Meet Mandy Farmer, President and CEO of Accent Inns and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Recipient.

With a focus on customer experience and team building, Mandy Farmer is an innovative hotelier known for her passion and dedication to making people feel safe and at home in her hotels. Mandy is the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Recipient. 

My first job ever was… a chambermaid, what we now refer to as a room attendant. However, the title of chambermaid was very fitting because I had to wear a floor length black dress and a frilly white apron complete with a bonnet, all while vigorously cleaning a room.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love the ability to imagine some crazy idea, rally the team to see how the heck we would do it, and then implement it to perfection. Our brand new Tofino location is the epitome of this: it has a bike path through the lobby, psychic’s den with Tarot card reader, secret passageway to a 1980’s arcade, a mini disco and so much more!

My boldest move to date was… putting a bike path through our lobby.

My biggest setback was… COVID. It made the world stop travelling.

I overcame it by… quickly pivoting! Hotel rooms became office spaces, we welcomed and cared for out of town chemotherapy patients, we raised money with the United Way to provide free rooms for essential service workers who are afraid to bring the virus home with them.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how nervous I get right before any public speaking event, whether it be townhalls with my team, media interviews or award functions (yes, I’m talking about the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!)

When starting my business, I wish I knew… to dream even bigger. We are often bound by how far our imagination can take us.

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… surround yourself with the most awesome team ever and grow the business together. Nothing will stop you then!

A great leader is… someone who inspires the team with a vision and the means to achieve it, then gets the hell out of their way.

The future excites me because… there are so many boring hotels for me to transform!

Success to me means… having fun, my team enjoying their work, and customers happy with their experience!


Meet Marina Glogovac, President and CEO of CanadaHelps and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Finalist

Marina is the President & CEO of CanadaHelps, a unique social technology charity that connects donors with all Canadian charities, helping them to succeed in the digital age. Under her leadership since 2013, CanadaHelps has rapidly accelerated its growth trajectory, tripling the donations it facilitates for charities to $275 million a year, and dramatically expanding its offerings for both charities and donors. Marina is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Finalist.

My first job ever was… a culture reporter at a local radio station, and I helped produce a weekly talk show while I was studying Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade.

I chose my career path becauseI am driven by a desire to expand my insights and learn more. I’ve had several career paths; I started out preparing to be a literary critic and academic, but ended up running a charity — definitely not a career trajectory I would have ever expected in my younger years. In between I was a media and technology executive. While they seem unrelated, my various paths are all framed by curiosity and a desire to build something good and lasting. 

The part of my role that I love the most is… meeting with people at different charities across Canada, and learning about the huge breadth and depth of the sector — there are so many charities operating in Canada that I didn’t know about before. I love that we get to enable and help amplify their impact and their passion.

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… the mindset and expectation (of charitable sector staff, funders, governments, and Canadians) that NFPs should not invest into their own capacity and infrastructure. Canadians have been misled to believe that lean administration spending is the best indicator of an efficient charity, when in fact, most charities are not spending enough. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I initially came to Canada to join a modern dance company called Mobius.

My best advice from a mentor was… get comfortable saying “I don’t know”.

My best advice for anyone interested in a career in the not-for-profit sector is… be prepared for a huge infusion of meaning in your life. I’m proud of my career and the work that I have done, but feeling like what you do matters has a very unique way of making the stress and challenges worthwhile. But at the same time, anyone entering the sector must be willing to listen, unlearn what they know, and be open and flexible to learn new ways of doing things and being effective.

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… how to do a lot with little, and how social impact can be incorporated into a business model. 

A great leader is… one who is continually working on themselves. A leader must practice self-reflection, learn from mistakes, and be driven to grow and change for the better.

The future excites me because… leading with mission and achieving social good in addition to shareholder profits is becoming the norm. Young people are demanding change, and they expect social impact and profit from businesses. This energy from young people and the expansion of philanthropy is exciting. This is necessary to turn around the decline of the planet.

