There is more than just building up stockpiles of profit.  Sure, build the profit but share the wealth by making many people’s lives better.  Ultimately, the organization will grow, develop, and become more sustainable. 

I stay inspired by… knowing that what we are doing at SmartICE is helping people become the best versions of themselves and that they see a hopeful future. 

Success to me means…that what I do or contribute to assists the greater good and affects people’s lives for the better.  Waking up each morning and wanting to go to work where my passions can come to life is success to me!  

Meet Katherine Hay, President & CEO of Kids Help Phone.

As President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, Katherine (Kathy) Hay drives the strategic direction, innovation imperative and culture of Canada’s only national, 24/7 bilingual e-mental health service for young people. In 2020, Kids Help Phone’s team of counsellors and crisis responders made over 4.6 million connections with youth in every province and territory — with an ever-growing mandate to always be there for youth when, where, and how they need mental health support. Prior to joining Kids Help Phone, Kathy was President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation where she advanced the health of women across Canada and achieved record levels of support. 


My first job ever was… Looking back, my first job was washing cars in a car wash bay at my dad’s car dealership. First job outside of school, however, was as a bank teller at CIBC. 

I chose my career path because… My career has definitely not been a linear one. I knew that I wanted to work with people, while making a difference. As I moved from the world of banking to the not-for-profit sector, I felt more gratified by raising $1,000, than by closing a million dollar deal. The not-for-profit sector has truly created awareness of the impact of my actions. You don’t necessarily know the change or who you are directly impacting, but you have to believe in it. 

When starting out, I wish I knewThat it isn’t all black and white or linear. Some of the richest experiences are on the edges of the ebbs and flows and curves of your career path.

The part of my role that I love the most is… That I am able to help shape and shift the landscape of mental health in Canada while supporting the courageous heroes on the frontlines.

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… Grasping how complex a not-for-profit is. While it may not look so, you can get mired down in its complexity.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

Most obvious: The most important things in my life are my two children, my grandson and my family.

Least obvious: That I did not receive my university degree until 15 years after leaving university and that it was completed through distance education while living in Brazil.

My best advice from a mentor was… As you are leading an organization, it should not be black and white. There should be a time every single day where you put your head in your hands and say you don’t know what you are doing – then you put your head up and keep leading. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… Strategy dictates and that people are your best asset, so take care of them.

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… The not-for-profit world is highly innovative and manages to do so on a shoestring budget. We do this because we need to change the landscape of the world. For example Kids Help Phone is the first and remains the only not-for-profit using AI machine learning to triage suicidality in our texting service, ensuring a person at risk gets crisis response within 40 seconds.

I stay inspired by… Spending time with our frontlines and hearing the stories from the young people on the frontlines who need us the most.

Rencontrez Isabelle Côté, PDG Coffrages Synergy.

Femme d’action et de défis, Isabelle Côté connaît tous les rouages du domaine du coffrage. Depuis 2006, Isabelle a grandi dans l’entreprise. Passionnée par la construction depuis toujours, elle a occupé avec brio différentes fonctions au sein de l’organisation : réceptionniste, estimatrice, gérante de projets, responsable du marketing et du développement des affaires, directrice construction, jusqu’à occuper la position de Présidente Directrice Générale. Visionnaire et déterminée, elle a su faire sa place dans la grande industrie de la construction. Son équipe passionnée, son désir d’innover, et sa volonté à toujours viser l’amélioration continue, ont su mener Coffrages Synergy au rang de grande entreprise.

Mon tout premier emploi était…Monitrice de planche à neige au Mont St-Bruno. J’ai fait partie de la 1ere cohorte de femmes monitrice de planche à neige à cette montagne. La preuve que mon désir de foncer et de faire les choses différemment était présent dès mon jeune âge.

J’ai décidé d’être en affaires parce que… je voulais faire une différence. Aller au bout de mes idées! L’expression « Think out of the box » me représente bien 😉

La réalisation dont je tire le plus de fierté, c’est… En tant que maman, ma famille est ma plus grande fierté. Mais je suis aussi très fière d’avoir créé cet esprit de noyau familial au sein de mon entreprise. La famille Synergy, c’est plus de 1300 passionnés qui s’unissent chaque jour pour faire de chaque projet notre plus grande réalisation.

Mon plus gros incident de parcours fut… d’avoir pensé qu’il y avait une seule façon de gérer. Que tout le monde réagissait de la même manière.

