Dr. Rumeet Billan is an award-winning, internationally recognized researcher and expert on workplace culture. As the Founder and Chief Learning Architect of Viewpoint Leadership, she has designed and facilitated programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors — transforming workplaces to enable trust, foster belonging, and build resilience. Rumeet is passionate about creating platforms that encourage women, youth, communities, and organizations to envision what could be possible, and she’s dedicated her time to support causes and lead initiatives that promote human welfare. A serial entrepreneur, Rumeet will be bringing almost two decades of leadership experience to the helm of Women of Influence. She takes over the role of CEO on December 1, 2022.
My first job ever was…on an assembly line, working in a factory, packaging bags of chips. Something you would not see on my LinkedIn or on my resume, but played a significant role in the trajectory of my career.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… someone believed in me. I accidentally became an entrepreneur at the age of 21, and this stemmed from a conversation that I had with a friend at the time. Funny enough, my High School Guidance Counsellor suggested that I should pursue a career in Human Resources, which I tried, but entrepreneurship is where I landed. Over the last 18 years, we have not only made profit, but more importantly, we’ve been able to make an impact.
I’m passionate about my industry because… I am driven to help transform workplaces through research, training, and development. I love that I get to share knowledge that can potentially change someone’s experience and/or viewpoint. I also get to make an impact in ways that can help others not only reach their potential, but exceed their own expectations.
My proudest accomplishment is… still in the making.
A challenge I faced as a (racialized) woman in business is… that I was constantly underestimated early on in my career.
I overcame it by… letting people underestimate me without letting it impact me. I decided that I would let my work speak for itself.
“I am driven to help transform workplaces through research, training, and development… I get to make an impact in ways that can help others not only reach their potential, but exceed their own expectations.”
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… time is your only real currency.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… the importance of intermittent recovery. Taking time to rest and recover throughout the year. I’m working on it!
The thing I love most about what I do is… meeting incredible people and hearing about their experiences.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… setting clear boundaries and not apologizing for them.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m an introvert. I need personal time to recharge. I also don’t know how to wink, but wish I did!
Work-life balance is… not my goal. The goal is work-life enrichment.
I stay inspired by… my six-year-old son. His curiosity, determination, negotiation skills, rationalizations, ability to bounce back, and kindness inspire me. I learn so much from him and absolutely love being his mama.
The future excites me because… of the impact we are going to make together.
In her 27-year career in amateur and professional sport, 12 of which were spent in high-performance environments with Team Canada, Jenna Caira helped to lead her teams to success at every level, earning 10 international medals, 4 national championships and a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as co-captain of Softball Canada’s Olympic bronze medal team. She still managed to find time to excel in her professional life, working in corporate communications and partnerships, and as a motivational speaker and performance coach. In early 2022, she was appointed head of franchise recruitment for Laser Clinics Canada, bringing decades of training in high-performance teams, leadership, and success in diverse, high-stakes environments to her new position.
My first job ever was… assisting with softball pitching lessons when I was 12 years old. I found the more I had to explain the dynamic pitching motion to others, the more I understood my body and its potential. It also increased my curiosity in asking “what else?” It enhanced my training by pushing me to meet smarter, more experienced people, which helped shape who I am today.
My Olympic aspirations started when… I was 4 years old. I always had a passion for softball and aspired to playing at the highest level. I was fortunate to have a few role models and mentors in my life who guided me along my journey for 27 years. I focused on maintaining a growth mindset, but more importantly, I always competed and embraced the uncomfortable moments of pressure, regardless of the outcome.
Transitioning from amateur sport to the business world has been… gratifying! While these two worlds may seem so different, there are many parallels when it comes to goal-setting, leadership, team culture and work ethic. We all have transferrable skills that we can bring to different work environments, and it has been empowering to learn new skills every day in my role at Laser Clinics Canada.
I’m passionate about my current role because… while I may not be throwing a ball and working towards an Olympic medal anymore, I am using my skills within an environment that can help other people achieve their dream of being small business owners.
My proudest accomplishment is… winning a bronze medal for Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.”
My biggest setback was… myself. As an elite athlete, we constantly try to find ways to get better, stronger, and smarter. I had never participated in the Olympics before, and at one point I began questioning my abilities as to whether I was good enough to be a significant contributor to my team. I know many entrepreneurs starting their own businesses can relate – you’re in unknown territory.
I overcame it by… choosing to be adaptable and remembering the “why” behind waking up every day to work towards making this dream a reality. I also learned it was okay to ask for help, and that having the support of my teammates and coaches helped me grow. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy working with Laser Clinics Canada. The unique 50/50 business model means we’re in it together to help make each clinic location a success.
My advice for anyone changing careers is… to give yourself credit for being courageous enough to try something new. When I accepted the role at Laser Clinics Canada in Franchise Recruitment, it wasn’t feasible to expect myself to have all the answers about the business right away. However, I could control asking good questions and being invested in my team every day. We must be open to feedback and willing to be open-minded as we pursue new opportunities.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… read non-fiction books and listen to podcasts! Get inspired by others because knowledge is power. My favourite book right now is “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… to just be yourself. There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m now in starting rotation in my co-ed slow-pitch league!
I stay inspired by… our Laser Clinics Canada leadership team. They encourage us to be creative, think outside the box and lean on each other to help bring this great business model to the Canadian market.
The future excites me because… what I am contributing to at LCC will help create jobs, offer more opportunities for entrepreneurs who are passionate about the advanced beauty industry and provide a space to make selfcare a greater priority for everyday Canadians.
My next step is… to build my professional relationship with Women of Influence! I follow this great network, and Laser Clinics Canada is incredibly excited to connect with other inspiring women! I will also connect with entrepreneurs who are looking to do something new with their careers and who recognize the power of being part of a trusted, award-winning brand like Laser Clinics.
What’s in a name? If you’re a small business owner—a lot. But its importance goes beyond the moniker of the company as Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho, co-founders of LOULOU LOLLIPOP, found out.
When it came time to expand their sustainable baby accessories company beyond Vancouver, BC, they ran into issues because of their intellectual property (IP)—or lack thereof.
“When we were coming up with the company name, we liked lollipop because it was like a soother, or a candy as a sucker. It was sweet and very fitting,” says Angel. “But it was too generic. We liked French style, and anything related to France, so we started looking for extra inspiration.”
The duo landed on the word LouLou, a common French term of affection for children. “The name kind of rolled off the tongue.”
The only problem was, despite the uniqueness, various individuals owned the rights to use the name in Europe and China, meaning the sisters had to “buy the branding” so they could sell internationally. What ensued was a three-year legal battle, a whopping price tag, and a key takeaway for fellow entrepreneurs: “Make sure you register your IP and the trademark early,” says Eleanor. “Do the research and dig deep. Sometimes a name can be taken in other markets. Make sure the name is protected.”
Before the sisters dealt with branding, exporting, and the legalities of intellectual property, LOULOU LOLLIPOP began as many other businesses do—with an entrepreneur trying to solve their own problem. It was in 2015, when as a first-time mother, Eleanor noticed her teething daughter enjoyed tugging and chewing on her necklaces.
“I started to realize I didn’t know what they were made of,” Eleanor explains. She began searching for teething products that were silicone and free of harmful chemicals and couldn’t find any. “Out of necessity, I started to look into creating something for myself.”
“We knew we could make an impact; we could respond to a need for all parents. So, we bought $100 worth of supplies and began beading.”
Realizing she had stumbled onto a unique business idea, she brought it to her twin sister, who immediately saw the potential in the concept. “Even though my kids were older at the time, I found the idea intriguing. When my kids were young, there was nothing like that on the market,” says Angel. “We knew we could make an impact; we could respond to a need for all parents. So, we bought $100 worth of supplies and began beading.”
The duo made their first product, a pastel-coloured doughnut teething necklace, as a sort of side hustle. Eleanor worked on LOULOU full-time, and on her days off from her part-time job, Angel worked on the business. While both women were busy juggling mom duties, they’d start their “shift” with a “Tim Hortons coffee and a doughnut” until they had enough product to start selling on Etsy and at local pop-up shops.
“It was so much fun in the beginning because we were working so hard together on traditional things, like cold calling. It all came naturally,” says Angel. And then the pair received their first big purchase from West Coast Kids. “It was unreal. We were so excited. We worked all night to fill seven large boxes for the company. Our husbands were happily forced to join in the building of everything,” laughs Eleanor.
Interest and demand for their products grew and today, LOULOU LOLLIPOP can be found in 37 countries and thousands of stores, including major retailers like Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and Crate and Barrel. Traffic on their online store has also exploded, prompting the sisters to expand their product lines with sustainable Tencel Lyocell kids apparel and eco-friendly silicone tableware.
Impressively, every item LOULOU LOLLIPOP sells is made of earth-friendly, non-toxic materials. A big part of the twin’s mission is to make sure their business has minimal impact on the planet, especially for the children who use their. They also ensure the factories that supply their items are Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) compliant, ensuring fair wages, ethical business practices, and healthy and safe working conditions.
“We’ve heard from others that ‘it’s so easy and all you did was string some beads and sell products at a pop-up,’ but starting a business is more than that,” says Angel. “We may have made it seem simple, but what we achieved was not an overnight success. There were many late nights and heartaches and challenges.”
“There will be challenges and mistakes along the road, there were for us. They’re stepping-stones. Don’t dwell on them.”
Eleanor adds, as entrepreneurs, failing is a part of the process. “There will be challenges and mistakes along the road, there were for us. They’re stepping-stones. Don’t dwell on them.” The sisters maintain this mindset: “Learn from what sucks.”
They also advise entrepreneurs to tap into organizations and networks that offer resources, webinars and coaching on how to build a business from scratch. For them, that meant leaning on Small Business BC and WeBC when they were first starting, and then Export Development Canada (EDC) when they were ready to branch out into global markets.
EDC offers knowledge and financial solutions and partners with the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), which provides a series of online workshops with trade and industry experts to help enterprises unleash their export potential.This support was essential for Eleanor and Angel to build relationships in key markets. Even today, the sisters rely on EDC for financial and knowledge support, as well as its resources such as webinars
“LOULOU LOLLIPOP is a great example of the creativity and innovation driven by Canadian women-owned and -led businesses in the retail sector,” said Catherine Beach, National Lead, Women in Trade, EDC. “To support its rapid growth, the company turned to RBC, who in turn tapped into the Trade Expansion Lending Program (TELP). This program, offered in collaboration by EDC and the company’s financial institution, helps exporters access additional working capital so they can take advantage of international opportunities. EDC is proud to partner with financial institutions including RBC, to enable high-growth companies to maintain their momentum, and to help develop Canada’s export trade.”
Their ultimate goal is to build LOULOU LOLLIPOP into a world leading baby accessories brand. They want to strengthen their position in markets by expanding their sustainable product collection even further, and they want to be a Canadian brand people recognize globally.
“Whether in the United States or Australia, we want people to recognize our children’s products as trusted, safe and sustainable,” says Eleanor. “We want to be a global children’s brand. We want our brand and name to stand out.”
Dr. Shara Ally is the Founder and CEO of NEUROorganics Inc., a mental health company that incorporates Eastern approaches to care — inspired by a conversation Shara had with the Dalai Lama. She’s also Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Lotus Medical Community Clinic in California, and Mental Health Consultant and Strategist for RogersTV and KRS Home Care Inc. Shara sits on multiple health-focused boards, and is an accomplished researcher, lecturer, and international speaker. In addition, Shara added Ms. Canada United World 2022 to her titles and is now competing for the international crown, Ms. United World 2023.
My first job ever was… making my first cup of coffee at Tim Hortons!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it is an inspired space that allows for creating solutions to everyday problems that are innovative, novel, and unconventional.
I founded NEUROorganics Inc. because… I wanted to share the lessons I received from the Dalai Lama through a mental health platform that cultivates an innovative approach to education and consultation to strategically help individuals fuel their pain from their past into their future purpose.
I’m passionate about mental health because… I believe your mind is the greatest asset you have. In NEUROorganics, we teach our clients that just as you have physical health you have mental health, and it is essential to nourish it for internal wellness that is then exuded externally.
My proudest accomplishment is…helping my clients in NEUROorganics get to the other side of suffering. This achievement demonstrates the importance in the work NEUROorganics provides as it helps to shape healthier individuals, families, and communities. Mental health and wellness is not to be underestimated, nor can you ever graduate from it. The NEUROorganics methods of fueling your pain from your past into a your future purpose, allows you to live with improved self-awareness, self-worth, and confidence.
My biggest setback was… caring too much about what others thought of me. As a result, I overexerted myself and my resources to try to impress them and hope to gain their approval. This within itself will deter you from success, guaranteed.
“The quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life.”
I overcame it by… surrounding myself with the right mindsets that fill my cup in my personal and professional lives. I tell my NEUROorganics clients all of the time that the quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn to love being uncomfortable. Entrepreneurship does not follow a specific methodology, nor is it linear. However, there is incredible learning and intrinsic value that comes with the entrepreneur lifestyle.
