A remote work expert shares 3 ways to prevent burnout.

By Shauna Moran

I can promise you that this isn’t another article on how to work remotely. We’ve been bombarded with these ‘tips’ and ‘how-to guides’ for many months. While technologies and proven processes are useful, it doesn’t get to the core of what’s important right now — and that’s how we sustain ourselves and our teams when we continue to work remotely throughout a pandemic.

One of the major concerns now for organisations and their leaders is the fact that workers all over the world are becoming increasingly burnt-out.

7 out of 10 professionals have experienced burnout since COV-19 started, so it’s not something we can just shy away from. We need to create a sense of shared responsibility and accountability in coming together and promoting a different culture of working.

Let’s take a step back and explore the root causes of the rise in burnout amongst remote workers this year.

Traditional working where we travel to and from a specific location every day naturally provides a sense of structure, routines and habits. Although that structure can involve tedious activities such as commuting (we won’t go there in this article), it forms a pattern of set structure that enables people to switch ‘on’ and ‘off’ from their work.

When we work remotely, however, the structure that we’ve been used to is gone. Yes, we have more time, more freedom and more opportunity to create a better work-life balance, but not everyone knows how to create a new structure and form new habits. It can be a challenge to adapt without the new knowledge required for effective remote working.

On top of all of that, this year has brought less than normal remote working circumstances. For some, it’s working on the kitchen table while homeschooling their family, for others, it’s a challenge to live and work alone all day, every day while being in quarantine.

Overnight, we’ve asked everyone to find new structures, coping mechanisms, time management practises and habits in this new way of working and living. All while dealing with and trying to process a pandemic.

Organisations can put proactive measures in place to prevent workforce burnout, and they can equip their leaders to identify the red flags that alert them ahead of their teams feeling stressed.

And let’s face it— our work, especially if we’re passionate about it, can be a welcomed distraction from all that’s going on in our worlds. We welcome the hours spent strategizing and meeting with clients as it allows us to turn a blind eye to all the craziness in the world.

Aside from what’s happened this year, all research shows that those that work remotely tend to be more productive than their office counterparts. A 2019 study by Airtasker found that remote workers worked an average of 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year.

But when is too much work, just too much?

What’s the tipping point for us as remote workers?

I often find that we only learn the lesson once we’ve reached the tipping point. We can have everyone around us telling us to ‘take time off’ but until we experience the impact that overworking has on us as individuals, we tend to take this advice with a pinch of salt.

However, organisations can put proactive measures in place to prevent workforce burnout, and they can equip their leaders to identify the red flags that alert them ahead of their teams feeling stressed.

Here are three ways you can prevent burnout, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, manage a team or work on a remote team.

1. Focus on working smart instead of hard.

When we work remotely, the focus should be on output as opposed to input. Oftentimes we don’t realise how much more productive we are at home compared to working in an office. It’s important for remote workers at all levels to get clear on the main priorities, understanding that this may change more often due to the current climate. Once we’re clear on our work priorities, we can better structure our days and our time. We must be measuring ourselves and our teams on the output and decide on a metric that makes sense. Data will help us make better decisions when we ‘just want to answer that one extra email at 9.30 pm.’

2. Take time away from work in micro and macro settings.

Take some time to build the skill of self-awareness. At what times do you work best? What home environment helps you feel at your most productive? And finally, what activities and practices make you feel at your very best? Starting small is advisable. Maybe it’s that you begin a 20-minute walk before taking client calls, or you eat your lunch on your patio without screens every day. 

Time away from work should be practised each day based on what works for you. These should become your non-negotiables. Remember, when you say YES to that meeting, what are you saying NO to? The likelihood is you’re saying NO to you feeling calm and grounded. 

We need to have boundaries around work, even something as simple as reading emails first thing in the morning can set us up feeling frazzled for the rest of the day. 

Macro time away is longer chunks of time away from work. Organisations should promote that everyone takes longer time away from work, even though our travel is limited.

3. Get an accountability partner and lead by example.

When I coach leaders that are concerned with employee wellbeing and engagement, I first ask them how they are managing themselves. It’s essential to change the culture of our organisation to be about balance and sustainability — and frequently we need to change our mindsets to be effective at that. Finding an accountability partner can be a great way to ensure you switch off at a particular time or take that extra-long weekend that you promised yourself you would. 

If you have a team, start having these conversations with them in an open forum, asking them what their ideas and suggestions are around preventing burnout. Only then can we truly begin to normalise work/life balance and promote healthy and truly engaged work.

Shauna Moran

Shauna Moran

Shauna Moran is an accredited and award-winning executive coach who empowers leaders of remote teams to create and build more effective distributed workforces — so they can scale and grow with confidence. You can contact her directly on shauna@operateremote.com or operateremote.com.