J’ai surmonté le tout en… comprenant que chaque individu est différent et évolue différemment aussi. Qu’aller chercher le meilleur de chacun ne se fait pas de la même façon. Il faut être à l’écoute et développer ses « softskills ». 

Si vous me cherchez sur Google, vous ne saurez sûrement pas que… je pratique l’apnée sportive et la chasse sous-marine! C’est un sport que j’adore et qui me fait beaucoup penser à l’entreprenariat : dépasser ses limites, rester en contrôle malgré le stress environnant et les risques. Envie de me voir en plongée? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKpbz_o07o8

Lorsque je me suis lancée en affaires, j’aurais aimé savoir que…  être en affaires ce n’est pas juste un job, c’est un mode de vie. Mais quand on fait quelque chose qui nous passionne, ça devient une seconde nature.

Le meilleur conseil que je pourrais donner à ceux et celles qui veulent faire croître leur entreprise, c’est : de toujours mettre ses employés au premier plan. Les décisions d’entreprise doivent être prises aux bénéfices des employés. Si Synergy est devenue la grande entreprise qu’elle est aujourd’hui c’est surtout grâce à l’implication de nos gens. Pour moi, la confiance envers les membres de mon équipe est primordiale. Ce sont eux les ambassadeurs Synergy!

Un grand leader est une personne qui… être un bon leader ce n’est pas d’être le meilleur, c’est de rendre les autres meilleurs.

J’entrevois l’avenir avec enthousiasme, parce que… nous avons su faire grandir une culture d’entreprise forte. Notre équipe possède la sagesse et l’expertise pour s’enraciner et devenir encore plus forte. 

Pour moi, avoir du succès, c’est… voir les gens qui m’entourent évoluer. Avoir la chance d’inspirer les gens et de leur permettre de réaliser leur plein potentiel, c’est ce qui me « drive » le plus à être une bonne leader!

Meet Anna Sainsbury, Chairman & Founder of GeoComply.

Anna Sainsbury, former Commercial Director of TST, has over 10 years experience in regulation and compliance across both the land-based and online gaming industries. Anna has worked with regulators, operators and vendors throughout North America, Australia, Asia and Europe. More recently Anna has taken up the challenge of developing and delivering a reliable geolocation solution for the U.S. Intra State market. As Chairman of GeoComply, Anna is now working with some of the first movers in the emerging U.S. online gaming market to harness the latest technologies to ensure compliance with UIGEA and other governing laws.

My first job ever was… At a coffee shop in West Vancouver. I used to memorize every regular customer’s drink of choice and start making them before they arrived. Customer service work is a masterclass in staying involved with all sides of the business while maintaining focus on the clients, which is a balance that I continue to strive for at GeoComply. At the end of the day, whether in a coffee shop or at a tech company, the person consuming our products should get the biggest slice of our attention.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was always creative and loved solving problems. The flexibility that being an entrepreneur affords me is a big plus as well. To be honest, my younger self was probably drawn to the independence of it, but over the years teamwork has become more and more important to how our business operates.

My proudest accomplishment is… Outside of my family, launching my company! We were truly an underdog in unknown waters, but 10 years later I am so proud of how we not only survived, but thrived amidst various challenges. There is no better feeling than seeing your passion come to life.

My biggest setback was… Having dyslexia. Writing is incredibly challenging for me: oftentimes, the ideas in my head seem incoherent on paper. This has been a real difficulty in business, where written communication is often key to persuasion and success.

I overcame it by… Emphasizing my strengths in verbal communication, prioritizing succinctness, and being personable in all settings. I’ve also found AI-powered grammar and editing tools especially helpful, and in my work, I collaborate with effective writers to bring ideas to life.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love yoga! It keeps me centered every day. I recommend everyone to find a pillar for consistency and wellness in their own lives. It certainly doesn’t have to be yoga, but staying active and mindful is essential.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… How to code. 

Meet Robin Kovitz, President & CEO of Baskits.

Robin Kovitz is the President & CEO of Baskits, which designs, manufacturers, and delivers unique and luxurious gifts to over 40,000 customers across Canada and the US. Leading one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies, Robin is a sought-after speaker and commentator on entrepreneurship through acquisition and digital retail, and she and her company have been featured in a number of leading publications including Forbes, House & Home, Elle Canada, Canadian Business, HuffPost, Style at Home and on Global News and Your Morning. 