The thing I love most about what I do is… the incredible and empowering transformation my clients experience in NEUROorganics. They are no longer victims to their mind; rather they have learned how to use their mind as an asset.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my failures! Failures, mistakes, and setbacks create a synergetic opportunity for learning, refining, and synthesizing your idea.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I have 48 allergies!
I stay inspired by… a quote I subscribe to by Denzel Washington which is, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” This is a great reminder to keep pushing forward when it’s hard, and not to settle when things are easy.
The future excites me because… I have the opportunity to fuse my pageant, business, medical, and entrepreneurship platforms to create solution-orientated mental health solutions for individuals and communities. The cross-pollination across these industries felt out of reach at one point, and have simultaneously come together in an effective and meaningful way.
My next step is…to optimize the mental wellness journey of my clients and empower business development to serve larger audiences to accelerate NEUROorganics. I also plan on engaging my Ms. Canada United World 2022 platform to support women and their mental wellness. If I win the Ms. United World 2023 crown, this will allow for a shift from national to international impact for women and the audiences I touch through this incredible platform.
Thembi Bheka is on a mission to empower one million women by 2025.
“Our studies have shown that if you empower one woman, they, in turn, empower those around them,” Thembi says. “And the best way to eliminate and reduce poverty is not just to educate, it’s to empower. With hard work, we will reach this goal.”
The “we” Thembi refers to is the team she’s built as the founder of Digital Marketing on Demand (DMOD), a unique organization that seeks to connect talent from developing countries with global work opportunities, specifically in the digital marketing space.
A service provider can reach out to DMOD for assistance on any number of needs, including creating high-converting landing pages to managing website updates. An assessment of the company’s needs are performed at the outset by DMOD, and the specific task is then assigned to a team member with the right set of skills to deliver the project on time and on budget. All of this is done virtually by someone in the developing world, mostly Africa.
To date, more than 4,200 services have been completed by the company’s team members.
“These women didn’t have the confidence to search for or apply to jobs, even after extensive education, so I thought, ‘I’ll connect them with opportunities.’”
The idea for DMOD came to Thembi after she immigrated to Canada as a refugee. Originally from Zimbabwe, she fled an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, eventually settling in Montréal with her daughter. Though she studied and worked as a registered nurse, she continually felt the pull toward entrepreneurial opportunities. She dipped her toe into the entrepreneurial world as a real estate investor and even founded a course, Real Estate Real Riches, that taught women how to invest in housing. As her real estate business grew, she found herself in need of assistant-level help, and instead of hiring in-person, she turned to a virtual assistant (VA) in Kenya for help.
“At the time, no one knew what a VA was or what they did,” she says. “I found mine on Upwork and eventually returned to Zimbabwe, realizing there was an opportunity to train people to be VAs. I started to meet incredible women — lawyers, doctors — who were all unemployed and in abusive relationships, similar to my situation before I left for Canada.”
She adds: “These women didn’t have the confidence to search for or apply to jobs, even after extensive education, so I thought, ‘I’ll connect them with opportunities.’”
That’s how DMOD was born. Today, Thembi and her team have been recognized for the work they’re doing by a number of high-profile organizations, including Stanford’s Seed Transformation Program. Thembi was also selected as a Coralus (formerly SheEO) Venture in 2021, giving her access to the financial support and coaching needed to expand her business.
“I have a podcast where I interview women entrepreneurs, and one of my speakers asked me whether I had heard of SheEO and convinced me to apply,” Thembi says. “Until then I had been bootstrapping my business. I had even started to sell my real estate holdings to accelerate the growth of DMOD. Being selected as a SheEO venture not only gave me the funding I needed to build my business, but it also connected me with a community.”
That community, she says, is something she leans on regularly for support when facing challenges in her business, joking, “your friends don’t want to hear about that employee issue you have, but like-minded leaders do.”
“When you do what inspires you, you can empower people. That can help them better themselves and rise above any situation they face.”
The funding was also valuable because, as an immigrant, Thembi says she found it hard to access funding through traditional means.
“When you’ve been in Canada for a long time, you’ve learned the system, like what a credit score is or even how to register a company. Most people don’t live in cultures where business is done like it is in Canada or North America. Education is key.”
She says that until she joined SheEO, she didn’t even know that she had to pay herself a salary. “There needs to be more and greater educational supports to help immigrants and refugees learn certain systems so they can succeed.”
That’s also one of her lasting messages for women who want to dip their toes into entrepreneurial life: get educated.
“I didn’t have a business background, nobody taught me how to be a businessperson. I’ve had to learn as I’ve grown. I’ve struggled with management and leadership. I’m not a born leader, but I’m now mentoring people,” she says. “Just do it. Don’t wait. There are so many things I waited on. I look back and think about having been able to do stuff. Whatever you want to do, just do it.”
And most importantly, do something that inspires you.
“When you do what inspires you, you can empower people. That can help them better themselves and rise above any situation they face.”
When Vanessa Marshall decided to launch her now highly successful sustainable haircare company, Jack59, in 2015, she was wrapping up a degree in dentistry. After some reflection, her instincts swayed her away from this path and towards an entrepreneurial one, despite not having any formal business training.
It all started when she stumbled into the world of soap-making after watching her sister create sudsy bars in her spare time. “I started researching how to do it myself, learning the chemistry, and recorded myself making my first batch,” Marshall recalls. “It was a disaster, but it was thrilling. I was hooked.”
It was during a trip to Mexico that her “very expensive hobby” turned into something more. A fan of the sustainability of shampoo bars, she was travelling with one from an all-natural brand — but it was making her scalp so dry, itchy, and irritated that she had to go purchase a bottle of liquid shampoo. Later, while lounging on the beach, she had an aha moment: The pH level of the soap bars had to be off. If she could balance the pH, she could make and sell shampoo and conditioner bars that everyone would love.
And that’s how Jack59 was born.
When she returned home to Edmonton, AB, Marshall bought a bunch of ingredients to make her first paraben-, silicon- and cruelty-free hair care products. The company now offers a broad range of sustainable and effective hair products using unique combinations of natural proteins, oils, and extracts, all based on slight variances in the pH levels of different hair types.
“You don’t get to choose to be an entrepreneur,” Marshall jokes. “When you talk to an entrepreneur like me, they likely can’t stop talking or thinking about their business — no matter how out there their ideas may sound. And my idea may have seemed pretty out there to some.”
“Jack59 is now recognized as a unique, sustainable, and Indigenous-owned and woman-led beauty brand.”
And as for the ‘out there’ name? It’s in honour of a lost dog that wandered into the family’s yard, and was named Jack59 by her then four-year-old daughter. A year later, when Marshall was getting her company ready for launch, her daughter asked if she could call it Jack59 in remembrance of the stray. She realized the name embraced the reason she wanted to be an entrepreneur in the first place — to be able to spend more time with her family.
Jack59 is now recognized as a unique, sustainable, and Indigenous-owned and woman-led beauty brand. “Our mission is simple,” says Marshall. “Increase the number of good hair days you have while decreasing your carbon footprint. From the responses we get from our customers, to how we’re helping the environment — I know we’re having an impact.”
The proud owner says her company has prevented more than 500,000 plastic bottles from clogging landfills because of its wasteless, plastic-free packaging — their bars are so long-lasting, they can replace about three traditional liquid shampoo bottles or five liquid conditioner bottles. Jack59 also has a 100 per cent plastic-free production process, and uses 100 per cent recyclable packaging. From a social good perspective, Vanessa has built the company so it gives each employee the work-life balance she wanted when she was initially raising her kids.
“When you’re a child, you’re given the ability to dream. And there are no limitations to that. Whatever you saw yourself being, you believed you could do it, you believed in daydreams,” she says. “And at some point in our lives, there are fears and expectations that get instilled. There’s self-sabotage. If you can fight your way through that, you can do anything. You can make a dream a reality. I have.”
Access to capital is one of the main barriers to growth of women-owned and -led businesses. To level the playing field, targeted programs and support exist for women entrepreneurs to address the unique needs of their businesses.
Selected as a 2022 Coralus Venture, the honour came with a zero per cent interest loan, coaching, and access to a global community of support. Coralus connected her with a network of “radically generous” women and non-binary people, who helped her with resources to grow her company — from finding the right accountant to supporting distribution and marketing.
Organizations such as Coralus, EDC, and the TCS exist to help entrepreneurs realize their potential — the key is gaining awareness of the available resources and tapping into them.
“At a certain point, I realized I wasn’t going to be good at that stuff. It was essential I put the right people in place to do those things for me, so I could focus my attention elsewhere.”
Today, Marshall helps other entrepreneurs narrow down their company’s philosophy, so they can focus on generating results and solving problems quickly. She also suggests they figure out their weaknesses early on in the start-up process, so they can outsource tasks that eat up their time and mental capacity.
“I have no managerial experience, for example, and I don’t have business experience,” Marshall says. “Before I built my team, everything was about putting out fires, learning how to do taxes, etc., and at a certain point, I realized I wasn’t going to be good at that stuff. It was essential I put the right people in place to do those things for me, so I could focus my attention elsewhere.”
Today, Marshall and her team of 10, including her sister who’s the company’s chief operating officer, are working hard to make Jack59 a household name. In addition to their own storefront in Edmonton, they are in various boutiques and retail locations across Canada and into the United States, and they ship globally through their online store.They’re focused on creating new products and looking to expand the business into more countries.
Marshall says she knows there’s an incredible opportunity for the products they make given the current concerns about the climate and sustainability. By expanding more, not only will she be able to help others and educate them about how to choose environmentally sustainable products, she can employ more people on a local level and expand economic growth in her community.
“We already sell internationally through e-commerce. We’ve had orders in Oman and Europe. I want to break into South America next — largely because I love the people and culture. It’s very exciting.”
When reflecting on her journey, Marshall offers up this piece of advice to entrepreneurs: “If your dream scares you, it’s probably worth doing. Especially, too, if it scares other people when you tell them about your idea. Trust the journey and the road you’re on. It’s always worth it.”
Traditional systems for funding a business, from bank lending to venture capital, weren’t built with women or Indigenous business owners in mind. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see tides are turning within the financial industry, especially here in Canada. Paving the way is Shannon Pestun, a former banker turned entrepreneur, financial educator, social justice advocate, and senior advisor to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH).
Shannon, a Métis woman who grew up in the Treaty 7 area of Alberta, says she stumbled upon her career as a financial barrier breaker by happenstance. In fact, she has a vivid memory of a junior high school guidance counsellor telling her to avoid doing anything with math because she “wasn’t good at it” — an experience which understandably left her fearful of numbers.
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, Shannon pursued a career in marketing. Ironically, her marketing career led her to work at an Alberta-based financial institution, where she was encouraged to start a new career as a business banker. It was during that time that she began to see the cracks in the financial system’s approach to the funding of women- and Indigenous-owned businesses.
“A woman was trying to buy a daycare, and I remember seeing all of the hoops she had to go through to prove her business case and thinking things would never have been as hard if she was a man.” Shannon also noticed there were no women in the portfolio of entrepreneurs she managed.
“That was a moment of awakening for me. When you see something, you can’t unsee it. I became relentless about understanding the gender gap in entrepreneurship and seeking meaningful ways to close it,” she says.
Shannon began to educate herself by looking at the research — and going deeper into the frontlines. Under an anonymous twitter handle, A Girl’s Biz Banker, Shannon started new conversations with women entrepreneurs and innovators to better understand their needs as entrepreneurs. She also looked to banks from around the world to identify best practices for meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs. The deeper she went, the more she saw how and where the financial system was failing women.
“Canada’s banking system was never designed with women in mind. Today, women remain the single largest underserved group of customers in the financial services sector.”
Working inside the financial system, Shannon knew that there was opportunity for change. The challenge, however, was finding a way to drive that change forward. “Canada’s banking system was never designed with women in mind. Today, women remain the single largest underserved group of customers in the financial services sector.”
Shannon’s passion for change led her to be one of the first women in the country to lead a women’s banking strategy. “It was a role I lobbied for,” says Shannon. ”Not everyone was supportive of the work I was leading.” But tenacity and a desire for change kept Shannon on her path to reimagine banking for women, which included helping women access the financial capital they needed to start and grow their business, connecting them to networks and professionals, and building learning opportunities to support them in their journey.
While Shannon’s work included creating new funding models, such as introducing a cohort-based, rewards-based crowdfunding initiative, she also introduced a new training for frontline team members to better understand the gendered differences in money and entrepreneurship, and brought together team members from across the bank to create a holistic value proposition that was centred on breaking barriers and closing the entrepreneurial gender gap.
“The most cited barrier for women entrepreneurs is financial capital,” says Shannon, adding that on a funding level, more needs to be done to address the way risk is assessed and how that shapes lending and investing decisions. Her lived experience was validated by much of the research led by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. According to The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2022 from WEKH, the processes used to make decisions about financing — the “five C’s” (capacity, collateral, capital, character, and conditions) — are based, to a large extent, on historical patterns that disadvantage women and other underestimated groups.
