Announcing the 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Winners

Last night we celebrated the 27th annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, and today we are proud to announce the six winners of the 2019 awards. These award winners join the five recipients of the up-and-coming entrepreneur ‘Ones to Watch’ award category, which was announced in September of this year. This year’s winners and recipients span sectors that include finance, hospitality, technology, paralysis recovery, cannabis, packaging, fine spirits, and much more.






“Entrepreneurial trailblazers are defined by their relentless pursuit of innovation and excellence, and their perseverance and courage to challenge the status quo,” said Greg Grice, Executive Vice-President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “There are countless women entrepreneurs who have made their mark in Canadian business by exemplifying these qualities, and their journey serves as an inspiration to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Today, we’re proud to showcase and celebrate their stories and achievements as we recognize the winners of this year’s RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.”

Now in its 27th year, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program recognizes the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. The judging panel of the awards program is comprised of 12 judges who are notably some of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Françoise Lyon, President & Managing Partner,  DGC Capital; Karen Brookman, Partner and Chief Innovation Office West Canadian Digital Imaging;  Karen Greve Young, CEO Futurpreneur and Paulette Senior, President & CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The official announcement of the 2019 award recipients was made at the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards gala, which was held on November 20th and hosted by Marcia MacMillan, Anchor, CTV News Channel. 

Following yet another record-breaking year of over 9,000 nominations, the 2019 award winners are:

  • Kelly Ann Woods, Gillespie’s Fine Spirits Ltd, Boozewitch Beverage Company, Switch Beverage Co., Squamish, BC, Diversity Institute / Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award 
  • Jayne McCaw, Jayne’s Cottages, Port Carling, ON, Start-Up Award
  • Janet LePage, Western Wealth Capital, Vancouver, BC, RBC Momentum Award
  • Geetha Moorthy, SAAAC Autism Centre, Scarborough, ON, Social Change Award
  • Carinne Chambers-Saini, Diva International Inc., Kitchener, ON, TELUS Trailblazer Award
  • Brigitte Jalbert, Les Emballages Carrousel Inc., Boucherville, QC, Syntax Strategic Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award

The Gala also honoured the recipients of the Ones to Watch Award: Bean  Gill, ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre; Melissa Kargiannakis, skritswap; Melinda Rombouts, Eve & Co Cannabis; Dr. Dina Kulik, Kidcrew and Lisa Ali Learning, AtlanTick Repellent Products Inc. 

“We are proud and honoured to recognize the incredible achievements of this year’s award recipients,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO & Head of Events, Women of Influence. “As we embark on the start of a new decade in 2020, the success that has been achieved by this group of innovators and change makers is a strong testament to the bright future of Canadian business.” 

For more information on this year’s award winners, visit

View the full press release in English or French for more information.


Meet Mary Purdie: an Illustrator using her art for impact

Mary Purdie is an illustrator based in Los Angeles, California. She draws inspiration from her personal experiences to create art that amplifies discussions around topics like grief, healing, personal growth, and mental health. Mary’s mission is to continue creating heartfelt artwork that resonates, comforts and creates a community where vulnerable conversations are welcomed and embraced. Mary recently worked on “She Rises: Uplifting Words for Anxious Girls”, an illustrated poetry book written by TED Speaker, Katie Zeppieri, that takes readers on a mental health journey from darkness to light.


My first job was…barista at Starbucks!

My proudest accomplishment is…becoming a full-time freelance artist.

My boldest move to date was…moving from NYC to California without a solid plan!

My biggest setback was…self-doubt, comparing myself to others in the industry, and feeling envious of some opportunities that others received.

I overcame it by… trusting in my journey and knowing that what is for me will not pass me by.

The best part of my job is… creating beautiful art that connects with others.


“Prioritize sacred self-care. This doesn’t include manicures and bubble baths, but the activities that nourish your spirit and make your heart sing.”


The most challenging part of my day is…sticking to a routine that has a healthy balance.

My hope for She Rises is that … every reader feels seen, heard, loved, and that they know they are never alone.

My greatest advice from a mentor was…prioritize sacred self-care. This doesn’t include manicures and bubble baths, but the activities that nourish your spirit and make your heart sing.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… practice often. No matter how inspired or uninspired I feel, keep creating.

I surprise people when I tell them…I once gave up on my creative career dreams to pursue other things, but life had other plans.

The future excites me because…life is full of surprises!

Meet Margot & Marion Witz of Elizabeth Grant International

Margot & Marion Witz

Elizabeth Grant International

Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award Finalist


For mother and daughter duo, Marion and Margot, the beauty business was a natural choice. Elizabeth Grant (the mother of the former and grandmother of the latter) is the original founder of the luxury skincare company Elizabeth Grant International. Now, the three women work side-by-side. A successful international beauty brand, Elizabeth Grant Skin Care boasts an A-list following, with fans such as J.Lo, Blake Lively, Rosario Dawson, and Petra Nemcova, among others.


My first job ever was…

Margot – I was a Camp Counsellor at Camp Wahanowin. My first job in the city was as a secretary for my dad. I was 15 for both. 

Marion – I started working while still at school when I was 12 – far below the working age but I looked much older and needed money. My first job was at Woolworths in South Africa. I started in women’s clothing, then worked at the candy counter, graduated to the grocery checkout, operated the elevators, was promoted to switchboard operator and ended up as a filing clerk. My first real job was teaching History and English to High School students.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

Margot – I became an entrepreneur because I had the passion inside of me to do something different, and I was used to my voice being silenced. For me, being an entrepreneur allowed me to have a seat at the table, without having to ask permission for it.

Marion – I decided to become an entrepreneur because it was time. I worked with my husband helping him build his business and after 20 years I knew it was time for me to do it for myself. The opportunity presented itself and I seized the moment.

My proudest accomplishment is… 

Margot – My work with LGFB. There was a time I was their youngest board member, and they were having a deficit. One of the years I was on the board, my dad was diagnosed with Cancer, and I was awake all night just wondering how I could help. I started The Big Give, which was a charity party that 100% of proceeds were donated back to LGFB on the condition it went to the workshops that were having the most financial strain. No one believed the party was going to be successful, but the first year on a Tuesday night, I had 550 people, $20,000. The second was a Wednesday night 650 people, $80,000. The third and so far final, was over 1000 people and over $100,000 was raised. The Big Give was to me the little engine that could, and 5 years after its finale, I am still asked when the next one is. 

Marion – how the success of Elizabeth Grant has positively impacted the lives of the people who work for the company.

My boldest move to date was… 

Margot – Joining Elizabeth Grant Skin Care. I was originally a high school English teacher. A lot of people may not realize how difficult it is to work in a family business, a) you never leave work and b) never really have time off. But the harder aspect is earning respect from your colleagues, ensuring your team values your work and that you earn the right to be there vs just there because of nepotism.

Marion – Leaving my steady job with my husband and starting Elizabeth Grant International Inc.

I surprise people when I tell them… 

Margot – That I am a “Living Infomercial”. It’s a fun icebreaker with people who I have never met before, and an unexpected surprise to most “What do you do” conversations. 

Marion – I’ve authored 2 books – Stand Up and Talk to 1000 People, and Enjoy It! And Elizabeth Grant – My Life – My Story and that I love knitting.


“Success to me is not merely a personal accomplishment – it’s being able to know that I have helped guide people around me achieve their goals and improve their positions.”


My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… 

Margot – I have two pieces of advice: 1) do a SWOT analysis on yourself and your idea, learn the ins and outs about the risks and rewards of where your next step or opportunity can lead you, and after doing so, ask yourself: is it worth it? 2) Do not let anyone plant “a seed of doubt” in your mind. There will always be people in your life who want to give you advice on why something won’t work, or how something can be better, but unless they are in the trenches with you, it’s easy to give advice on what they would do, even if you didn’t ask.

Marion – Growing a business always requires capital – therefore it is critical to establish a good relationship with your bank. As banks require a good set of records my best advice is to employ a solid Financial Officer.

My biggest setback was… 

Margot – Feb 2016, when we almost lost the business

Marion – Feb 2016 when I almost lost the business

I overcame it by…

Margot – By open and honest communication with my staff. It’s one thing to restructure, and to get the finances in order, but it’s another to reduce any fear or “seeds of doubt” with remaining staff. I sat down and explained to each and every staff member individually what was going on, and also allowed them to have a conversation with me about any concerns they may have internally. I truly believe respect, honesty, time and communication lead to trust, and having incredible staff around me knowing that had job security was imperative. I knew we would turn the ship around, but if we didn’t have a team at the end of the rough waters, it could have led to a different challenge.

Marion –

  • Recapitalized the company improving and balancing the debt ratio
  • Improvement of gross profit – focused on reducing COG
  • Introduced a procurement department
  • Reduced permanent staff and hired from Agency when needed
  • Required Heads of depts to become more accountable

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… 

Margot – Focus on how customers are changing how they are shopping and being able to enhance /tweak what we are currently doing to improve our customer experience. In terms of the web and mobile applications, I would try to enhance the UI and UX. Finally, finding more of our customer forums via third parties to engage with customer questions and their experiences (I monitor these groups A LOT.)

Marion – Do more research.

I stay inspired by… 

Margot – My mother and my grandmother. These women are amazing in different ways, but they are so smart, experienced and passionate. More so, they are constantly redefining the world around them. My grandmother, the namesake of our brand, changed her narrative 70 years ago, my mother changed her narrative 21 years ago. It’s an unbelievable inspiration and education to know the power is in your hands to not only live the life you want to live, but to know the only person who can stop you, is yourself.

Marion – Attending seminars and always striving to be better.

The future excites me because… 

Margot – The future is exciting not because of the technological advancements, but because we have options. Knowledge is actually celebrated, women are encouraged, and we are becoming smarter in our global choices. If the future could be described in any way it would be: open and positive.

Marion – the company has turned around. I am excited by where Margot and her team will take it.

Success to me means… 

Margot – giving myself a strong foundation and opportunity of happiness. Monetary success comes and goes, but allowing yourself to add a strong foundation to living your best life means you are successful. Everyone’s wants and desires are different, and their definition of a strong foundation is different but for me, if I am not happy (and healthy) no amount of finances can curate a successful life. Also my customers, not in sales to them, but in connection to them. I have this whole network of people who I have never met in person, but online and on Instagram, we genuinely have a relationship, and it’s internationally. It’s amazing to me, that regardless of geography, language or age, I know about their lives, their family, their struggles, and their joy. The fact that people trust me enough to take the time to forge a relationship is truly humbling. 

Marion – Success to me is not merely a personal accomplishment – it’s being able to know that I have helped guide people around me achieve their goals and improve their positions.



Meet Brigitte Jalbert, President of Les Emballages Carrousel

Brigitte Jalbert

President, Les Emballages Carrousel

Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award Winner

Brigitte started working at the family business during her summer breaks, in the photography and communications department. In 1986, she joined the team full-time, and for 25 years, she worked her way up the ranks. In 2011, Brigitte was appointed as president of Les Emballages Carrousel, managing a company with a turnover of $110 million and 272 employees.


My first job ever was… A summer job in a convenience store located in Old Boucherville.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I felt a strong desire to ensure the sustainability of the company my father founded.

My proudest accomplishment is… The successful transfer of the company to the next generation while maintaining a human and mobilizing culture.

My boldest move to date was… Creating a VP Sales and Marketing position and having 2 sales managers who were also shareholders of the company report to that new position.

I surprise people when I tell them… That I did boxing and skydiving!

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… To surround yourself with good people, to practice true listening and to be confident.

My biggest setback was… I hired and tolerated for too long a person who proved to be harmful to the company.


“Surround yourself with good people, to practice true listening and to be confident.”