I stay inspired by… the stories of charities that are helping the world in so many ways, and the Canadians who generously support them. I’m inspired by being of service. 

How Lulu Liang became CEO of Luxy Hair at 25 — and then started a side hustle.

Lulu Liang

By Hailey Eisen


At 25, Lulu Liang was named CEO of Luxy Hair, a global beauty brand with more than 300,000 customers in 165 countries. She had joined the company just three years earlier as an operations assistant. 

While such a quick leap up the corporate ladder may seem unusual, Lulu insists she joined the premium hair extensions e-commerce company with the intention of rising to the top. Now, just two years into her tenure as chief executive, Lulu has added a side hustle, with the launch of Evergreen Journals, an entrepreneurial collaboration with a friend and former colleague. 

She credits her drive and success to the way she was raised — though the entrepreneurial nature of her career was certainly not what her parents expected. 

“They had really high standards for me growing up,” Lulu says. “I lived in Beijing until I was seven, and in those days, my parents would quiz me on my multiplication tables every night over dinner.” 

When her family moved to Toronto, Lulu didn’t speak any English, but her math skills were beyond what was taught in the grade three class she joined. “They were multiplying four times five using apples, but I had already learned my times tables up to 12 when I was five years old.”

Not speaking English, however, made things tough for Lulu. Plus, her parents were starting over in a new country and were working constantly. “They couldn’t afford after-school programs or care, so I stayed home alone a lot,” Lulu recalls. “Those experiences helped me to become really independent.”

As she grew up, Lulu found her footing, working extra hard in school. “I once got an 88 per cent on a math test, and my mom told me I was hopeless,” Lulu recalls, laughing. Thankfully, her mom was wrong. And, while Lulu thought about becoming an optometrist, she found herself stronger in math than sciences and enrolled in the Commerce program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business. 

In her first year, Lulu went to a recruiting event for consulting firms and decided that she too wanted to be a consultant. “I was sold,” she recalls. “My goal was to launch my career in consulting for a few years, then do an MBA at an Ivy League school before working in leadership in the beauty or fashion industry.” 

Her love of fashion came from the movies. “As a kid growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I’d wear the same outfit five days in a row. But I watched The Devil Wears Prada and fell in love with that lifestyle,” she says.  

“Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life. The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.”

At Queen’s, Lulu co-chaired the Queen’s Business Forum on the Fashion Industry (now the Queen’s Retail Forum), a student-run conference that explored the multifaceted world of fashion and retail from a business perspective. This hands-on experience, coupled with a summer internship at L’Oréal in Montreal, solidified her love of the industry. 

When Lulu secured a consulting job with Accenture at the beginning of her fourth year, it took the pressure off finding a job upon graduation. With that peace of mind, she decided to take on a more extensive course load. A year later, Lulu graduated with two bachelor’s degrees — the commerce degree and another full degree in math. “Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life,” she says. “The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.” 

After a summer of travelling in Asia and Europe, Lulu started at Accenture, expecting to thrive in her role. “I had always done well in school and I wasn’t used to failure,” she recalls. “I guess I had a big ego back then, but consulting certainly humbled me. And to be honest, I hated it.”

In the midst of what she referred to as a “quarter-life crisis,” Lulu realized that she’d been working so hard toward this one particular goal that she hadn’t stopped to consider what would happen if it didn’t work out.   

It was around this time, while watching “morning routine” videos on YouTube, that she discovered Luxy Hair. “I had been following Luxy’s co-founder, Mimi Ikonn, on her YouTube channel,” Lulu recalls. She watched all of Ikonn’s videos in two weeks, then reached out to learn more about the companies that Ikonn and her husband, Alex, had founded. 

“They were hiring for a social media position with their other company, Intelligent Change,” Lulu recalls. “But, as I got to know them, they decided they wanted to bring me on to Luxy Hair and train me for a GM role they needed to fill.” 