In 2018, Shannon was appointed to serve on a panel supporting Canada’s women entrepreneurship strategy. In 2020, she became an entrepreneur herself, with a focus to deepen her work in closing the entrepreneurial gap as a financial consultant. From there, she became WEKH’s Senior Advisor – Business and Finance, where she has helped the organization develop research and networks to improve women’s access to financial, social, and entrepreneurial capital. Shannon notes that her lived experience not only enables her to inform research, policies, and practices, but also helps her connect with other entrepreneurs.
“On an individual level, many women entrepreneurs are socialized, just like I was, to believe they aren’t good with money or numbers.”
She has also brought her skills and experience to a new venture — co-founding The Finance Cafe, Canada’s first gender-focused business financial learning program designed to help women entrepreneurs — and those who support them — explore what’s behind the numbers to find greater confidence and build greater capacity in financial decision making. Over 200 women entrepreneurs and advisors have gone through the program.
“On an individual level, many women entrepreneurs are socialized, just like I was, to believe they aren’t good with money or numbers,” so they shirk responsibility for the monetary management of their businesses to someone else, Shannon says.”But that’s not true. If you can understand the numbers better and beyond just reading a financial statement, you can shape your own financial story.”
Recent reports from WEKH show that while there are societal and organizational barriers, one of the individual level barriers to success for women with small businesses is financial literacy and confidence. Organizations like The Finance Cafe and WEKH are expanding how they support these groups. New bursaries (including one created by Shannon for Indigenous women entrepreneurs) and funding opportunities are being granted by the government, and financial institutions are waking up to the gender gap within the entrepreneurial space.
There’s still work to be done, but Shannon is optimistic. “A lot has changed since I started this work. Things are still changing. But there’s more ahead,” she says. “I care deeply about this work, and I’ll continue working towards a more inclusive financial system — and building new ways for women to navigate a system that wasn’t designed by them, or for them.”
I’ve had a love of fashion since I was a teenager. I grew up watching Jeanne Bekker from Fashion Television interview the original 90’s Supermodels, trailblazing designers, and household names backstage during fashion week — New York, Paris, Milan, London — every week on CityTV.
She would have access to the most coveted runway shows, and intimate conversations with everyone and anyone in the industry. Apart from watching FT, I collected numerous fashion magazines like Mademoiselle and Glamour. I especially liked the before & after photos and fashion do’s and don’ts.
Fast forward 25 years to March 2020, and I found myself laid off from my full-time job for a global training & development company. It was a time to reflect and reinvent myself and start over. I’d worked in several industries, from IT to health and wellness, but nothing came close to what I wanted in a truly fulfilling career. I wanted to have a real work-life balance and a job where I could make a lasting difference with people.
“It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling.”
While I was decluttering at the start of the pandemic, I found a black and white picture of my dad in my photo album. I was struck by memories of my dad, who passed away in December 2001. It was a photo of him sitting on a bench, probably at the time when he worked for the Jamaican Customs. He sat crossed legs, his pants starched and crisp, his black shoes polished and shined.
I remembered his clothes, his closets. He always kept his clothes in immaculate condition even though he wore a uniform to work. On his days off, he always looked sharp. When we first moved to Canada, he took us to the Eaton Centre to go shopping. It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling. My dad significantly influenced my decision to embark on my new journey.
Getting Started as a Stylist.
Starting my business, Uncover Your Style, during the pandemic meant that marketing and networking would look very different from my past business as a holistic nutritionist ten years ago. I made it my goal to share what I was up to with the people in my life — family, friends, past work colleagues, and my connections on social media. I attended weekly networking events over Zoom and had coffee Zoom meetings with other business owners and female entrepreneurs. Last year I joined an online organization for Black stylists called Black Women Who Style. Although I’m the only member from Canada, the group’s organizer, who’s been styling for five years, is very gracious. She’s created a platform where stylists help each other, not bring each other down.
As the pandemic meant moving back and forth between lockdowns and re-openings, the most realistic way to conduct my business was virtual. The handful of clients that I had was through word-of-mouth. To gain experience, I practiced with family and friends doing consultations over Zoom, including closet/wardrobe edits. I had a few inquiries from my website, but nothing significant.
“How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee.”
I also had to learn to navigate and use social media, like Instagram. Because what I do is visual, I had to learn how to present myself to people. How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee. I was always the one working behind the scenes in my job. There were opportunities for me to speak in front of large groups of people and present myself as someone professional and knowledgeable, but being out there and having people ‘watch and judge you’ anywhere in the world was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
I’m still not 100% confident and used to putting myself out there. I sometimes overthink what I will create on Instagram and TikTok and how I come across on camera. Is what I’m presenting educational, informative, and fun? Will people get it? Imposter Syndrome comes up a lot. Another pitfall is that I automatically compare myself to other stylists and how many ‘likes’ they get and how great their content is compared to mine.
My Lessons Learned.
One of the biggest mistakes in my first year in business was signing up to advertise for a Yelp promo account. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I registered to use several hundred dollars in (Yelp credits) to advertise personal shopping for the holiday season. After six weeks of ad promos, there were no new clients or leads. I cancelled right away when I saw my bill the following month. Sometimes things may sound enticing, but it doesn’t automatically lead to success for your business. I learned this the hard way financially. I still get solicited to advertise, and I politely decline the offer.
I made the other mistake of saying “yes” to everybody for styling. There were times when I said yes to working with a client who was very difficult. Early indications were that the client wouldn’t be fully ‘coachable’ or agreeable, but I ignored my inner voice. I now know the importance of vetting and interviewing potential clients before we agree to work together.
My Goals For The Future.
One of my goals for the future is to create a one-stop-shop experience for clients — like a boutique image consulting service with other stylists, designers, make-up artists, and photographers.
Sometimes, I pinch myself and wonder how I got here. I’ve spent the past 18 months hustling — giving away my time, knowledge, and expertise to get somewhere. There are many times that I’ve been disappointed about not booking that client, not getting that opportunity on a grand scale. There are also days when I feel like giving up on my dreams. The conversation in my head is that “It’s too hard, nothing is working, nobody wants what I have to give.” The biggest challenge is having that winning mindset and keeping it going, no matter what. I belong to a Mastermind group and a meditation group that helps during those difficult times.
The truth is that I haven’t yet achieved the publicity, notoriety, and good client base that I want to commit to being financially and personally fulfilled yet. I’ve created action plans and revised my business plans and goals for 2022, and I continue to plant the seeds for the next chapter — and I’m looking forward to what I will harvest in the next few months.
Cheryl Nomdarkhon is a Certified Personal Stylist and founder of Uncover Your Style, a Toronto-based style consultancy offering both in-person and virtual services. After 10 years as a Training & Development Manager, Cheryl was inspired by her late father’s style sense and her own love of fashion to pursue her new career, launching her business in 2020. Believing it is never too late to reinvent yourself, her aim is to help people discover their style sensibility, and dress easily and confidently. Connect with her on Instagram and uncoveryourstyle.ca for style advice and to book a personal session.
If you’re like most people, when you see a cloud of fog rolling in, you probably think about waterproofing your wardrobe for the day. But if you’re someone like Tatiana Estevez Carlucci, all you see is possibility.
“It was right after graduation and it was my dream to go backpacking in California, so I landed in San Francisco,” she says, arriving at a time when the state was going through a historic drought, costing the economy billions and devastating the mental health of farmers. “I was looking out the window of my Airbnb, and as I watched the fog roll in, it hit me: fog is a huge source of water. What if that water could be harnessed to solve problems like drought?”
The result of that brainwave is Permalution: a revolutionary cleantech organization devoted to creating and leveraging technology to harvest water droplets from fog. Tatiana’s goal is to support local ecosystems and contribute to environmental conservation.
“By definition, fog or clouds are made up of tiny particles of water that are suspended in the air, so we developed technology that allows us to predict where fog will occur, the amount of water one can yield from a specific fog patch, and collect water droplets from fog as it passes over one of our units,” Tatiana says.
“We want to democratize fog as a new water source, and we need to introduce the technology in a way that allows everyone to access it.”
The fireproof, ready to assemble modules have an integrated IoT system and allow her team to collect 150 to 400 litres of water per day — or an amount that can support a family of four to six.
“We want to democratize fog as a new water source, and we need to introduce the technology in a way that allows everyone to access it while abiding by the water regulations in each state, province, and country,” she says.
Based in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the first-of-its-kind fog organization has received several recognitions and grants since launching in 2015, including one of BMO‘s Celebrating Women Grants in 2021.
Tatiana says she’s eternally grateful for the support and recognition, especially because she had no formal business or engineering education when starting her company. She took some electives in environmental engineering in university and went on to teach herself about all things sustainability; what she knew was that she ultimately wanted to work with water and in the cleantech space.
“I started little by little,” Tatiana says, adding that every small step has led her to the road she’s currently on, from landing in Silicon Valley for a period of time to working with the Canadian Government on environmental matters.
“The support of others, patience, and tenacity has been key to getting Permalution where it is today,” she says. Believing in the end result of what the technology can offer the world has also been key. “All entrepreneurs need to believe what they’re bringing to the table is very important and worth taking the risk and chance on.”
“What we’re doing really has the power to change the world.”
Tatiana keeps a book of accomplishments to flip through when she feels she or her organization have hit a wall; this empowers her to move forward when it feels like the universe is against her.
“Women need to get rid of the fear of failing in order to get to where we need to go. We have to fail fast and hard, but keep going,” she says.
Up next for Tatiana and Permalution is a new website so the organization can make more noise (a dream would be to attract attention from the likes of Greta Thunberg) and an advancement of plans to commercialize their products. Tatiana and her team want to increase output and recently started working with the University of Toronto to develop and launch a backpack-sized module that will, hopefully, bring water to displaced populations.
“We’re working on so many cool innovations that will help us bring this technology to where there is no fog or even few clouds so we can address the climate and water challenges of today,” she says. “What we’re doing really has the power to change the world.”
Traci Shepheard is the Founder of MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio: a 1972 vintage Airstream called the MINDSTREAM.. After working in her corporate career for over 20 years, Traci was accustomed to all that came with a fast-paced work life. To manage her stress and keep herself grounded, Traci often relied on her own mindful practice. In doing so, Traci had the idea of creating her own mobile meditation studio with a mission to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness with as many people as possible. With this mobile studio, MeditationWorks creates an experience that is meant to disrupt people’s workdays — in the most positive way possible, they come to you for wellness at work.
My first job ever was… Working at Perino’s Pizza Parlor at age 14.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit with a plethora of ideas inside my head. For over 20 years, I have been percolating on how I could positively impact people while building human connection.
In 2015, I bought a mini art piece that said, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take” and placed it where I could see it every day, along with an excerpt from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford graduation speech: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary. I knew I had a unique idea; I decided to make a dramatic change and take the leap.
I founded MeditationWorks because… I wanted to create a wellness experience that was aspirational, turnkey, and easy to connect people in a world that is so connected, yet disconnected. In 2018, I attended a “Passion to Purpose” workshop and a key ‘aha’ takeaway was that often, your purpose is something that upsets or angers you. I realized how true this was — the disconnection that social media causes infuriated me and I wanted to do something about it. Providing wellness at work fosters culture and team building while cross functionally bringing people together for the betterment of their health, happiness & wellbeing, which in turn prioritizes a healthy versus burnt out workforce; disconnecting to reconnect!
I’m passionate about mental health and wellness because…your health is your wealth.
My proudest accomplishment is… to echo similar sentiments as Gabby Bernstein, I am proud of my courage to go to the places that scared me the most so that I could heal, be, and feel.
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary.”
My biggest setback was…I was about to launch MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio “The Mindstream” in April 2020 when the pandemic hit. My first corporate client was going to be Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) during the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors playoffs for all of their employees; obviously this never happened, and my whole concept had to be completely altered while keeping the same mission and purpose intact.
I overcame it by…Turning the concept inside out and having the mobile experience outdoors —drive-in style— and taking it to the frontline healthcare workers at Ontario hospitals. We then tested a virtual model with employees working remotely, and have now brought to life over 600 workplace wellness experiences around the world, virtually and in person, since our launch on May 6, 2020.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Persistence and a positive mindset are your superpowers. When you get tired, learn to rest and not to quit.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…Making rest and resetting a priority.
The thing I love most about what I do is… Connecting with and helping our clients and participants around the world. I am continually humbled and exhilarated by the feedback we receive from our wellness experiences.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… My persistence.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was my high school mascot “Skippy,” the saber-toothed tiger, which originally was kept a mystery to students.
I stay inspired by… LIFE! If you can dream it, you can do it.
The future excites me because… I believe a silver lining from the pandemic is that it elevated the importance of mental health and self-care; there is Power in the Pause!
My next step is… Continuing to evolve and optimize the MeditationWorks workplace wellness offerings, while staying true to our core values and mission. We finally welcomed people INSIDE our mobile studio exactly 2 years from the day of our launch on May 6, 2022, and we look forward to welcoming many more people inside the Pause Lounge on board the Mindstream for wellness at work, the “constantly moving happiness mobile.”