I overcame it by… Trying several approaches to improve his behaviour, including external coaching, but finally, our paths had to separate.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Do yoga, meditation, jogging, paddle boarding, gardening and cooking…with my daughters!

I stay inspired by…  Seeing the people around me fulfil themselves and gain self-confidence, especially young people.

The future excites me because… I still have so many beautiful and good things to accomplish.

Success to me means… Feeling fulfilled, free, happy and being helpful to people around me, making a difference in their lives.



A LinkedIn consultant shares the 3 most important features of your profile — and how to optimize them


Is your LinkedIn profile the best it can be? If you’ve created a basic profile for yourself, but don’t know what to do next, here are the three features you can focus on now to ensure you stand out.


by Leslie Hughes





With over 630 million members in over 200 countries, LinkedIn is the undisputed champ in the world of professional networking.

Yet, whenever I’m at a networking event and I tell people what I do (I help to empower professionals and brands optimize their brand presence using LinkedIn), most people sheepishly admit to me that they aren’t using this channel to its fullest potential.

LinkedIn is the most career-focused out of all social channels, and we often overlook it in our day-to-day activities because, quite frankly, it’s not fun. But when it comes to creating opportunities and extending the reach of your professional brand, LinkedIn is a very powerful resource that goes well beyond just job hunting.

Did you know that LinkedIn is one of the highest-ranked sites when someone Google’s your name?

Have you ever used LinkedIn to research a vendor, or check someone out before a meeting? People are doing the same to your profile. You want to ensure that first impression actually impresses them.

Today, regardless of whether you work for a large organization or you’re self-employed, we are all expected to showcase our personal brand. 

If you’ve created a basic profile for yourself, but don’t know what to do next, here are the three things you must do now to ensure your LinkedIn profile stands out:


1) Use a professional photo. 

Your photo is one of the first things people see when they visit your LinkedIn profile. You want to ensure that it showcases a competent and confident professional. Investing in hiring a professional photographer is a smart choice, but even if you just use the smartphone in your pocket, here are some top do’s and don’ts when it comes to choosing the right photo.


  • Look directly into the camera. 
  • Smile! A study by Photofeeler found that when you’re smiling, people view you as more likeable, competent, and influential. When you smile and show your teeth, these photos were rated twice as likable as closed-mouth smiles.
  • Choose a photo that is up-to-date. (No Glamour Shots from the 80’s, please.)
  • Dress appropriately. Wear the same kind of outfit you would wear to a networking event or meeting.
  • Ensure the background of the photo is simple and uncluttered.
  • Use proper lighting. If you’re using your smartphone, natural lighting frames your face the best.
  • Crop your photo to feature your face and the top of your shoulders.


“Your photo is one of the first things people see when they visit your LinkedIn profile. You want to ensure that it showcases a competent and confident professional.”



  • Upload a selfie.
  • Crop yourself out of a group photo.
  • Include other people or pets in your image.
  • Use a graduation or wedding photo.
  • Include a photo of yourself drinking at an event.
  • Use a logo or avatar instead of your headshot.
  • Incorporate hobbies into your photo.

Having a strong professional photo can increase your profile viewings and also increase the response rate for people who will accept your connection request. 


2) Create a compelling headline.

Your headline is a part of your unique value proposition — and can let your potential connections know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. Don’t use the default headline that LinkedIn will prompt you to use. Focus on using the right keywords that ensure you stand out.

The maximum character count for the headline section is 120 characters, so I highly recommend crafting your profile in a Word document to ensure you stay within the limits. The following formula will help you to create a headline that makes a big impact:

Option #1: (Your title) at (Company). Helping (your target audience) with (solutions you provide). 

For example: Marketing Manager at XYZ Company. We create unique marketing opportunities that drive awareness and convert clients.

This option is ideal if you’re responsible for extending brand awareness about your organization. Encourage your team to use a consistent framework so they can all become brand ambassadors of your organization.


“Your headline is a part of your unique value proposition — and can let your potential connections know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.”


Option #2: If your role is multifaceted, you can use keywords to let people know what you do.

For example, my LinkedIn headline reads: LinkedIn & Social Selling Trainer • LinkedIn Profile Writer • Professor of Social Media • Appeared on CTVs “The Social”.

Notice, I don’t use my company name, PUNCH!media, in this headline. I focus specifically on keywords that help to showcase what I do, and some social proof to let people know I’m qualified to help them.


3) Tell a powerful story in your Summary/About section.

The Summary (also called About) section can be the most challenging area to write, but it’s also the best real estate for your professional brand to shine online. 

I like to call your Summary “your resume with personality.” I recommend writing your copy in first person (I am) as opposed to third person (Leslie is) because I think the reader feels more connected to you when they are reading your personal story.

You have 2,000 characters in the Summary block to highlight your accomplishments, build trust and let your connections know how incredible you are.

If you’re feeling hesitant about including your biggest accomplishments, you’re not alone. I’ve written hundreds of LinkedIn profiles and even the most senior executives don’t enjoy having the spotlight put upon them. Most of us don’t want to come across like we are bragging. 


“You have 2,000 characters in the Summary block to highlight your accomplishments, build trust and let your connections know how incredible you are.”


Here are two quick tips that will help you to feel better about writing your accomplishments.

Tip #1: LinkedIn is the channel you are supposed to include your achievements on. People want to work with the best. If you don’t include information that can help your network see how competent you are, then you are doing a disservice to people who need your help!

Tip #2: The easiest way to re-frame your “brags” is to use emotional language that focuses on the results you produce for your clients or how they describe you. 

For example: 

  • “I’m driven to ensure my clients receive (results you deliver)”
  • “I’m passionate about delivering (results you produce)”
  • “I’m honoured to have received X award, which acknowledges my commitment to my industry and my clients.
  • My clients have described me as trustworthy, honest and forthright.

I love the saying, “when you’re inside the jar, you cannot see the label” — often you don’t see the unique value you bring to your clients and your network. If you really don’t know how other people see you — just ask! Send an email to a few of your connections and ask them to describe you in five words or less. I think you’ll be surprised (and delighted) to hear what they think about the value you bring to the table.

As LinkedIn continues to grow, and as professionals lean on this channel more for building up their network of connections, you’ll be happy you spent the time to optimize your profile.



Leslie Hughes is a LinkedIn Optimization Specialist, Professor of Social Media, Corporate Trainer, Principal of PUNCH!media, and author of CREATE. CONNECT. CONVERT. She was called a “Social Media Guru” by CBC Radio and was featured on CTV’s The Social discussing how to manage your digital identity. Leslie has been working in digital marketing since 1997 and founded PUNCH!media in 2009. 





Meet Carinne Chambers-Saini Founder of Diva International And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Winner

Carinne Chambers-Saini

Founder, Diva International

TELUS Trailblazer Award Winner


Carinne Chambers-Saini has led a 15-year journey to create and market the revolutionary product and brand, the DivaCup. As the only real innovation in feminine hygiene in decades, the DivaCup has completely disrupted the industry by providing the most eco-friendly, clean and comfortable way to address menstrual care on the market today. In addition to working towards her business dreams, Carinne is also a wife and mother of two kids, who continually motivate her to push for more.


My first job ever was… working as a fifteen-year-old at my mother’s retail jewelry kiosk in our suburban mall.

 I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was inspired by my mother and father’s entrepreneurial spirit—and I always knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

My proudest accomplishment is… creating a company that has changed the way people worldwide handle their menstrual experience.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I’m a dance mom, on the road on weekends to competitions with my 9-year-old daughter Maliya.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… to be persistent and to push past fear, never allowing the naysayers to stop you from pursuing your dream.

My best advice from a mentor was… to celebrate the small victories, savouring each step along the way, even if it feels like your miles away from your goal.


“Surrounding yourself with a tribe of people who are just as passionate about your vision as you are will go a long way toward helping you stay committed.”


My biggest setback was… experiencing executive burnout during the same period I had two children in quick succession.

I overcame it by… prioritizing my health and self-care, while trusting the team around me to provide needed support.

I never go a day without… reminding myself how grateful I am.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… take a Salsa class!

I stay inspired by… reading health, leadership, parenting and/or spiritual-based books that help me become the best version of myself

The future excites me because… when it comes to menstrual care, we’re creating An Inner Revolution for people everywhere, and we’re really just getting started!



Meet Jesse Finkelstein Founder of Page Two And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


Jesse Finkelstein

Founder, Page Two

TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White have 35 years of combined experience in book publishing. The pair worked together at D&M Publishers until 2012, when the company went into creditor protection. With their backs against the wall, they choose to take a leap of faith and found Page Two — a company that helps non-fiction authors navigate all of their options for publication, and helps organizations with their publishing activities.



My first job ever was… camp counsellor at a bilingual camp. I loved helping kids build friendships with one another across a language gap, forging lasting bonds while they learned English or French and breaking down the “two solitudes” barriers we often experienced growing up in Quebec.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was convinced that there was a better way to provide an exceptional publishing experience to subject-matter experts, thought leaders, organizations, and other entrepreneurs, and I knew that no one else was doing it the way that I wanted to. I also saw an opportunity to build the company with the person I admired most in the publishing landscape: Trena White, who is Page Two’s co-founder and the best business partner anyone could ask for. The mutual admiration and respect that Trena and I have for one another is the heart and soul of Page Two, and I believe that it’s laid the foundation for our success. 

My proudest accomplishment is… learning to own my sense of accomplishment and ambition as an entrepreneur, and doing it while raising a family. When we launched Page Two, my kids were old enough to understand that I was doing something bold and new, as well as trying to earn a good living for our family, and I know they appreciate that even though I’ve chaperoned very few school field trips and always take my laptop to hockey practice. They see that I can take great pride in work and great joy in raising them, and those things aren’t mutually exclusive. That feels like a big win for me.     

I surprise people when I tell them… I used to be terribly shy and introverted. I worked hard to overcome that and now I love reaching out to new people and spending time among strangers who might become colleagues, clients or friends. This is a good thing because Page Two depended on my (and my business partner, Trena’s) ability to do that!

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… hold on to your vision, but not dogmatically. As a disruptor, you’ll face naysayers and others who resist the way you’re challenging their practices and assumptions. Listen to the thoughtful ones; their responses will help you refine your offering so that it’s even stronger than it otherwise would be. And of course let yourself be uplifted by those who believe in you from the beginning – they’re the wind in your sails.

My best advice from a mentor was… my mom told me that every problem will have its own solution (which I call faith), and my dad told me that people will respect me if I stand up for myself, even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient for them (which I call chutzpah). Those two pieces of advice have guided my life and career, especially in challenging moments. 




“Self-care is a big buzzword these days in business and only now am I realizing how critical it is for my own sense of peace and well-being. Sleep, exercise, healthy food, and downtime — they are not optional.”



My biggest setback was… working at a company that went through a bankruptcy process. It was heartbreaking to see the end of a beloved independent publisher and it was a time of great professional strife for all of us who worked there. 

I overcame it by… relying on the wisdom of a great mentor and role model, Anne Giardini, who phoned me as soon as she heard the company news. She told me that if I could hang on through the grinding months ahead as we dealt with selling assets and dealing with creditors while losing our jobs, I would find it to be an invaluable learning experience that would help me build more resilience than I even knew I had. She was right; I think that experience emboldened me and gave me the courage to become an entrepreneur.

I never go a day without… feeling grateful for the privilege of the loving, prosperous family into which I was born, and feeling grateful for my mental health and that of my kids. 

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… read for fun instead of for work! 

I stay inspired by… spending time among my female friends and colleagues. Their strength, resilience, and creativity are astounding and I love learning from them.

The future excites me because… Page Two has been very successful in its first six years yet I feel like we’re just getting started. We now have an amazing team who are poised to run the company so Trena and I can find new ways to build on and refine our offering. Recently, one of our employees said she feels that the possibilities at Page Two are “limitless” and it thrilled me to think that our team members feel that way too.  