My first job ever was… My first “official” job was working on the factory floor/assembly line of my family’s meat manufacturing business in Calgary, Alberta, when I was 14 years old.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had just given birth to my first child and wasn’t sure how I could continue working downtown, in the office, for 60+ hours per week as I had for the prior 10 years. Essentially, I wanted to work from home 10 years before covid made it commonplace and I believed entrepreneurship was the only way to do that.

My proudest accomplishment is… Becoming Mom to Jill and Jake and wife to Sam. Second proudest is the incredible team we have built at Baskits Inc.

My biggest setback was… As an entrepreneur, I face setbacks every single day. 

I overcame it by… Having a “never give up” attitude. As an entrepreneur, you will be knocked down time and time again and you must be able to get back up quickly, brush it off and keep going.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I was a competitive soccer and volleyball player growing up!

When starting my business, I wish I knew… How difficult it is to attract, recruit, lead and retain world class people!

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… To really understand your target market and how it relates to your value proposition. Also, my advice is to remember that profitable growth is what matters.

A great leader is… Someone who can rally a team around a vision to execute something larger than themselves. Someone who is able to motivate people to give their very best. 

The future excites me because… I am an eternal optimist and see endless of opportunities everywhere. As an entrepreneur, I guess you kind of have to be. 

Success to me means… Having positive and lasting impact on the people around me. Creating opportunities for my team and kids and supporting my community. 

5 personal branding secrets every business leader should know.

Monique Bryan

By Monique Bryan

Landing those dream clients, referral partners, speaking opportunities, publishing deals and media coverage doesn’t happen by happenstance. Some of us fail to understand that the success we see of some of our online business idols was the result of years of consistent effort, backed by strategic marketing and personal brand management. 

As PR expert Nicole Dunn says, “In establishing yourself as a brand that people trust, you’ll be able to price your goods and services at a premium, attract more media attention, be viewed as an authority in your industry and create a long-lasting platform.” 

Today, it is not enough to be an expert at what you do. It’s your job as the leader and visionary of your business to learn how to be heard and seen amongst the noisy oversaturated online arena so it’s easy for people to choose you.

Here are 5 key ways to start positioning yourself for the opportunities you want:

Secret #1: Own Your Lane And Stay In It

As the saying goes, “A confused customer never buys.” Being multifaceted and multi-passionate are great attributes to have, but we can’t expect to be top of mind for our audience in all areas at the exact same time. People don’t have the bandwidth to figure out what we do. It’s your job to tell them and then become known as the go-to in that space. The mistake some entrepreneurs make is that they diversify too soon, failing to establish credibility and trust.

Here’s a goal: Pick a lane you want to own, then be prepared to own that lane for at least five years before you start diversifying into other areas. Be good, and keep getting better. 


Secret #2: Clean Up Your Digital Houzz 

Think about the last time you hired someone for something really important, what drove your decision? Nine times out of ten it was a referral, their reputation or how they looked online. According to personal branding expert, Giuliana Tranquilini Hadade, there are over 1 billion names Googled every day, yet only one in four have any positive information on Google. It is your responsibility to ensure your online presence aligns with how you want to be perceived.

Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Remove out-of-date and unprofessional photos, websites, and content from the internet. If you don’t own the content, reach out to those who do and make the request to have it removed or have yourself untagged.
  • Replace unprofessional and out-of-date profile headshots. (See Secret #3 for how to do this.)
  • Update your social media bios so they are clear and concise. They should tell people what you do, whom you help, and how to contact you with ease. 
  • Create a personal website where you control the message going out about you. This is online real estate that you own unlike your social media profiles, which could be shut down at any time without warning.
  • Create new content and post it online on a regular basis. This will push irrelevant and old content you may want to erase to the later pages of Google.

And remember, every piece of content you put online is either adding to your brand — or taking away from it.


Secret #3: Have A Good Headshot

Headshot with tipsWe all judge a book by it’s cover, no matter how brilliant the author; however, you don’t have to be the most attractive or photogenic person to seal the deal. You do need to look trustworthy and credible. Often people are deciding if your words can be trusted based on how credible you “look.”

They have a split second to choose you over someone else, and usually, all they have to base their decision on is a small one-inch profile photo they found on your social media, so it’s your job to put your best-polished foot forward. Hop over to your profile and ask yourself, “If I were seeing me for the first time, would I hire me, based on what I see?”