Natalie Borch is an entrepreneur, dancer, and advocate for body acceptance and inclusivity. Having grown up in the competitive dance world, Natalie never truly felt like she fit. She spent years as an adult learning to accept and love her body. She rebuilt her life after deciding to leave her marriage in 2015 with a 4-year-old in tow. After walking through the fire of divorce, Natalie found her voice and opened The Pink Studio Dance + Fitness because she wanted to create a body-positive and inclusive fitness space that celebrated all bodies and abilities. In addition to running the daily operations of the studio, Natalie is a speaker for retreats, corporate events and on TV about the power of body confidence.
My first job ever was… I taught dance classes for kids at a community centre in Vancouver where I grew up. I loved choreographing routines!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to do things differently. I was tired of seeing weight loss as the sole focus of fitness studios, and I was done feeling intimidated walking into a yoga studio or dance class because I didn’t have a certain body type. I wanted to be loud and proud about what I stood for.
I founded The Pink Studio because… I want everyone to feel like a dancer. Dance needs to be more accessible and I wanted a space where people of all ages, sizes and gender expressions could learn to dance. Many adults share their experiences with me of quitting dance as a young person or not even starting because they didn’t have a “dancer’s body.” We see a lot of folks coming back to dance in their 40’s and 50’s and finding their love for dance again.
Why pink? Definitely the most common question I get asked! Reclaiming the colour pink has been a marker of modern-day feminism and something that I was very intentional about as an entrepreneur when creating our branding. For me, pink is a powerful colour and it makes a statement. I want to challenge the idea that the statement it makes is one of weakness or timidness. Pink is still regarded as a feminine colour and anything feminine is still seen, by both men and women, as holding a lower status. We applaud young girls who learn to code, love Spiderman and playing baseball. We don’t celebrate as much when young men want to wear lace, do ballet and play with Barbies.
Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me.
I don’t believe pushing girls to be more like boys is the answer to gender equality. Instead of making masculine tendencies the ideal standard, shouldn’t we hold the “girly” qualities to the same high regard? It has also been interesting to see how often people assume the studio is “women’s only.” Some have asked “Well aren’t you afraid you are off putting to men with all this pink?” Um… how do I say this nicely? Not even a little bit. But seriously, this was also a deliberate choice because I wanted men to know they are always welcome here. However, I only want men in our classes who feel comfortable in a very femme-positive space. Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. From day one, we have always been a place for all gender identities and gender expressions.
I’m passionate about adult dance and body positivity because… I’ve experienced how life-changing body confidence is. When I hated my body, that insecurity seeped into every area of my life. It’s hard to live a BIG life when you’re constantly trying to make yourself smaller. When I learned to love myself and love my body, it changed everything. I left an unhappy marriage, I applied for a new job where I could start to hone my business skills, I started making plans to open my business, and I finally felt worthy of it all. All of this while parenting a young child.
My proudest accomplishment is… Opening the doors to The Pink Studio. There were a lot of barriers and many reasons that could’ve held me back, but I actually did it and I could not be prouder. Opening this business was harder than giving birth and going through a divorce so sometimes I still can’t believe I did it! There was a circle of people around me who helped make this possible.
My biggest setback was… The pandemic. I had survived the first two years in business. What I thought was the hardest part. We had just started to become profitable and then the world changed. The fitness industry has been closed for longer than most, and we have been hit hard.
I overcame it by… Gratitude and a lot of help from my brother. Grant is my brother and also co-owner of the studio. The first 5 days in lockdown in March 2020 we worked harder than we did when the business first opened. We had to create a whole new online platform, figure out how to teach 30 classes a week online, and lead our team of teachers and staff through the process. It was overwhelming, but we did it and that’s how we have survived the past two years.
People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Surround yourself with the right people. Find other entrepreneurs to be friends with, and mentor each other. Find a partner who believes in your dreams as fiercely as you do. Spend time with those who lift you up and challenge you.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Don’t take things personally. I take everything personally because it feels like my business is so personal, but that makes it hard for me to make objective decisions or see the big picture sometimes.
The thing I love most about what I do is… Hearing from clients about how our classes impact their whole lives. I’ll never forget the woman who told me after taking a month of Beginner Beyoncé classes with us, that her co-workers pointed out to her that she was raising her hand more in meetings and seemed more confident. And there was another woman, the only client who’s every made me cry, even though she didn’t realize it. She was 62 years old and came in giggling one day for her ballet class, so excited to show me her brand new ballet shoes. She told me that she dreamed of having ballet shoes since she was a little girl, and that she had assumed that dream has passed her by. I had to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom because the whole thing just made me so emotional!
I stay inspired by… Seeing so much diversity and representation now in dance and fitness. People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting.
My next step is… There is another business idea brewing right now that I’m really excited about. It’s adjacent to the idea of The Pink Studio, but not the same. More performance based, and it will definitely celebrate all bodies, ages and genders!
Nia Lee is the Founder and CEO of Socialee Media Agency, a boutique social media marketing agency that helps beauty and lifestyle businesses create high-performing, visionary content for their social media channels. After gaining experience working for several notable brands like Bite Beauty, NYX Cosmetics Canada, Shea Moisture Canada, and DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Nia launched her own beauty brand, Oilee Skincare with a mission to promote skin health instead of skin perfection. Oilee Skincare is the first-ever subscription box that helps people with oily, acne-prone skin discover new skincare products from indie & BIPOC-owned brands. Since then, Nia and her business have partnered with brands like Province Apothecary, Skin Actives, Dermala and The Body Shop.
My first job ever was… I always say it was Tim Hortons, but actually, it was doing my local paper route back when I was 14 years old, living in Markham, ON, making $40/month. I wanted a job really badly, so I remember applying for a bunch, but never hearing anything back.
My cousin was doing the paper route at the time, and I used to help him out until he quit and I decided to take over. I remember dragging my cart through the snow; my hands used to be so gray and ashy afterwards — what a time! But, I made my $40 every month, and I could buy whatever I wanted with it. That made me feel good until I turned 16 and got to apply to a job that paid me at least minimum wage!
Before Oilee Skincare, I was… Passionately helping beauty and lifestyle brands make their mark on the world with visionary content for their brand’s social media within my boutique social media marketing agency, Socialee Media Agency.
I founded Oilee Skincare because… I wanted to create a brand and community that focused on stopping the stigma of having oily, acne-prone skin, because I’ve had oily, acne-prone skin since I was 18 or 19 years old and I hated it when I was younger. I would do everything to stop my oiliness from showing, and it made me super self-conscious. Fast forward to the pandemic; I wanted to shop more intentionally with indie and BIPOC-owned brands in mind, especially those that catered to my skin type and tone. I fell in love with these brands, their products, the way they made me feel, and knew that it wasn’t about getting rid of my oiliness but instead, taking care of it.
From there, I spent a lot of time researching. Seeing that a lot of people were also feeling self-conscious about their oily and acne-prone skin, I knew my ‘Why’ for creating Oilee Skincare had to be about embracing it and taking care of it, focusing on skin health over skin perfection, and changing the narrative around having oily, acne-prone skin because it’s nothing to be ashamed about! Making the decision to feature indie and BIPOC-owned brands came down to me having the pleasure to work with and use a lot of these brands over the years, and with new brands launching every day with innovative products, it was no brainer.
“There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up.”
One of the most important things I learned about myself in my time as an entrepreneur is… To never stay down no matter how many times you get knocked down. There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up. Have a moment to feel all the feels, but get right back up because tomorrow is a new day!
My proudest accomplishment is… Getting the opportunity to work with some really notable brands over the years, both within my agency and my brand, like Bite Beauty, Shea Moisture Canada, DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Province Apothecary, The Body Shop, and even Canva!
I’m a child of a Jamaican immigrant, I don’t come from money, and I don’t have endless connections — all I have is my ability to be myself, work hard, and give everything I do my best shot. I’ve been incredibly blessed, and I am beyond grateful for each and every opportunity.
My biggest setback was… Being a perfectionist!
I overcame it by… Realizing that not everything in life needs to be perfect right then and there. In the words of PR and Brand Strategist and Sakita Holley, “done is better than perfect.”
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t be afraid to start over, change your mind, fall 100 times, and experiment. Oh, and remember to HAVE FUN. It’s not always going to be a cake walk, and you will have your hard days, but enjoy the journey and try your best to celebrate your wins (I’m working on this myself!).
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Celebrating my wins! I don’t know what it is, but I just never take the time to smell the roses. My brain is always going a mile a minute, but when something amazing happens, no matter how big or small, I try my best to acknowledge it.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Spend more time with my friends and family.
The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that I get the opportunity to meet and connect with dope beauty founders every day. I love hearing their stories about how they built their brands, which may allow us to build a genuine relationship that may lead to us working together some day!
“When you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time.”
The one thing I wish I knew when starting Oilee Skincare is… How building a brand from the ground up is going to take a long time — especially when building a community that is safe for those with oily, acne-prone skin is such an important part of what we do. I can be impatient sometimes, wanting everyone and their mom to know about Oilee Skincare overnight, but I know at the end of the day, when you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I played the flute for seven years, from grades 6-12, and I was pretty darn good!
The future excites me because… Every day there’s an opportunity for something amazing to happen, and the simple fact that I am blessed enough to be able to do at least one thing a day to work towards moving the needle, make someone’s day, or be inspired by others around me, makes the future very exciting.
My next step is… Finding a business partner and building a team to help grow Oilee Skincare. I know I cannot do it all by myself, and frankly, I don’t want to either! There’s so many more smart people out there that I know could really help Oilee Skincare become a household name and help shift the beauty industry to ensure that we always value skin health over skin perfection. If you’re reading this and that is you, feel free to connect with me!
Sky McLean is a Canadian entrepreneur in the hospitality space that has built a successful empire with her company Basecamp Resorts, a business that provides modern boutique hotels in locations across Alberta and British Columbia. After receiving her MBA in real estate from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, Sky moved to Calgary, Alberta to work with a local developer. While there, Sky became interested in the Airbnb business model and managed to secure a bank loan to open her first mountain hotel property. Since then, Sky and her team have managed to turn Basecamp Resorts into Western Canada’s fastest growing hospitality brand. Currently, Basecamp Resorts runs seven modern mountain boutique hotel properties and Sky plans to open six more locations over the next three years.
My first job ever was… Babysitting at age 12, every day after school. It was for a family with three kids, two dogs, two turtles, and a cat. I dealt with homework, piano lessons, friend dates, and pretty much everything else in between! It was mayhem!
I first became interested in real estate when… I was a kid. My parents loved to look at open houses and I got dragged along with them.
I decided to become an entrepreneur because… I was frustrated by the way other people did things and the way they looked at making deals. I thought there was a better way.
I decided to launch my first boutique mountain hotel property, Basecamp Resorts, in 2017 because… I believe in the home-away-from-home hospitality model. It’s the best way to travel. I was and still am on a quest to brand what I’m offering with Basecamp Resorts — we provide guests with all the comforts of home in our suites like kitchens, living areas, washer/dryers, and multi-bedrooms, but we also have all of the amenities and conveniences of a hotel like 24-hour concierges, room cleaning services, hot tubs, and more.
I expanded the Basecamp Resorts brand because… I believe that the modern traveller has a desire to stay in this type of property, where they feel at home while travelling. Canada is home to some of the world’s most picturesque mountain destinations, and I want to provide interesting experiences to people coming to explore and have adventures in these beautiful communities, from couples, to groups of friends, to families.
“If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be the fact that I am royally determined to grow this business, no matter what.”
I’m passionate about hospitality because… I love to travel the world while still having the comforts of home while I’m away. I always knew I wanted to offer this experience to all of my guests.
My proudest accomplishment is… Having my two kids. In business, it would be opening the doors to the first Basecamp Resorts property in Canmore in August 2017.
My biggest setback was… Getting debt financing for my first Basecamp Resorts property.
I overcame it by… Persevering.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Listen to your heart and your gut, and don’t let anyone influence you about what to do if it’s not what you truly feel is right.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… There are times when you have to say no to a deal.
The thing I love most about what I do is… The people; from working every day with my incredibly talented team to meeting all the wonderful guests who stay with us.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The fact that I am royally determined to grow this business, no matter what.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I biked 8,000 km across Canada on a road bike.
I stay inspired by….. Continuing to have my passions outside of the business, like mountain biking and skiing.
The future excites me because… I love what I do and who I do it with.
Bonnie and Melissa are the founders of Creamery X, a business specializing in frozen custards and vegan ice cream in Toronto. After working in corporate roles for many years, they decided to leave their jobs and embark on an entrepreneurial journey centered around their love for desserts. Though starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to have its difficulties, Bonnie and Melissa have remained committed to their passion, making people happy, and giving back to local communities.
My first job ever was…
Bonnie: A group of friends and I all got jobs at the same fast food restaurant.
Melissa: I did babysitting for many years and then was a cashier at a grocery store. Typical teenage job stuff!
We founded Creamery X because… We were looking for a change from the corporate world, and we both had always wanted to own a small dessert type of business. With COVID, we had lots of time to explore ideas and test recipes! With Bonnie’s love of ice cream and Melissa’s passion for baking, this was a natural fit.
