Q&A: How Bethany Deshpande is turning challenges into opportunities.

Bethany Deshpande is the CEO of SomaDetect. She is a highly motivated, big-picture thinker who has more than a decade of experience in science and entrepreneurship and is always excited to tackle big problems in big ways. She told us about what’s next for her business as she adapts to the new economic landscape.

What area of your business has seen the most change since the beginning of the pandemic? 

We were always a distributed team with offices in Canada and the US; but with the pandemic everyone is working from home and it has been a big adjustment. We were lucky to have all of the technical infrastructure in place so that online work was completely possible. Even with this, we have definitely noticed changes in the team, how we work together, and how we’ve all adjusted to bringing our work into our homes over the last several months. 

What has been your biggest challenge in this process? 

In our company we create annual goals, and then break these into quarterly goals that we tackle one by one throughout the year. As a result of COVID, we had to let go of nearly all the Q2 goals that we had set. The biggest change for our company was caused by not being able to go on the farm to complete the fieldwork we had planned. This was a big switch for everyone in our company. In a business, you line up people, job descriptions, roles, and resources to be able to do certain tasks. When those tasks changed, several members of our team were asked to step up and take on tasks that didn’t necessarily match their job title or skill set. Everyone played a role in shepherding through the changes.

The pandemic gave me and our entire leadership team the opportunity to be totally clear about what our key priorities are.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We have been staying connected with customers and each other using the various online tools – Zoom, Slack, e-mail, all that. There’s no question that we miss face-to-face interaction. We miss handshakes, high-fives, and hugs, and we miss brainstorming together on a big whiteboard. However, we’ve also gained a lot with the shift to being completely remote and each working in our own homes. We share a lot of pet photos and moments that make it well worthwhile. We also have a number of folks on our team that are growing very exciting house plants or sharing their cooking with the group. We do regular hangouts where we play trivia and online games together – it is hilarious and fun. All this has helped us feel connected. 

How has the pandemic changed your approach to business planning?

The pandemic gave me and our entire leadership team the opportunity to be totally clear about what our key priorities are. I feel like everyone shifted to a total survival mode, and from that place it became crystal clear what we needed to do to have maximum Impact and be successful despite the challenges we were all living through, both personally and as a company. At the end of the day, I think it has helped us be more thoughtful and successful with our planning.

What keeps you positive? 

There is so much to be positive about! It’s really exciting to be working on new technology because it’s a little bit like watching magic be made and unfold directly before your eyes. On a daily basis, I get to see people do things that they have never done in ways that they’ve never done them before. it is absolutely wild and wonderful and impossible to do without feeling both grateful and astounded by the power of a team of people working together. Every week at SomaDetect is a gift full of surprise and wonder.

Q&A: How Erin Kelly is adapting to a new normal.

Erin Kelly is President and CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc. (ASI), a company that uses Artificial Intelligence to augment market research and prediction. ASI’s patented AI, named “Polly” is the world’s only AI for Augmented Human Behaviour and Market Research. Polly quickly catapulted to fame in 2016 after correctly predicting both BREXIT and the Trump election and she is the AI of choice for leading consumer companies including Disney, Mastercard and GM and is well known in the medical research field for her work in mental health and suicide reduction. Erin is frequently called on by national and international media for her insights into AI and its future impacts on society. She shares how the pandemic has impacted ASI, including what financial resources she is tapping into and what has surprised her most. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?
At the moment we are focused on product development and getting our AI, Polly, as fast, streamlined and easy to use as possible. This will get results to our customers faster and allow them to test different scenarios easily because the data will be very easy to manipulate. 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve? 

We are solving the insight problem. Traditional market research relies on vanity metrics and proxies instead of directly answering what marketing executives really want to know: Why aren’t people buying my products or resonating with my message, and what top 3 things can I do right now to change that?

Traditional market research hasn’t evolved in 70 years and that’s a big problem because we no longer consume products and messaging the way we did 70 years ago. The conversations today are all happening online and to properly gain insights you need artificial intelligence. A web panel isn’t going to do it – those studies suffer from the same contrivances as traditional market research and are not randomized samples. Companies today compete on analytics and AI is going to be part of the toolkit for a leading company.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

I need to pick 3! Our most in-demand solutions right now are Look-alike sampling, Topic Discovery and Attribution Testing.

Look-alike sampling allows us to create cohorts of people online that are very similar except for one thing we want to measure, which enables us to determine with high accuracy, the effect of that influence on human behaviour. We are using this with great effect during COVID. With each region opening under different policies and innovating with different programs and ideas, we can determine what works best to help people feel more comfortable and safe and to optimize revenue for our customers during this very challenging time.

Topic Discovery is a solution marketers love because it tells you the top factors affecting sales of your products without you having to know to ask about it ahead of time. With traditional market research, you have to know the questions to ask in advance. Topic Discovery gives you insight into what you should be exploring even if you hadn’t thought of exploring that before because it wasn’t on your radar. 

Attribution enables you to determine, very precisely, why people will choose your product over the competition and to tailor your message and your media buy accordingly.

 

“The key is to focus on solutions and not surrender to feelings of hopelessness.”

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Initially, we have been staying connected through Zoom. We have bigger plans for the fall though as we realize that the traditional ways of staying connected, through conferences and other face-to-face opportunities, have gone away. So stay tuned for fall programming! 

What financial resources are you tapping into?

When we kicked off the company we applied for and received a loan from the BDC which allowed us to hire our first employees. The BDC turned this around very quickly and they have been terrific giving ongoing support and guidance – very proactive. In September 2018 we also did a small private equity round and have some great angel investors who have all offered to provide ongoing financial support should it be needed. During COVID, we applied for the financial funds that we were eligible for as soon as the lockdown was imposed in case we needed it. I like the financial mix that we have, and I think it is important, from the point of view of financial sustainability, to have a healthy mix of equity and debt investment. Most importantly, we have strong revenue and we are able to sustain our operations through revenue. When we take cash injections it is to grow and diversify.

What has surprised you?

Aside from COVID? I think the biggest surprise is how hard it is to find great talent. I sound like an old curmudgeon but universities are simply not preparing business students with the right skills for the current business environment and businesses really do rely on universities to produce that talent. We find we have to re-train all of our staff almost entirely from scratch when they start with us. And who runs a business program without teaching students about sales… the most important business function?! Even when we hire students with Econometrics backgrounds they have huge gaps in knowledge even after 4 years of studying. We can get them up and running in 3 months so that tells you something. I am also surprised at how many students graduate from marketing without knowing the first thing about analytics, sampling and other basic market research techniques. This has to change. 

How far ahead are you planning?

We are very long term thinkers. We are not building a company to flip we are building a company to grow internationally. That means making significant sacrifices in the short term for the benefit of the long term health of the company. I think it really helps to have a North Star high up in the sky that you work toward. In the short term, it’s all about cash flow – and there are lots of solutions for that, fortunately.

What keeps you positive?

My business partner. We keep each other buoyed when things get difficult! Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely and I think it is no coincidence that companies with 2 or more founders typically do much better than companies that have only one. In fact, many investors won’t back a company that has only one founder.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

I sometimes find it difficult not to be dragged down by all the negative headlines because that can be a real poison pill. Find a way to stay positive – whether that is by focusing on the businesses in your industry that are getting it right and modelling yourself after them or finding short term opportunities to make money until you can get back to doing what you love or borrow until the economy gets better and you can rebound. The solution will be different for everyone but the key is to focus on solutions and not to surrender to feelings of hopelessness. 

