Sylvia Parris Drummond is making change and building community for Black Nova Scotians — through education, opportunities, and celebration.

Sylvia Parris Drummond

By Karen van Kampen

 

At the age of 16, Sylvia Parris Drummond discovered the importance of learning in order to teach others. She got a job overseeing a summer camp program in her community of Meadowbrook Hill, Nova Scotia, which provided her firsthand experience and insight into the education process. “If you give something of yourself, then you can help others benefit,” she says. “I recognized my passion to work in education and with the community.” 

Sylvia’s lifelong dedication to learning, community building, and social change has made a profound impact. She is CEO of the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, that is committed to creating academic change and opportunities for learners of African descent while celebrating the accurate history, heritage, and contributions of Black/African Nova Scotians. In 2020 she was recognized for her accomplishments with the Social Change Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an exceptional leader of a registered charity, social enterprise, or not-for-profit that is dedicated to their unique brand of social change. 

Community has always been an integral part of Sylvia’s life. She remembers families in her neighbourhood being generous in sharing their praise and expertise, which included baking soft molasses cookies. Childcare was provided for neighbourhood children as a part of community support. 

As the second youngest in a combined family with 15 children, Sylvia understood the importance of taking care of family and kinship. “There was always that accountability that the older one took care of the next younger sibling,” she says. “That learning is rooted in you, and you don’t even realize how much it might show up in different things until you have the opportunity to think it through.” 

Sylvia was in grade nine when her father passed away. Two years later, her mother died. “No matter your age, you are an orphan when your parents are gone,” she says. “For me, it was so important to continue taking care of my younger sister.” Sylvia’s parents had taught her the importance of faith in her life, and during this time she found strength in her faith. 

“The intertwining of our humanity is so important, and the recognition that if you are successful, I am successful. Our hearts, our souls, our resilience, and our existence are still within our locus of control.” 

She moved with her sister to Antigonish where Sylvia attended St. Francis Xavier University, earning a science degree and teaching degree while her sister attended high school. Sylvia had a couple of part-time jobs during university and says, “It was a gift to be able to take care of my sister.” She had the benefit of caring people in her life, including professors at the university who kept an eye out for Sylvia and her sister. 

Sylvia continued her studies, earning a Masters in Curriculum at Saint Mary’s University. In 1995, she got a job at the Department of Education in Halifax where she worked in policy and diversity. She gained experience in the provincial and municipal government, which gave Sylvia a strong sense of how policy was developed, applied, and implemented. In 2010, she completed a Masters in Africentricity Policy Leadership at Mount Saint Vincent University. “It’s such an opportunity to be able to have studied and lived experience for your work,” she says. 

In 2015, Sylvia was appointed CEO of the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute. Today, she continues to work with the Department of Education as well as Regional Centres for Education, Labour and Advanced Education, and community organizations serving Black/African Nova Scotian communities to ensure there is genuine access to accurate information on the contributions of Black/African Nova Scotians. 

“We draw upon the diversity within our diversity and our uniqueness, but also the common thread within us,” says Sylvia, explaining that the essence of Africentricity is “the centring of our voices and our needs in terms of community, with a recognition that getting this right will benefit everyone.” 

The institute’s research, education, and policy activate the African philosophy Ubuntu and its belief in “I am because we are” and the universal bond of humanity. “The intertwining of our humanity is so important,” says Sylvia, “and the recognition that if you are successful, I am successful. Our hearts, our souls, our resilience, and our existence are still within our locus of control.” 

The organization’s reach and impact on individual and community pride continue to grow along with its Africentric publishing program, dedicated to sharing stories of the 50-plus Black/African Nova Scotian communities. Books include The ABC’s of Viola Desmond in both English and French and Black History: Africa, The Caribbean, and the Amercias that is used in African Canadian Studies courses.  

Reflecting on her experiences and lifelong journey of learning, Sylvia offers some sage advice: “Continue to value and respect those who went before you and all that they have done, because none of us get where we are by ourselves,” she says, adding that we also need to recognize our own strengths and accomplishments, and take time for self-reflection. 

“Your body and mind will tell you when to think about where you are at and what you are doing. Are you still going where you wanted to go?” asks Sylvia. “Have a vision, hold to that vision, and work for that vision.”

Mandy Farmer built an award winning retro-themed hotel brand — and kept it going through the pandemic by focusing on helping people.