We’re passionate about the work we do because… We get to make people happy every day, and we love to see their faces when they try something they’ve never had before. We also love meeting and working with other small, local businesses. Through our Charity Flavour (a different monthly flavour with a portion of proceeds going to local charities or nonprofits), we are able to give back to causes that are important to us.
We decided to create our designated “Charity Flavour,” a different monthly flavour with proceeds going to charity because… It is important to us to work with small, local charities and nonprofits making a real difference in our communities. We have the privilege of sharing these organizations with our customers, highlighting the work they do, and raising awareness. We work with and contribute to a range of organizations: dog rescues, LGBTQ+ nonprofits, eating disorder treatment centers, and more.
Our proudest accomplishment is… For both of us, it would be building our business from scratch. We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.
Our biggest setback was… We’ve had lots of setbacks! Ice cream machines have broken down, we’ve had flavour disasters (comes with the territory), and we’ve been declined for funding by major banks due to the seasonal nature of an ice cream shop.
We overcame it by… Persevering even when it seemed impossible. We kept churning ice cream even when it meant staying up all night or sleeping in shifts to get it all done (true story). We believed in our unique product and vision of creating a community hub.
“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”
“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…
Bonnie: Believe in yourself and your vision no matter what. No matter how many no’s or disasters, pick yourself back up and keep moving!
Melissa: Figure out what sets you apart and lean into it. Embrace what makes you unique or weird and share it with the world.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…
Bonnie: Slow down and take breaks. When I get going, I can’t stop until the task is done. Melissa always calls me a whirlwind.
Melissa: Don’t overthink it! We come up with perfect flavours and I can’t help but think of just one extra thing to add over and over. It’s a blessing and a curse.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… We both feel that having each other has made a huge difference. Being able to create something so exciting and fulfilling with your partner has been amazing. We both bring different skill sets that work together really well.
Having a background in business has also served us well — it has given us skills in contract negotiation, customer service, marketing, and finance.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…
Bonnie: I’m a sucker for a self-help book. I love learning about human behaviour and how to interact with different types of people.
Melissa: I have always been a visual artist. Now I get to express my creativity through flavour creation and cake decorating.
We stay inspired by… We get inspiration from so many places and people. The wonderful folks from the charities we work with inspire us to continue to build our platform and stay appreciative of what we have.
The future excites us because… We have so many plans for the future! We are growing and building something we believe in. We are learning all the time and meeting incredible people. We can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Creamery X!
Assel Beglinova is the co-founder and CEO of Paperstack, a platform that provides working capital for e-commerce sellers. At 18, she moved to Canada from Kazakhstan as an international student without any connections. She went to school to study accounting, and pursued a career in the banking industry. When Assel got laid off during the pandemic, instead of looking for another job, she decided to take everything she learned and launch a company. She met her co-founder, Vadim Lidich, at Tea Club Toronto — a community Assel founded to help other founders with startup challenges. In the first year, the pair closed a pre-seed round of funding, and in the span of a few months, they were accepted into three prestigious tech programs: Google for Startups, Communitech’s Fierce Founders, and Techstars.
My first job ever was… as a volunteer at a student association. I remember it being so hard to get my first job because I didn’t have any experience and I just arrived in Canada — plus, my English wasn’t great at that time. My responsibilities were simple, like promoting upcoming events and handing out flyers, but it was so much fun, and it pushed me to speak English with so many strangers! I am so grateful that I had this opportunity.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to build an amazing product that will empower millions of people around the world. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I knew the stats and data were against me — less than 3% of VC funds go to women, plus I am an immigrant. I knew from the beginning that the journey will not be easy and there will always be wins and losses, but I have such a supportive community that has my back. I am so grateful for such tremendous support!
I founded Paperstack because… I love helping e-commerce founders succeed! I felt like they deserve better and more flexible solutions. It is so humbling and thrilling to receive messages from our customers who tell us how we are helping them meet and exceed their goals — that is success to me.
I’m passionate about the tech industry because… It unlocks so many opportunities and options for many people from many different backgrounds. I think it’s amazing how you can build a solution in North America and somebody in a different part of the world will integrate it into their day-to-day operations. Tech also allows us to discover talented individuals around the world and build something powerful with them.
My proudest accomplishment is… being able to take steps to make my dream a reality: Moving from Kazakhstan to Canada, and changing my career from banking to a tech entrepreneur without a computer science background. It wasn’t easy; living thousands of miles away from family is very hard! Of course, I miss friends and family, but I’m so grateful for tools like Whatsapp that bring me closer to those most important to me.
I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!
My biggest setback was… I didn’t have any connections in Canada when I started. I had to build my network from scratch! It was a lot of cold calling and outreach — I’m so grateful to networks like Women of Influence and so many more who bring together dreamers and doers!
I overcame it by… reaching out to people every day. I remember setting the goal of 10 calls per day. I remember printing my resume and going to 10 places with it every day in Toronto, or sitting in the library and applying to 10 jobs every day. After many attempts, one person said ‘yes,’ which led to our first customer and the first investor!
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn how to not let one ‘no’ affect the rest of your day. Another thing I think is important is to filter the advice you follow by considering whether or not the person has done it themselves.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… not letting every‘no’ get to me — I’m not a robot! There are,of course, people I really want to work with; when I don’t get that ‘yes’ it can be disappointing, but I’m pretty resilient.
The thing I love most about what I do is… connecting with people everyday: Our amazing team at Paperstack, our valuable customers, our supportive investors, our advisors, and our champions in the ecosystem.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the ability to move forward no matter what, even if 10 people told me not to do it.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!
I stay inspired by… listening to podcasts and meeting with strong people who were able to overcome obstacles in their lives.
The future excites me because… I can create it by doing something today.
My next step is… being relentlessly focused on how I can continue to bring even more value to my customers every day. This is what I think about when I wake up and until I go to bed!
Kathryn Plouffe is the Co-Founder and CEO of Only, an online eco-retailer that provides affordable, organic, and eco-friendly period care products. Only is a company that offers consumers sustainable goods, offsets all carbon emissions, and shares a portion of its profits with local organizations that are dedicated to ending period poverty in Canada. Alongside their biodegradable organic cotton pads, liners, tampons, and medical-grade menstrual cup, Only also provides consumers with Canada’s first reusable tampon applicator, which is good for up to 10 years.
My first job ever was… Doing demolition work on the houses my Dad was renovating. I mostly helped clean up debris from the demo and was only allowed to paint the insides of the closets. Wise choice, Dad.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It honestly felt like the natural route for me — I can’t remember it ever being a conscious decision. The 9-5 lifestyle felt riskier to me.
I founded Only because… I was convinced there was a better way for people to experience the commercialization of menstruation. Better for them and much better for the planet.
I’m passionate about sustainable period products because… They should be the norm already. We have the science, technology, and logistics to provide a more sustainable experience for menstruators, so why wouldn’t we pursue that versus the plastic wrapped, rayon-based, carbon footprint heavy alternatives?
My proudest accomplishment is… Finalizing the distribution agreement between my company and our European manufacturers after a long, three year journey. What I love most about that accomplishment was that I intended to do my Master’s in International Affairs, but feel like I got a practical MBA instead.
I get to decide what needs to be done to move the needle every day. It can be the most exhilarating part of the job. Although, I admit that some mornings I miss having someone tell me what to do. Decision fatigue is real.
My biggest setback was… Managing my anxiety while building an investment-worthy company. Anxiety has definitely held me back from opportunities I should and could have taken.
I overcame it by… Consistent exposure to experiences outside my comfort zone: Meetings with potential investors, lawyers, accountants, marketing teams, logistics teams, our manufacturer, etc. After so many of these meetings, I became confident in myself instead of self-conscious, and felt like what I had to say was legitimate. I was worthy of being heard.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Two things: Find mentors and be resourceful. Keep figuring it out day after day, little by little. If you don’t know something, someone or some source does, and use that to your advantage. Conduct your own experiments if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Going to bed early.
The thing I love most about what I do is… I get to decide what needs to be done to move the needle every day. It can be the most exhilarating part of the job. Although, I admit that some mornings I miss having someone tell me what to do. Decision fatigue is real.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… For building a startup, I think it’s been key for me to have a teammate who shares my passion for this company, a.k.a. a business partner. For me, that’s Phil Faubert, and there’s no chance I would be where I am today without all of his support, sweat, heart and soul he’s poured into building this company with me. A business partner will keep you motivated, accountable, and offer alternative solutions to your business problems.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a hockey playing, video gaming, winter-loving person and proudest fur parent to my dog Puck and cat Nala. Growing up, my life goal was to get to a position that was powerful enough to allow body checking in women’s hockey (This is still a big goal of mine!).
I stay inspired by… Keeping my circle positive and inspiring. I haven’t always had this attitude; I was sticking with friendships, relationships, places of work, or following accounts on social media that didn’t make me feel good. I no longer make time or space for negativity, gaslighting, or general bad vibes and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself in my late twenties.
The future excites me because… I’ll soon be able to offer menstruators the period products they deserve! I’m so excited to share this beautiful, innovative, sustainable product line across Canada and start understanding what more I can do for my customers.
My next step is… Making it through my first four quarters of Only being a revenue-generating company alive!
Nadia Ladak is the founder of Marlow, a FemTech start-up that has developed thefirst-ever tampon and lubricant designed to be used together for a smoother, less painful insertion experience. She ispassionate about empowering a generation of menstruators to prioritize their menstrual andsexual health by sparking conversations around these topics that are often awkward — although they shouldn’t be. Before launching Marlow, Nadia worked as a management consultant at KPMG, where she workedacross a number of retail clients in go-to-market strategy, customer experience, ande-commerce projects. Nadia is also committed to giving back to her community through her roleas a catalyst board member at Holland Bloorview Children’s Hospital, and as a mentor for theJunior Achievement Company Program where she provides weekly coaching to high schoolstudents as they operate their own small businesses.
My first job ever was… working as a receptionist at a yoga studio. Idecided to be an entrepreneur because… of the impact you can make. Entrepreneurs areworking on the world’s to-do list by solving pressing challenges we are all facing. It is soinspiring to connect with these individuals and to see the passion and determination they have tochange the world for the better.
Ifounded Marlow because…I want to empower menstruators to live life on their own terms, not by what is dictated by the time of the month. Inserting tampons can be an uncomfortable process for those who are new to using them, who have pelvic floor conditions like vaginismus, who experience vaginal dryness, or for those who have a lighter flow, especially at the beginning and end of their cycle. Our lubricated product creates a smoother insertion process to allow menstruators to continue to live an active lifestyle while on their period. Through education and innovative products, we can help people get off of auto-pilot and take their menstrual health into their own hands.
I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because…I believe it is an important part of our overall health. In the last decade, we’ve seen a surge of companies excel at physical wellness and mental wellness, and now it’s time to look forward towards menstrual and sexual wellness. In order to have holistic wellness, we need to prioritize all aspects of our health.
My proudest accomplishment is… hearing the stories from our community about how our products & education have empowered them in their lives. Our mission is to change “The Talk” about menstrual and sexual healthfor the next generation from uncomfortable to refreshing — it’s incredible to read the commentsand DM’s from our community, sharing that they turn to Marlow to learn more about theirbodies. We can actively change the narrative around these topics, one conversation at a time.
My biggest setback was… navigating the Health Canada process during the pandemic when they were quite busy managing COVID vaccines and approval.
I overcame it by… partnering with a research lab and regulatory consultant who helped us build our strategy and path forward. Often it is nerve wracking asking for help, but it’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and to partner with experts who can help drive your business forward quickly, because as a start-up, speed is your biggest advantage.
“Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward.”
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… find a low cost way to test your idea before jumping all in. Start by sharing your idea with your friends and family to get initial feedback.Then, you can do a customer survey to understand the problem space before building someinitial prototypes. Entrepreneurship is all about continuous learning and iteration, so be open tobuilding, learning, measuring, and adjusting accordingly.
The thing I love most about what I do is… having the opportunity to create change in a spacethat impacts 50% of the population at some point in time. Every day, I wake up energized and excited to empower menstruators with the products and education they deserve.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of thepeople around me. Whether it be my family, co-founders, advisors, or investors, I have been solucky to receive support and mentorship as I embark on my entrepreneurship journey. They put upwith the late night rants, they celebrate my wins, and they’ve taken the time to learn waymore about tampons than they could have probably ever imagined!
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I started my university career in music.Growing up, music was always a huge part of my life. I was in choirs, participated in musicaltheatre, and played guitar and piano. I went on to study music in my first two years of universitybefore pursuing the Ivey Business School program at Western University. Entrepreneurship hasbeen the perfect career path for me, because it allows me to combine the passion and creativity Ilearned in music school with the analytical & financial management skills I learned in businessschool.
Istay inspired by… taking things one step at a time. There’s a million things you could be doing,but it’s about finding ways to make the minimum viable progress everyday. Action cures fear, soat the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive yourmission forward.
The future excites me because… of the rise in mindful menstruation and the overall boom inFemTech. Pinterest released their 2021-2022 trends report that shows that terms like ‘periodcare’ are up 3x in search volume. Gen Z and millennials are increasingly looking to prioritize theirmenstrual health — we want Marlow to be at the forefront of this movement.