 

Q&A: How Monika Jaroszonek is adapting to a new normal.

Monika has always been fascinated by dynamic cities. She believes that technology can be used to build more liveable cities through increased density, affordable housing, well-designed municipalities, and better access to urban information. After 15 years in the architecture industry, Monika co-founded Ratio.City, a proptech company that helps city builders make data-driven decisions for urban transformation. Since launching in 2018, Ratio.City has become a trusted source of information for some of Canada’s largest real estate developers and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). Monika is frequently asked to speak about the future of city building and the intersection of real estate and technology. She shares how she plans further for her business, what areas are getting the bulk of her attention, and advice for other entrepreneurs.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

I’m focused on reframing these unusual times to see the unique opportunities. It is of critical importance to not only keep moving our business forward but be able to contribute meaningfully to the greater discussions about how our cities and urban areas can thrive in the coming months and years.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

For my entire career, I have been focused on answering the hard questions about cities: how can we house a growing urban population sustainably with limited resources? How can we build better, more liveable and equitable cities? How can we empower professionals to access critical information more easily in order to allow them to focus on solving complex problems about our built environment?

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Our platform allows professionals in the City Building space to access, visualize and analyze urban data. We take fragmented and siloed information and make it accessible and searchable, and allow anyone doing any kind of business in cities to derive complex, geospatial insights. 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Like everyone else these days, we are using video conferencing to the extreme. We are in a fairly traditional industry where in-person meetings were the norm and we have been able to develop relationships over time as a result. It is much harder to read a room or react dynamically to an audience via video conferencing so we have to be very conscious to actively listen and give space to others to react. We have a number of weekly team meetings where we can share information and make collective decisions, and I have also started having regular one on one meetings with employees to be able to check in informally.  

What financial resources are you tapping into?

In times of uncertainty, we have been looking at the financial implications of the extreme scenarios and modelling them up. Once we have a game plan in place for both the worst case and best case, we can get back to work confident that reality will fall somewhere between the two extremes and we can adjust accordingly as more information becomes available. 

 

“It is of critical importance to not only keep moving our business forward but be able to contribute meaningfully to the greater discussions about how our cities and urban areas can thrive in the coming months and years.” 

 

What has surprised you? 

We expanded our team significantly less than a year ago – we have an incredible group of diverse and talented people with a wide range of professional experiences. What has been amazing for me to watch is how they have all contributed towards a very ambitious product launch under remarkably challenging circumstances. Everyone has adjusted to new roles and responsibilities and been remarkably successful at pulling together.  

How far ahead are you planning? 

I am always looking at next week, next month, 6 months & 12 months out. As a start-up, we always need to manage immediate short term concerns but I want to always be looking to the horizon to make sure we are heading towards our larger vision. I tend to spend most of my time thinking about how to best spend my time to get us into an ideal position half a year from now.  

What keeps you positive?

I get energy from talking to customers, listening to their daily challenges, and seeing their initial reactions when they see how our platform can help them. I have also really enjoyed the creative aspect of designing a business around a complex problem.  

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Entrepreneurship has been incredibly challenging and also personally satisfying. My advice is to make sure you have a strong personal and professional support system.

Q&A: How Bobbie Racette is adapting to a new normal.

Bobbie is the Founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus, a Talent as a Service platform that matches its users with Canadian and US-based virtual assistants and freelancers, a proprietary matchmaking algorithm, and curated client success managers. Recently named both Canada’s Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year and Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Prairies Region by Startup Canada, Bobbie is an unstoppable force in the Canadian startup community. She is a Cree-Metis woman who prides herself on building an inclusivity-first company, championing for indigenous people and the LGBTQ+ community. She is a natural leader, sharing her passion by mentoring First Nations youth who have demonstrated interest in Tech and Business. Bobbie shares how Virtual Gurus has been adapting to the pandemic, including how she stays connected with customers and her advice to fellow entrepreneurs.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Right now I would say our new Slackapp, askBetty, which is launching very soon. We leverage human-powered assistants through our Slackbot, giving you easy and instant access to a live virtual assistant whenever and wherever you need for one-off tasks.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

We want to be a cost-effective solution to entrepreneurs, business owners, or someone who is just super busy to allow them time to spend on ​the routine tasks that keep the business running.​ While doing so we want to provide work to marginalized folks who have struggled to find work. Virtual Gurus is one of the largest freelance teams in Canada and is made up of 95% who identify as Female, 65% are People of Color while 45% are part of the LGBTQ2+ community.

What has been your most successful solution so far?

Freelancers & Virtual Assistants have been around for a while now, but we found that our clients like that we provide onshore dedicated Assistants based on the skills they need. Providing full back-office support to clients who may not need a full-time Assistant while providing work-from-home positions to hundreds of Canadians has really worked well for us. Through the pandemic, we, like many others, had to pivot so we launched our people over profit program and provided free services to 110 startups that were affected by COVID-19.

 

We can’t plan for a pandemic or any sort of economic crisis but we can plan to help others through it…

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?

​We reach out regularly to our clients, whether it’s just to check-in and see how they are or checking if they need any further assistance. We also make it easy for them to access any of our staff or their VA through our messaging system. With our contractors, our client success team contacted them via telephone throughout the pandemic a bit more than usual to check in on them. We also had a channel set up in our Slack titled “Values Check-in” where we would all check in regularly on how we were doing – it was a safe space for us to just talk and get support from our colleagues.

What financial resources are you tapping into?

 We closed a $1.25M equity round right before COVID-19 hit which put us into a good position. We have accessed NRC IRAP IAP wage subsidy funding through COVID-19. We also have been lucky to receive grants from IRAP and Alberta Innovates and we have a few other grants that we’re in the second and third approval stages of.

What has surprised you?

Even when the times get tough the grind never ends.

How far ahead are you planning?

I always plan ahead even in my personal life, but in the startup life you can try and plan ahead but really you have to go day by day and you have to be able to adapt as you go.

What keeps you positive?

My team – the client success managers, the sales managers, the dev team behind the technology, our COO – we are united as a team and I am extremely proud and thankful for that.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

We can’t plan for a pandemic or any sort of economic crisis but we can plan to help others through it whether it be supporting a local restaurant to purchasing apps and services that are local.

Q&A: How Sarah Selhi is adapting to a new normal.

Sarah has over 25-years experience in sales, management, marketing and operations including General Manager at start-up Mainstream Media, which brought linear television online with a social media platform. Sarah worked in executive management in Fortune 500 companies before launching SpaceiShare. Her passion for the environment, tech and the disruption of traditional mindsets fuels her tenacity to create the world’s largest space-sharing platform. Sarah completed Mergelane, the 12-week accelerator in Boulder, Colorado and was the top graduate in her cohort at Founder Institute in Toronto with SpaceiShare being part of Founder Institute’s “Select Portfolio.” Sarah discusses how SpaceiShare is navigating the pandemic including how she remains positive and her advice to fellow entrepreneurs.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

SpaceiShare started the year off strong with some new opportunities and clients coming our way. However, once the pandemic hit, decisions were put on hold. SpaceiShare has taken the down-time in our business to focus on the product. We currently have our development team implementing some key features and upgrades that will really define our vision further. We are also working on a new project that we feel is truly going to help Canada’s most marginalized communities.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

 A few years back, my aunt put all of her belongings into self-storage. After finding out that she would be shelling out over $12,000 over the two years she was away, I realized the enormous opportunity for neighbour helping neighbour. Since that time, our mission is to help people who need space, find people who have space. Our goal is to help make space finding simpler and protect users with legal documents and user reviews.