Mandy Farmer

By Karen van Kampen

 

For 10 years, Mandy Farmer wrote one business plan after another, trying to sell the concept of retro-themed hotels to her business partners at Accent Inns. Yet she couldn’t convince them to invest in renovating old motels and rebranding them with a 1970s flair. 

Refusing to give up, Mandy brought her partners to a motel that was owned by Accent Inns. The property was projected to lose money, and Mandy asked for their advice on how to turn things around. Standing in front of the motel, her partners proposed Mandy’s idea as their own — suggesting they reinvent the property with a retro theme. Naturally, she agreed.

In 2014, the first Hotel Zed was launched. Today, Accent Inns operates three Hotel Zeds across British Columbia, entertaining guests with a 1980s arcade, mini disco, and bike path that runs through the lobby. “We are rebels against the ordinary,” says Mandy, echoing Hotel Zed’s tagline. 

As President and CEO of Accent Inns, Mandy is being recognized as an innovative hotelier with a passion to bring comfort and happiness to her guests. She was the 2020 winner of the Excellence Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, that honours an entrepreneur who has built and managed a successful business over a decade through timely innovation, strategic thinking, and smart execution. 

Looking back, Mandy remembers the pivotal experience of watching her dad become a hotelier. She was 13 when he built the first Accent Inn, transitioning from the family construction business into hotels. “I saw my dad come alive,” she says. “There was a jaunt in his step. He whistled. He talked to everyone about Accent Inns. He was so proud.” 

When Mandy was in her twenties, she became Sales Manager at Accent Inns. It wasn’t easy cold calling potential business customers, including film studios and insurance companies that needed accommodations for their employees on the road. “You’d have doors slammed in your face,” she says. “But it was also exhilarating to get a sale.” She worked her way up in the company by recognizing and seizing every opportunity. 

During her executive MBA at Royal Roads University, Mandy wrote her thesis on retro-themed hotels. She graduated in 2003 and became Vice President of Accent Inns. Two years later, Mandy was appointed president and CEO. Today, she continues to brainstorm innovative and unique ideas to grow the five Accent Inns and three Hotel Zeds. “It is in our blood to look at every single thing and decide, how can we make that unordinary?” she says.

Accent Inns are built on fun and humour, with secret jokes hidden in every room. Stepping into an elevator is like taking a hot air balloon ride, with guests surrounded by a 360-degree aerial photograph of the property. At Hotel Zed, things get a bit wilder, with a mini disco where people can DJ their own dance party and a retro office space with a secret switch on a bookshelf that opens onto a 1980s arcade.   

“I was able to go down the rabbit hole of fear and see that I could lose the family business. We kept talking about leading with love and opening our hearts wide.”

Mandy remembers working at franchised hotels that were very formulaic, giving her scripts to read when she was on the front desk. “We are the exact opposite,” she says. “We are surprising and fun, refreshing and real.” 

Mandy is also dedicated to the happiness and satisfaction of her 300 staff. New employees are told, “We hired you because you’re awesome. Please let your awesomeness show, however that is for you,” she says. They are given a name tag and asked to create their own title. There is a disco dancer and dog walker on the team. “It’s permission to be yourself at work,” she says. 

After so much success, the pandemic has brought about a difficult time for the company. “I was able to go down the rabbit hole of fear and see that I could lose the family business,” says Mandy, who decided that if they were going to go down, they would do so with their heads held high and help as many people as possible. “We kept talking about leading with love and opening our hearts wide,” she says.

 After hearing about a nurse sleeping in her car for fear of bringing the virus home to her family, Mandy began providing hotel rooms at cost to frontline workers. When bus drivers were being mistreated by some passengers during the pandemic, Mandy and her team gave drivers thank you notes and gift cards to show their appreciation. She gave her employees the gift of giving at the holidays by providing them with two gift cards: one for themselves and one to give to someone else. 

Then there were the party parades in which staff would drive by kids’ houses in Hotel Zed’s 1960s VW buses with signs and balloons, honking and wishing children a happy birthday. The parades were provided free of charge, which kept Mandy’s team engaged and feeling like they were making a difference. “It’s changed our company,” says Mandy. “To this day, we’re constantly asking, how can we help?”   