Meet Trena White Founder of Page Two And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


Trena White

Founder, Page Two

TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White have 35 years of combined experience in book publishing. The pair worked together at D&M Publishers until 2012, when the company went into creditor protection. With their backs against the wall, they choose to take a leap of faith and found Page Two — a company that helps non-fiction authors navigate all of their options for publication, and helps organizations with their publishing activities.


My first job ever was… working in a berry-processing plant in my hometown in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. It was mind-numbing work and physically tiring to stand up at a conveyor belt for hours on end, with the shifts ending in the early-morning hours. It taught me about perseverance and opened my eyes to my own privilege because I was just working there for a summer, not for a career. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had worked in book publishing for many years and believed that if we created a new model that engaged the author in a meaningful way from the very beginning of the publishing process, extraordinary things might result. I also met the right person at the right time, my brilliant now co-founder and dear friend Jesse Finkelstein, which made launching a company seem possible after years of my private dreams of starting something. Together we shaped the vision for what Page Two has become.

My proudest accomplishment is… building a thriving book publishing company while raising two little boys (now 3 and 6). That’s also been my biggest challenge, and I learned early on the best way to reduce my anxiety and guilt about whether the business or the boys were receiving my attention at any given moment was to create clear boundaries: for the most part, when I am with my boys I am unavailable for work, because I want to give them my full focus.

I surprise people when I tell them… that we started to build Page Two when my first son was two months old and I was still adjusting to motherhood.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… to stay focused on solving your ideal customers’ problems with the status quo. We’ve refined our model and our offering many times over the years in response to feedback from our customers, both on our own services and on their other publishing experiences.  

My best advice from a mentor was… from my dad, who has emphasized over and over indirect advice to me and through stories from his own career the importance of building a team you can trust – and then supporting them however you can so they can do their best work. My mom always told me “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and I think I absorbed that belief in the power of determination and hard work.


“Self-care is a big buzzword these days in business and only now am I realizing how critical it is for my own sense of peace and well-being. Sleep, exercise, healthy food, and downtime — they are not optional.”


My biggest setback was… experiencing the bankruptcy of a company that I previously worked for. 

I overcame it by… starting to think about what my own business would like if I were to launch one

I never go a day without… feeling grateful for my co-founder and the unfailing support of my husband.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… daydream more.

I stay inspired by… each conversation I have with an author about their big ideas. Publishing non-fiction books is humbling because I’m constantly connecting with people who are far smarter than I am. For me, it’s a great joy to be surrounded by leading experts with deep knowledge in their fields, and it’s a privilege to learn something new from each of them.

The future excites me because… we have made it through the chaotic start-up years and we have an incredible team who are exceptionally talented and creative and are bringing Page Two into its sophomore stage.  



Meet Natalie Voland Founder of Gestion Immobilière Quo Vadis And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

Natalie Voland

Founder, Gestion Immobilière Quo Vadis

TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


With a background in social work, Natalie Voland created a unique vision using real estate projects as a tool of economic development and urban regeneration, leading to the creation of over 3,000 new jobs. A Quebec leader in social innovation, Natalie works collaboratively with strategic partners to redevelop communities — earning her B Corp Certification based on her triple bottom line practices. A faculty professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, she has developed a new paradigm of real estate called Yield Development.


My first job ever was… my first official job was working at a video store where they also sold ice cream at a mall that was close to where I grew up.  I had many smaller jobs like babysitting and childcare since I was 11 years old. I wanted to work at the video store as I wanted to learn how to sell and be part of a vibrant community- everyone wanted to hang out at the video/ice cream store and I was in the full action.  I got to understand the preferences of the customers, and have suggestions for them when they came in. I learned the ropes on the paperwork, ordering, profit margins and “up sales”. I was 16, I was in a car accident that severely damaged my leg- my employers and the staff were super supportive during my surgeries and held my position for me until I was ready to come back to work.  I learned what loyalty was in business even in such an entry position, that when I came back to work early on crutches as I wanted to show the team my dedication to them. These valuable lessons helped me to become the leader that I am today- my team and their wellbeing is at the core of our company.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… entrepreneurship chose me.  I was a social worker in the health system for trauma and critical care, and my father fell ill and asked me to come to work in his Real Estate company. I agreed to come for one year “to help out”, as long as my social values would not change because I was going into Real Estate Development.  I had a pencil, calculator, and a stubborn will not give up. With zero training. I was not aware that companies I just took over were actually in precarious condition financially, that we had difficult staff and a negative partner, matched with being severely underfunded. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  The school of hard knocks almost knocked me out so many times, yet the loyalty of the staff and our growing client base made me get up every morning to show that socially responsible entrepreneurship is the solution to growing social and environmental crises. I chose to use my social values to push forward “re-inventing” that Real Estate and demonstrate that you can make a profit while serving the communities that we work in.

My proudest accomplishment is… hard to say what my proudest moment is; because there are many.  I have dedicated the last 23 years of my business life to lead by example and to make decisions that if reported back to my daughters, I would be proud of. I am proud that I choose to give my staff the room to be their own leaders and entrepreneurs in our company so we together that create a meaningful life in and out of the office.  However, when I teach or give speeches on my work, and someone comes up to me and says that my road has inspired them to work differently, or create their own company, or that in a dark moment, something I said to them made them get up and keep going to the path that they have chosen for themselves.  I could also add that I am proud when my two daughters see my example that life is not fair, that it’s hard but worth to stick what you believe in as my greatest accomplishment.

I surprise people when I tell them… that, even today, after all these years and leading a successful business that creates inclusive communities and new jobs, I count my accomplishment how many “no’s” I have turned into “yes’s”.  It always seems that people think you are an overnight success; that took 23 years in the making. It never becomes easy to be an entrepreneur; the very nature of being a business leader is that you must continue to innovate, adapt to continuing market conditions, so you are never “done”.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… to understand your responsibility as a trailblazer or a disrupter.  You must understand the “why” of what you wish to use business to solve and then figure out the “how” along the way.  However, this concept that it’s ok to fail is a fallacy: pivot, don’t fail- one road does not work, try another. To compliment this point, my follow up advice is- “never disrupt without replacing a solution to what you have disrupted”.  When you disrupt and walk, you have left a vacuum to showing what does not work in an industry that can lead to instability. As an entrepreneur, it is our job to find other ways and solutions.

My best advice from a mentor was… Nelson Mandela said many amazing things, however, my favourite advises from him is the saying “ It always seems impossible until it’s done”.  When you think of that for a moment, you can realize that looking back some of the best solutions to challenges are obvious. However, when you are in the thick of a huge new innovation or disruption of an industry, many traditional forces will push back at you.  The more successful you are at moving the ticker a little, the more you will get push back from the industry leaders that stand to lose market share because of your ideals. Like for us in Real Estate, we are proving that you can make market-rate returns and have a triple bottom mandate that includes social and environmental leadership.  Traditional forces in Real Estate often would see the concept of “profit now” as their rule of thumb. Then they would set up a foundation to funnel tax credits to donate to the very causes that they have been partially responsible for creating through their industry decisions. Mission alignment in investment strategies are now bearing the time of day- market-driven consumer and employee choices are making many industries realize the impact that they could have that could be positive and lucrative.


“You must understand the ‘why’ of what you wish to use business to solve and then figure out the ‘how’ along the way.”


My biggest setback was… oh gosh, there are so many!  I would say access to capital and finance our Real Estate projects were my biggest setbacks in realizing our projects.  We do not fit in the box of “Mr. Credit” in underwriting, and if our projects don’t get funded, we cannot make the impact that we can make.  The biggest recurring challenge is to convince people that doing right in business is actually a lower risk than traditional industries. The social values we hold will also not allow us to fail.  So over time banks and lenders are starting to realize the value of the B Corp movement as an asset to reducing their risk to be paid back their loan.

I overcame it by… I had a three-tiered approach. At first, I used many awards to demonstrate the ability of my company to be a credible leader in the industry. Over time we were awarded accolades in building reconversions, to community development, to sustainable leadership strategies, to entrepreneurship awards to show that we are making a difference. These awards we won continued to grow in stature and scope and helped the bankers to realize that we were moving forward and would not go away. I also chose to have private investments, even ones that were aggressive because an interest-only, non-recourse loan is better than closing my company. The last approach was to be the best in the industry and get our occupancy rates to speak for themselves. We are currently holding a 165,000 square feet waiting list, all our 1.5 million square feet of our current portfolio are rented and we are in final stages to launch three new projects that are another 1 million square feet of socially inclusive, environmentally responsive constructions.

I never go a day without… having great conversations with my daughters.  They are my inspiration and my grounding force. They guide me with their world views and make me realize why I do what I do.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… funny enough, if I had an extra hour in a day I would sleep!

I stay inspired by… teaching our work to others.  I teach in universities, speak to community groups, work with urban planners, and entrepreneurs.  These experiences often always teach me more just by forcing myself to stay current and challenged.  My speeches also allow me to see many other cities and I use those opportunities to learn new best practices in our field of Impact Real Estate that I can apply to my own work in my company.

The future excites me because… as we finally see the momentum of “Using Business As A Force of Good” as the motto of the B Corp movement.  We are finally not “crazy” but “inspirational”. We have an amazing and growing team, bankers and investors that have seen our success and are working with us to scale our work.  The phone is ringing off the hook for new projects and we can apply our knowledge to new challenges while our prior projects continue to prove through the test of time that our type of Real Estate makes great returns, loyal clients and staff and moves the ticker for social inclusion and making a statement to attack the growing climate crisis.  It’s a win-win-win-win proposition we are offering. We hope that our hard work for all these years will trailblaze the road for others to follow and inspire others to make their own way without having to leave their values at the door to their office. It’s a very exciting time for us!



Meet Aiko Uchigoshi: Head Pastry Chef of Miku Toronto

Hailing from Yamaguchi, Japan, Chef Aiko Uchigoshi brings 14 years of impressive knowledge and experience in the art of pastry to Miku Toronto. As the restaurant’s talented Head Pastry Chef, Aiko and her team proudly make every delicious dessert offering in-house. She incorporates her mastery of Japanese flavours and French baking techniques into her breath-taking desserts and has been awarded multiple times for her skill in the sugar arts and cake craftsmanship. Chef Aiko began her career with Aburi Restaurants Canada in 2012 and was an important member of the Miku Toronto opening team when the restaurant brand expanded in 2015.



 My first job was… a cook at a restaurant in Japan when I was 16 years old. My plan was to save the funds needed to move out of my parent’s house by the time I turned 18!  

 My proudest accomplishment is… the awards I won competing in an annual sugar [making] competition for 3 consecutive years, specifically for young pastry chefs under the age of 23. I won 3rd place twice and 2nd place once. It was a lot of hard work to prepare for the competition. I had many, many long days leading up to each competition, where after working early mornings and long shifts I would spend the evening perfecting my skills and techniques.

My boldest move to date was… moving to Canada in the summer of 2011. The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011. The atmosphere in Japan was very heartbreaking and depressing. Three months later, I decided I wanted to move abroad. I had always wanted to move to another country and I was particularly interested in learning English. This tragic event made me think to myself “you could die at any time”.  I had this feeling of not wanting to be left behind, so I made the decision of moving my life to Canada!

To me, food is… my life! Eating delicious food makes me happy. At the same time, I can get inspiration for work. Creating great dishes and cooking delicious food makes me feel good and gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.