Rachael Newton is the founder of nixit, a suction-free, made-in-Canada menstrual cup that is revolutionizing menstruation. Rachael started her career working as a lawyer for an investment bank for nine years before branching out on her own and starting nixit. As a progressive period care brand, nixit is helping to make using menstrual cups mainstream, and is also invested in changing and leading the conversation around menstruation.
My first job ever was… Waitressing at a cafe in Sicily, Italy.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to make a positive impact on the planet and have a positive impact on those who menstruate. It wasn’t a conscious decision to become an entrepreneur, but once I felt the gap in the market and landed on the idea of nixit, I felt compelled to start.
I founded nixit because… No one else was making what I believed to be the perfect menstrual cup. I truly believed that our suction-free cup is the future of period care and that if I could get it to market, I could both improve people’s period experiences and drive collective waste reduction. This is still my belief!
“Our mission is to not only to improve people’s cycles, but to spark conversations that make people feel comfortable to talk about this human experience. By destigmatizing menstruation, we empower people to make choices that are right for them.”
I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because… The traditional menstrual care market is based on the idea that periods should be managed with products that aren’t good for our bodies or the environment. The idea that we shouldn’t talk about or question our periods has fuelled the use of these products — and benefited the companies that make them.
Our mission is to not only to improve people’s cycles, but to spark conversations that make people feel comfortable to talk about this human experience. By destigmatizing menstruation, we empower people to make choices that are right for them.
My proudest accomplishment is… Reading feedback from our customers! To be told that something I made has changed someone’s life and improved their period experience is extremely gratifying — it makes this journey feel all that more worthwhile.
My biggest setback was… The pandemic. It was difficult managing home-schooling, looking after the children (they were three and five years old when it started), and running the business — which I have bootstrapped from the beginning. I obviously had to prioritize my family, but that meant nixit could only be tended to late at night and in the early mornings.
I overcame it by… Accepting that things at nixit would move more slowly than I wanted them to, but that we would get there eventually.
When I quit my job at British Petroleum, I learned a handful of very important lessons. Coming from a (degrading) male-dominated work environment in the early 90s, where success did not seem possible for someone like me, I dared to set out on my own — creating a company based on a technology I discovered for cooling silicon chips in computers and the like. The scenario could best be described as building a business in the face of the five no’s: No products. No employees. No customers. No physical facility. No money.
My value proposition was to provide the electronics industry with a means of miniaturizing while increasing speed and functionality without the limitations of heat. I didn’t think of myself as a feminist, out to break through the glass ceiling — I was simply determined to take my technology to market, based on my own merits and on my own terms. I had something valuable to bring to the table, not just my technology but my presence in the industry. I never let on that I was operating in survival mode (which I was). In the process, I learned many lessons, not the least of which were the following:
Focus on what you bring to the table.
As the only woman in the boardroom, I never concerned myself with the demographics of my audience. Even though I was always surrounded by men, I did not let it change my demeanor or my mission. My business interactions, whether with colleagues or competitors, rested purely on my own merits. I let my presence and my product speak for itself.
We all bring a unique perspective to the table — each one enhancing the other. It has been my experience (and subsequent success) not to focus on who is in the boardroom, so much as my purpose for being in that boardroom. Demographics will change from boardroom to boardroom and operation to operation. Mind your purpose, respect and appreciate your people, and remember that the rest is just details.
Don’t worry about titles.
Rather than tout myself as the “founder” and “CEO,” I traveled the world as the “technical director” of my own company. It worked like a charm. Think about it: What product design engineer wants to talk to the CEO?
In other words, don’t get hung up on business titles.
Funny story: One day two young technicians walked into my office. They needed to order business cards for an upcoming business trip, so they asked, “What title should we give ourselves?”
To which I replied, “Whatever title you would like.”
Both men stared at me in disbelief. The truth is it did not matter to me what they called themselves. I trusted their judgement. Titles are lost on me. In my opinion, they inhibit creativity and often get in the way of genuine collaboration. What matters more than what you call yourself, is how you present yourself.
Be wary of people bearing gifts.
In the early days of Thermagon, I was offered workspace in a small testing laboratory. In exchange, I cleaned bathrooms. I later discovered that the owner, who I assumed was a good Samaritan, had ulterior motives. I learned to use discretion when people offered me an investment of time, money and/or other resources.
These sorts of business deals and arrangements must always be “win-win,” not one side taking advantage of the other. Most off-the-cuff financial offers are designed for the benefit of the donor. Therefore, only accept financial investment into your company using carefully drafted legal documents, so as to protect both parties. Even conversations with competitors can’t hurt. In fact, they often provide valuable information and knowledge about the competitors themselves. Just don’t give away too much of your business in the process.
Just be yourself.
Being authentic is the secret sauce to success. As a woman operating in a predominantly male environment, I never tried blending into the background. I set myself apart, projecting confidence and power. I wore a red flannel skirt suit to meetings. I told blonde jokes. I laughed at myself, and they laughed with me.
Just be yourself. Let your presence stand apart based on who you are at your core. Go confidently into the boardroom on your own terms. And don’t forget to have fun! The whole point of taking your product to market is to stand apart from the herd, lest you got lost in it. Shakespeare said it best, “Above all things, to thine own self be true!” That was Hamlet giving advice to his young student. Suffice it to say, stay true to you!
Carol Latham’s passion became taking discoveries from the idea phase to a successful product in the marketplace, leading to her founding of Thermagon, Inc. Her company became an international success producing high thermally conductive materials used to cool the chips in computers. Along with her business success, Carol created a corporate culture that strove to boost the quality of life of all her employees. Check out her recent book, “A Chip Off the Silicon Block – The Power of Entrepreneurial Thinking” for valuable life lessons.
Saliah, Kareemah, and Najiyyah Mustafa are the Co-Founders of Sabreen Cosmetics, a safe, non-toxic, luxury cosmetics brand. Deeply impacted by the passing of their aunt Nabeehah Sabreen, these sisters had the idea to launch a beauty brand that doesn’t sacrifice quality or safety while representing Black women and women of colour in the luxury beauty space. Today, Saliah, Kareemah, and Najiyyah honor their aunt and continue to celebrate her life by inspiring other women to live a life full of elegance, wellness, and luxury.
Each Mustafa sister brings their own unique perspective and skills to the Sabreen Cosmetics brand. As CEO, Saliah handles the daily management decisions and execution of the brand’s short and long term goals; Kareemah manages the marketing, PR, and business development initiatives of the company as COO, and Najiyyah leverages her understanding of fashion, consumer trends, and beauty to keep the brand tapped into the changing beauty landscape as CCO.
My first job ever was…
Saliah and Najiyyah:At Dance Place in Northeast Washington, D.C. Dance Place is a dance studio founded by Carla Bloom. We were able to learn how to effectively manage a dance studio, from front of the house to production. We are honored to have learned so much from Dance Place, as it provided first-hand experience in business operations.
Kareemah: My first job was at a private medical practice as a medical biller. The experience taught me the importance of finance and accounting in a business.
We decided to be entrepreneurs because… we are passionate about making a positive impact in the world. As entrepreneurs, we are able to utilize our knowledge and creativity to fill gaps in the beauty industry for our patrons. In addition, we are able to honor our aunt in the process. As a legacy brand, we are building our business to be able to pass it down to future generations.
We founded Sabreen Cosmetics because… we wanted to honor the life and legacy of our beloved aunt Nabeehah Sabreen. Losing our aunt so quickly at the ages of 16, 15 and 13 affected us tremendously in different ways. However, through embarking on this journey, we were able to turn a tragedy into something positive to keep our aunt’s legacy alive.
“During our research, we made a shocking discovery: Almost 75% of products marketed to women of color have potentially harmful ingredients.”
We’re passionate about clean cosmetics because… we know the impact that clean cosmetics will have on women of color. During our research, we made a shocking discovery: Almost 75% of products marketed to women of color have potentially harmful ingredients. Many beauty products are formulated with toxic synthetics, petroleum-based ingredients, and heavy metals such as lead, aluminum, and chromium. These ingredients are often linked to a myriad of health complications such cancer, hormone disruption, and developmental and reproductive damage. We are honored to aid in delivering products that are safe for use and safe for the environment without sacrificing luxury, quality, and performance.
Our proudest accomplishment is… creating healthy, safe, and luxury products that our consumers are proud to use as well as building a community where women of color can be represented in the luxury clean beauty industry.
Our advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to ensure you truly understand and embrace your brand’s mission, your consumers, and their pain points. Understanding your ‘Why’ will serve as your motivation and give you the resilience needed when obstacles occur throughout your business journey.
The thing we love most about what we do is… that it does not feel like work at all. We love everything about our company, and working together as sisters is truly one the best feelings in the world. It has allowed us to form even stronger bonds amongst each other and it is something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Additionally, we love the process of critically thinking about the pain points of women of color and developing products that truly meet their needs.
If we were to pick one thing that has helped us succeed, it would be… the life lessons that our parents instilled in us as children.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…
Saliah: I enjoy collecting vinyls at local record stores in my free time.
Najiyyah: I am a lover of all things luxury and have an extensive sneaker and shoe collection.
Kareemah: I am a lover of luxury handbags.
The future excites us because… the landscape is quite vast for our niche and we are excited to be curators of luxury, elegance, and wellness in the space. Women of color deserve to have access to luxurious, safe products with nuance.
Our next step is…to continue to inspire women of color to live a divine life of luxury, elegance, and wellness — now and for future generations.
Graydon Moffat is the founder and superfood mixologist behind Graydon Skincare, a leading indie beauty brand based out of Toronto. Her previous culinary skills as a vegan chef and background in holistic wellness inspired her unique take on skincare — she started formulating topical products with superfood ingredients, resulting in a powerful and natural line of face, body, and hair products. At Graydon Skincare, you’ll find only plant powered ingredients including botanical retinol, collagen, peptides, vitamin C, probiotics, and even gemstone crystals. All of Graydon’s products are hypoallergenic, non-irritating, vegan and cruelty-free.
My first job ever was… Working at Canada’s Wonderland. It was a humbling experience and gave me an appreciation for customer service.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I guess I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Before I started Graydon Skincare, I ran a small vegan meal delivery business called Divine Dishes. I created mouth-watering, nutrient-dense meals and delivered them to my customers.
I founded Graydon Skincare because… I was mixing up superfood skincare creations in my kitchen and sharing them with my friends, yoga students and an esthetician friend of mine. That friend used my “eccentric smoothies” on her clients and noticed impactful results. That’s when I had my aha moment and realized that I could take my superfood skincare to the next level.
I’m passionate about clean beauty because… Skincare empowers people to look and feel their best. Through clean beauty, I have the opportunity to disrupt conventional beauty and make beauty better. I’m so proud to be one of the small companies that inspires the beauty giants to follow suit. That is meaningful work to me.
My proudest accomplishment is… As an entrepreneur, I’ve accomplished many things that I’m proud of. I’d say my proudest accomplishment so far is aligning with one of Canada’s favourite dragons, Arlene Dickinson.
“I had a lot of fear about the cost associated with bringing people on board. Eventually, I had to have faith that my ideas and products were good enough and I didn’t need to be afraid of the financial commitment required to build a team.”
My biggest setback was… Trying to do this on my own. I started out as a one woman team, attempting to do everything myself. Starting and growing a business on your own is not an easy task.
I overcame it by… Hiring my first employee. I had a lot of fear about the cost associated with bringing people on board. Eventually, I had to have faith that my ideas and products were good enough and I didn’t need to be afraid of the financial commitment required to build a team.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t try to do it all on your own. Hire people who can help you and have faith in your business!
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Make time for self-care! It’s so important but self-care always seems to take a backseat to other things that we think are more important. I have to continually remind myself that taking the time to relax in the tub, do yoga or meditate is beneficial in the long run.
The thing I love most about what I do is… It’s simple; I love giving people good skin days, every day!
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… Besides hiring, networking has helped me succeed. Feeling the support of other entrepreneurs and like minded people is helpful even if they’re in another industry because all small businesses tend to have similar challenges.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Many years ago, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
I stay inspired by… My kitchen. All Graydon Skincare products are inspired by superfoods and every single one started as a concoction that I whipped up with my trusty blender.
The future excites me because… I can see the changes in beauty happening! The divide between clean, indie brands and conventional, legacy brands is starting to converge and beauty will be a better place with more transparency around ingredients and packaging.
My next step is… Continuing with product innovation! I love blending superfood ingredients and finding the perfect balance between ingredient efficacy and cosmetic chemistry to develop clinically proven products that nourish the skin.
Mintier is a first of its kind product solving a universal problem: bad breath. When founders Jessica Sheppard and Rhaelyn Gillespie learned that sugar is the main ingredient in traditional breath mints, they questioned what that does to your oral health. It turns out sugar feeds the oral bacteria in your mouth, making your breath worse and at an accelerated rate — so they created a 100% natural alternative that is the world’s first oil-based breath mint. Since inspiration first hit in 2019, the duo has participated in Arlene Dickinson’s VenturePark Labs accelerator program, were fully funded on Kickstarter in less than 24 hours, and now Mintier is available in over 100 stores and online, both in Canada and the US.