Since the pandemic hit, SpaceiShare immediately became involved in two great organizations, both looking to assist front-line workers. Working with them illuminated the extremely difficult task that people were having in finding somewhere safe to stay whilst they were working in hospitals, plus the PPE required to keep people protected.

It was that initiative that moved us forward to work with our long-term partner Aangen: A Community Service Organization. For years and years, housing agency workers have had extremely limited information pertaining to housing units available to their clients. Through ongoing meetings with our partner and other housing agencies, we’re working on a solution for them that will be far superior to anything they’ve used before.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

So far, I think what we’re working on over these next two quarters will have big payoffs for us in the future. We have been working with some of Canada’s largest property management companies and the feedback we’re hearing is that their under-utilized spaces need to be monetized. We’re also building technology that will make it easier to share space for multiple properties. While our new solutions are something we know people need, it’s the P2P sharing, the community money-making opportunity that we feel is going to help people earn additional money each month.

 

It’s truly amazing to see entrepreneurs step up and adjust, pivot and adapt to fast changes.

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

 Our team has all been working remotely since day one as many are located out of the country or even different parts of the GTA. Much of our communication is through tools like Slack, Zoom and Gdrive so we’re all connected that way. After the pandemic hit, I felt it was important to reach out to all of our customers, supporters and investors and let them know about what new initiatives we had on the horizon. Overall, however, I’m keeping our “pandemic” speak minimal. I feel there’s far too much emphasis on COVID-19 and I’m about looking forward to a future where we resume our way of life.

What financial resources are you tapping into?

We have received support from the BDC and are in the process of applying for a government grant that would assist us tremendously in moving the new initiative forward. We were also the recipient of OCEs SmartStart seed fund plus other grants that have helped us hire great staff.

What has surprised you? 

 This year, what’s most surprising is the amount of people coming together to help others during the pandemic. It’s truly amazing to see entrepreneurs step up and adjust, pivot and adapt to fast changes. So many of us felt helpless a few months back but the entrepreneurial tenacity kicked-in and we made lemonade out of lemons.

How far ahead are you planning? 

We are looking at the next two quarters as more of a build and learn vs. scale and grow. From there, we are looking to launch our new initiatives and go full-on with promotion. We are expecting a lean year so are keeping our costs low and hope to have a year’s worth of runway to get us through. From a vision standpoint, we have expectations of where we’ll be up to 5 yrs. from now.

What keeps you positive?

Definitely my family. My husband is a great motivator and positive person so he’s always helping me get through any tough times. My two daughters – aged 8 and 11, are my bright lights. They are lovely, charming and funny characters who are always positive, no matter what.

Add to that my amazing team of dedicated, passionate and smart people, and I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such a great group. I love it when my team is galvanized to work on something and come back to me with such great work.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

There’s a LOT going on in the world right now and many of us don’t know the whole story. It’s important to conserve as much cash as possible and prepare for a possible long-term downturn. (The Head of Founder Institute, Adeo Ressi, suggested that we should have at least a one-year runway, if not two). With that in mind, entrepreneurs are the ones leading the way for how a new world might look. Keep your vision alive, don’t get distracted or upset by what’s going on in the media – in fact, pull the plug completely. Mindset, balance and inner peace should be your guiding principles. Lastly, if it “feels” right, don’t let others dissuade you from your vision. They don’t walk in your shoes and their objections are theirs alone, not yours. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member, a mentor or someone you admire. Be your own navigator.

Q&A: How Kristal Lewis is adapting to a new normal.

As Founder/CEO of Senior Care Connect, Kristal is a registered Social Worker (RSW) who holds both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Social Work (BSW, MSW), with over 10 years of experience in the field. Her experience includes: health care system navigation, senior care planning, hospital discharge planning, cancer care, palliative care, community crisis intervention, community outreach and education, amongst other areas. With an expertise in working with seniors and health care, Kristal is well aware of the numerous issues impacting this population and holds a wealth of knowledge regarding our health care system and senior care planning. Kristal is passionate about educating the community and acting as a support to help seniors/families get the care they need, in order to ensure they maintain the highest quality of life as they age. Kristal shares how Senior Care Connect has adapted to these unprecedented times, from the financial resources she has been tapping into to how far she is planning ahead.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

With a recent pivot and MVP built, our focus right now is gaining feedback from our user base so we can adjust and tailor our solution to best meet their needs. So our energy and focus currently is getting our solution in the hands of professional caregivers and families. 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

I want to simplify the process for finding and arranging care for yourself or an aging loved one, so we can all have the best quality of life possible as we age. In my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of families in search of care and overall I get the same responses. Families are stressed, not only because their loved one is sick, but they are stressed at the whole process of finding, arranging and paying for care. Understandably this is a very complex issue and no one solution can solve it all. As our starting point, however, we want to address some of the pain points for families by creating a platform to provides easy access to care at the best possible price. 

What has been your most successful solution so far?

Thus far we have received positive feedback from families who we have been able to match with caregivers.  Families appreciated being able to easily find a caregiver and knowing that the caregiver they were being connected with had been pre-screened. 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?

Like most companies, we of course have social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. We also stay connected via our monthly newsletter.  We use this as a form of engagement as we encourage our community members to reach out to us with questions or concerns. I love getting e-mails and questions in response to our newsletters, as it allows for greater engagement and allows us to provide tailored answers or support to people’s particular needs or questions. We do also have a chat feature on our website, as well as a phone number for those who want to speak directly with us. For team members, we use slack as a means of communication.

What financial resources are you tapping into?

As far as financial resources, I have accessed grants, competed/won pitch competitions, and have used my own personal funds. We’ve been fortunate to be a part of some amazing entrepreneurial programs such as York University’s Launch YU business accelerator, as well as YEDI(York Entrepreneurial Development Institute)- which provide the opportunity to compete and/or apply for access to grant funding. Grant funding is always great, as it allows for a source of funding without giving up equity in your company and it isn’t a loan you have to pay back (with interest). I also made it a point to compete in various pitch contests as some of them have cash prize rewards.

 

I think it’s important to really have a strong support system around you who can help you during those really difficult times and to remind you that your inherent value is not dependent on your business. 

 

What has surprised you?

Starting a business can be extremely challenging, with lots of ups and downs. What has surprised me is how challenging it can be to get product-market-fit, even when you bring industry expertise.  With Senior Care Connect, although there is a clear problem, it is a complex one which makes it difficult to address all aspects of it.

How far ahead are you planning?

Our initial offering helps connect families with pre-screened caregivers, however, we have much larger plans for the future in regards to how we want to help families. Addressing the care of an aging loved one has multiple factors to consider, which makes this issue such a difficult one to tackle. Our end goal as we grow is to create a centralized access point for senior care options, which will allow families to go to one access point to explore various options whether finding caregivers, private retirement homes, purchasing needed equipment and other senior care related needs.

What keeps you positive?

My co-founder, family and friends help me to stay positive and optimistic.  Starting/building a business is a very arduous process and there can be many down times. It can be very emotionally taxing. I think it’s important to really have a strong support system around you who can help you during those really difficult times and to remind you that your inherent value is not dependent on your business. 