Leaving consulting for the new venture world was risky — but Lulu was ready for the change. Luxy had grown from a startup created to fill a gap in the market for quality hair extensions to a scale-up with a million dollars in sales in its first year. In 2017, named Luxy’s YouTube channel as one of the 15 best to watch. Today, with over three million subscribers, the company’s videos have accumulated nearly half a billion views. The Luxy Hair channel has become a go-to source for tutorials, hairstyles, hair hacks, extension tips and more. 

“When I started with Luxy, we were a small group working from a co-work space,” Lulu recalls. “Now we have a beautiful office and an amazing team and we’re world class in what we do in terms of people and culture.” The company was named one of the Top 50 Best Places to work in Canada, something Lulu is especially proud of. 

“While there may be a stigma attached to hair extensions, and it’s still a niche industry, I know that lipstick was once taboo, too,” Lulu says. “Our goal is to empower women to lift each other up and make it okay for any girl or woman to change up their hair, make it longer, fix a bad haircut, create a natural balayage look without dye, or do something special for an event.” 

In 2018, Luxy Hair was acquired by the American beauty conglomerate Beauty Industry Group, and Lulu, then the GM, led the company through the entire sale process. One stipulation of the sale was that she’d stay on as CEO, while the Ikonns left to start another business. “Overall, we run the business autonomously, but the owners are really supportive and helpful when we need it,” she explains. 

“I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day — the moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life, in fact your life is everything that happens in between.”

While 2018 was certainly a milestone year for Lulu (selling the business, becoming CEO, getting engaged and travelling a great deal), she says it was actually one of the most anxious years of her life. “I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day. The moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life. In fact, your life is everything that happens in between.” 

Lulu began to think critically about her own habits, and what she did have control over in her life. Then she and her best friend created a tool they could use to build better habits. With the entrepreneurial drive lit within her, Lulu decided to take this tool and create a product she could share with others. 

Together Lulu and her friend launched Evergreen Journals and their first product, The Habit Journal, in May 2020. “Our journal is available online and will be in the Goop holiday gift guide,” Lulu says. “It feels really good to have created something of my own, and we have more products and ideas in the pipeline as well.” 

Looking back on her career to date, Lulu is proud of her successes and excited for what the future holds. “I’m so grateful I hated consulting, because I don’t think that if I’d been successful I would have had the courage to take the leap,” she says. “My greatest lesson in all of that was, sometimes you have to let go in life. It’s important to have goals and work toward your dreams, but you also have to let go of expectations and focus on what you can control. And don’t take anything for granted.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Shelley White


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Representation matters, Sandra says. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first job ever was… a playground supervisor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success to me means… fulfilling your purpose


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

Sylvia Parris Drummond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Desiree Bombenon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sahar Saidi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we need to support each other. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe me, that does not tip the balance. 

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

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

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

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

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

Expect more

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

Speak up and Reach out. 

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

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

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

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

Show Empathy. 

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

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

About Jamie Hoobanoff

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

How to transition from employee to entrepreneur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take your time. Slow and steady wins the race.

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

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

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

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

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

About Cara Hirsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Connie Lo, Co-founder of Three Ships and a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Recipient in the WEKH Micro-Business category.

Connie Lo is a recipient of a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. With a life-long passion for entrepreneurship and natural beauty, Connie is the co-founder of Three Ships, a vegan skincare line based in Toronto.

My first job ever was… a café barista at the age of 13. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I didn’t want to feel like just a number in a large organization, and really wanted to see the direct impact of my actions on the world.

My proudest accomplishment is… surprising my mom for Mother’s Day this year during the COVID-19 lockdown with an at-home high tea, complete with pastries and desserts from her favourite spots across Toronto. Seeing her so incredibly happy and surprised is one of my proudest moments as a daughter.

My biggest setback was… imposter syndrome. I lived in constant fear that people would one day “figure out” that I was a total fraud, or that I wasn’t capable of running my own business.

I overcame it by… documenting every day what I did and how my actions contributed to our company’s success. By tying my effort directly to Three Ships’ growth, I was able to see that our success didn’t come down to luck or good fortune, but rather my hard work, intelligence, and resourcefulness.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m a huge wellness, fitness, and productivity junkie! I can spend hours procrastinating and researching healthy recipes, smoothie concoctions, workouts, and productivity hacks!