Looking to the future, Mandy is excited to continue to grow her business as well as her people. “It’s a passion for us to transform our employees’ lives, however we can do it,” she says. “I want their jobs to be the best of their lives so that when someone asks them when they’re 80 years old, ‘what was your favourite job?’ I want to be it.”

How Nicole Neuman overcome gender barriers in engineering and became an international expert in her field.

Nicole Neuman

By Karen van Kampen

 

As a young girl, Nicole Neuman was very quick at learning new things. But picking up new concepts without a lot of effort had an unintended side effect, she says: “A lot of boredom.” So Nicole tried a variety of activities, from car repairs, to cooking, to metal and wood work. In university, she took all her pre-law and pre-med courses and completed most of her chemistry major before choosing engineering as a career. 

After more than two decades in the industry, Nicole has become an international expert in her field. As President and CEO of Synergy Engineering Ltd., she leads a team of electrical, instrumentation, and control engineers to design and supply turnkey projects around the world, primarily to the mining industry, as well as local infrastructure and industrial projects. 

Her impressive achievements are being recognized: Nicole was the 2020 winner of the Innovation Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours a forward-thinking entrepreneur who has demonstrated outstanding leadership within her company and industry while setting standards for originality, quality, and successful management. 

Looking back, Nicole says, “I was always very driven growing up.” When she started babysitting at the age of 12, Nicole made a resume and business cards. In high school, she saved up her money from lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons to buy a snowboard as well as a car so that she could get to the hills at Whistler. From 1993 to 1995, she competed in snowboarding while attending university.  

In the mid-nineties, it wasn’t commonly accepted for women to be in electrical engineering — but this didn’t deter Nicole, who joined Synergy as a co-op student in 1995, while studying at Simon Fraser University. Three years later, she joined the company full-time. As she worked her way up in her field, Nicole experienced first-hand what it was like to be a woman in engineering. 

“I was met with hostility with a capital H,” she says. In one instance, Nicole was hired by a local mine to conduct a training course in an area in which she was an international expert. When she asked a conference room of engineers to open the manual that she had created, most of the men shut their binders, put their heads down, and closed their eyes, refusing to follow along. “I just carried on. What can you do?” she says. “When I left, I cried in my car, thinking, what am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself?” 

As an entrepreneur, Nicole says it’s important to surround yourself with a network of like-minded mentors who have encountered similar barriers, as well as mentors with inspiring attributes that you admire. When you discover characteristics within yourself that help you to excel, she says, then you become a leader who others look to for inspiration. “That’s really empowering,” says Nicole. “Once you get to that stage, you want to keep growing because you want to keep leading, keep demonstrating.” 

Nicole has several powerful women mentors in her industry as well as a couple of men mentors who were early adopters to accepting women in the business. She says it’s important to see herself as an engineer in the mining industry rather than a woman in engineering. “There is this whole sentiment of going up against it, but you really need to think of it as joining it; joining the team,” she says. 

In 2015, there was a downturn in the mining industry, and Synergy faced a few hard years. Nicole was Executive Vice-President after working her way up in the company, and along with her team, she began targeting other markets and diversifying Synergy’s client base. 

At the end of 2019, Nicole took over as President of Synergy. Today, the company has between 50 and 60 employees and has expanded the manufacturing side of the business, with half of the employees in engineering and half in manufacturing. Nicole’s goal is to manage multiple projects with multiple teams at once to avoid downtime between projects. 

Nicole has worked hard to foster connection within her company and once COVID is over, she will continue focusing on team building and nurturing company morale that emphasizes personal values. “Our employees, I want what they do to have mattered to them, to have mattered to their children and grandchildren,” she says, adding that her long-term goal is to leave a legacy in which she looked after her company’s projects and the employees who ran them. “I want to leave a positive influence in people’s lives,” she says.  

Nicole has a strong relationship with her 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. She volunteers as treasurer for hockey and Brownies, roles that keep her connected with her kids’ activities. Nicole recognizes her children’s drive and dedication for things that interest them. “I think they thrive to succeed in certain areas because they witness this of me,” she says. 

Since she was a girl, Nicole has always had a strong character. Reflecting on her experiences and challenges along the way, she says, “It has certainly crafted me into the strong individual that I am today.” 

How Desirée Bombenon transformed the call centre industry with her purpose-driven Certified B Corporation.