I first knew that I wanted to become a chef… when I was a high school student. I had to make a decision to go to university or start in the workforce. Ninety percent of my school was going to university. However, I knew I wanted to do something with my hands. I had three routes in mind: hair stylist, chef, or pottery maker. I realized that being a hairdresser was not for me. I really enjoy concentrating on the craft and as a hairstylist, you are always directly serving your customer. I also realized that it might be hard to make a living with pottery. So, I thought a career as a chef would be good since I had grown up helping my mother and grandmother cook, and it was always a big and enjoyable part of my life.

If I was not a chef I would be… a psychologist or counsellor, because people are so interesting. I find human behaviour and the human mind very fascinating!

The most fulfilling thing about my job is… teaching people about desserts, especially the science behind it.

The hardest thing about my job is… definitely the work-life balance! Even though I’ve been working in the industry for a long time, it is still very demanding so it’s a struggle sometimes. Another thing is finding a moment of silence from my thoughts about food! I find myself always looking for inspiration anywhere I can.


“Pay attention to the details.”


My greatest advice from a mentor was… pay attention to the details.

My biggest setback was…  when I went through management challenges at a past job. I had a negative experience working in a hotel in Japan where the management style was very strict and professional. After that, I opted to work in a small restaurant. It made me want to bring more positivity into the workplace. This experience showed me the kind of pastry chef and leader I wanted to be.

I overcame it by… developing my own style of leadership. In addition, moving to Canada helped me overcome this experience and taught me many things. People here showed me a lot of patience and understanding.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the people who I’ve met throughout my life. When I decided to become a chef, and when I moved to Canada, the people who I met at these critical turning points in my life gave me great advice. They gave my career some direction and helped guide me in life.

I surprise people when I tell them… I have more than an average person’s knowledge of space and freemasonry. Most people don’t expect this because I’m always thinking about and talking about food, 80% of the time!

I stay inspired by… people who push boundaries and create new things. And not just food — it could be anything! Just something new that people haven’t seen before.

The future excites me because… I can’t predict anything. Technology is advancing so fast, that I think it’s hard to know what to expect in my life, even in the near future. It’s kind of scary, but I’m excited. I’m also excited about the deconstruction of global language barriers. I think in the future, AI will help people who don’t speak the same language to communicate by translating everything quickly.

My next step is… looking more into vegan desserts. I’m not too familiar with vegan desserts, but I want to develop my skills in this area!

What leading teams has taught me

With a breadth of marketing and strategy expertise, Virginia is known for building and scaling high-performing customer-focused teams. A Business Strategist and Marketing Partner at ELIM5, a Toronto-based digital media company, she’s a valued member of the Women of Influence Advisory Board and an American Marketing Association mentor.



by Virginia Brailey






Leads are through the roof. Our customers love us. We doubled our revenue. Some of the best moments in my career have been successes resulting from the work and collaboration of teams I have had the privilege to build, scale and lead. There is no denying how great it feels when things fall into place and results surpass expectations. 

My most rewarding experiences, however, have actually been during the tough times. Years ago, I was leading marketing and strategy at a mid-sized organization facing growing competition, shrinking margins and integration challenges from recent acquisitions. The company’s sales were down, we couldn’t seem to get the new products delivered on time and employees were tired from putting in long hours. We needed to transform our product lines and our company in the face of disruption and figure out our new North Star. The President had built a strong leadership team — lots of skill and grit and collaboration — and was adept at helping us manage increasingly demanding shareholder expectations, but we were also stretched. 

Stress was getting to the team, and we were starting to see some bad behaviour. As part of the strategic planning program, I suggested engaging our employees to get their input and to help operationalize the strategy. In the end, it was not just their great input, but also their attitude that helped us gain support from our board to get the additional investment we needed to transform our business. Ultimately, the company doubled its revenue. 

It is not the moment of achievement that stays with me, but rather the willingness of the employees to pitch in to help develop the aspirational goals as well as the programs that put the strategy in motion. It sounds so simple and straightforward now — involve your team in setting out and achieving the destiny of your company — but it was not easy to chart the course and keep the revenue coming in at the same time. There were things I learned during this time that I won’t soon forget. 

Leadership is an obligation

You owe it to the company you work for and all of those you are leading to hold yourself to a higher standard of behaviour and accountability. Leadership is no easy task, and you need the resolve to successfully lead others — not just during the easy times, but the make-or-break moments and times of disruption, as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about leadership as an obligation to read Vince Molinaro’s book, The Leadership Contract

Stay true to yourself during tough times. 

There are always going to be tough situations — how you respond is what matters most. Stick to your core values, and if you find yourself in a negative situation where taking a stand is not possible, you can leave the room and keep your integrity intact. I think, however, leaders have an obligation to not only steer the ship in the right direction but also call out bad behaviour. That usually means staying in the room when it is really tough to do so. 

Believe in the good in people, seek to understand. 

No one goes to work wanting to do a bad job. As a team leader, you owe it to your employees to set them up for success, with the right structure and programs to facilitate teamwork and inclusion. I have generally found that people act inappropriately or underperform because of complicated corporate structures or difficulties in their personal and work lives. This doesn’t excuse the bad behaviour, but being open to understanding the context can help you to resolve it. 

To me, there is really nothing like that moment when a team comes together to chart a new course, venture into new territory and challenge to improve the outcome. A lot goes into setting up teams for success and I am thankful for the lessons I have learned myself, for all those who share their learnings so willingly, and for all the amazing teams and team leaders I have had the privilege of working with.


A new view of boys being boys

As Senior Vice President, Global Engagement for Women of Influence, Jan Frolic has the privilege of connecting with people who are doing the work to advance women and are looking to do more. Passionate about inclusion, she’s also the founder of boypro-ject, offering in-school curriculum to encourage youth to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity.



by Jan Frolic



I was just recovering from a year-long depression over Trump becoming President when I found myself at my desk, being turned inside-out, watching Christine Blasey Ford testify in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. I listened intently as she began to turn her life into a circus for the greater good of humanity. I was concentrating on her tortured face when my 16-year-old son approached me, holding out his phone with some image on the screen, and asked me point-blank: “Why is this me?”  

I could feel it and see it in his eyes — a cross between sadness and hurt and anger. What he was showing me was Shannon Downey’s cross-stitched rendition of “boys will be boys,” with the final “boys” stricken out and replaced by held accountable for their fucking actions.  This craft has gone viral twice, once with Trump and again with Kavanaugh.  

I had no answer for my son. No good answer, at least. Part of me was cheering on the inside, but my heart also felt like it was stopping and I couldn’t breathe because I hurt so much. And I was scared. 

I have a passion for advancing women, and advocating for girls — and the deepest desire to help my boys navigate this world safely and respectfully, and to be good humans. I want them to be successful in their own right. I want them to be champions of women and considerate of their female friends, but I want them to thrive in their masculinity as well. 

But what does that mean? What is masculinity? I was still listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s stoic account of sexual assault in the background. My brain was on overload, empathetic tears streaming — and at the same time, I’m trying to understand how suddenly my son feels like he is being held accountable for Kavanaugh’s actions.

How, as a society, have we created a narrative where boys are blamed for men like Kavanaugh and Trump?

Over the next few days, I researched online and listened harder to parents talking to their sons. I quickly realized just how often we use the word “boy” in a positive manner. We don’t. We call our boys “young men” and we call our baby sons “my little man.” In doing so, we bypass their childhood, their right to being boys, and make them adults long before their time. Not only do we strip them of their childhood titles, but we also use those same titles to demean and insult men, with reprimands of “boys will be boys,” or the negative connotations of the “old boys’ club.”  

We infantilize our men and adultize our boys. Men do it. Women do it. And we are teaching our children to do it. We are breeding a misunderstanding and distrust of the masculine. It is harmful for both boys and girls — and consequently, men and women. 

So how do we support girls, advance women, and have healthy boys who will grow into men who are naturally empathetic, equitable and happy? How do we create sustainable change, with gender equality at every level? 

Answering these questions was the origin of boypro-ject. It’s about starting at the beginning. Teaching our children a new language and a new way of interacting. Creating new paths to understanding each other early.   

My partner, Jennifer Johnson, and I are equally devoted to inclusion and equity and we have created an organization that builds out an inclusive in-school curriculum to encourage young people to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity. Our signature program is called Captains & Poets, which helps all genders understand modern masculinity. We are focusing on lifting the limitations we have all placed on masculinity. There is a Captain and a Poet in each of us as human beings, and our lessons are designed to recognize and access these archetypes in ourselves and to give permission for our peers to access both of these within themselves.   

With the right support, we believe the next generation will be in a unique position to bring forward a new form of masculine identity — one that is authentic and inclusive, that will organically create equitable home, work and social environments.


Meet Autumn Peltier: 15-year-old internationally recognized clean water advocate and the Anishinabek Nation chief water commissioner

Photo by Linda Roy of Ireva Photography


For most of us, the biggest thing we were rallying for at 15 was an extension on our curfew or a new outfit — but Autumn Peltier is not your average 15-year-old. Newly appointed as the Anishinabek Nation chief water commissioner, Autumn has already spent years advocating for water protection in First Nations communities, and around the world. Sharing the message of the sanctity and importance of clean water, Autumn is making some serious waves — from her debut global speech at the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden in 2015, to last year’s address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.


I first became interested in water protection when I was… 8 years old, when my mom took us to a water ceremony in Serpent River First Nation, Ontario. I noticed that there were signs all over the walls that read “Not for Consumption,” “Do not use for handwashing,” “Boil water advisory.” I had a hard time wondering why I had to use hand sanitizer and not the water to wash my hands. Then I asked my mom why can’t the people drink or wash their hands with the water here? And what does a boil water advisory mean? So my mom explained to me what it was, and that the community had been on boil water advisory for over 10 years. I was pretty shocked. I looked at the small children running around from the community, and how they had no idea what it was like to use running water, and I was so sad to have to imagine living off of an amount of bottled water per household. The next few days after that I did my own research and discovered that many First Nations Communities in Ontario were on boil water advisories for years. I thought Canada was a resource-rich country, and that we shouldn’t have this issue, and I wondered, why only my people? It didn’t seem fair or right.  

Being the Chief Water Commissioner is an honour because… it tells me that my Indigenous leaders have heard my voice and seen me using my voice for the water, to protect it and to advocate for my Indigenous people. It is an honour to be an Indigenous Youth and a female standing up for the people and for our inherent right to clean water. Who would have ever thought there would be a time we have to fight and stand up for water? 

My proudest accomplishment is… being invited to speak in front of world leaders at the United Nations in New York City. That was an experience of a lifetime, and even if I never did this work ever again, at least the world leaders heard my story and my concern because we all need water, whether we are poor or rich or different colours, we all need water to survive.

I surprise people when I tell them… how old I am, or how far I have travelled. Or how young I was when I began to understand there was an issue with water, and how it impacts everyone, and how we need water to live.

My best advice to other young girls is… to keep going, don’t look back, and if you have an idea, just do it; no one is going to wait for you or tell you what to do, use your voice and speak up for our planet.

The person I look up to is… my best friend Tori because she is almost 6 feet tall (lol JK). But professionally the leadership, Kevin Hart, Regional Chief for Manitoba; Roseann Archibald, Ontario Regional Chief (it’s nice to see a female Chief and that she can make a difference); Grand Chief Glen Hare, of the Anishinabek Nation; my own Chief Ogimaa Duke Peltier. Last but not least, my great auntie Josephine-ba, I will never forget her commitment to the water and her love for water; I was able to see and learn from her and my mom about our rare connection to water.


“Keep going, don’t look back, and if you have an idea, just do it; no one is going to wait for you or tell you what to do, use your voice and speak up for our planet.”


My biggest setback was… bullying, peer pressure and school. There are times when I feel like not doing the work anymore because people say negative things about me, or they feel I am not ceremonial enough or worthy enough, or I’m too young, or negative comments.