My best advice for small business owners is… you don’t need a lot of funding or any connections to build a company. We only had $4,000 in savings with absolutely no connections in the beauty or manufacturing space. With hustle and grit, we bootstrapped our business to where it is today!

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… creating a scheduled ‘end time’ to your work day. I probably achieve this 50% of the time! It’s hard when you love what you do but it’s so important to give yourself a break.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… to focus on staying in my lane, especially in the beginning days. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other brands that are farther along or have hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch their business. Focus on your mission and your company, and be proud of what you are accomplishing.

The future excites me because… we are at the cusp of huge growth at Three Ships. We’ve really hit our stride and I am so excited to share all the things we’ve been working on with the world!

Success to me means… living in alignment with your purpose, doing something that brings you and others joy, and being kind to everyone you meet.

Meet Laura Burget, Co-founder of Three Ships and the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Recipient in the WEKH Micro-Business category.

Laura Burget is the recipient of a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. As a life-long supporter of businesses with high ethical standards, her journey into entrepreneurship began at the ripe age of 9 when she sold handmade crafts and jewelry at her elementary school to raise money for endangered animals. Now, as the co-founder of Three Ships, she develops natural and effective alternatives to every-day beauty products. 

My first job ever was… as a lifeguard at the local YMCA.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love the creativity, excitement and risk that comes along with being an entrepreneur. I thrive in fast-paced environments and get bored really easily. Being an entrepreneur means that no day is ever the same!

My proudest accomplishment is… launching Three Ships with just $4,000 and zero connections. At the time, it was all that we had to work with and so we didn’t see this as making us an underdog. Looking back though, I realize how uncommon it is to build a 7 figure business from nothing, and I’m extremely proud of the brand we’ve built and the impact that we have had in just 3 short years. 

My biggest setback was… failing a semester in second year university and having to repeat it. In order to stay in the program I was in, you had to maintain an average of 60% and I just barely missed this.

I overcame it by… realizing that I was hugely over-extended. I was running two companies, leading several clubs and managing a full engineering course load at the same time. It was way too much for me to manage and my grades ended up suffering. I came back and focused on consistently doing my work each day, allowing me to double my grade in several classes. I went from being in the bottom 10% my class to being in the top 10%.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson – everyone is capable of greatness. My outcome in what I take on in life is based on the sustained effort that I put in. My 3rd and 4th year marks were stellar and I definitely learned how to better balance work and social life. In the end, I’m grateful for this experience as I learned so much from it and it’s made me a more self-assured, balanced person. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I can solve a Rubrik’s cube in under a minute. 

My best advice for small business owners is… surround yourself with great partners and advocates of you and your business. These connections will serve you far more than you could imagine and will help to keep you sane.

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… 

Don’t compare yourself and where you are to others and where they are! So much easier said than done. Especially in business, no team or company ever has things as “under control” or “figured out” as you think.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… more about how the venture capital space worked. Being properly funded is so important for all start-ups and it’s a space that we had to learn from scratch. Knowing more about how to raise money and structure a round would have saved us a lot of time. 

The future excites me because… we’re only just getting started with our mission at Three Ships! The world is so connected now that I truly believe that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.

Success to me means… knowing that even if you were to die tomorrow, you would have lived your life without regrets. No “shoulds”, “coulds” or “woulds”. We only have one life!

Five Minutes with Laurie May: Co-Founder and Co-President of one of the largest independent film distribution companies in Canada.

By Olivia Buchner

Laurie May has been in the film business for over twenty years. She is currently the Co-Founder and Co-President of Elevation Pictures, one of the largest independent distribution companies in Canada with award-winning titles such as The Imitation Game, ROOM, and Moonlight. She is also an Executive Producer on the recently released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. Prior to Elevation, Laurie served as Executive Vice President of Entertainment One and Alliance Films and was Co-President and Co-Founder of Maple Pictures where she was involved in many notable releases including Academy Award winners Crash, The Hurt Locker, and The Cove.  