Secret #4:  Show Up On Video And Share Free Content 

According to industry experts, “…no amount of sophisticated technology can ever take the place of real, live, in-person events. That’s when you can look into a person’s eyes, read his or her body language, and sense their energy. But, the very next best thing is video, and especially live video.”

This is especially important if you sell one-to-one services, or you have aspirations for interviews by the media. If you are stepping out on your dream and you want people to decide to choose you over someone who does exactly what you do, you have to let people see the face behind the message. And the best way to do that is to create long and short-form video content and distribute it across your social media channels. 

Here are a few tips on how to get started:

  • Only speak on the topics you want to be known for (remember Secret #1: Own Your Lane.)
  • Plan what you want to say in advance. Fumbling around is not good for you or the listener
  • Focus on delivering value first. Always think about, what does my audience want to hear? 
  • Have a take-a-way for the listener, such as key action steps, a resource, or a call-to-action.
  • If you are nervous about showing up on video, ask a friend to interview you on camera versus going at it alone.
  • Wear something that makes you feel confident and like the expert that you are.
  • Be yourself and speak like you are talking to a friend.

Secret #5: Build Your Network Of Thought Partners 

“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you” will become your mantra as you build your personal brand and your influence. Therefore it is essential that you grow and nurture a strategic network of people who can help get your name out there. And as LinkedIn has shown us, we are usually just 1-3 connections away from everyone we want.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Make a list of the “types” of people you think could propel your credibility, opportunities, or proximity to the things you want if you had them in your network.
  • Look at your LinkedIn connections or contacts list on your phone and see whom you are already connected to and add them to your list.
  • From these lists identify which of these people you think would be comfortable putting your name forward or introducing you to your dream contacts.
  • Reach out through a thought-out direct message, video message, or email and reconnect.
  • Acknowledge them for their great work and offer them your help, expertise, or a connection you think they could use. Always give before you ask.
  • If they are active on social media, go one step further and make them look good by highlighting their accomplishments and sharing their content.

These are just a few of the essential components to brand yourself and start building a reputable personal brand.Your ability to build an authentic online reputation and social media presence that people, companies, organizations and even your future book publisher can get behind is critical. When you learn that your personal brand is essential to your ability to build your thought leadership, your platform, your audience, your bank account, and your dreams, you will plan, market and show up in a whole new way.

Monique Bryan

Monique Bryan

Meet Monique Bryan, a speaker, personal branding expert, online course creator, podcast host and triple positive breast cancer survivor. Monique helps women-identified coaches, consultants and seasoned professionals package and sell their genius, build a noteworthy online presence and build their confidence as they step into the spotlight. Book a Brand Discovery Call with her team to learn more or visit moniquebryan.com.

How to get started with Socially Responsible Investing.

As social justice and climate issues become more of a concern for many, decisions around how we shop, eat, and live are often being made with our community responsibility in mind. 

For those thinking about how to align their values with their spending, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) can be an important piece of the puzzle. It considers both financial return and social and environmental impact, giving investors the opportunity to make more conscious investment decisions.

There are a variety of approaches for socially responsible and sustainable investing — and often the best place to begin is to understand your values and priorities. Where do you go from there? Follow these four steps to help kick off your SRI journey. 

1. Get clear on what matters most to you. 

You don’t have to choose between your long-term financial goals and investing in responsibly managed companies — with the options available today, you can make investment decisions that will lead to good financial outcomes as well as have a positive impact. And you can take it one step further, by defining when and how you might prioritize one over the other. Whether you’re driven more by performance or purpose, and build your portfolio accordingly. 

Taking time to reflect on your values can also help you invest in a more meaningful way. Where do you stand when it comes to environmental responsibility, social impact, and corporate governance? What matters most to you? Are there things that you absolutely will not tolerate when it comes to investments? If you take a look at your lifestyle and the areas you tend to focus on most, this can provide a roadmap for your investment decisions. For example, if you’re committed to reducing waste and are living a “green” lifestyle, you may not want to invest in companies that are causing harm to the planet. If you’re committed to shopping locally, supporting small, women-owned, BIPOC-owned businesses, you may want to look for funds that have a similar mandate. 

Not totally sure where you stand? There is a wealth of resources online that can help. For example,  BMO’s MyESG™ is an easy, interactive tool that helps you recognize your approach to investing, get clear on what you value, and determine what kind of investor you are. 