My first job ever was…
Rhaelyn: Subway Sandwich Artist… Yes, that’s what we were called. Subway is where I learned to work hard and that hard work turns into money. I would often ask to extend my shifts and stay late for my coworkers to pull 12-hour days because I just liked making my own money.
Jessica: Walmart cashier! I met so many great people working here and some I still keep in touch with. It taught me how to be accountable, how to work hard (even when you don’t want to), and how to prioritize my time.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…
R: It partially runs in my blood, with entrepreneurial roots through two of my aunt’s and also through my dad. Although they cautioned me about the amount of work, stress, time, and luck it takes, it still felt like my calling. Plus, I was fortunate enough to meet the most perfect cofounder to embark on this venture with.
J: I was searching for a breath mint that would actually work and could not find one. I really could not find something that would freshen my breath while I was on the go, and would be good for my oral health. After meeting Rhae and brainstorming this idea further, it was a no-brainer that we had to do it. It’s been an exciting journey creating a product we believe in so much.
I founded Mintier because…
R: This was a problem that needed to be solved, and a category that dare I say it, needed to be disrupted. Bad breath is a universal problem that we all experience, and it blew our minds to learn that sugar feeds the oral bacteria in your mouth and that traditional mints and gum are primarily composed of sugar. A little counterintuitive right? We thought so, and sought to create a breath mint that was entirely sugar-free and sugar alcohol free. The only way to do this was to create the world’s first oil-based breath mint, Mintier.
J: It was a problem I personally needed a solution to. Mintier is a game changer because it’s convenient to bring with you on the go while giving you long lasting fresh breath. It’s everything we needed and more!
“I’ve found a lot of my confidence in business and when I look back at how long it has taken to get to this moment, I’m genuinely very proud of myself for not giving up.”
I’m passionate about our product because…
R: Natural products are a part of my everyday life and routines, and to find a product that fits into that, solves a serious problem, and gives me fresh breath I can help others be confident in is a serious passion
J: Oral care is a part of our self care. Taking care of my body through natural products has always been important to me and having a product like Mintier that truly makes a difference in my everyday life is something I am very passionate about.
My proudest accomplishment is…
R: When we presented for a demo day my aunt streamed it to our TV and my 92-year-old Nonna went over to my parents house, the house I grew up in, to watch. My mom later told me that my Nonna grabbed my mom’s hand while we were presenting with tears in her eyes, and now she thinks I’m famous. She is the coolest, smartest, most magnetic woman to be around and I’m so proud to make her proud.
J: Starting this business. I’ve found a lot of my confidence in business and when I look back at how long it has taken to get to this moment, I’m genuinely very proud of myself for not giving up. I owe a lot of that to having Rhae as a co-founder to lean on, learn from and just have a good friend by my side through some of the harder days. (We’ve had lots of them!)
My biggest setback was…
R: Delays delays delays, and it was so frustrating.
J: Trying to make a sugar-free breath mint in my kitchen. Some of the best founder stories I’ve heard were started by the founder making it in their kitchen — and I couldn’t make this idea work! Little did we know that you needed some type of sugar or sugar alcohol to bind the mint into the solid form. Although it was a pivotal moment for Rhae and I, at the time it felt like a set back.
I overcame it by…
R: Focusing on what we could control was what got us through it. Shipping delays, supply chain issues, and manufacturing delays were out of our control, but launching a crowdfunding campaign, participating in an accelerator program, and strategizing our launch were in our control so we decided to focus on that. It all worked out in the long run!
J: Trying to figure it out! It’s really just as simple as that. We spent a lot of time researching. At the end of the day we wanted to create a breath freshener that worked and was completely free of sugar and sugar alcohols and we did just that.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…
R: Don’t delay, get started as soon as you can! There’s so much to learn on the go, and so many inevitable mistakes to make, the sooner you get started the sooner you can learn and grow. We actually started a health & wellness focused business a year ago as we were planning and preparing Mintier. They now operate as sister companies!
J: If you feel like you have it in you to be an entrepreneur — just go for it! It’s a cheesy saying, but better to try and fail than fail to try.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…
R: Work/life balance. Honestly my work is my life and my life is my work but it’s very hard to separate the two. I’m not even sure that I want to at this point in my life, but I’m sure as time goes on and my priorities shift, there will be some changes I need to make.
J: Time-block your day. Although I always plan my day the night before, and some days I have great time management skills, there are many days right now that seem like there’s just not enough hours in the day!
“We are so devoted to this business and see the potential in Mintier. We traded in the 9-5 lifestyle for a 24/7 lifestyle and I absolutely love it.”
The thing I love most about what I do is…
R: The reactions people have to something we’ve created is so humbling. It’s really what gets me through the tough days.
J: Seeing Mintier in the hands of our customers and retailers carrying it in their store. It still feels very surreal some days!
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…
R: My work ethic. We are so devoted to this business and see the potential in Mintier. We traded in the 9-5 lifestyle for a 24/7 lifestyle and I absolutely love it.
J: I’ll second what Rhae said — quitting our stable 9-5 jobs and giving our all to Mintier has already proven to have been the best decision we’ve made for the health of the business.
I stay inspired by…
R: Consistently reflecting on my “why”. This is an exercise that a manager asked me to complete and it really shifted my perspective on work, goals, and the alignment of my day-to-day work towards those goals.
J: Taking time, even if it’s just walking my dog, to unplug and take a step back. Taking a step back really helps me see the full picture when I feel like I’m caught up in a busy day.
The future excites me because…
R: Mintier has so much potential because bad breath truly is a universal problem. Plus, I get to build a business with one of my best friends. How cool is that?!
J: We are just getting started! We have a lot of work to do but I’m really just so excited for this journey we are on together.
My next step is…
R: Getting Mintier into a store near you! For now though you can order on our website to try the new standard of Fresh Breath!
J: To change the way you experience a breath mint and the way you think of fresh breath. Mintier is a game changer and we can’t wait for you to try it!
I know what that feels like: a couple of years ago, I had lost my way and found myself stuck in the wrong career. I could not help but wonder how I had gotten myself into this mess and where exactly I went off track.
I’m a planner — to the degree that I schedule tasks for exact times. Of course, I had safely mapped out and planned my future. I thought I had done “everything right,” but why did the life I had envisioned for myself feel so bad?
After training as a banker in Germany and completing my degree in International Business Administration in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, I started my career in the finance sector one month after graduation — while most of my friends from Business school were struggling to find a job.
Three years in, I felt not only lost and out of place, but uninspired, unfulfilled, and miserable. One day, the suffering became unbearable and I was desperate for a change. So I quit my job without a plan B, and within six months I started over: I moved from Germany to Switzerland, pursued a new education, jumped into a new field, and landed my first job that would finally put me on my path to becoming a coach.
When making that leap, you do not have to do such a drastic switch like I did. The stakes are high, and there are constraints like financial implications or losing status — but it is your life and you deserve to be happy.
If you are contemplating a career change as well, here’s what I have learned.
LESSON #1: Always trust your gut feeling.
When I signed my first employment contract, my gut feeling told me something was off. It just did not feel right, even though on the surface, I had landed a good entry-level job in a well-known and reputable company. Deep down I knew that this was not right for me and that I was settling. I chose the alleged security and financial stability that this job would provide over an unknown future and the stress of an on-going job search, which scared me at that point. So I ignored that nagging feeling, not knowing that feelings are designed to alert us to pay attention to potential dangers — but also opportunities. Research suggests that your gut-feeling draws on experience and intuition and can help you make a bold decision, if you listen to it.
LESSON #2: Do a thorough reality check.
Make sure the vision you are following is really your own, and it is truly aligned with your passion, talents, and personal preferences. We are constantly influenced by the media, friends, and family — and it can be overwhelming to choose from all the options that are available to us. It is important to raise above the noise level and make sure that the path you are following is yours, rather than somebody else`s idea of a great life for you (even though they might mean well). For the people pleasers among us: this is your kind reminder that you are not here to fulfill other people’s expectations. Know yourself, accept yourself, then decide what you want and go for it.
How do you know what’s right for YOU? Follow the energy! What really excites you? What are you passionate about? What is the topic you could talk about all day long? When do you feel most alive? When do you lose track of time?
The answers to these powerful questions might be some indicators to point you in the right direction. Then, do your homework. Research as much as you can, and talk to people in the field you want to work in. The new career might look very glamorous from afar, but what would an ordinary day in this line of work really feel like?
LESSON #3: Manage the process and prioritize self-care.
While you are figuring out your next move, you will experience some uncertainty, insecurity, and most probably some anxiety. It is important to be gentle and patient with yourself in the process.
Keep your inner monologue positive, and show yourself some compassion. You are doing the best that you can. Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. What could you do today that will bring you one step closer to your goal? This transition phase might be a good time to put some healthy self-care routines in place to keep your energy levels up and keep you sane along the way.
LESSON #4: Be your own cheerleader and celebrate every tiny victory.
In his book, Choose Yourself, James Altucher stated: “We’re taught at an early age that we’re not good enough. That someone else has to choose us in order for us to be… what? Blessed? Rich? Certified? Legitimized? Educated? Partnership material?”
The truth is that you do not need anyone’s approval to do what you love. Show up for yourself and cheer yourself on. Every single day. Your mindset is your most precious asset. A strong sense of self-esteem combined with an unwavering belief in yourself will define how you face the world.
It’s not about being arrogant, it is about having a realistic and healthy self-image that does not need constant approval from the outside. Stop waiting for anyone to choose you. Step forward and claim your spot. Whether you are dreaming of becoming an artist, a writer, a designer, an entrepreneur, or — fill in the blank — you already ARE that person. Give yourself permission and start showing up as her!
LESSON #5: Authenticity — own your story.
It’s your life and it’s never too late to course-correct. In my career, I have interviewed and assessed hundreds of people and have come to the conclusion that an apparent “rupture” in a CV is rarely a deal-breaker, if explained well. The skills that were acquired in one field in combination with life experience and your personality are transferable. As Steve Jobs put it, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.” Be true to yourself and own your experiences!
I hope you could find some inspiration in my story. For those of you who feel stuck or lost, please keep searching. Things will eventually fall into place when you are on your path. How you feel about work and your career rubs off on your mental health and well-being, your relationships, and the way you show up in life. Never stop learning and thriving. We all will have to reinvent ourselves many times in life, but that’s really the point isn’t it?
Simone is an executive coach & organizational development (OD) consultant based in Zurich, Switzerland. Over the last 12 years she has worked in the field of leadership development for multinational companies in the finance, hospitality, technology and engineering sector. She now runs her own business, SGC Simone Giesen Consulting — specialized in personal & leadership development, coaching, and change management. Simone works with individuals, leaders and teams around the globe to empower them to reach their highest potential in life and business.
Nisha Grewal is the founder of Ambari Beauty, a Vancouver-based luxury skincare brand that blends ancient ingredients with modern innovation. Growing up in a proud Indo-Canadian home, Nisha and her family leaned into herbs, spices and adaptogens (healing herbs and mushrooms) for skin health benefits and pain relief. Seeing the added benefits of visits to medical spas, Nisha was inspired — she worked with a research team to create her line, combining clinical actives, smart adaptogens, and broad-spectrum oil. Launched in February 2021, in its first year Ambari Beauty built a loyal customer base across North America, landed Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman as retail partners, and Kourtney Kardashian as a fan. It’s now a multi-million dollar brand.
My first job ever was… a kickboxing instructor and lifeguard.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I loved business and was passionate about product research and development.
I founded Ambari Beauty because… I wanted to create products that delivered instant professional-level results from the comfort of your home.
I’m passionate about skin care because… taking care of my skin helped to build my self-esteem and self-confidence. Being able to leave the facialist or derms office with glowing skin and no makeup on gave me a great sense of pride. I want my customers to feel just as proud of their skin after using our products.
My proudest accomplishment is… my formula, the Modern Blend, and all of the amazing feedback we’ve gotten about it from retailers, celebrities, and influencers. The Modern Blend combines smart adaptogens, clinical actives, and broad spectrum oil to give you overnight results.
My biggest setback was… launching Ambari during a global pandemic and trying to secure investments and retail distribution during a time when many brands were going out of business.
I overcame it by… showing how our unique value proposition of professional-level at home skincare served a growing consumer demand, and eventually securing retail distribution with two of America’s biggest luxury retailers, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.
“Learn as much as you can about whatever industry you’re trying to break into. That might mean taking on an internship, or getting a mentor. From there, it all comes down to long-term planning, hard work, and determination.”
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to learn as much as you can about whatever industry you’re trying to break into. That might mean taking on an internship, or getting a mentor. From there, it all comes down to long-term planning, hard work, and determination.
The thing I love most about what I do is… receiving messages from happy customers and seeing how my products have transformed their skin.
The most exciting moment for my business so far has been… partnering with Kourtney Kardashians brand, Poosh!
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my work ethic, drive and dedication. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if my parents hadn’t instilled these values in me from an early age.