I overcame it by… accessing services for help, counselling and speaking to elders and healers.  Also having the support of my best friend; she’s always there for me. I’m not a perfect human, I’m still young, and I learned not to be afraid to talk to my mom or someone about how I am feeling.

I stay inspired by… knowing my great auntie paved a path for me and that she is watching over me.  Also when I hear from other youth or I inspired them to do something good for our planet, that keeps me going, as well as constant encouragement from the elders.

The most exciting thing about water is… that it gives life, something that many people take for granted and overlook. 

The career I aspire to have is… a role where I can make a difference. I aspire to be a lawyer so I can advocate for my people and the environment. My other aspiration is to become a doctor or nurse, as a helper to the people. I am young and my passion is to make a change in a role where I am helping people.

My next step is… to keep meeting other youth with the same passion and help inspire Nations of youth to stand up for our future and our great grand children’s future. I also hope to visit places where the water is considered sacred and meet the ones who understand the sacredness of water.


The Pressure of Performing

As CEO of G(irls)20, Heather Barnabe’s career has been built around improving the livelihoods of women and girls, both at home in Canada and around the world. With over a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather knows what it means to manage complex, multi-country interventions.


By Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20




“On rit pour ne pas pleurer” was the refrain commonly used by my high school French teacher. We laugh to not cry. He’d typically deploy it when his students flubbed the French language and being the terrible French student that I was, I was often on the receiving end of that phrase. He would take a deep breath, close his eyes and, whisper “Barnabe, on rit pour ne pas pleurer.” And then he’d laugh, correct me and move on. I watched him do this for years with his students and did not appreciate the importance of what his phrase meant until recently, when I needed to deploy it regularly. 

I have had the privilege to lead G(irls)20 since June of 2017. G(irls)20 is a non-profit organization that focuses on leadership development in young women to change the status quo and help cultivate the next generation of female leaders. Each year, ahead of the G20 leaders’ meetings, we host a global summit and invite young female delegates from around the world to participate in workshops and meaningful discussions surrounding women’s rights and global issues. The delegates work together to create a communiqué that incorporates a female youth perspective on the topics of the summit. The communiqué is then presented to the G20. The delegates also create a post-summit initiative that helps change their communities. It’s an incredible job and I feel lucky to do but, like any great opportunity, the pressure to execute is anxiety-inducing. 

In May, we hosted our 10th annual summit in Japan. For a number of reasons outside of our control, G(irls)20 had to prepare our Summit in a very short timeframe, operating in overdrive to pull everything together and implement an impactful event. 


Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.


At G(irls)20, we struggle over the decision about who we choose for our programs, because, simply put, the world is full of dedicated, talented young women, deserving of opportunities. In the lead up to Summit, there was a week where our keynote speaker had pulled out, one of our delegates was declined a visa, and another delegate called me up distressed as she was potentially unable to attend. Layered with numerous other issues that arose, the pressure of implementing a global summit with what felt like a lack of human capital, resources and time was already keeping me up at night. That day, anxiety kicked in and felt overwhelming. And I’m not alone — a recent Ipsos Reid poll found almost half of Canadians find the workplace the most stressful part of their life. Of those Canadians, half indicate workload is the biggest cause. 

So how do we navigate workplace anxiety caused by pressure and workload? I try to reframe the anxiety and follow these steps: 

  1. Take stock. Write down the details of the issue, list out the possible next steps, outcomes, and associated pros and cons.
  2. Reach out. Who in your network can help with this issue?
  3. Take action. You have to make a decision, so once you have run through steps 1 -3, be decisive and move forward.
  4. Prepare. What possible outcomes did you determine in step 1? Prepare for those outcomes with mitigating strategies.
  5. Step back. In looking at the bigger picture, is this issue truly significant or are there other factors influencing your anxiety?  
  6. Move on. I did not appreciate that for my French teacher, that refrain of ‘on rit pour ne pas pleurer’ was his gentle way of reminding himself of seeing the bigger picture and then moving on. Yes, his students were incorrectly conjugating a French verb, but they were still learning French, a language he adored. It’s good to be reminded that the best plans go awry in our professional lives —but we can stay the course. 

That particular day, I found comfort in his phrase and laughed at the absurdity of the multitude of issues coming at once. And then we did what we needed to — the G(irls)20 team kicked into action, going through the steps, and ultimately executing a notable global summit for young female leaders. Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.

How Shannon Kot fast-tracked her path to partner at Deloitte

A co-op placement while earning a math and computer science degree introduced Shannon Kot to the consulting world. A few years later, at the urging of her mentor, she chose to complement her skills with an MBA from Smith School of Business. In just seven years, Shannon had made partner at Deloitte — a feat she attributes not only to the knowledge she gained, but also to the leadership skills and confidence earned along the way.


By Hailey Eisen




Shannon Kot’s career path has taken her from an undergraduate degree in computer science, in 2008, to becoming a partner at Deloitte this past summer. Looking back, she attributes much of her success to mentors who helped her along the way.

The first was her mom. As Shannon explains: “[My mother] had been a computer science major in the 1980s, and I watched her career — from working in IT for an oil company, to working for the province of British Columbia in IT services, and finally to being named deputy minister in 2017.” (Shannon’s mom is Jill Kot, deputy minister at B.C.’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services.)

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Shannon took a computer science class in her first year at university. To her surprise, she loved it, and by her second year had started a co-op math and computer science degree. “I would say most of the professors knew my name,” Shannon recalls. “Perhaps that’s because I was really keen — but I also happened to be one of the few girls in the program.”

She did her final co-op placement at Deloitte in Toronto. There, she decided to pursue a career in consulting. She leapt at the chance to join Deloitte’s Technology Strategy and Architectures practice in Ottawa — a city, she notes, that is more comparable in size to her hometown of Victoria than Toronto.

It was in Ottawa where Shannon met her next mentor, Nousha Ram. Nousha would come to have an immeasurable impact on her career. “Within Deloitte, everyone is assigned a coach, and I was lucky to have Nousha, who provided a great deal of support and guidance,” Shannon recalls.

Critically, Nousha looked at Shannon’s background in computer science and technology and suggested that what Shannon needed was a stronger understanding of business. “She gave me a swift kick and said, ‘If you’re going to go back to school, now is the time.’ ”

Knowing she had Deloitte’s support, Shannon began to search for an MBA program that would be a good fit and allow her to get the most out of her investment. “I started applying to a few schools. But after visiting Queen’s and meeting the Smith administrative team, sitting in on classes and connecting with other students, I realized it was a perfect program for me. I didn’t bother finishing any of the other applications.”


“Looking back, I realize that the impact she had on me as a person and a professional was phenomenal. When you’re lucky enough to find a coach, or mentor, or sponsor who thinks you can take on the world — it’s a beautiful gift.”


Going back to school gave Shannon the opportunity to develop her business knowledge and leadership skills. “It was also an opportunity to step back and look at who I was as a professional, who I wanted to be as a leader and coach, and how to develop the confidence required to get to where I wanted to be professionally.”

At Smith, Shannon had the opportunity to work with people from a variety of backgrounds, including a number of mentors and coaches. And she garnered the skills and confidence to coach others on her team. “I learned to provide candid feedback when necessary, something I had always struggled with,” she recalls.

Here, a fellow student and member of her team was especially helpful. “He had been a high school teacher prior to doing his MBA, and was far more experienced navigating conflict and confrontation than I was,” she says. “These skills came naturally to him, so he would coach me on how to handle different situations, which helped me as a leader a great deal.”

Shannon says the MBA program and the year away from work did wonders for her confidence. It helped her solidify plans to return to Deloitte upon graduation, in 2012, and to work toward making partner.

Now that she’s achieved that goal, Shannon is happy to enjoy the moment — at least for the time being. “When I made partner, I felt very proud that I had reached something I knew I wanted to achieve. I also felt, and still feel, a great responsibility to those who helped me get here. I want to make Nousha proud and I’m eager to help develop the next generation of leaders.”

Her advice for others is simple. “The earlier you can start to know yourself better, the better off you’ll be,” she says. “Begin by asking yourself questions, such as: Do you understand the value you can contribute? Do you understand your own values? Finding clarity in those areas helps improve decision making and helps you solidify your ‘North Star.’ ”

Sadly, Shanon’s mentor at Deloitte, Nousha, passed away a few years ago. Says Shannon, “Looking back, I realize that the impact she had on me as a person and a professional was phenomenal. When you’re lucky enough to find a coach, or mentor, or sponsor who thinks you can take on the world — it’s a beautiful gift.”


MBA students at Smith School of Business build their leadership capacities through the school’s innovative team-based learning model and are supported by dedicated team, life, and executive coaches. Learn more here.


Meet Carol Deacon: A Chief Operating Officer in the automotive industry

Carol Deacon began her career sourcing automotive parts in Detroit. After earning an MBA from INSEAD, she worked with several large retailers and consumer brands on growth strategies, innovation, and turn-around plans, before returning to the automotive world with a role at Canadian Tire. During her six years at the company, she led the turnaround strategy for the tires category, helped to revamp the company’s store-level automotive operations, and established new loyalty and eCommerce programs. Carol decided to shift gears after having her third child, and, after an extended leave, is now back in automotive as Chief Operating Officer at Pfaff Automotive Partners.





My first job ever was… at the age of 13, working at a Hallmark store. It was the first of many part-time jobs I had while in school — almost all of them within the retail sector. I think this is where my passion for customer service and retail first started.

I first became interested in cars… because of the men in my life — my father always took pride in his cars, my husband loves being on the racetrack, and my son has grown an impressive collection of Hot Wheels. Without a doubt, over the course of my career, I’ve significantly deepened my automotive knowledge, and the industry continues to fascinate me.

I decided on a career in the automotive industry because… coming out of university, my first job was at a consulting firm; I was focused on building a strong foundation in business. I was assigned to the automotive parts sector, and while it may not have been my first choice in consulting engagements, sourcing parts gave me a window into a large, vibrant, and very complex industry where I could apply my talents. 

My favourite thing about my current role… is that it allows me to bring all of my knowledge and talents to the table, from automotive as well as retail and management consulting. We’re focused on leading change in the automotive retail sector, which comes with some huge challenges, but also some great opportunities.

My proudest accomplishment is… personally, raising three loving, independent, and fun children. Professionally, I’m proud of the digital Canadian Tire Money program. Canadian Tire Money is a Canadian institution and an iconic loyalty program; digitizing it came with numerous challenges, but it was an honour to work on the program and launch it successfully.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep! Unfortunately, that’s the one thing that is sacrificed with an exciting career and a busy family of five.


“Be ready for change.”


My best advice to people starting out in the automotive industry is… be ready for change. The automotive retail industry in on the cusp of disruption. It is one of the last sectors that has been influenced by digital and consumer trends. What’s interesting about this is that the industry now needs and wants people from outside of the industry to bring their experience, perspective, and knowledge to selling and servicing cars. This can be seen not just in new kinds of roles — dedicated inventory and pricing analysts, data scientists, IT professionals, to name a few — but even in the ways that existing roles have evolved. Because of a new sales model we’ve created (we call it our future retail model), some of our best-performing salespeople have little or no previous sales experience — the best salespeople are no longer master negotiators, but they’re intensely focused on understanding customers’ needs, and on following a defined process. There have never been more opportunities in our sector, and it’s one that wants and needs new blood.

I surprise people when I tell them… I once cleaned offices and bathrooms at Union Station in Toronto. It was a summer job while in university, and definitely one of my most memorable. While not the most glamorous, it helped teach me the value of hard work, and I met some of the most incredible people. 

My boldest move to date was… taking on my current role at Pfaff. After working at large companies such as Canadian Tire, many in my circle wondered why I was drawn to a smaller company in what has been a traditional sector. What distinguished Pfaff was its genuine commitment to customers and finding ways to serve them better — something that aligned perfectly with both my own philosophy and my career path.

