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This Innovator Identified a Gap in the Market and Built a Top Business in the Automated Retail Industry

Meet Shamira Jaffer, Founder and CEO of Signifi Solutions. From starting her first business at 24, to winning a 2023 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award, her journey is a testament to the power of innovation and resilience.

By Khera Alexander

“I don’t remember ever not being an entrepreneur,” says Shamira Jaffer, founder and CEO of Signifi Solutions.

Shamira has always been an innovator. Motivated by a desire to drive change and make things better, she is skilled at noticing areas of opportunity.

“I think my personality constantly makes me think, there’s gotta be a better way to do this,” she says. “That’s my mindset.”

Growing up in an environment that encouraged innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, Shamira’s entrepreneurial mindset was shaped in large part because of her father’s journey with entrepreneurship.

“My father was an entrepreneur; [he] always was talking about ideas. It was instilled in me from a very young age to be constantly thinking about opportunities.”

As a serial entrepreneur, Shamira knew at a young age that working in a corporate environment was not a good fit for her.

“I tried the corporate life for about six months,” she says. “Even at the company I was working at, I wanted to change everything. Everything moved so slowly — I found it so painful.”

When automation was still an emerging technology, Shamira jumped right in and started her first business at 24. By selling computers, teaching people how to use them, and selling a solution that would help clients automate their accounting, her business eventually grew to sell and repair hardware. This was Shamira’s foray into a career of problem-solving and innovation that would drive her future ventures forward.

Her second business was a software company that created a solution for picture kiosks that printed photos as a service.

“We saw that those machines were down all the time, so we created software to help them stay up,” she says.

If a location was low or out of paper, this technology would alert the manufacturer and they’d be able to rectify the issue at any location much more efficiently.

After gaining significant experience with both hardware and software, Shamira noticed that at the time, these systems were sold separately. It was here that she identified another opportunity that would allow her the space to build, create, and invent. 

“It was a very broken industry — the hardware was there, the software was there, but it was never beautifully integrated. I saw a big opportunity in having a well-integrated solution, and then putting service and support around it. I thought that was something that was missing in the industry.”

Recognizing the unique space she could carve out, Shamira started her third company, Signifi Solutions.

Today, Signifi Solutions is a leading organization that delivers end-to-end solutions in automated retail, IT asset management, smart vending solutions, and loss prevention, with touchscreens as a core, empowering component of their products and services.

In business since 2005, Signifi has service locations across North America and Europe, and Shamira’s company designs innovative solutions for some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 organizations.

“If you walked around the [Signifi] office, you’ll see a lot of very passionate people,” Shamira says. “We’ve got such a great culture. My door is very open. Everyone has ideas [and] it’s a very open learning environment. I think that’s one of the reasons why we are successful.”

While much of Signifi’s success can be attributed to staff, company culture, an environment that encourages creative thinking, and Shamira’s leadership, she says there were a couple of things she would do differently that she encourages fellow entrepreneurs to do.

“I would tell every person I know that you need to have mentors. I learned everything the hard way, which was not efficient,” she says. “In my earlier companies, I became really good friends with my employees, and it was emotionally hard to tell them if they were doing things wrong. I’ve figured out how to keep things clear. I’m very open and [my team and I] have a great relationship, but that’s something I’ve figured out over the years.”

After running Signifi for 18 years, Shamira was recognized as the winner and recipient of the 2023 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Innovation category.

“I’m still floating from that. I didn’t think I was going to win,” she says. “It was the first time I really felt recognized. I suddenly realized we had built something big. [The award] came from such a prestigious organization, and everything about [the win] was quite special. It was a moment to reflect — and a moment to savour.”

Humbled and enthusiastic about her win, it’s clear that Shamira’s passion for entrepreneurship and problem-solving is partly what has sustained her decades-long career. She has seen success and successfully navigated very challenging periods, not just because of her ability to notice areas of opportunity, but also because she takes action — even if it means learning along the way.

Shamira encourages fellow entrepreneurs to do the same and reinforces the importance of having a positive mindset, not focusing on what can go wrong, and taking consistent, intentional steps to build their business. 

“You continuously have to have a growth mindset. You have to continuously get rid of the self-doubt. I think it’s a thing that women do more than men. Men just have this confidence; women have to learn to be that way [too.] Don’t overthink it; be action-driven.”