I stay inspired by… looking at other female entrepreneurs. I personally know how hard it can be to manage a business, be a mother, and find time for everything else in between. I respect strong females who are making a difference to shape their industries and act as role models for other young aspiring female entrepreneurs.
The future excites me because… it is full of new and exciting opportunities for growth!
My next step is… to expand Ambari’s product line into new markets internationally.
Andrea Zackary grew up hard of hearing. Born in Jamaica, the Brampton, Ontario-based entrepreneur and mother of five relied on hearing aids and amplifiers for many years of her life. She studied Hotel and Hospitality Management and worked in hotels as a front desk agent.
At the age of 25, her entire world went silent.
“I grew up part of the hearing world and my signing skills weren’t great, so finding out my hearing was gone completely was extremely hard,” Andrea recalls. “And then I lost my job.”
Since she was young and had never had a hard time getting a job before, Andrea assumed she’d find another one. “I didn’t know the challenges I was about to face as a Deaf person looking for work,” she recalls. Having filled out countless resumes and interviewing for many jobs she didn’t get, Andrea says she began putting the pieces together. “No one would hire me.”
With a young daughter at home and her entire career ahead of her, Andrea knew giving up wasn’t an option. She made what would be her first pivot — going back to school and studying to be a PSW (Personal Support Worker). Upon completion of her studies, she quickly found employment with the Bob Rumball Organization working with Deaf seniors.
But something was missing. “I realized I wanted to do more for the Deaf community,” Andrea says. “I wasn’t fulfilled in the work I was doing.”
Around the same time, Andrea’s daughter was being bullied at school. “I was part of the parent council and was involved in my daughter’s school,” Andrea says. “But when the other kids would see us using ASL [American Sign Language] they would give her a hard time on the playground, bullying her for being a CODA [Child Of Deaf Adults].”
“My daughter needed to know she wasn’t alone. She needed to know there were other kids like her with Deaf parents.”
“My daughter needed to know she wasn’t alone. She needed to know there were other kids like her with Deaf parents.” This was the inspiration Andrea needed. An idea was brewing that would start out as a side hustle offering a solution to a problem she saw in her community, and that would eventually grow into an award-winning business.
In 2014, it began with an “old-fashioned,” family day event, with games and activities, bouncy castles, and a BBQ — all accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and their families. “At the event, Deaf individuals had access to ASL — something that’s not always available to them — and their hearing family members had an opportunity to connect with others in the community,” Andrea recalls.
Events like this one were so greatly needed in the Deaf community that Andrea’s business took off organically. Over the next few years, Andrea worked to build out her brand, hosting a variety of different events from farm trips, to paint nights, to summer BBQs, and more.
Today, Def Events & Beyond Inc. (DEB) has a mandate of building connections between the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Hearing communities within the GTA, through inclusive, family-friendly social events. Andrea’s tagline for the business is Play. Laugh. Socialize. Bringing Diverse Communities Together — and she has successfully managed to bridge a gap between a number of communities.
In the years since DEB’s inception, Andrea has been featured on CTV News and received a Young Professional of the Year Award, a Brampton Board of Trade Top 40 Under 40 Award, and a Brampton Accessibility in Business Award. Andrea is also featured among 1,000+ other successful, award-winning entrepreneurs in the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub’s See It. Be It. Database.
But none of her success came without challenges and roadblocks.
With no prior business experience, Andrea decided to seek further education in marketing, business planning, and entrepreneurship in 2016. She enrolled through the Brampton Entrepreneur Centre in a number of free workshops and business seminars. But for Andrea, participation in these courses required access to an ASL interpreter.
“Most often, the Entrepreneur Centre didn’t have funds to provide me with interpreters, and though I went to the classes, I ended up missing a lot.” Andrea says her peers did offer to take notes, which they shared willingly, but she could have gotten so much more out of the program with the right supports in place.
Advocating and fighting for accessibility has been on Andrea’s radar ever since. And while she says things are slowly starting to improve, accessibility is still a huge issue for the Deaf community.
“My dream is to build a Deaf Hub, which would be a multi-purpose space for social events, parties, meetings, and a café, where Deaf folks can meet and work and feel connected.”
With this in mind, her goal for Def Events & Beyond has grown into something much larger than an events business. “My dream is to build a Deaf Hub, which would be a multi-purpose space for social events, parties, meetings, and a café, where Deaf folks can meet and work and feel connected.”
In the meantime, she’s working on figuring out what her event business will look like in a post-pandemic world. As with many in the event space, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a major hurdle for Def Events & Beyond. “COVID came at us full on and other than my relaunch that I hosted in the fall of 2021, I haven’t had any events in two years,” Andrea says.
She did use the pandemic as an opportunity to work on her business, re-designing her branding materials and re-formatting her business model to include a membership platform. She also co-created a calendar planner with a local Deaf artist and educator, Leah Riddell. “I gave birth to my fifth daughter in January 2020, so in some ways, COVID also gave me the opportunity to take care of my home business,” Andrea says. Over the past two years, she says, the greatest lesson she’s learned is patience.
In 2020 Andrea also had the opportunity to participate in the Rise Up Pitch Competition for Canadian Black women entrepreneurs, winning in the business service category. “This was such a rich experience for me and also a great experience for Rise Up to learn how important accessibility is,” she says. “I know in the past I’ve been rejected from competitions when I brought up my needs, but they were absolutely ready and willing to accommodate and were nothing but positive throughout the whole experience,” she says.
To prepare for the pitch, Andrea said she had to spend a great deal of time with her interpreter. “I wanted him to know who I was and what my style was, so that would come across in the presentation,” she says. “The whole thing was such a beautiful experience and I learned so much about myself through the process.”
“You truly never know where your journey will go or where it will end. So, the best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is just get started and figure the rest out later.”
For Andrea, any challenges she faced as a Black woman working to build her own business have been amplified by her disability. “Full disclosure, a lot of the organizations in the Deaf community are run by Deaf white people, so I’ve never fully felt like I fit in,” Andrea says. “I feel like I’ve had to work harder to get those organizations to recognize me, and in all honesty, most of my recognition has been from the hearing community as opposed to the Deaf community.”
That being said, she’s not afraid to lead the way for others, hoping her trailblazing will have an impact and inspire future entrepreneurs. As such, she’s working as a founding member of Black Deaf Canada, a non-profit organization that she and four other Black Deaf women are working to get off the ground.
Everything she does, she does in hopes of inspiring her own daughters. They’ve seen her through successes and failures and supported her through it all. Two of her daughters have already started their own small businesses, following in their mother’s footsteps.
While Def Events & Beyond Inc. is a for-profit business, Andrea remains committed to supporting the International Deaf community, where she says there is often even less support in place. To date she has made donations to Deaf organizations in Jamaica, Haiti, and Guyana. “The more people who come to our events and support our projects, the more chance we have to give back,” she says.
Giving back, rising up, reaching out, and making a difference — Andrea is committed to the work she’s doing and is excited for what’s to come. “You truly never know where your journey will go or where it will end,” she says. “So, the best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is just get started and figure the rest out later.”
Lauralee, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Digital 55explains how standing out from the crowd and maintaining an edge as a musician helped her achieve entrepreneurial success in digital media and STEM.
By Lauralee Sheehan
Rockstars and entrepreneurs are idolised in society because they are considered “exceptional,” and maybe even superhuman since they represent a small percentage of the population. Similar to musicians, entrepreneurs represent the risk-takers who humbly work towards their goals everyday, without ever knowing whether things will lead to success. They need to be all-in on whatever they’re doing and not be afraid to express abstract ideas. This kind of passion and commitment is inspiring to the public eye, and serves as the fuel that keeps me going everyday. Many assume that the rock star life couldn’t be further from that of a digital entrepreneur, but in my experience, the two are eerily similar and intertwined with one another.
The Art of Continuous & Incremental Risk-Taking
During my early band days in the indie duo Lovely Killbots, we were essentially entrepreneurs — we had to build everything from the ground up from music to media (lots of modular development), experience design to marketing and social media and it was all about taking incrementally bigger risks. I learned a lot from the idea of building slowly and pushing further as you go and this meant building not only a band but a brand.
Over time, this transformed me into a digital entrepreneur running Digital 55, a media agency focused on producing knowledge-based, social purpose content, edutainment and learning experience design (LX). It started off as a one-woman show, but things quickly grew and now I’m leading a growing core team of 6 people and an ever-expanding collaborator roster who work closely with us on our portfolio of projects.
I’ve also been learning to maintain my edge as the company grows. As you grow it’s easy to forget the ethos of what you were trying to build, so I like to think about bands and labels that were able to always “keep it cool” no matter how much exposure they got or how the industry changed around them.
“In a song, you have layers upon layers of concepts and ideas and I think building a business is the same.”
Follow the Rules to Break the Rules
Another thing that translated from band days to entrepreneurship is the idea of following rules and patterns to eventually break them. In music, you have boundaries you work within like time signatures and beats per minute (BPM), but from these boundaries you are able to create the art and abstraction of songwriting through melodies and lyrics, riffs and licks.
I think entrepreneurs do a similar thing in terms of setting up a business, working within industry regulations and taking on a lot of responsibilities — but you have to colour in the lines first in order to paint outside the lines later. In a song, you have layers upon layers of concepts and ideas and I think building a business is the same. Recently, we wrote a song, Bliss and Nothing Less, that is about the Toronto indie scene circa 2008. We layered musical patterns, sounds, textures and lyrics and I think that idea is similar to how Digital 55 was built and continues to grow. It’s a little bit technical, a little bit abstract, a little bit badass.
Everything starts with daily habits. I’ve always considered exercise and fitness an important aspect of my life then and now. I exercise and walk daily to get my endorphins in. Pre-pandemic, I’d go boxing four times a week — this was my analog, no tech time. I think getting physical and spending some time with your thoughts without the distractions of social media, tech and all other things that might allow you to avoid thinking about things that are uncomfortable, uncertain or not immediately satisfying is a huge way for me to dedicate some time for growth in my mindset.
During my band days, performing in front of a live audience was a workout in itself — lugging gear, jumping up and down on stage and singing my heart out takes dedication and physical and mental stamina. Nevermind all the behind the scenes work that people don’t see, like rehearsing three times a week, using vacations to work on band strategy (and now business strategy), practising scales, listening to music constantly from a research and inspo perspective. If it weren’t for the grit, work ethic, and unending determination instilled in me from my early band days, I wouldn’t be where I am with Digital 55 today.
“I used to think that the most important aspect in running Digital 55 was to become known for producing fresh, innovative digital design and interactive media — but its true value comes down to the original stories we are putting out into the world and the content we get to produce.”
Standing Out From the Crowd with Social Purpose
Rockstars and entrepreneurs are educators who share diverse perspectives of the complex human experience and storytell in a compelling and provocative way. I used to think that the most important aspect in running Digital 55 was to become known for producing fresh, innovative digital design and interactive media — but its true value comes down to the original stories we are putting out into the world and the content we get to produce.
Like a rock star, the meaning of the lyrics is what resonates in the hearts and minds of your listeners and gets you indie darling status. Whether I’m composing a new single or leading my team to produce digital content across subject matters, the intention is the same — to “leave everything on the stage” and tell a great story that leaves a lasting impression that connects experiences, cultivates understanding, provides access to knowledge, and ultimately, to influence social change.
It is arguable that the pandemic has shifted what society traditionally admired about celebrity culture — excess, glamour, beauty, and social influence based on “non-essential” talents. As a result of lockdown restrictions, people struggling to make ends meet, businesses being shut down all around us, and our world forever changed, the pandemic has humbled us all. Now more than ever, we’ve put a greater emphasis on older values such as community, local living, mental health, wellness, humility and the gift of time. Most recently, Digital 55 produced several digital courses with PowerED by Athabasca University: Navigating Extraordinary Times and Digital Wellness 101: Optimizing Your Time & Energy which covers the aforementioned values in the context of wellness during the global pandemic.
Considering the rise of our dependence on technology which has only been accelerated during the pandemic, digital entrepreneurs and content producers are the new rockstars of our time. The public’s attention has now shifted towards what used to be seen as an unassuming group of brilliant nerds who live online — a.k.a. tech entrepreneurs. Although I agree that tech has taken over our lives and will be the future of business and life in general, music will always have a place in my heart.
It will forever influence how I show up as an entrepreneur and has a profound impact connecting with people on a deep and personal level in an inexplicable way. I’ve paid my dues in my past life as an indie-famous rocker, and I wouldn’t be who I am today, leading the award-winning team at Digital 55 if it weren’t for my rock star days. Being a musician taught me how to pour my heart and soul into projects that wouldn’t be understood by the mainstream, develop genuine self-confidence after experiencing failure, and adapt in an ever-changing digital world. These formative experiences shaped me into the fearless businesswoman that I am today, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Lauralee is passionate about instigating societal change towards diversity and inclusion, anti-discrimination, and advocating for women in STEM and digital media. As the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Digital 55, she leads her rapidly-growing agency to address these issues through producing digital content, cross platform media and digital learning course modules to educate, entertain, inspire critical thinking and instigate social change.