My biggest setback was… right out of my MBA, I was determined to get a managerial job within the retail industry. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that many retailers still valued experience over education, and my resume wasn’t quite there yet. I had to explore other paths.

I overcame it by… taking a job in management consulting at McKinsey & Company. While I had intended to stay only a couple of years and gain some retail experience, I ended up staying for five years. I developed skills and knowledge that continue to be valuable as a retail and automotive leader today. 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my career is… it is a journey, not a race. Sometimes the best roles are unexpected but are the most exciting and rewarding. Be willing to challenge yourself, and go outside your comfort zone sometimes. 

The future excites me because… the next five years in the automotive industry will likely bring more change than the last 50. Between the changes in technology in the cars, the way customers’ behaviours are evolving, and the way all of us are going to have to adapt, it’s an exciting time to be in the business. 

How Dream Maker Inc is making entrepreneurship more inclusive

Isaac Olowolafe Jr., President of Dream Maker Inc, a Toronto-based asset management firm, started his entrepreneurial journey at just 22 years old. Now at 36, he credits the support of his parents, wife and his community for his success — and he’s paying it forward, with venture capital investments and philanthropic support guided by a diversity and inclusion mandate.


by Hailey Eisen






At 36 years old, Isaac Olowolafe Jr. has experienced great success in business at the helm of Dream Maker Corp., a diversified asset management company with divisions in real estate, development, property management, and insurance. He’s also contributed greatly as a philanthropist and is an active champion of diversity and inclusion. Isaac, however, won’t take personal credit for any of it — attributing all of his success, instead, to his upbringing and the unwavering support of his family and community.

“My parents moved our family to Canada from Nigeria when I was 4,” he recalls, “and I grew up in a rough area of Toronto.” When Isaac was 15 his family moved again, this time to Woodbridge, a large suburban community north of the city.

“Being one of the only black students in a primarily Italian community was certainly a culture shock,” Isaac recalls. And, while he recognized that he was outside of his comfort zone, he realized he had a choice to make — focus on the negative and sulk in the corner for the rest of high school, or make the most of it.

Being optimistic by nature, Isaac chose the latter path and quickly found inclusion into his new community through sports. “There are certain things that make people colour blind and one of them is sports,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.” So, Isaac joined the soccer team and learned to play Bocce Ball. He made friends and focused on all the positive things his new community had to offer — including a strong work ethic and business sense.

“I was exposed to a lot of the businesses built out of Woodbridge, such as real estate, development, and construction,” Isaac says. “And, my dad was also a real estate broker, so I was exposed to real estate not only from my environment, but also from watching my dad. I saw real estate as a tool to create generational wealth, not only to take care of your family but also to build up a community.”

At just 22 years old, and in his second year at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, he launched Dream Maker Corp. — then, just a real estate investment company. Eight years, and a lot of hard work later, he added real estate development to his growing company. His first project was a $40 million mixed-use condo development across from Yorkdale Mall. “I wasn’t a typical developer, and many lenders said ‘no’ right away,” he recalls. Throughout the project, he faced many roadblocks — but he also received much support. In the 16 years since he set out as an entrepreneur, Isaac’s business has grown substantially. He’s remained committed to his roots, however, crediting his connections and contacts with opening doors and helping him overcome roadblocks.

With a realization that the technology ecosystem is what continues to drive the real estate and development sectors, Isaac became interested in providing support and funding to tech entrepreneurs — especially those from diverse backgrounds. He launched Dream Maker Ventures Inc. (DMV), the investment arm of Dream Maker Corp., to fund early-stage startups in this space.


“Nothing good comes easy, regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.


As a venture capitalist, he believes that those companies that work with Dream Maker Ventures are innately open to different viewpoints — and he brings that to the table, no matter who he’s working with. “We work with the companies we fund to bring a diverse perspective to hiring and product development, among other things,” he says.

Their latest initiative takes this a step further. Through the recently-launched “Diversity Fund,” Dream Maker Ventures will make early-stage, seed, and Series A investments in tech companies with founding teams inclusive of persons of colour, women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, and indigenous entrepreneurs.

Isaac’s goal through this fund is to help change the narrative around entrepreneurship. It also makes good business sense, he says. “Statistics show that diversity not only creates a more positive work environment, but can also help companies build better products overall.”

As a philanthropist, Isaac has, for the most part, focused his efforts on inclusion in the startup space also. Through the Dream Legacy Foundation, Isaac’s philanthropic arm, he gives back to the community by supporting programs and initiatives that help entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities, and provides access to key resources that are critical to long-term success. This essentially creates a pipeline of diverse entrepreneurs within the ecosystem that are suitable for future investment by Dream Maker Ventures and other venture capitalists. Such programs include the DMZ Black Innovation Fellowship, based out of Ryerson University; Fierce Founders, a bootcamp program for female entrepreneurs; and Access to Success, which supports future business leaders with disabilities, among others.

“The challenge most entrepreneurs of any diverse group face, is access,” Isaac says. “Access to mentorship, funding, and resources.” The access he was given when he was starting out is what he hopes to provide for others. The Black Innovation Fellowship, for example, is the first fellowship program in Canada to provide startups led by Black entrepreneurs with mentorship, events, industry connections, capital, and an alumni network to support growth.

“This is a five-year initiative, and I hope that in five years there’s no need for a program like this — that it will be normal to go into any incubator and see black-led, female-led, and other diverse population-led startups,” Isaac says.

In the future Isaac envisions, his daughters, now 4, 6, and 9, won’t face challenges specifically because of their gender or race. For now, however, he’s focused on teaching them about the value of hard work. “Nothing good comes easy,” he says. “Regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.”


What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.



Meet Dr. Yolanda Kirkham: A physician caring for women through all of life’s transitions

Dr. Yolanda Kirkham is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto. After her Masters’s and medical degrees at the University of British Columbia, she moved to Toronto to pursue her OBGYN career path. She cares for women through all of life’s transitions. She delivers babies and performs minimally invasive surgery at St Joseph’s Health Centre Toronto and Women’s College Hospital. She believes in arming and supporting patients with accurate health information to make smart, individualized treatment decisions. Dr. Kirkham enjoys and devotes time to patient education and outreach through online, print, and TV media avenues. She has contributed expert content and articles to Best Health Magazine, Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, Flare, Fashion Magazine, Globe & Mail, Global News, The Kit, The Loop, and Women’s Post. She can be seen discussing menstruation, birth, and female anatomy on Dr. Jen Gunter’s streaming docuseries, Jensplaining, on CBC GEM. When she’s not juggling work life with mom’s life, she is at her piano and dabbles in stand-up comedy.





My first job ever was… cruise line check-in agent. Destination: Alaska.

I decided to become a Physician because… the human body is fascinating and the role allows me to marry my love for helping people with the continuity of care and interaction in women’s health. 

I chose to specialize in my area because… obstetrics and gynecology affords me the opportunity to care for girls, women, and people with uteri throughout their lifetime. I can see them through childhood skin conditions, anatomy variations, puberty, pregnancy, birth, fertility and sexuality struggles, and menopause. When patients tell me they feel validated and have relief from their disabling pain or heavy menstrual bleeding, I feel personally rewarded and privileged to be part of their care. The surprising physical attraction I felt toward performing surgery also drove me into this specialty. 

My proudest accomplishment is… stepping out from what’s expected of me as a woman of colour.  My mother raised me right and gave me the confidence to keep going in whichever directions I chose. 

My boldest move to date was…having a baby.  

My best advice to women dealing with health-related stigmas at work is… to find someone who understands and can help to educate others about your condition if you are ready to share.  Sharing your experiences in a safe place allows others to do the same. Awareness builds compassion. 


“Perseverance pays off.”


My best advice from a mentor was…perseverance pays off. 

The best thing about my job is… connecting with patients, hearing their stories, and earning their trust so I can help them medically or surgically. It’s a great day whenever I bring new lives into the world, help diagnose a young woman with endometriosis, counsel a family through miscarriage, save a twisted ovary in surgery. 

The most challenging thing about my job is… helping patients wade through the misinformation on the internet and social media to arrive at the many available options for treatment that have scientific and clinical evidence. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my perfect day(dream) would start off with sipping a cup of tea and the style or entertainment section of the newspaper while listening to Queen. 

I stay inspired by… surrounding myself by those who love and support me. I try to find inspiration in other people’s achievements. I try to give myself time to think about how to spice up my life when I get restless with every day.

The future excites me because… it is what I want to make of it.


Meet Geetha Moorthy Founder of SAAAC Autism Centre And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Award Finalist

Geetha Moorthy

Founder, SAAAC Autism Centre

Social Change Award Finalist


Geetha founded the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre (SAAAC) in direct response to the growing need for awareness and support for South Asian families impacted by ASD and related developmental disorders. The centre began with two families, a handful of volunteers, and minimal resources. Today, it’s a full-fledged centre composed of a multidisciplinary team and more than 200 volunteers, serving 300 families impacted by autism.


My first job ever was… accounting Clerk at John Keels Holding Company in Sri-Lanka

I chose my career path because… my path to my current career was never really linear. Growing up I wanted to be a doctor, but that wasn’t in the cards so I entered into accounting. Being an accountant helped me provide for my family – but finding my passion came later in my life as my family life settled. I wanted to help families to be independent and making changes within our community was very rewarding. With that, SAAAC was born.

My proudest accomplishment is… is growing the SAAAC Autism Centre from just a handful of families and volunteers from the basement of my home to serving over 400 families and training 150 volunteers annually in our 11,000 sq. ft facility.

My boldest move to date was… quitting my job as a controller to run a not-for-profit organization, with no pay, and no experience in the field of developmental health services

I surprise people when I tell them… that I had no real knowledge about autism before starting the SAAAC Autism Centre, and that it was my classical dance organization that drove me to my first encounter with individuals with autism.

My best advice from a mentor was… my greatest mentors were my parents. Their generosity, hard work, and thoughtfulness have significantly developed my character. Their advice to me was that our actions matter – that even if you are helping just one person, that thoughtful action helps create a ripple effect that can be felt far and wide. Because of my parents, I know that the work we are doing at the SAAAC Autism Centre is not just helping children and youth with ASD, but also helping build a more supportive and inclusive society.


“Why are you doing this? If the answer you provide moves you to action, that is all you need to move forward.”


My biggest setback was… starting my life again in Canada as a refugee after fleeing Sri Lanka’s civil war. 

I overcame it by… relying on the support of my family and friends was one of the biggest ways I overcame the initial shock of arriving in Canada as a refugee. Also, the opportunities given by Canada made me a better and stronger person

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… dance more 

I stay inspired by… continually engaging with the children, families and volunteers at the SAAAC Autism Centre. Hearing their stories, seeing their growth, and helping them accomplish their goals, keeps me inspired every day. 

The future excites me because… I get to work collaboratively with incredible stakeholders to find solutions to help children and families living with ASD. There is a lot of work to be done within the ASD landscape in Canada, and working collectively with passionate, intelligent, and creative people to positively impact lives is incredibly exciting for me. 

My next step is… to help build our Centre’s capacity to begin international development work. There are many countries around the world that have little to no autism support capacity. It is my hope that the SAAAC Autism Centre can facilitate partnerships and help build meaningful services that can provide under-resourced communities access to critical ASD support. In addition, I will look to fuse my two passions: arts and autism support. In the coming years, I, along with my team, will look enhance our art-based programming to provide greater opportunities for artistic growth. The programs will look to highlight student development and skill through various public performances such as music and art exhibitions. Look for us on Broadway when we complete the first all-Autistic cast musical!