Desiree Bombenon

By Karen van Kampen

 

In 1989, while studying business administration at the University of Calgary, Desirée Bombenon joined the dispatch department of Page Direct, a Calgary-based paging and telecommunications company — typing out messages for pagers. “It was extremely interesting to hear the variety of messages that were going over the voice message centre with people not realizing that a person was actually typing the message,” says Desirée. 

With the rise of cellular phones, the company sold its paging assets. Desirée had worked her way up in Page Direct, and she had an idea to reinvent the dispatch centre as an after-hours answering service. Instead of shutting down, Page Direct became PDL Contact Centres Ltd., and Desirée helped grow the business into a multimedia call centre providing more complex applications, including emergency response. 

Then in 2013, along with business partner Marc Bombenon (who is now her husband), Desirée launched SureCall Contact Centres Ltd., offering customized services for clients while creating more of a consultant role for frontline staff. Desirée followed her passion to utilize business as a force for good and built SureCall into a purpose-driven Certified B Corporation, maintaining the highest levels of sustainability and ethics while creating a dynamic and positive work environment. 

After more than 30 years of helping to transform the contact centre industry, Desirée is being recognized for empowering her employees while demonstrating business excellence. As CEO of SureCall, Desirée was the 2020 winner of the RBC Momentum Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has created a responsive business that can adapt to changing market environments and leverage opportunities for continued growth.

“People are not loyal to companies. They are loyal to other people. We need to treat people with respect and kindness, and they will be loyal.”

Desirée’s road to entrepreneurship was driven by her passion to help build community, diversity, and gender equality. She decided that through business, she would make an impact. “I call myself the accidental entrepreneur,” says Desirée, who focuses on finding creative, innovative solutions rather than taking on a figurehead role. “If you find the best entrepreneurs, it’s not people who think, one day I want to be an entrepreneur — it’s people who think, how do I find the best solution to this problem? How do I create something cool and interesting? This is going on in my community, what can I do about it?” 

In the call centre industry, there is often a high turnover rate of frontline staff doing the same routine tasks every day, and Desirée questioned how she could create change in the industry. SureCall began with a team of 40 staff from PDL, and as the company grew, Desirée wanted to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. This included taking the cognitive bias out of hiring and assessing candidates in terms of their values and talent. 

In 2016, SureCall implemented a no resume, no interview process. Instead, potential candidates fill out a profile that is based on their cultural values. Applicants who score at least 85 per cent are typically hired. “We don’t know what gender you are, what religion you are, what colour you are,” says Desirée. “It enables us to have diverse, non-biased recruitment. That’s really important to the creativity and the inclusiveness that our team feels.” 

SureCall continues to invest in employee education and training, offering meaningful work for frontline staff. As clients rely on frontline employees to help improve business operations, the employees feel valued for their contributions. “People are not loyal to companies. They are loyal to other people,” she says. “We need to treat people with respect and kindness, and they will be loyal.”

SureCall supports the health and wellness of its diverse team, providing a weekly session with a nutritionist/trainer, 15-minute back massages on Wellness Wednesdays (which is suspended temporarily during COVID), and a meditation and prayer room. “We respect everybody’s differences and we try as much as possible to make accommodations that help them feel like they belong,” says Desirée. 

“Leap, and a net will appear.”

Today, SureCall has approximately 130 employees across Canada who offer customized services to clients around the world. The company is expanding its global clientele and has a 2022 vision of at least 25 per cent of its business coming from outside of North America. Desirée also remains focused on giving back to her local and global communities. 

SureCall contributes two per cent of its top line revenue to its GoodCall program that supports local, national, and international causes. SureCall’s Hero Girls program, which Desirée built while attending Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, helps to educate girls in underserved and developing countries. This includes Nepal where a rigid caste system is a significant barrier to girls’ education. Currently, more than 100 girls are being supported through scholarships and other Hero Girls initiatives. In her local community, Desirée mentors young girls into leadership roles, helping them embrace their true selves along the way. 

When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Desirée says, “Don’t worry so much. Don’t sweat the small things and lose your focus.” It’s also OK to fail. In fact, “Failure is your first step to your best performance,” says Desirée, adding that it is necessary to fail in order to reach your full potential. Even though growing her business has come with some sleepless nights, she says it’s important to let go of your fear, “leap, and a net will appear.”

How Sahar Saidi built LUS Brands into an eight-figure business in under 5 years.