Furthermore, what keeps me going is my “why”- which are my parents who are seniors. From my professional experience, I witnessed how distraught families were dealing with caring for an aging loved one and it made me think of my own parents. I see the families I work with and I empathize with them. I want to be able to be a part of creating solutions that will help not only my family but everyone’s families get the care they need and deserve as they age.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

Entrepreneurship is not easy.  Always remember why you started and be persistent. Try to surround yourself with a great support system. Immerse yourself in the start-up eco-system, as there are great opportunities to apply for grants, connect with industry experts, network with investors and gain mentorship.

Q&A: How Farah Brunache is adapting to a new normal.

Lagatos is headed by Farah Brunache, who has a combined 14 years experience. Both as a Software Engineer and Program Analyst in the United States Intelligence Community working in distressed regions. In 2015, Brunache was named by the Obama Administration as an Emerging Global Entrepreneur. Lagatos turns devices into an anonymous local server that buffers content for others to use in their local community. Lagatos de-centralizes and unlocks internet access in markets that before have been in-penetrable. Farah shares how her company is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, issues and successful solutions, and advice on financial resources and looking ahead for other entrepreneurs. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Before COVID-19 at first glance, many would consider our product to be a “nice to have.” As many believed that people without home Internet were not a priority as they “all” had mobile phones. And could access the Internet there or at a library.

Post-COVID-19 has shown that high bandwidth Internet access is a long-overdue necessity. Most of our energy is spent educating and the solutions that can be implemented today.

 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Providing high bandwidth Internet access to people who disproportionately only have access to mobile data. And providing them opportunities to earn in the digital global economy.

 

What has been your most successful solution so far?

Potential and existing customers were always aware of the digital divide. But never thought of it in such concrete phrasing. COVID-19 has provided an opening for Lagatos to provide education around the lack of Internet. As it is not only a service we are selling. But a broader mission for equality.

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?

Fortunately, since the inception of Lagatos, we have been a digital-first and remote-only company. Maintaining this has enabled us to continue reaching and communicating with customers.

With our customers, it is social media, email, and video conferencing. And with our employees, we remain 100% operational. Using video conferencing and productivity web applications to stay connected throughout the week.

 

What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

These are difficult times for many businesses. And Lagatos is no exception in impact as customers begin to have less money to spend each month. Our suggestion is to seek grant opportunities. Understanding that COVID affects everyone. So funding opportunities will be limited. My suggestion is to look at how your business can switch gears or adapt to a COVID-19 issue. As a simple example, some companies shifted to manufacturing PPE material. Or software companies that shifted to helping brick and mortar companies get online. Whether it is setting up e-commerce sites or helping automate delivery services.

 

“The new normal is here. And so it provides an opportunity to provide services that people find essential. And will allow your business to grow. And to help people in need now.”

 

What has surprised you?

During COVID-19, our team expanded from one to six. This is a time of instability for many. And grateful for everyone who is moved by the mission. And willing to invest in continued innovation in the technology space.

 

How far ahead are you planning?

COVID-19 hasn’t changed how far out Lagatos plans its future. But has changed what activities we will engage in. This is because we believe Lagatos can have a global impact.

We have a short term (12 months), mid-term (5 years), and long term goals (10 years). And we ensure to always stay flexible. One of our core values is “passionate beliefs loosely held.”

 

What keeps you positive?

People are resilient. And every day I see many extend themselves to help. Whether it is online communities sharing grant opportunities. Or people supporting their brick and mortar stores.

 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

Post-COVID-19 is an opportunity for communities to reset priorities. If your startup has been majorly impacted by COVID-19, and it has to stop operations; this is an opportunity to work on products and services that people need now. The new normal is here. And so it provides an opportunity to provide services that people find essential. And will allow your business to grow. And to help people in need now.

Q&A: How Nicole Mclean is adapting to a new normal.

Nicole is a true-blue Nova Scotian who loves to communicate with people. She spent 10 years working in a corporate training position at Scotiabank and then co-founded InStage in 2017. InStage creates V.R. Training simulations for soft-skills and was originally created to help Nicole practice for large group presentations. Since 2017, Nicole has been driving the reach of InStage to include 1000’s of users at Fortune 500 companies and large post-secondary institutions. Nicole shares how InStage is navigating the pandemic, from what area of the business is receiving the greatest focus to what she is doing to stay positive.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

With the recent spike in demand for interactive online learning, InStage is focused on partnering with post-secondary schools to help them adopt VR technology adaptations that work online. Nearly all educational institutions believe that VR technology will play a key role in the future of education, so we are helping them start this process of bringing in technology and learning best practices.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

The most important problem we are trying to solve is filling the soft skill gap between what students have and what employers expect. It has never been more urgent to help prepare students to develop these skills which requires a lot of practice. Students can now practice in V.R. Simulations for interviews, presentations, storytelling, objection handling in safe environments that also allows for repetition and real-time analytics.

What has been your most successful solution so far?          

Adapting to this new world and continuing to innovate to add value to our clients.       

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?             

Virtually!

 

I love associating myself with people I admire so I can continuously push myself both work-wise and personally. 

 

What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

Test your innovation with the market and see if it adds enough value for clients to pay.

What has surprised you? 

The biggest surprise is how things have changed since pre-COVID days. Continuing to adapt and innovate is essential.

How far ahead are you planning? 

In the short term, we are looking forward to the fall as schools are reopening. But planning is a 6 month to 5 year project at least.

What keeps you positive?

Positivity comes from your mindset and also who you are surrounding yourself with. It’s important to be connected with positive influencers. I love associating myself with people I admire so I can continuously push myself both work-wise and personally. 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Covid-19 has created a lot of new problems for entrepreneurs to solve. Entrepreneurs should be looking at how the world is changing and what the new world will need rather than dwelling on the economic issues.

Q&A: How Eyra Abraham is adapting to a new normal.

Eyra Abraham is a Founder/CEO of Lisnen, a Toronto-based startup that develops technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  Initially, she started her career in tech then pivoted into marketing and communications within the public sector. Her love for technology and innovation drew her back to founding her company. As someone who is hard of hearing and knows the problems the hearing loss communities face too well, Eyra’s mission is to make the world safer and inclusive by applying advanced technologies. Eyra shares how Lisnen is navigating the current landscape, including what has surprised her most and her advice to fellow entrepreneurs. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Lisnen focuses on supporting the needs of people living with hearing loss through creative solutions that can make a difference in their lives.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

My company is solving an issue impacting millions of people with hearing loss, those who often have the desire to integrate into the “hearing world” but are challenged by the fact that we live in a society that mainly communicates through sounds. We are building an inclusive solution to remove the barriers to allow them to participate in society fully.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Lisnen is developing a mobile application to help people with hearing challenges gain situational awareness by utilizing artificial intelligence. Our app will help users detect specific sounds like fire alarms and sirens, giving visual and vibrational alerts using their smart devices.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Our customers, especially during COVID, need the support of closed captioning and sign language interpreters when engaging in video conferencing meetings. For the most part, we’ve been corresponding with them by email and video conferencing.

 

Be continuously learning. Use this time as a learning opportunity to better understand the people you serve.

 

What has surprised you? 

I’m surprised that more companies, especially during the COVID pandemic, are starting to have a stronger desire for inclusive technologies to support their stakeholders living with a disability, especially as specific demographics are getting older. They are beginning to realize that the needs have evolved, and the technologies of the past can’t continue to work the same way. We are heading in the right direction, and many people will have an inclusive future ahead of us.

How far ahead are you planning? 

We have a short term plan where we are taking things day by day to ensure that we are serving our communities’ needs and wants. Our long term plan is to fulfill our mission.