Meet Laurel Douglas CEO of Women’s Enterprise Centre And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Award Finalist

Laurel Douglas

CEO, Women’s Enterprise Centre

Social Change Award Finalist


Laurel Douglas is the CEO of Women’s Enterprise Centre (WEC). WEC is a non-profit organization devoted to helping BC women launch, lead, and scale their own businesses. Under Laurel’s leadership, WEC has become recognized as one of the leading business resources for women entrepreneurs in BC, and a best practice internationally. WEC provides business loans up to $150,000, advisory services, skills training, mentoring, and resources to women who are starting or growing their own business.


My first job ever was… selling vegetables at the Kitchener-Waterloo farmer’s market, starting at 6 am every Saturday morning. I was proud of my ability to pick up a handful of green beans and have it weigh exactly a pound! 

I chose my career path because… I like to help people and create lasting social value.

My proudest accomplishment is… raising my children. There is no real playbook for what you encounter as a parent. My kids are both in their early 20’s now and I’m very proud of each of them.

My boldest move to date was… when I was in my mid-thirties, I quit my job in the UK and moved to a 10-acre property I had bought in the West Kootenay region of BC, where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t know how I’d make a living. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I’ve ridden a bicycle across Canada (and it was uphill and against the wind all the way!)

My best advice from a mentor was… that being different can be a strength. When I was hired by the French company called Alcatel, I asked the Director why me- I was not an engineer, not French and a female. He said that’s why we wanted to hire me!  I’ve also learned to have a little fun every day, and remember to be thankful for it. In other words, embrace differences and cultivate gratitude.


“Model the behaviours and values you want from your people. Employ servant leadership. Always take the high road.”


My biggest setback was… probably when 6 people in my family died in a year, including both my parents. That derailed my life for a while, understandably… but I learned how resilient I am through that experience, and it helped me reevaluate my priorities and reinvent myself. 

I overcame it by… quitting my job and moving back to Canada, then changing careers. When your personal landscape is altered so dramatically, it’s time for reflection. I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life back in Canada (after living abroad for almost 10 years), and that I wanted a life that was better aligned with my values. I’ve been leading nonprofits in the economic development field for almost 22 years. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… exercise by taking a walk in nature more often.

I stay inspired by… studying the teachings of great leaders, walking in nature, practicing my faith and participating in a couple of study and leadership peer mentoring groups.

The future excites me because… life is an adventure and there is always something new to learn.

My next step is … a new adventure. Always.



How Theresa Keeping is building opportunities in her native Newfoundland


Theresa Keeping, owner of the Port of Stephenville, is the quintessential serial entrepreneur, with over forty years of experience building several businesses. But it wasn’t until she moved back to Newfoundland — where she was born and raised — that her entrepreneurial aspirations have been connected to revitalizing the area her ancestors have called home for over a century.


by Shelley White




Over the span of 40 years in business, Theresa Keeping’s life has come full circle.

Theresa is the CEO and owner of the Port of Stephenville, located on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. The port is a Transport Canada-approved facility, bringing in international and domestic ships year-round. It’s a part of the country that Theresa knows well — she was born and raised in the area, the fifth child in a family of 11 children.

But like many Newfoundlanders, Theresa moved away from Newfoundland to Fort McMurray, Alberta in the 70s, to pursue career opportunities. Over the next three decades, she would successfully launch and develop several businesses in Fort McMurray, including a printing, promo and sign company and a commercial development and real estate firm.

Theresa returned to her native Newfoundland in 2007, investing in and acquiring more businesses when the Port of Stephenville opportunity arose.

“My partner and I had a business building ocean-front subdivisions, and were leasing an ocean-view property to a gentleman from Charlotte, North Carolina. He introduced us to investment into this port which was being offered for sale,” Theresa says. She became a minority investor in the port in 2012, took over as majority shareholder in 2015, and recently bought out the last three shareholders to become the sole owner.

Theresa says it has felt very special to own and develop the land that her family once called home. A woman of both French and Indigenous heritage, Theresa is a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. Her Acadian ancestors settled in Stephenville from Cape Breton in 1848, and her Indigenous ancestors originated there too.

“The mountain behind the port is called Indian Head, and most of the people that lived around there were Mi’kmaq. So for me, it was gratifying to be able to be back on the soil where there were footprints from former family,” she says.

Theresa has big plans for the port site over the next few years, including developing a mining facility from an existing granite quarry, fin-fish and shellfish aquaculture facilities, a soil enhancement business, and alternative energy projects such as wind farms.

The idea for the soil enhancement business originated from a former paper mill site that adjoins the port. “Many tonnes of wood chips and decomposed bark were being stockpiled on the property for years. They have very little value in the raw, but when it comes to soil enhancement, they are like liquid gold,” she says.

Her drive to develop the port site is borne out of both her keen ability to spot opportunity and a desire to bring new energy — and jobs — to the area.

“It’s much needed,” she says. “This part of the coast in western Newfoundland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We would like to see more young people able to stay home or return home, and also bring immigrant populations into the area.”


“After school, my children would come to the office where I was, do their homework and play there, before we went back home to have dinner, I involved them into my life so I could be with them, they could be with me, and we could be a part of each other’s lives.”


With such ambitious plans, raising capital is an ongoing challenge. Theresa says her relationship with BDC, the bank of entrepreneurs, has been extremely helpful.

“When we first started in 2015 with the port, I tapped into some assistance with them — not a large amount, but just enough to make sure our operations would be smooth. Since then, what I really like about BDC is the fact that they seem to really care about what they fund. They give you the opportunity to meet their people, something I find more difficult with other institutions,” she says, adding, “I really like the personal touch. Computers are wonderful, but I like people’s faces too.”

Another boon of Theresa’s relationship with BDC was their suggestion she get involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) — an initiative that BDC supports. As part of this program, the Port of Stephenville was paired up with an intern, Matthew Mather, a third-year student of management engineering at the University of Waterloo. Matthew spent this past summer working with the Port of Stephenville on an integrated management software platform to automate, plan and support all the on-going operations and future projects.

“As we build, we would like to be able to more easily manage everything. We have different entities — as many as seven before we’re finished — so, we need to keep a really good handle on them and grow with the business,” Theresa says.

With Matthew’s help, they are well on their way to developing the platform, she adds.

“Matthew was a great asset and gave us the knowledge of how to get started doing this,” she says. “He’s very knowledgeable and has assisted us in ways that we didn’t think would happen.”

In keeping with the Newfoundland way, Matthew was invited to visit Theresa and her team for a week to get to know everyone, and he was excited to take part in a traditional rite of passage, being “screeched in.” (The ceremony involves the kissing of a cod, among other things.)

“Now he’s an honorary Newfoundlander,” she says.

Theresa says she would definitely recommend the WEC program for other women entrepreneurs. She’s passionate about supporting other women founders, having faced her own challenges in the early days of building her companies — particularly the pressures of raising four children.

“After school, my children would come to the office where I was, do their homework and play there, before we went back home to have dinner,” she says. “I involved them into my life so I could be with them, they could be with me, and we could be a part of each other’s lives.”

She says she would like to see more support for women entrepreneurs to unlock the potential, innovation and economic power of women for the betterment of future generations.

“I would like to see assistance for women who are burdened with family responsibilities, like better opportunities for daycare, for instance,” she says. “Also, ways for entrepreneurs to find other entrepreneurs who are like-minded, so they can connect and build businesses together.”


The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

Meet Kristen Voisey: The Newfoundland Native who became Toronto’s “Cocktail Queen”

Without a background in business, but a love and passion for retail and cocktails, Kristen Voisey St. John’s, Newfoundland native, opened her first store in Toronto in 2011 and has since been dubbed Toronto’s “Cocktail Queen” . She is the founder and owner of Cocktail Emporium that currently has two stores with a new location opening early 2020 in Union Station, and international e-commerce site Cocktail Emporium is a specialty cocktail store that sells everything to do with imbibing (minus the booze). Kristen is regarded by the hospitality industry as an innovator and industry leader, she has travelled the world visiting distilleries, wineries, breweries, and cocktail bars.




My first job ever was… When I was 18 I ran the ticket booth for a whale watching tour in Newfoundland.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be creative on my own terms and build something I could be proud of led me to start Cocktail Emporium (I opened my first store in Toronto in 2011). Plus my love of well made, chic-looking cocktails, of course. I started the Potion House line because I wanted to design and curate a collection of beautiful products that people would love as much as I did. Making your passion a career is the dream, right?! 

My proudest accomplishment is… Having stores that people love being in. I feel so  proud when I tell someone what I do and they say “Oh I love that store!” 

My boldest move to date was… Starting Potion House – my own line of bar tools and glassware. That was a big investment and a leap of faith. I went to China and met with the manufacturers — that was a wild experience. Now Potion House has over 150 products in the catalogue, and we have customers from all over the world. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve never worked behind the bar. 

My best advice to people starting out in business is…You don’t need to know everything…you will be forced to figure it out! Better to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than not doing something because you don’t think you know enough. I knew nothing about operating a retail business when I opened my first store but I figured things out along the way. 

I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t be so hard on yourself. I would also tell my 30-year-old self, and my soon to be 40-year-old self, the same thing! 


Better to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than not doing something because you don’t think you know enough.”


The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… Being able to employ a group of smart, hardworking people, and getting to work and grow my business with them. We are all learning together which has been both fun and rewarding. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Work on my future hotel business plan….or become an adobe illustrator/photoshop master. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… One day I want to open a hotel, where I can my love for interior design and hospitality. The in-room minibars will be incredible. 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Cocktail Emporium is… Logistics (the shipping kind)

I stay inspired by… Travelling! I find it so inspiring to visit small independent bars, hotels and stores around the world – there are so many gems out there. My stores would not be half as successful as they are without my travels and the inspiration from these experiences. 

The future excites me because… Now that I have already created something from scratch (and something that is successful), I know that I can do it again – with whatever I decide to do. And with 8 years of business knowledge under my belt, so I will be much better equipped for future ventures.

My next step is… Continue growing the Cocktail Emporium and Potion House brands. The third location is opening in Toronto’s Union Station in early 2020, so that will be a huge and exciting step for the Cocktail Emporium expansion.


Meet Camille Jagdeo Founder of EDGE1 Equipment Rentals And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Momentum Award Finalist

Camille Jagdeo

Founder, EDGE1 Equipment Rentals

Momentum Award Finalist


Born and raised in Guyana, Camille moved to Canada in 1985 and attended the University of Toronto. Her defining moment in entrepreneurship was between 2014 to 2018, where she successfully defended her company’s name against US rental giant Hertz. Camille’s no-nonsense approach has earned her a reputation as a results-driven leader for her employees, as well as her clients. Today, her purpose and passion lie in mentoring her staff and giving back to her community.


My first job ever was… at Jubilee Industries. I worked in an empty warehouse at the age of 14 sorting donated clothing intended to be sold in third world countries. Providence Centre (geriatric care and rehabilitation facility). Shortly after my 16th birthday, I was hired at Providence Centre where I worked in food services.  After school and on weekends I worked in the cafeteria serving food to patients/residents.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… despite growing up with entrepreneurial parents, being an entrepreneur was not planned. An opportunity was presented to me.  I invested in an existing equipment rental company and shortly thereafter the person that ran the company passed away. I had no choice but to roll up my sleeves and learn the daily operations of the business. Almost 20 years later I still love going to work and am still excited to learn new things every day.

My proudest accomplishment is… facing American giant Hertz Equipment Rentals in a legal battle over the name of my company that lasted over four years. My stance and fortitude in defending my company and telling my story were the most rewarding.

My boldest move to date was… selling the name of my company for a substantial gain, to my competitor and rebranding my company.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I run a successful company in a predominantly male industry, supervising predominantly male staff and that I am not administrative support staff.