2. Determine how your current portfolio aligns with those values. 

If you’re investing by purchasing individual stocks, you probably know exactly what’s in your portfolio. Many of us use investment vehicles that group a broad basket of stocks from a variety of companies together — like with a mutual fund, exchange traded fund (ETF), or index fund. This means you could be inadvertently investing in companies that manufacture weapons or tobacco, have environmentally detrimental impacts, or don’t pay their manufacturers a living wage. 

You can find information online about the stocks held in funds, but a financial professional can help you look more closely at your existing portfolio, determine where you’d like to make a change, and direct you toward more socially responsible choices. If you’re serious about only investing in companies that align with your values, there are a number of investment products that are specifically designed to help you do this, which can take a lot of the research and guesswork out of the equation. 

3. Understand the various ways you can make investment decisions.

It is often assumed that socially responsible investing means excluding stocks or companies based on their practices or ethics — and virtually all SRI avoids investment in sectors that are detrimental to the environment and are deemed to have an adverse effect on society — but not investing in certain industries is just one part of the equation. 

Investors may also consider positive inclusion, which means investing in stocks that promote a social benefit such as green energy, healthcare technology, and sustainable manufacturing. Thematic investing is another form of SRI where a portfolio is made up of companies that all focus on a similar theme, such as BIPOC-owned businesses or sustainable food production, for example. 

4. Know the investment approaches available to you.  

Depending on your goals and needs, the approach you take to sustainable investing can differ slightly — so it’s a good idea to know the difference between the investing strategies available to you. ESG funds, for example, use a framework that considers three factors when selecting which companies to support: environmental (the effects on the earth), social (the impact on society), and governance (how the company is run). The priority here however remains financial return. Impact Funds require every investment to have a positive social or environmental impact, giving increased priority to advancing social goals, even before financial gain. 

You can also decide between working with an investment professional or taking a DIY approach through a self-directed account. Depending on the route you take, the products that are available can change. For example, with an investment professional you can gain access to ESG solutions such as the newly launched BMO Sustainable Portfolios, a professionally managed suite of portfolios that invest in companies committed to ESG outcomes. If you are looking to add ESG ETFs to your self-directed portfolio, BMO has expanded the range of ESG ETFs including the BMO Balanced ESG ETF (ZESG)

As Socially Responsible Investing continues to gain momentum in the US and Canada, the number of products available is growing — but before you get to making those detailed decisions, don’t skip the self-reflection needed to know if taking a values-based approach to investing is right for you, and the ideal way to approach it to meet your goals. If you’re in doubt, it’s always best to ask a professional for guidance. 

Meet Connie Down-Cicoria, Founding Shareholder & Executive Chair of the Board of AERIUM Analytics Inc.

Connie Down-Cicoria is a serial entrepreneur, with a long career focused primarily in the Oil and Gas, Mining, Telecommunications, and Forest Industries. She founded Lorrnel Consultants in 1982, Ever Green Land Use Consulting in 1991, and Evolution Geomatic’s in 2013. Her latest venture, incorporated in 2016, is AERIUM Analytics — North America’s leading provider of RPAS based geospatial and compliance solutions. AERIUM builds upon nearly 40 years of experience from it’s co-founders and sister company as part of the Lorrnel Group. Connie also manages a ranch in southern Alberta where she raises and trains cutting horses and cattle. Over the years, she has helped develop environmental procedures to reduce the footprint of industrial activities in Alberta. 


My first job ever was… Cashier at a convenience store at age 15.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…I found working for others limited my abilities. I always wanted to run my own business.  An opportunity presented itself to start my own business in the Oil and Gas industry in Calgary in 1982, so I took it.

My boldest move to date was Buying out my partner when the company was losing money during the COVID pandemic. We are now in negotiations with a client only 7 months later for a 5-year contract and are positioned to have our best year to date.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t knowThat in 1979 I was a poor single mother working for the Alberta government not making enough money to make ends meet.  My home was a small apartment close to work so I could walk there.  My furniture consisted of a bed with coffee cans for legs, my baby’s dresser consisted of apple boxes stacked on top of each other, my kitchen table legs were held on with electrical tape and my sofa was a fold out cot.  I had to borrow money every month from my parents to pay my bills and by 1982 I had moved to Calgary and started my own company in the Oil Patch.

When starting my business, I wish I knew What I know today! Trust my instincts and to believe in myself more.  Being an entrepreneurial woman in the 80’s was tough because you were surrounded by men that kept telling you that you couldn’t do it.  There were very few women in business back then, but I searched them out and relied on their support. 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is…  Most people hate change, but change is important to any company that wants to succeed.  We can either lead change or let change lead us, which can eventually disempower or make your company vulnerable.  Just do it.  Have no fear and don’t weaken.