Sahar Saidi

By Karen van Kampen

 

In 2015, with 15 years of work experience and a Global Executive MBA, Sahar Saidi couldn’t find a job. Rather than working her way up in a company, Sahar had a diverse background in consulting and employers didn’t know where she fit into their organization. 

“I was applying for jobs that I knew I was qualified for,” she says. “I was really shocked and disappointed.” So Sahar continued to forge her own unique career path. 

In 2017, she launched LUS Brands, a direct-to-consumer premium hair care brand, earning $1.3 million in sales the first year. In year two, she grew her company 750 per cent. After four years of high growth, Sahar has built a profitable business with less than $100,000 in start-up capital, and she is being recognized for her achievements.  

As founder and CEO of LUS Brands, Sahar was the 2020 winner of the Start-Up Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has built a profitable business since its inception, and whose company has been in operation for three to five years. 

“I’ve always had a very unconventional career path,” Sahar says, reflecting on her road to entrepreneurship. The summer before starting her Bachelor of Business Administration, she took a commission-based sales job selling energy contracts. “At the age of 18, I started making a six-figure income,” she says. After her first year of business school, Sahar took a year off to pursue the sales opportunity, and never went back. “Not having that piece of paper never stopped me in my career,” she says. By the time she turned 25, Sahar had a VP sales position at a multimillion dollar company. 

Yet Sahar says she has always valued education, and in her early thirties, she set her sights on an MBA. Sahar met with the Associate Dean of York University and explained that while she had only one year of her BBA, she had 12 years of work experience — “and that should suffice for a bachelor’s.” 

In 2013, Sahar began her Global Executive MBA at Rotman School of Management. For the first week of her program, Sahar spent hours straightening her hair. “I wanted to fit in with my peer group,” she says. “I wanted to look professional.”

“People around the world with wavy, curly, textured hair have been told that their hair is not beautiful, it’s a problem to be solved.”

It wasn’t a new ritual. As a girl, Sahar spent Saturdays straightening her hair; it was an all-day ordeal in which her mother used curlers to remove small, frizzy curls before blow drying Sahar’s hair with a large, round brush. For pin straight hair, her mother would iron Sahar’s hair on an ironing board. 

“People around the world with wavy, curly, textured hair have been told that their hair is not beautiful,” she says, “it’s a problem to be solved.” Sahar kept up the weekly routine until she was in her teens and continued to straighten her hair for special events and important business meetings — until she launched LUS, short for “Luv Ur Self.” 

During her two-year MBA program, Sahar continued to work in consulting, but the excitement was wearing off. “I wanted stability,” she says. “I wanted certainty at this point in my life.” When she couldn’t find a job after graduation, Sahar started thinking about her own experiences with curly hair products. After 20 years of trying every product on the market, Sahar still couldn’t find one that worked. She was also turned off by the negative messaging in the curly hair space. Those with curly hair were told, “Tame your frizz. Control your mane. Get sleek, professional curls,” she says, which required multiple hair products. So Sahar set out to create an all-in-one styling product for three different types of curls. 

Sahar used Google to find the best hair care formulators in Canada. “I Googled how to start a hair care brand,” she says. “Google will teach you anything.”

She spent months testing out different formulas on her own hair before enlisting the help of family and friends, using their feedback to adjust her first line of products. In 2016, she began pitching to investors. “I had my MBA. I thought I’d put together a pretty rock solid business plan,” she says. But investors couldn’t see how a “shampoo company” could thrive in such a competitive, fragmented space. 

So Sahar used her personal line of credit and a small business loan to launch LUS, with about half of her $100,000 in start-up capital used for inventory. “If you’re serious about your company, you have to get rid of your safety net,” she says, explaining that it’s difficult to keep your full-time job and launch a successful business on the side. Sahar also advises entrepreneurs to ignore the naysayers. “If you have a really big idea, most people should tell you you’re crazy. If everyone gets it, your idea isn’t novel enough.”

Working around the clock, Sahar built her line of five products with only two part-time remote contractors. Today, LUS has 37 employees and sells 20 products online — and she has big plans for future growth and expansion. LUS partnered with a third-party fulfillment centre in the Netherlands to ship to customers across the EU faster and with lower shipping costs, and Australia and the UK will soon be added to the LUS global website. 