What keeps you positive?

What keeps me positive is being surrounded by people who contribute to make our society a better place. Of course, my friends and family’s company and enjoying the simple everyday pleasure keeps me positive.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Be continuously learning. Use this time as a learning opportunity to better understand the people you serve. The information you gather will create opportunities and allow you to continue to support your customers throughout their lives.

Q&A: How Harleen Kaur is adapting to a new normal.

Harleen is a former NASA engineer. She worked primarily on satellites and NASA’s New Horizons probe (which is currently on a mission to explore dwarf planets past Pluto). After NASA, Kaur became the first female VP at Rolls-Royce Jet Engines. Harleen approached the news problem as an engineer might: “Having worked with satellite camera technology so powerful it could spot pipes leaking, it is unimaginable to me that we still don’t have access to a set of crystal-clear, undisputed facts about what’s happening on the planet.” She shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her work at Ground News, the most important problem in the news that she is solving, and a reminder to other entrepreneurs. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Growth! We are at a stage where we have more and more users paying for our product each day. With a product that meets a market need, our main bottleneck is the number of people we can make aware of our product. Our best channel has been putting our product in front of people via social media, our new website, our Blindspot Report newsletter, and letting people see what news they have entirely missed out on.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Getting consumers to burst their Content Bubbles. Content bubbles are one of the most dangerous things that tech has ever created. While they give us funny videos and captivating articles, they also exacerbate any convictions that we hold. Simply put, being fed content that we disagree with is bad for engagement and consequently, bad for business. A person’s worldview is shaped by their newsfeed, rather than the other way around.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Ground News Pro has been very successful in providing hundreds of thousands of consumers the most diverse perspectives on a single news story, so a normal person who is not a journalist can understand news without Bias and Geopolitical agenda mixed with it. People are so happy with this solution that we have over 10k paying consumers, while there are thousands of free news products out there that they can use.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Given that we have hundreds of thousands of customers, we heavily rely on analytics to understand their feedback. We actively communicate with customers through email and video calls. We also ensure that we reply to every single Review so that customers feel like we appreciate their feedback, even if it is negative.

With the team, we have heavily relied on Slack and Google Meet during this testing time. We have started new traditions like remote team lunch, where everyone orders the food delivery and we share lunch on the video call.

 

The news industry has gotten a new spotlight in this pandemic and I’m sure other startups can find fresh unaddressed opportunities in the new normal.”

 

What has surprised you? 

Everyone is aware of News Bias on how they cover stories, but the total lack of coverage by left-leaning or right-leaning media on certain topics has totally surprised us. We started making coverage distribution charts and have discovered certain topics get very lop-sided coverage. We recently started doing a weekly newsletter called the Blindspot Report, which has more than 100k subscribers.

How far ahead are you planning? 

One thing that we have done well is not to plan the company forward, but to plan the market’s need backward. We took a laundry list of issues in the news industry that were in the path of our mission to create a better informed and more critically thinking public. Issues like misinformation, sensationalism, bias, special interests, echo chambers, corruption, and lack of financial sustainability for news outlets. Now that’s not the nicest list of things, but with thoughtful application of technology; I can say we’ve managed to create solutions that deal with about half of those issues. We have a path forward on the more complex ones, and when we think about company and product line expansion, that’s what we think backward from: what resources do we need to end this issue in the news people read.

What keeps you positive?

Deliver value to our subscribers. Every week I send out the Blindspot Report newsletter, highlighting the 5-6 news stories of the week which have the most lopsided coverage from left-leaning or right-leaning media. Within 10 minutes of sending it out, we have over 10,000 opens and a flurry of activity from positive reply emails, social media mentions, and people opening up their wallets to subscribe to Ground News Pro. It is a very positive feeling to know that so many people look forward to our work. 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

If you can weather the Covid storm which is in no means easy there is opportunity on the other side. Static circumstances help large companies keep the status quo, turbulent times mean startups like ours can make strides that were not possible before. The news industry has gotten a new spotlight in this pandemic and I’m sure other startups can find fresh unaddressed opportunities in the new normal.

Q&A: How Julia Rivard Dexter is adapting to a new normal.

Julia Rivard Dexter is an innovative tech entrepreneur focused on impact, one of the top 50 Canadian women in STEM, former Olympian, and mother of 4. Julia has founded and led several successful technology ventures, including as CEO of Google’s first North American premier GoogleApps partner. Currently, Julia’s is Co-Founder and CEO of Squiggle Park | Dreamscape which aims to improve literacy rates for children worldwide through a hyper-engaging game platform. In 2019, their digital games for reading won the title of “most innovative education technology” at the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Florida. Recently, Rivard Dexter was recognized as “Best-In-Class” Rally Social Enterprise Accelerator. Julia is also a member of the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s, Economic Round Table for the Digital Industries, and a member of the Board of Nova Scotia Power. In this What Now column, Julia shares the importance of online educational resources during the pandemic and the advice she has for businesses struggling with their finances. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Right now we are focused on diving deep. Since we launched our newest literacy game in January 2019, we have seen rapid growth with millions of users playing. This has given us the opportunity to dig into huge amounts of data to draw insights that help us understand our users more. These insights help us continue to improve how we deliver literacy learning in the most effective, and engaging ways through digital games.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Kids today will spend 10,000 hours video gaming by the time they graduate high school. This is the same amount of time they will spend in every class over the same period if they have perfect attendance – gaming is not going away. As time spent gaming has increased, kids literacy rates have been on a steady decline, and most kids now report they have no interest in reading at all by the time they are in high school. Given the direct link between reading, and comprehension, and that ability for higher-level reasoning, there are massive impacts to low literacy both individually, and collectively as a society.

Parents eyes have been opened. During the recent COVID-19 crisis, and the overnight shift to homeschooling, parents have become painfully aware of the need for valuable, rigorous ,and engaging online tools for their kids. They are tired of arguing with their kids about screen time, and many have given up, but this is not ok. As parents, and learning guardians, we have to be stewards of the right kind of online activities for our kids, ones that are designed to help them reach their potential in life. We wouldn’t let our kids eat sugar three meals a day, why are we complicit in allowing dozens of hours of unregulated weekly online time.

We help solve this problem by developing games like Dreamscape, which are as fun as the video games kids play to keep them engaged. The difference with our games is the learning engine that delivers each player personalized reading, and comprehension skill development based on the best literacy research, and aligned with the curriculum. Kids love the game, and spend 6x more time reading each week than the average. The added bonus for parents, and teachers is the ability to see the reading time spent in the program dashboards, assign content for kids to work on, and help address specific reading skill gaps that are identified.

Ultimately, we have found a trusted, and effective way to motivate kids to love, and learn. Imagine that…guilt-free screen time!

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

When we launched Dreamscape, a game focused on literacy for kids in grades 3 to 8+ we knew we had something special but we weren’t sure how kids, and teachers would respond. Feedback from both has been so powerful, and we know we have really delivered a program that addresses a real need. Here is an example:

“I used Dreamscape when teaching middle school last year, and now 3rd grade this year. My middle school students who struggled with reading had such an increase in their reading test scores they were removed from reading resources. All my students, at every level, are obsessed with Dreamscape!” Cathleen Fracis, Taylor Ranch Elementary, Grade 3-5 Teacher

 

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We do everything online. Since we are a digital company this has been a part of our fabric since the beginning. We use the best online collaboration tools to keep meetings engaging, and try to add elements of learning and fun in everything we do. Our mentor program for teachers allows us to connect on a regular basis with hundreds of wonderful educators who provide us with product feedback to help with continuous improvement.

