Meet Kayla Isabelle, CEO of Startup Canada.
2022 Social Change Award Finalist: National Impact
Kayla Isabelle is the Chief Executive Officer at Startup Canada, the gateway to Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Startup Canada’s mission is to connect Canada’s entrepreneurs with the tools, community, and support they need to start and build their businesses. Kayla has dedicated her career to supporting entrepreneurs, both in Canada and internationally. An award winning leader, strategic communications consultant, and change management facilitator, she is passionate about leveraging the power of storytelling in the entrepreneurial community. An advocate for women in leadership, Kayla is also the host of the Startup Women Podcast focused on providing resources to women entrepreneurs across Canada.
My first job ever was… as a theatre camp counselor! We would write, direct, and produce plays with elementary and middle school kids from our local community. To this day, it’s one of the most thrilling and meaningful jobs I’ve ever had!
I chose my career path because… I am deeply moved and energized by entrepreneurial energy. Working in this space, I go from talking about increasing the number of women in the trades in the morning, to helping food and beverage companies export their products in the afternoon, to interviewing leading women in tech navigating funding hurdles on the Startup Women podcast. The variety keeps me in flow, and there’s never a day I don’t learn something new!
When starting out, I wish I knew…your energy introduces you before you do, and there’s a beautiful opportunity there for me as a young leader. I always thought my age was going to hold me back, or that people would perceive me a certain way because of it, but my enthusiasm, positivity, and energy set me apart! I wish I had seen that as a core strength earlier in my leadership journey, and that could have given me more confidence.
The part of my role that I love the most is… talking to entrepreneurs each and every day. There’s no better community to look for inspiration and perspective from than ambitious, tenacious, and passionate entrepreneurs.
The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… recognizing that you can’t be all things to all people. Non-profits have unique resource and fiscal hurdles that require leaders to be extremely focused, and aware that while there’s a tremendous amount of important work to do, done is better than perfect.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m a certified deep water scuba diver! Nothing thrills me more than swimming with sharks around the world — from Whale Sharks in Mafia Island, Tanzania, to Black Tip Reef Sharks in Costa Rica. It’s my favourite hobby!
My best advice from a mentor was… don’t light yourself on fire to keep others warm.
My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… make sure you align with the mission, and overall leadership. With the increasing demands of non-profit organizations, you have to be extremely committed to the cause to keep going during the hard moments!
I stay inspired by… staying curious. When we get too set in our ways, we lose that creative sparkle. I try to limit my attachments to my own ideas, and way of doing things — working with such inspiring and iterative entrepreneurs also keeps our team on our toes, and challenges us to abandon assumptions!
Success to me means… going to bed at night feeling a sense of accomplishment, and knowing that at least one thing I did that day made a difference for someone. That can be as small as a warm and fuzzy compliment to a great colleague, or writing a $30,000 cheque to an entrepreneur. I value each moment, and the privilege I have with a front row seat to it all.
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