Laurie began her career in film as the Senior Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Lionsgate, where she also sat on the board of directors from 2005-2010. She received her law degree from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, practiced corporate and entertainment law at Oslers, and was an adjunct professor of Entertainment and Sports Law at Western Law School. She has also acted as a mentor for Women in Film & Television and in 2010 was the recipient of the WIFT Outstanding Achievement Award for her accomplishments in the Canadian film industry. In 2017, Laurie became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We spoke with Laurie about her career journey, releasing films during a pandemic, and her advice for women who want to follow in her footsteps. 

You have a very impressive and diverse background in film, from legal affairs to being an Executive Producer on the newly released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. What drew you to film and what do you enjoy most about the industry?

I love the creative energy of the film industry. Early in law school I got interested in entertainment law, which was a great path into the film business. I worked on corporate, production and distribution work at Lionsgate, and transitioned that into a more business role running Maple Pictures (the Canadian arm of Lionsgate), which sold to Alliance Films, then Alliance Films sold to Entertainment One, and we launched Elevation which has become the largest independent English distributor in Canada. What I especially love about film is the passion for storytelling, from working with writers and directors, producers, sales agents, and talent; this is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together. 

Having worked in the film industry for over 20 years, is there a specific project or accomplishment you are most proud of? 

There have been so many projects that I am proud of, at Elevation winning the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards for our films The Imitation Game, and ROOM, and Academy Award Best Picture wins including for our film Moonlight, highlighted that we were succeeding in what we set out to do, which is bring elevated content for audiences. On a personal level, my greatest accomplishment in the industry was becoming a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017. 


Film is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.


Elevation Pictures debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, and since then, has had many major achievements including multiple Academy wins and two TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards. What inspired you to launch Elevation Pictures and what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey?

There was a lot of consolidation in the Canadian film industry, so there was an opportunity to create a new Canadian distributor, to focus on a slate of “elevated content”, supporting Canadian filmmakers, and working with international partners to bring the best independent films to audiences. There have been many valuable lessons, but the most valuable one is it’s all about teamwork. We have an amazing dedicated team at Elevation, from my Co-President Noah Segal who spearheaded our production arm, producing amazing films like The Nest in theatres this Friday, and French Exit which is closing night at the New York Film Festival, to everyone who works at Elevation, who share the passion for film and drive to succeed. 

Elevation Pictures had a number of titles at TIFF 2020 including one of this year’s most anticipated films, Ammonite. How did you prepare for this year’s festival season in comparison to previous years? 

We are very proud to have three films at TIFF,  two prominent distribution titles: Ammonite starring Kate Winslet (who won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Saorise Ronan to be distributed by Neon, and The Father starring Sir Anthony Hopkins (who also won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Olivia Colman to be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which both launched into the start of awards season. We also had one of the buzziest sales titles, I Care A Lot, directed by J. Blakeson and starring Rosamund Pike (who is a TIFF Ambassador) and Peter Dinkledge, which got an amazing reception and stellar reviews. The planning was a little different, more focused on the new screening plan including digital screenings, and how to engage audiences without the buzz of red carpets and big events, but overall I think TIFF did a great job and we are very pleased with how all the films played. 

The film industry is traditionally a very male-dominated industry. What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in film?

Yes, the industry has been traditionally very male dominated, but I was always inspired by the strong female role models in the industry, from Sherry Lansing who ran Paramount Pictures to Phllis Yaffe at Alliance Films. The industry has been shifting towards inclusivity and diversity, including making room for women in front of and behind the camera, as evidenced by the TIFF initiative, Share Her Journey. Women have a strong role to play, so go network, find a mentor, find your passion, and go for it. Everyone has obstacles along the way, it’s about muscling through them and learning from them that makes you stronger, so you can make a positive contribution and hopefully inspire others along the way.