Sahar is also focused on a long-standing personal goal. “One day I will be able to leave a legacy behind for my family and take care of my parents,” she says. “That’s something that’s been really important to me and a driving force.”

How the co-founders of Three Ships built a transparent and affordable natural beauty brand.

By Karen van Kampen

In March 2017, 23-year-old Connie Lo and Laura Burget put together $4,000 in savings and launched Three Ships in Connie’s kitchen, hand making and hand-labelling natural beauty products. A month later, they landed their first retailer with an order of 40 packages of cleansing wipes. 

“I was floored,” says Connie, remembering how she raced to tell a colleague at her day job, “We just got our first order for more than a unit!” From that initial small order, the duo had big ambitions. “We always knew that we wanted to make this a massive company,” says Laura. “We believe in this mission,” adds Connie. “It’s a brand that people need.” 

Today, Three Ships is sold in approximately 1,000 stores across North America including Whole Foods, Hudson’s Bay and more than 500 Target locations in the U.S. Getting into Target “was definitely a mission,” says Connie, which included a year of cold calls and reintroducing herself to the buyer outside the men’s room at a trade show. “Laura and I started this business with a lot of determination and hustle.” 

The pair are also being recognized for their vision and hard work. As co-founders of Three Ships, Connie and Laura were the 2020 winners of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours entrepreneurs who own and operate a small but impactful business. 

From the first time they met for a quick sushi dinner that turned into a three-hour business meeting, Connie and Laura knew they shared the same entrepreneurial vision. As a young girl, Connie joined her dad on business trips, watching him sell, pitch and negotiate for his cookware business. “That’s when I fell in love with the idea of running my own business,” she says. During the third year of her commerce degree at Queen’s University, Connie was co-chair of the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition and was exposed to start-ups pitching their brands. Then Connie met Laura and found her own innovative idea. 

As a chemical engineering student at the University of Toronto, Laura ran two businesses: an on-campus retail bookstore and a College Pro house painting franchise, both with eight employees. In her fourth year, Laura started brainstorming business ideas for a start-up after graduation. At the same time, she began using natural skincare products and was frustrated by how expensive and misleading they were, with brands purporting to be natural, sustainable or green without evidence to back up their claims. 

When Laura proposed the idea of a clean, affordable skincare line, Connie knew they were onto something big. As a “skintellectual” who researches the ingredients and science behind skincare products, Connie understood the confusion and lack of transparency in the beauty industry. When they launched Three Ships in the spring of 2017, “Our mission was to be the most transparent natural beauty brand in the world,” says Connie.  

What the pair lacked in financing, they made up for in grit and hard work, spending evenings and weekends mixing, pouring and labelling products in Connie’s kitchen. “We were literally measuring things out by the teaspoon and individual drops of essential oils,” says Laura. Then they carried the finished products on the streetcar to Laura’s apartment, where she shipped everything out to customers. 

As long as you have thick skin, you learn this stuff along the way.

In the early days, the pair lugged suitcases of products to farmers’ markets and craft shows, making much needed cash to keep the business afloat. Even though their margins would have been higher with a B2B model, Connie and Laura always stuck with an omni-channel approach. “When it comes to skincare and cosmetics, people like to be able to smell, touch and feel the product before committing to a new brand online,” says Connie. There is also the brand reputation and trust factor when brands are sold in reputable stores. 

While the business was starting out, Connie worked in marketing and sales at Kimberly-Clark and Laura had a sales position at a software company. During off hours, Laura worked on product development and packaging design while Connie went door-to-door in downtown Toronto with samples and a price list. Connie remembers walking into Urban Outfitters and learning from a sales associate that the retail store didn’t deal with buying. She would have to contact the merchandising team in the U.S. 

“As long as you have thick skin, you learn this stuff along the way,” says Connie, adding that it’s important not to give up. Several years later, Urban Outfitters contacted Three Ships, and will start carrying their natural beauty products this spring. 

It wasn’t easy negotiating with large retailers at the age of 23, says Connie. Being young and without financial backing or connections in the beauty space, Connie and Laura worked hard to fight imposter syndrome. “I think what helped was really just doing it,” says Connie, adding, “I don’t think it ever fully goes away because the challenges that you face as you’re growing a business are always changing.”