We stay connected to kids through online class visits where the class can provide their candid feedback on the Dreamscape game, and how we can build features they love. We also use this time to bring in team members to share their experience with the kids on how they became game developers, and designers, customer support people, and testers. This is an engaging way to help inspire kids to see different career paths aligned with what they love.

What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances? 

We have always tried to be disciplined in our spend, and this is an important piece of advice for all businesses. There is little value in investing in something without understanding the impact it will have on what you are trying to achieve. The other important piece of advice we have followed is how critical it is to truly understand your business model and product-market fit. When you have done both successfully, the feeling is more like riding a wave than pushing a boulder up a hill.

Finally, it is easy to think you need the financing first to drive a sustainable business to achieve your purpose but this thinking is misguided. Instead, if you focus on your purpose to drive a sustainable business, the financing will come much more successfully and from the right sources.

What has surprised you? 

I have been surprised about how much work we have ahead of us to improve our education systems to be successful for all kids.

How far ahead are you planning? 

When we think of the asset of our business, the learning engine, we are thinking 5-7 years ahead. Internally we stay focused on the year ahead, and our planning is broken down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly initiatives to make sure we are all aligned, and achieving initiatives that will help the company win.

What keeps you positive?

Time with my kids keeps me positive. Being able to be focused on what is in front of me gives me a feeling of balance. I also am inspired every day by the team members around me, and feel most positive when I see them achieving something exceptional either personally or professionally because they have been given the environment to succeed at our company. Finally, I love winning, so seeing us achieve the targets we set out to reach is something that feels great. It means we are having a positive impact on improving literacy learning, and building a business that will scale, that is why we do what we do.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.

Q&A: How Ugochi Owo is adapting to a new normal.

Ugochi Owo is the founder and CEO of Flindel, a reverse logistics and prop-tech startup focused on automating commerce returns. They make returning anything ridiculously easy for consumers of retail businesses and viable for retailers. They make it possible for consumers of retail stores to drop off their returns from the comfort of their homes, without risking the exposure and inconvenience of venturing outdoors. Ugochi shares with us how her company has adapted to the current landscape, advice on financial resources available, which solutions have been more successful, and which area of her business has been getting the bulk of her focus.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

In light of COVID, we have had to direct much of our resources towards supporting the surge in demand for our services. Retailers are looking to optimize the experience of their consumers and profit off of every return, while property managers are eager to partner with us towards increasing the safety of their tenants.

 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

We are making the headache of commerce returns a thing of the past. We believe in a future where returning anything will be as easy as ordering a pizza from your phone.

 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Our services for property management groups towards helping increase the safety of their tenants have been our most requested offering in light of the pandemic. We’ve made it possible for tenants to drop off their returns from the comfort of their homes without having to risk exposure and be inconvenienced to head to the store or post office. This model has especially been proven a necessity in light of COVID-19, and is why our business is quickly becoming among the leaders in this space. Property Managers are eager to integrate our amenity into their spaces to continue their ongoing responsibility of keeping their tenants safe. We are looking forward to continuing to support this initiative.

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Tools like Workplace by Facebook, frequent email updates, and check-ins are great for keeping everyone connected.

 

“Keep going, regardless of how tough things may seem currently, the path always clears for the determined. Remember why you started this journey and keep moving forward.”

 

What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

My advice is to find creative ways to increase cash flow, especially during these times. One of my favourite stories is that during the 2008 US Presidential elections, a struggling company at the time paid off over $20k worth of credit card debt by producing limited-edition cereal named after the leading candidates, Barack Obama, and John McCain. That company grew to be what we all know as Airbnb and is now worth more than the five largest hotel chains combined. There is always a way for the determined. Do what you need to do to ensure that the business survives.

 

What has surprised you? 

What makes the startup industry so magical is its pay it forward culture. Most people are willing to share their stories, grant a listening ear, or make introductions because someone once helped them on their journey. I love this and I try to do the same as well and make myself available for upcoming entrepreneurs. My Twitter DMs are always open @ugochiowo 

 

How far ahead are you planning? 

As the economy continues to shift, we are collecting data points to aid in our prediction of what the future will look like. We try to have as much foresight as possible by looking at patterns in historical data for our industry. We think both long term, short term, and give ourselves the grace to learn as we go while understanding that no plan is ever truly concrete. No one would have been able to predict the sheer economic impact of the pandemic, however, the flexible entrepreneur is able to make adjustments accordingly.

 

What keeps you positive?

Imagining the future and the impact of what we’re building fuels my optimism. We are so excited to be surrounded by incredible minds who are driven by the sheer determination to build something that will have a long-lasting impact on this industry.

 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Keep going, regardless of how tough things may seem currently, the path always clears for the determined. Remember why you started this journey and keep moving forward.

Q&A: How Anne Genge is adapting to a new normal.

Anne Genge is CDM 2020 Global Cyber Defense Award Winner – ‘Most Innovative Woman in Cybersecurity.’ She is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/C) with a specialization in small business and healthcare. In 2017, she co-founded Alexio Corporation, now a national and global award-winning cybersecurity firm. Alexio is Canada’s award-winning automated data protection suite for small businesses. Security automation has never been more relevant as millions of people have moved to working from home without the same safeguards of corporate network security. Alexio provides an automated multi-layer approach to computer endpoint security virtually eliminating manual processes, labour, and the problems associated with variation of human talent. Anne and her team are champions in the use of automation and machine-learning to solve data security and cyber-risk for small to medium-sized businesses nationwide. She shares how Alexio is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic; what are the company’s successes, financial resources, and which areas of the business are getting the bulk of her energy.  

 

“With cybercrime heading into the tens of billions of records stolen and potentially trillions of dollars in damages, we are proud to recognize Anne Genge as an award-winning innovator that offers a new approach to defeat these criminals.”

Pierlugi Paganini, Editor-in-Chief, Cyber Defense Magazine.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Having spent my entire career serving the healthcare industry, I understood we were likely in for a long haul when COVID hit. Like most people, I was unnerved by the uncertainty, but I knew that standing still would not be an option. My instinct was ‘I need to be helpful and I need to stay relevant’. We quickly put our energy into pushing out tools and supportive content to our clients and prospects which ended up connecting us to them in wonderful ways that might not have happened otherwise. You learn a lot about people through common calamity. 

 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

On the ‘giving back’ side of things, we immediately partnered with hEr VOLUTION to raise funds to help girls get access to the technology they need for online learning (See here)

From a business perspective, our mission has always been to solve data security in smaller organizations; primarily healthcare clinics. These entities are the guardians of the most sensitive information about an individual and yet they have very small budgets and resources to do it. We deliver enterprise-class cybersecurity and training at a price suitable for any sized clinic, even those with just one computer.

 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Our subscription-based cybersecurity solution Alexio Defender allows any sized business to get best-in-class cybersecurity and offers built-in cybersecurity training. We have helped hundreds of healthcare professionals across Canada. In the past year, we have won national and global awards for our cutting-edge technology and approach.

 

“It is amazing how a shared tragedy has brought people into a place of gratitude for what really matters. It is true… ‘you are not really rich until you have the things that money can’t buy’.”