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… plan properly for slow and controlled growth, and be prepared to dedicate your time and energy to your company.


“Plan properly for slow and controlled growth, and be prepared to dedicate your time and energy to your company.”


My best advice from a mentor was… at age 16 I met Catholic priest, Father John Donlin, while working at Providence Centre. He was the single most influential person in my life. The best advice from him was to always do the right thing and you will find success and happiness.

My biggest setback was… finding out after 20 years that my life partner had been cheating on me for years. It was and is the hardest thing I have ever had to overcome. I was left standing in a storm and working harder than I ever to rebuild my life.

I overcame it by… staying focused on my companies, treating the situation as a business transaction and removing the emotional devastation completely.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend my hour on the street with homeless people. I would talk to, walk with and hug a homeless person to reinforce that I see them, and they matter.

I stay inspired by… showing those that thought I could not succeed, that although I am a female in the construction industry I am successful. Getting to where I am today and being able to mentor people and bearing witness to organic growth in my companies.

The future excites me because… I am beginning to implement my vision of creating a company that I share with my employees. I have the most amazing team and truly believe if given ownership opportunities they will flourish.



Meet Janet LePage Founder of Western Wealth Capital And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Momentum Award Finalist

Janet LePage

Founder, Western Wealth Capital

Momentum Award Finalist


For the past decade, Janet has been focused on creating wealth through well-selected real estate investment. Under Janet’s leadership, WWC has placed more than US$ 408 million in private equity and acquired 58 multi-family properties, comprising more than 11,600 rental units, with a purchase value of more than $1 billion. Janet’s success has afforded her national recognition and several esteemed awards. She is also the co-author of Real Estate Action 2.0.

My first job ever was… I scooped ice cream in my small-town ice cream shop, I haven’t been a big fan of ice cream ever since as I ate a lot of it! It was called the ‘Ice-Creamery’ and it was in Christina Lake where my parent’s house was.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be available to raise my kids and do something I loved. I didn’t find that easy when I was working a corporate job that required me to be somewhere for 6 hours, and travel on their schedule instead of mine.

My proudest accomplishment is… I built a go-kart from scraps around a metal shop in grade 10, became an incredible welder and won (being the only girl in the class), auto mechanic of the year.

My boldest move to date was… Cutting the golden handcuffs and leaving my career with a one and two-year-old at home. I would have no medical, no benefits, everything that I thought was security, and just trying to start my own company.

I surprise people when I tell them… I grew up in a town with 10,000 people which only had one stoplight.

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… Bet on yourself first. Everyone else is going to tell you why it can’t work, and you need to rebound from that and decide that it is going to work. Even when you fail, you are going to choose to make it a success.


“You are going to fall 100 times for every time you rise. Strength and growth are what you learn from the fall. Don’t hate the fall, embrace it because you are going to learn something from it that will allow you to rise.”


My best advice from a mentor was… you are going to fall 100 times for every time you rise. Strength and growth are what you learn from the fall. Don’t hate the fall, embrace it because you are going to learn something from it that will allow you to rise.

My biggest setback was… the first time we moved into a new city and we hadn’t done enough leg work to set up the foundation to move at the speed I expected us to move and so, I felt very disappointed. It has not been an ultimate failure, but in that moment, it felt like it was.

I overcame it by… investing time and building the foundation so as we entered other markets, we did have the right tools in place and moved at a more excelled pace.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read a book.

I stay inspired by… watching the lives around me become better by what we do. That includes my co-workers, the residents in my properties and my children in watching their Mom be passionate about doing something she believes in.

The future excites me because… I don’t know what it will bring, but I know that I have the skills and a village around that no matter what we’re going to do, it will be great. When we fall, we will correct it because we have done it over and over again. I have not always had that confidence, but that really excites me.



Meet Youlita Anguelov Founder of AgroFusion And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Momentum Award Finalist

Youlita Anguelov

Founder, AgroFusion

Momentum Award Finalist


Youlita Anguelov moved to Montreal from Bulgaria in 1993 with her six-year-old daughter, two suitcases, and $500. After a decade of working hard to establish herself, she launched AgroFusion. Back then, she was the business and the business was her — in a small warehouse where she would pack products herself. Today, Youlita has a well-stocked 35,000 square foot warehouse, a team of 21 people and nine production lines.

My first job ever was… when I was 12 years old, I was an actress in a play that took place twice a week. My part was only 10 minutes and I made more money than the regular 2-week salary in communist Bulgaria.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…  I worked for 8 years for one company and then 8 months for another one. I was always exceeding the expectations and still taking the initiative to do more but even with all these efforts, I found myself receiving little or no recognition. That’s when I decided to work for myself.

My proudest accomplishment is… to be living and working in this beautiful country and to have raised my daughter.

My boldest move to date was… business-wise, my boldest move was to upsize to installations that were 3 times bigger, meaning 3 times more expenses but now we’re the only ones in our field to have our own rail site. In life, it was to move to Canada alone with my 6-year-old daughter and only 500$ in my pocket.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I immigrated to Canada alone with my 6-year-old child and only 500$ in my pocket, without knowing anyone here and to an inexistent Bulgarian community in Montreal in 1993.


“Having a business implies serious daily problems and unexpected challenges, just don’t give up. Everything you need is around you, customers, business opportunities and money.”


My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… First, watch the expenses, especially the small ones that seem insignificant. Second, focus on the little things, the big things will come. Third, surround yourself with trustworthy people and delegate as much as you can. Fourth, jump in the water even if you don’t know how to swim.

My best advice from a mentor was… just build the monastery and the priest will come by himself.

My biggest setback was… to hire the husband of my best friend as general manager.

I overcame it by… letting him go and learning from my mistake that I should never mix personal with business.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… try to spend even more time with my daughter.

I stay inspired by… courageous people immigrating to North America with nothing and becoming leaders or successful entrepreneurs, especially women.

The future excites me because… of all the opportunities new technology can bring to help, optimize and simplify business.



Meet Natalie James: Owner and CEO of Vent Blow Dry Bar

Natalie James is a wife, mom of three, entrepreneur, creator and owner of Toronto’s most exclusive blow dry bar – Vent Blow Dry Bar. Inspired by the stories of female entrepreneurs she met, Natalie set out to take a detour and leave the security of a “good job” when she opened Vent Blow Dry Bar’s first location in Liberty Village, Toronto in July of 2017. Vent quickly gained momentum and an influx of clients as it delivered outstanding customer experience. Natalie’s dedication to making an impact through meaningful work is evident as Vent offers a space designed to save busy women time, empower them and build their confidence through a self-care experience unlike any other.





My first job was… I was thirteen when I got my first job at Lady Foot Locker. They needed my mother’s approval to hire me because I was so young. The uniform was hideous, but the experience was amazing and I learned retail at a young age.

My proudest accomplishment is… most definitely, my three kids. Growing through each stage with them has been challenging, but truly amazing. There is a quote that I love, that says “while we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

My boldest move to date was… for sure leaving a great career at the age of 40 to start Vent Blow Dry Bar.

I came up with the name of my business… Vent Blow Dry Bar or Vent more specifically has a few meanings – When women get together we like to “vent” and air flows through vents signifying what we do best – blowouts!

I would advise anyone thinking about a career transition to… have a plan, research and ask yourself all the tough questions we don’t want to think about. Having a dream isn’t enough, you need to put in the work and be prepared to make sacrifices in other areas of your life.

My greatest advice from a mentor was… aim for progress over perfection. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you will never start and ultimately twenty percent of what you need to know you will learn by doing.

My biggest setback was… my father going missing in a boating accident when I was thirteen. This changed the direction of my life but also instilled in me a drive that I may not otherwise possess. 


“Life is busy and full of appointments, we want our clients to come for an experience.”


I overcame it by… using it to push me through every difficult moment that followed. When you go through the hard thing you become stronger and more resilient. I truly believe that life doesn’t happen to you, it happens through you. I am who I am today because of the things I have gone through.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… grit. I have always worked really hard to stay focused on my goals and persevere when faced with challenges. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I don’t come from the hair industry, although I have always had a passion for all things beauty, I spent most of my career in politics and once worked as chief of staff for the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister. 

I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with people who believe in my dreams and encourage and support me to stay focused. I find great inspiration in hearing the stories of others through books, podcasts and networking. The support for other women in business has been wonderful.

The future excites me because… the possibilities are endless. There is no limit to what we can achieve. Dream big and get after it!

My next step is… to grow Vent Blow Dry Bar, expand my team and identify and pursue new business opportunities.

Meet Lisa Ali Learning Founder of AtlanTick Repellent Products And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award Winner

Lisa Ali Learning

Founder, AtlanTick Repellent Products

Ones to Watch Award


Lisa’s business idea arose when her two sons were sick with Lyme disease. While focusing on the immediate care of her children, she developed safe, natural formulas to keep them from encountering future tick bites, the source of the disease. As her sons recovered, Lisa was able to devote more of herself to the development of AtlanTick, a tick safety company, determined to produce the first all-natural tick repellent registered with Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.


My first job ever was… a paper route when I was around 10 years old.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I didn’t make a conscious decision about becoming an entrepreneur – it always strongly felt like the right direction for me so I took it.


My proudest accomplishment is… that’s hard to narrow down, but I am proud of a few things in particular. I was able to survive and provide for myself by selling my art, even having pieces commissioned by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to represent the Metis people of the region and to represent the apology ceremony from the federal government to the survivors of abuse at residential schools in NL. I’ve run a property management business for years, but I knew very little about it when I began – I learned fast, figured things out and saw great success. I am incredibly proud of AtlanTick, the growth of our company, and the impact we are having on tick safety research, development and bite prevention. Beyond all of these things, I am proud of my children and the relationships that are integral to my daily life. 

My boldest move to date was… deciding to tackle registration of our tick repellent formula with Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. This is a very complicated, drawn-out and expensive process, and as such has deterred countless small businesses from similar pursuits. In this case, my stubbornness has served me as a strength.

I surprise people when I tell them… people are often surprised by the variety of businesses I’ve run, as they all fall into such different categories. People are also surprised that I don’t have a science background, but that’s never been a problem because we’ve got a great team of scientists from Acadia University with loads of applicable expertise helping us out.

I knew it was time to launch my business when… I realized the importance of and need for tick safety products, which was unfortunately made very clear when both of my sons became sick with Lyme disease as a result of tick bites.


“Problems tend to always work out when I remove my emotional self from the equation and look at the bigger picture.”


My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… you must truly believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. You must also ask questions and really listen to the answers. Being observant and listening are the first great tools in your entrepreneurial toolbox.

My best advice from a mentor was… my dad always told me that there is no such word as can’t. As a child, I would argue with him about that, but it has been one of my greatest lessons in life – we often create our own limitations and likewise can erase them by changing our attitude about things.

When the going gets tough, I tell myself… I tend to pull myself back, mentally, from the dilemma I’m facing and try to look at things from a broader perspective. When I do that I can see that problems are often nowhere as significant as I may have first thought, which allows me to then look for and find solutions. Problems tend to always work out when I remove my emotional self from the equation and look at the bigger picture.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend even more time with my family.

I stay inspired by… I have an innate and insatiable desire to learn, to figure things out, to solve problems. I’m inspired by challenges and possibilities.

The future excites me because… I know that the work we are doing is changing peoples’ lives. We are not only finding preventative solutions to a serious and growing health threat, but we are also contributing to the scientific community, learning things about tick physiology that have not been known or proven before now. We are determined to help people avoid the often debilitating and sometimes deadly consequences of tick-borne diseases, and that is something I feel incredible about.

My next step is… when the registration process is complete, Atlantick will produce the first highly-effective, natural-ingredient, Health Canada-certified tick repellent available in Canada… and we can’t wait!