In late 2018, they moved out of Connie’s kitchen and started working with three contract manufacturers, keeping up with growing demand while staying true to their affordable, all-natural brand. “Our level of transparency is what sets us apart,” says Connie. Their target audience of 25- to 35-year-old conscious consumers can search the ingredients glossary on their website, and all products remain under $40 USD. Connie and Laura remember being unable to afford the natural beauty products on the market when they launched Three Ships, “So we would never want to stray from this original founding problem,” says Connie.  

Looking to the future, Laura and Connie are focused on retail expansion, growth in current stores and new product rollouts. “It’s going to be an exciting year of product launches every two months,” says Laura. “We have big ambitions.” 

2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Winners

We are proud to announce the six winners of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These award winners join the five recipients of the up-and-coming entrepreneur ‘Ones to Watch’ award category, which was announced in September 2020.

These winners are shining examples of the perseverance, ingenuity and grit it takes to be an outstanding entrepreneur. They have demonstrated that despite the challenges that have existed this year, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive in Canada. This year’s winners and recipients span sectors that include healthcare services, engineering, beauty, technology, hospitality  and beyond.

“We’re honoured to celebrate the achievements of Canadian women entrepreneurs who have been critical to the success of our Canadian business community and economic growth,” says Greg Grice, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “RBC is proud to partner with Women of Influence to put a spotlight on all of this year’s winners and finalists who have made tremendous contributions to their industries and communities through their work. Their leadership, commitment and entrepreneurial spirit serve as an inspiration for the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs as they pursue their aspirations to be part of a resilient and thriving economy.”

Now in its 28th year, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program recognizes the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. The judging panel of the awards program is comprised of 14 judges who are notably some of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Karen Brookman, Partner and Chief Innovation Office West Canadian Digital Imaging; Farah Mohamed, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Policy & Public Affairs, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Elizabeth Dipchand, Intellectual Property Lawyer, Dipchand LLP and Paulette Senior, President & CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The official announcement of the 2020 award winners was made at the first ever virtual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards gala that took attendees on a cross-country tour to discover the Canadian cities and towns where innovation is taking place. It was held on November 18th and hosted by Marcia MacMillan, Anchor, CTV News Channel.

This year, over 8,600 nominations were received recognizing women entrepreneurs from across the country.

The Gala also honoured the recipients of the Ones to Watch Award: Eno Eka, Eny Consulting Inc.; Jenn Harper, Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics Inc.; Nadine Chalati, Chalati Lawyer Inc.; Rogayeh Tabrizi, Theory+Practice and Suzie Yorke, Love Good Fats.

“Now more than ever before, we are honoured to be able to recognize the incredible achievements and perseverance of this year’s award recipients,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO & Head of Events, Women of Influence. “These women have faced the challenges of 2020 head-on, and seized the opportunities to continue to pave the way for women entrepreneurs across Canada; a strong testament to the bright future of Canadian business.” 

For more information on this year’s award winners, visit our RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards webpage

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. 

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.

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 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. 

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!

Meet Eno Eka, Founder and CEO of Eny Consulting and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award Winner

Eno Eka is a recipient of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. She is the Founder and CEO of Eny Consulting — a boutique consulting company — where she provides coaching and professional development services to help immigrants kick-start their careers in Canada. 

My first job ever was… an accounting intern after high school.

I decided to be an entrepreneur… because I always had that entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to own my business. I was the president of the Junior Achievement Club in my high school and we had to start several businesses as projects, and I enjoyed it. I then went on to start my little bookstore business at the age of 15, reselling my old books to my classmates.

My proudest accomplishment is… winning the Women of Inspiration Award for Mentorship in 2019 after 18 months of relocation to Canada.

My boldest move to date was… moving to Canada all by myself!

I surprise people when I tell them that… I have no family in Canada, have lived here for just 2 years now and I am under 30.

I knew it was time to launch my business when I… was approached with an opportunity and had to render my services as a business and not an employee.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to just start, take imperfect actions because done is better than perfect.

My best advice from a mentor was… to focus on impact and the income will follow.

When the going gets tough, I tell myself… nothing good comes easy and I do the work no matter how I feel.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep in for another hour!!!

I stay inspired by… my mother, my mentors and the amazing students I get to coach in my programs.

The future excites me because… I know it is just the beginning— I am on a global mission to educate people all over the world.

My next step is… to expand my business into new countries and keep learning from the best business mentors globally