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We were lucky as an organization as we had always leaned heavily on remote connectivity. Having been seasoned already, we became even more valuable to our clients because they quickly had to adapt to this, and we were able to provide great value to them by walking them through the video conferencing landscape. Again, we often drifted off into conversations that had more to do with navigating struggles together as human beings, not just ‘seller and buyer’.

 

What has surprised you? 

A wonderful surprise has been the ‘coming together’ of people. It is amazing how being apart, has actually made me more connected. This has happened with my clients, and also friends, and family. It is amazing how a shared tragedy has brought people into a place of gratitude for what really matters. It is true… ‘you are not really rich until you have the things that money can’t buy’.

 

How far ahead are you planning?

After the initial shock and paralysis, we decided to use the downtime to overhaul our processes. We are now planning quarterly initiatives 12 months out as well as keeping the 5-year goal in sight. We are doing this with the idea that the industry will still be cludgy as we will still be navigating without a vaccine. 

 

What keeps you positive?

I have an amazing team who have all rallied around the same mission which puts people before profits. I was blown away by our operations manager who, the minute we launched the hEr VOLUTION cause marketing campaign, bought a whole year subscription to our own product just to kick-off the program. It is things like that which put a smile on my face every day…I am surrounded by people (virtually) who make it a daily goal to just help where they can. It is the best of humanity shining through.

 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

My father was a serial entrepreneur. Some stuff worked and some stuff did not. It will always be that way. I never saw him stop. He accepted that some steps would be big, and some would be small, but we need to move forward regardless. This, along with being kind to ourselves is really important. If it were easy everyone would do it, and we are all unique warriors!

Q&A: How Alexandra McCalla is adapting to a new normal.

Alexandra is an ex-business consultant who has also worked at numerous scaling tech start-ups in Toronto and Silicon Valley, gaining experience in strategy, product management, operations, and client services/sales. She then turned her attention to the drone industry, joining AirMatrix as their Chief Operating Officer to build the future for our skies. She was recently awarded the Communitech Fierce Founders $100k prize and has been featured on Women in Drones. She shares how AirMatrix is navigating the current landscape, from what areas of the business are getting the most energy and focus to the financial resources that they have tapped into. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Right now customer contracts and deployment, alongside building the team and strategy for international scale.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Due to a lack of infrastructure, drone operations are unable to scale safely and efficiently in cities to benefit all sectors and aspects of society. With the rise of COVID-19, contactless modes of transportation, like drones, will play an increasingly pivotal role in society.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage, and enable drone operations by building millimetre precise drone roads for dense urban environments. With our network of drone roads we provide a software application for the 3D routing, and command and control of multiple autonomous drones simultaneously. Here’s a quick 2-minute video describing what we do.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?

Through regular zoom and google hangouts. Particularly scheduled one on one time with employees. This has been particularly important for new team members who we have hired and onboarded completely remotely. Building team spirit, even without meeting in person, has been a key to our recent successes.

 

“Focus on knowing, and healing, your inner critics and coping mechanisms – it will be the silent killer or winner to your success as a leader.”

 

What financial resources are you tapping into?

We have been accessing support through the NRC IRAP Innovation Assistance Program (IAP) as well as the $40k business loan. We are also a part of the Communitech Fierce Founders Intensive Track program and the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.

What has surprised you?

Government/enterprise selling cycles and adoption has accelerated significantly over the past 6 months. The urgency and understanding of our value proposition are ringing louder than before.

How far ahead are you planning?

At the start of the pandemic we planned to make sure we could reach the end of the year, now we are planning into the end of 2021. With our experienced acceleration, we must capitalise on this momentum to scale.

What keeps you positive?

My team and our vision. Both internally around building a company of supportive people and externally on empowering the world with technology that can better help us deal with situations like the pandemic.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

Focus on knowing, and healing, your inner critics and coping mechanisms – it will be the silent killer or winner to your success as a leader. 

25 Women to Watch: Succeeding in a COVID World

Canada51 was launched in 2020, with a mandate to grow into a collective of organizations, and individuals unlocking capital to invest inclusively in women-entrepreneurs and women-led companies. As a first step, we have convened our first Canada51 Capital Council. We have partnered with Women of Influence to amplify the stories of these women and their companies, and over the next few weeks you can learn more about them as part of the Women of Influence What Now series.

 

by Danielle Graham 

 

2020 has been a year of disruption and change. We are living through the first pandemic of our lifetimes; Millennial’s second financial crisis and the inequalities of our systems are more exposed than ever. Amidst the chaos, there is also an opportunity to break things down and rebuild, to expose what wasn’t working and find solutions to make it better.

Even while facing less access to capital, struggles in the start-up phase and outdated prejudices about women in leadership, women’s entrepreneurship is accelerating within Canada and beyond. In the spirit of collaboration and like-minded missions, Sandpiper Ventures from the east coast and The51 from the west, have come together to launch a new, national partnership to unlock capital and invest in women-led startups across Canada.

The result of our combined knowledge and shared networks is called Canada51.  This inclusive network is intended to grow to include all key organisations and people across Canada who see this as a social mandate and financial and economic opportunity.  Canada51 is committed to increase the participation of women as investors and business leaders and amplify the success of women tech entrepreneurs. 

Within Canada’s technology sector, only 25% of the 4,000 angel and seed-funded software companies have raised enough capital to see them through to the end of 2020. Entrepreneurs are now prioritizing survival by reducing burn and/or production costs. The devastating impact of mothballing exciting growth opportunities and reducing overhead became evident when Statistics Canada reported the second-highest unemployment rate on record at 12% with over 2.4 million Canadians filing employment insurance claims. 

If businesses don’t make it out of this crisis, not only will the impact on the lives of these entrepreneurs and their employees be devastating, the economic engine of this country will cease to exist. Subsequently, Canada’s burgeoning technology ecosystem, one that was just starting to make strides in enabling diverse founders, will become a shell of its former self, with the effort of many over the previous decade amounting to nothing. The silver lining is that COVID-19 is paving the way for a new, higher-tech future, with the potential for faster technology adoption at all levels of society. 

Recognizing that the innovation engine is what keeps our economy running during this crisis, we have been continually inspired by how entrepreneurs have stepped up and built critical solutions in the fight against COVID-19. Within the tech startup ecosystem specifically, we have had countless conversations with founders from coast to coast who are positioning themselves to weather this storm. 

Canada 51’s COVID-specific response is one of the first of many collaborations to amplify women entrepreneurs nationally. We are all investors focused on women founders, and these are founders we’ve known over the years from our programs, community engagement and portfolios. They are forward-thinking and performing exceptionally well even in such challenging times because their tech solutions are exactly what’s needed for our future economy.

These founders are examples of the resilience, strength and leadership our communities need. Below they share their perspectives on the future, and the lessons they are from COVID-19 as we collectively pivot. 

  1. Drones

Alex McCalla, COO & Co-founder of AirMatrix

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage and enable drone operations by building millimetre-precise drone roads for dense urban environments. Learn how AirMatrix is helping high-density cities create safe, scalable and efficient transportation systems here.

  1. Fake News

Harleen Kaur, CEO & Co-founder of Ground News

Ground News is the world’s first ‘News Comparison Platform’ aggregating news from 50,000+ publications globally, across the political spectrum. Learn how Ground News provides consumers with deeper coverage analysis to address the problems of misinformation, political bias and sensationalism here.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Erin Kelly, CEO of Advanced Symbolics

Advanced Symbolics is a market research leader, with Polly, its proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Learn how Advanced Symbolics helps businesses and governments better understand their audiences here

  1. Artificial Intelligence  

Donna Litt, COO & Co-founder of Kiite

Kiite, a leading provider of AI solutions for sales, helps sales teams capture, organize and share their documented and tribal knowledge. Learn how their tech sales training program, operating as Uvaro, equips recruits to pursue or grow their careers in tech sales here.