I stay inspired by… By constantly exposing myself to new technology and looking for opportunities.  By staying physically active, working with my children, and surrounding myself by smart/motivated people it is easy to stay inspired.  I love business.

The future excites me because… I believe we can change the future of the world by making it a safer place for humans and animals alike through innovation and technology.  

Success to me means… Being able to live a healthy, active, balanced life with financial stability while having fun.

Meet Charlene Brophy, President & CEO of Fonemed

Charlene Brophy is President and CEO of FONEMED. For 20 years, she’s guided the company through stellar growth both domestically and internationally and led the development of Fonemed’s Health Management Platform, embracing technology as a means of providing scalable, sustainable, and accessible care. A speaker and author, Charlene has been honoured with several awards, and is an active board member for several non-profit organizations, and two government innovation advisory councils.


My first job ever wasan untrained health care aide in a seniors home. That’s where I learned the joy that comes from helping those who could not help themselves. It’s a feeling that resides in the heart of every nurse.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… the time was right to address the bottleneck in accessing health care services in a system struggling to deal with a surge in demand for care related to an aging demographic. 

My boldest move to date was… moving our corporate office from California to St. John’s, NL. If I had it wrong, I wouldn’t be answering these questions today. But I knew I could build a team here at home, that would share my passion and make my vision of Fonemed become reality.  I am so proud to give back to the community and the province that has supported me, growing an international business, offering hundreds of employment opportunities, right here, at home.

My biggest setback was… my greatest motivation. That’s cliché, but it’s accurate. There have been many failures over the years. I truly view every setback – big or small – professional or personal – to be an opportunity to make a positive change.

I overcame it by… trusting my gut, always doing what is necessary to keep focus on quality of care and supporting and encouraging the team that represents our company to the world.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that in spite of my business success, I am still a nurse at heart and I care deeply about people – family and friends, employees, clients, community partners, and the people I meet daily. I love the business I am in because at Fonemed, we bring healthcare to people when they need it most.  Helping people is what it is all about.    

When starting my business, I wish I knew… how tough it could be to take on the old boys’ club. There were times when I asked if it was worth the bother, but I never asked that same question after each win. I’m very proud of the women who challenge the status quo as tough as it is. That’s how meaningful change occurs; by having the courage to persevere. 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… be curious. You cannot disrupt anything without first asking why something is what it is.

I stay inspired by… my ridiculously passionate team. They dream big right alongside me. The world is out there, and they have the determination to offer access to care, for anyone, anywhere, anytime.  

The future excites me because… of the new possibilities in the digital health space, the pandemic has accelerated both the adoption and demand for virtual care. The sky is the limit now.

Success to me means… making positive changes in the lives of people who sometimes feel they are on their own, without adequate healthcare, without anyone to care.  Offering access to care to individuals and families, making a difference, to me that’s success.  

Meet Michele Romanow, Co-Founder & President of Clearco

Michele Romanow

Michele Romanow is currently the President of lending firm Clearco (formerly Clearbanc), which she co-founded in 2015. In the same year, Michele became the youngest Dragon on Dragons’ Den, a testament to her experience and success as an entrepreneur (she started six companies before her 35th birthday). Clearco has since achieved “unicorn” status — a valuation over $1 Billion US — and has invested more than $2B into 4,500+ companies, making them the biggest ecommerce investor in the world. Michele has been honoured with several awards, sits on many boards, and co-founded the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative, a non-profit with international business magnate Sir Richard Branson, to encourage growth of women entrepreneurs.


 My first job ever was… doing admin in my Dad’s office. It’s where I first learnt to become very valuable to people at an early age.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I thought it was the biggest way to make an impact

My boldest move to date was… spending all the money had left on 1 ad at Buytopia to see if it would work. Being crazy enough to go up again the VC industry and to believe we could build a new asset class.

My biggest setback was… having lost friends along the way

I overcame it by… learning from my mistakes

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…  

When starting my business, I wish I knew…  how little I would sleep

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… Just start! And don’t listen to the detractors.

I stay inspired by…  the founders we fund through Clearco and hearing all their stories.

The future excites me because… there are so many people becoming first time entrepreneurs. 

Success to me means…  doing what other people thought was impossible.