  1. Cybersecurity

Anne Genge, CEO & CO-founder of Alexio Corporation

Alexio Corporation is an award-winning CyberRisk prevention software and training company for healthcare practices and other small to medium-sized businesses. Learn how Alexio specializes in delivering enterprise-class cyber-security to smaller networks here.

  1. Digital Health

Kristal Lewis, Founder & CEO at Senior Care Connect

Senior Care Connect offers a web platform that easily connects those seeking a caregiver with caregivers offering services for hire. Learn how Senior Care Connect is giving families peace of mind and reducing the cost of care delivered here.

  1. Education

Julia Rivard Dexter, Co-Founder & CEO of Squiggle Park

Squiggle Park, one of the fastest-growing EdTech games of 2018, uses a scientifically backed reading methodology for Pre K-2 students to accelerate mastery of skills development in phonemes, phonemic awareness, word work, spelling and more. Learn how Squiggle Park helps students master the skills required to become a strong reader here.

  1. The Gig Economy / Remote Work

Bobbie Racette, CEO & Founder of Virtual Gurus

The Virtual Gurus is a Talent-as-a-Service (TaaS) platform that matches businesses and entrepreneurs with onshore, Canadian and US-based virtual assistants using a proprietary algorithm. Learn how The Virtual Gurus provides an inclusive, cost-effective solution here.

  1. Utilities

Elaine Kelly, COO & Co-founder, Klir

Klir’s integrated water regulatory compliance platform helps water utilities manage their compliance and regulation more effectively. Learn how Klir is helping make water safer here.

  1. Mobile Apps / Artificial Intelligence

Eyra Abraham, CEO & Founder of Lisnen

Lisnen is a mobile application that provides safety and situational awareness to people with hearing loss using AI. Learn how Lisnen is making life easier and safer for the deaf and hard of hearing here.

  1. Financial Services 

Marina Mann, CEO & Co-founder of EatSleepRIDE

EatSleepRIDE Motorcycle GPS® (ESR) is a social, tracking and safety platform for motorcycle riders, with its smartphone technology using mobility tools coupled with AI to improve safety and reduce motorcycle-related injury. Learn how Eat Sleep Ride Mobile is powering new kinds of insurance and making motorcycles more accessible and safer here.

  1. Digital Health

Huda Idrees, Founder & CEO at Dot Health

Dot Health is a mobile platform for the secure retrieval and storage of Canadians’ medical records from any healthcare provider. Learn how Dot Health is connecting the world’s healthcare information here.

  1. Virtual Reality

Nicole McLean, Co-founder of Instage

InStage makes VR speaking experiences, combining believable VR experience with useful analytics. Learn how InStage is increasing the speed that speaking skills and content are learned here.

  1. Delivery Services

Ugochi Owo, CEO of Flindel

Flindel is leading returns solution for online merchants globally with a focus on automating commerce returns. Learn how Flindel is empowering retailers to thrive by optimizing returns here.

  1. Digital Health 

Alexandra Greenhill, Founder, CEO & Chief Medical Officer of Careteam

Careteam Technologies is a cloud-based, AI-enabled digital collaboration and communication platform that enables care planning, patient engagement and offers a set of tools that integrate with other technologies. Learn how Careteam Technologies is helping clinicians collaborate, adapt, coordinate and accelerate their move towards patient-centred care here.

  1. Biotechnology

Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect

SomaDetect is an agricultural technology company connecting dairy farmers with the milk-quality indicators most relevant for the management of their production. Learn how SomaDetect is enabling dairy farmers to identify problems early and produce the best possible milk here.

  1. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Farah Brunache, CEO & Founder of Lagatos

Lagatos empowers digital underserved communities by helping run hyper-localized and accessible IaaS platforms. Learn how Lagatos is addressing the growing digital divide here.

  1. Accessibility

Maayan Ziv, CEO & Founder of AccessNow

AccessNow is a mobile app and web platform focused on connecting people to accessible experiences. Learn how AccessNow is empowering people to search for, rate and discover places and experiences that meet their accessibility needs here.

  1. Identity Tracking

Leanne Bellegarde, CEO of AKAWE Technologies

AKAWE Technologies provides inclusive digital blockchain solutions that embraces diversity through a unified governance process and distributed service model. Learn how AKAWE Technologies is enabling communities, economies, and nations here.

  1. The Sharing Economy

Sarah Selhi, CEO of SpaceiShare

SpaceiShare is a sharing economy platform and that helps property owners manage and monetize their idle spaces. Learn how SpaceiShare is enabling more market transparency and providing renters with affordable space solutions here.

  1. Real Estate 

Monila Joroszonek, CEO & Co-founder of RATIO.CITY

RATIO.CITY provides data-driven insights that can be converted into actionable strategies for cities. Learn more about how RATIO.CITY is helping build better, more livable cities here.

  1. Resource Extraction & Safety

Shelby Yee, CEO & Co-founder of RockMass Technologies

RockMass Technologies is the fastest digital rock mechanics tool for collecting structural orientation data underground. Learn how RockMass Technologies is enabling mines to operate safer and more efficiently through streamlined and digital data collection here.

  1. Music

Laura Simpson, Co-founder of Side Door

Side Door is a platform that matches artists with hosts, builds direct connections and simplifies the show-booking process with easy and transparent digital tools, building communities through the shared experience of art. Learn how Side Door enables artists to monetize their online performances here.

  1. Accessibility

Alwar Pillai, CEO of Fable Tech Labs

Fable Tech Labs has built an online platform that connects researchers, designers and developers with people with disabilities, with the goal of making it easier to create an accessible digital product. Learn how Fable Tech Labs is making it easier for digital teams to engage people with disabilities in product development here.

  1. Personal Care Services

Alicia Soulier, CEO of SalonScale Technology

Launched in 2018, SalonScale Technology has created the world’s first digital colour bar scale for stylists. Learn how SalonScale Technology is providing smart technology solutions and digital tools to help salons succeed here.

In the Canadian tech ecosystem, we have the power of problem-solving and the capacity to build scalable tech-enabled solutions with top-tier talent. I expect to see an increase in the number of technology startups in 2020. Historically, start-up creation spikes post-crisis. Smart, highly capable founders who were let go from corporate roles see this time as an opportunity to “go for it”. Intelligent investors will work hard to find, back and support these entrepreneurs as they look to build the next wave of generation-defining technology startups.

The last few months have a deeper need for these tech solutions and a newfound openness to rapid change that is being readily applied. These founders have not only responded quickly to the crisis, but they were already forward-thinking within their respective sectors, leading the way through the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19. I am hopeful for the continued adoption of these innovative technologies and I know that these startups can play an integral role in the future of tech.

First-hand, I have witnessed the incredible technology being built, some are category leaders and have the potential to change the industries mentioned above for the better. We all are affected by the impact of this crisis and our entire global culture is shifting. These tech founders are ready to lead us into that future.

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham is an Investment Principal and Co-founder of Sandpiper Ventures. She has extensive experience across the angel ecosystem in Ontario, particularly the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor and is a Venture Partner to the Archangel Network of Funds. Danielle has spent her career investing in, amplifying and enabling diverse founders to scale their businesses and succeed.