Meet Fatima Israel, the head of brand, marketing and communications for one of the ‘Big Four’ professional services firms.

Fatima Israel is an award-winning marketing executive with a 15-year career that spans tech, telecom, professional services and start-up. As the current Head of Brand, Marketing and Communications at EY Canada, Fatima brings a strategic, data-driven and customer-centric lens to lead a broad mandate focused on demand generation, growth marketing, brand management, digital marketing, social media, PR, communications and corporate social responsibility. The self-described ‘overscheduled mom to three terrific children’ holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business, has been a judge for the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) awards for the past two years, and is working on building fluency in her seventh language. 

 

My first ‘real’ job out of university was… An immersive experience in resiliency, grit and versatility. In other words: I worked for a small business. Fresh out of undergrad, I had the opportunity to take on an 18-month parental leave cover for a Director of Marketing. The company was a fintech start-up in Toronto’s financial district, edging beyond infancy with just over 100 employees. The ambition was bold and our customers were global. 

During that time, I wore many marketing hats to drive demand for a complex portfolio through product marketing, digital marketing, marketing communications, sales enablement, events and public relations. I worked with a passionate group, from sales, finance and developers straight through to the CEO — and I loved every minute. True accountability and infectious, entrepreneurial energy were a motivating combo for me. I gained the equivalent of five years of experience in that short period, learned about the importance of culture, and saw the agile ways in which variations to sales forecasts can impact a start-up. Now, I recommend to all those I mentor to spend at least a year or two with an SMB. 

 

I chose a career in marketing because… Perception is reality. Marketing’s ability to understand that reality through the voice of the customer, cultivate perceptions through creative storytelling, and foster meaningful connections through channels and engagements that compel people to act is one-part art, one-part science. I found this juncture fascinating as I explored different avenues of business as a student. Marketing really stood out to me for its ability to: influence many areas of the business, solve complex problems (and test solutions), reinvent markets, create new categories, shape dialogue, and manage the critical brand of an organization — both internally and externally. It’s also highly data-driven, thanks in part to digital acceleration and the rise of martech. For someone like me who loves the unpredictable, and is driven by both art and science, it was — and still is — the perfect fit.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… Becoming authentically, unapologetically me. The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. It’s been a journey, but with experience and motherhood, I fully embrace and appreciate who I am — strengths, weaknesses, faults and all — without concern of judgement. Through this growth, previous self-imposed pursuits of perfection have evolved into pursuits of excellence. Achieving the expected has shifted to embracing the unexpected, pushing boundaries and being driven by the unknown. Along the way, I stopped taking myself too seriously and allowed myself to be more vulnerable, which has enabled me to build deeper relationships with others. The metamorphosis was gradual and quiet; the result: catharsis. 

 

My boldest move to date was… Walking away. After years of working towards my next promotion, achieving it and deeply investing in the personal growth and efficiency of my team, I was approached with an opportunity to make a lateral internal move. A new group focused on healthcare, operating as a start-up within our large telecom company was growing, fast. They were looking for someone like me. 

Welcoming the unfamiliar and starting fresh — new products and solutions, a new network and a new team — can feel daunting. I was proud of what I had achieved and the relationships I had built in the existing environment, but I also recognized that I was approaching a learning ceiling in my current role. As someone who thrives on learning and being challenged, I knew this would be an opportunity to gain knowledge about a new part of our business, help scale-up growth, and apply my marketing expertise and leadership in a conservative industry. I also believe things happen for a reason so, after much thought, I pursued the opportunity because there can be no growth without the right amount of risk. 

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I was an entrepreneur. During my third parental leave in 2014, I started my own online business: Forever Frills Boutique, offering handmade, specially curated, and globally-sourced children’s and bridal accessories. Blending the roles of artistic director and business owner, I built an e-commerce enabled website; established a brand identity for the company; drove traffic through paid media, social ads and Facebook influencer groups; and grew customer loyalty through great service, listening to customers, and bringing their unique vision to life. What started as a fun creative outlet turned into a high-functioning business that I continued for three years, while balancing my full-time corporate career as a Marketing Director. There were many 18- and 20-hour days before I sold the business in 2017, but they were some of the best. When you love what you do, it never feels like you’ve worked a day in your life. 

 

Running my own business taught me… The 3 C’s: customer, connection and channel. When you understand your client — what motivates, excites and challenges them — you can differentiate your brand and connect with them on a deeper level. This builds loyalty and sets the stage for long-lasting relationships. Many of my clients became friends that I still stay connected to today. It also allows you to create omnichannel and personalized experiences, while delivering innovative products that resonate and meet unique needs. That’s relevant for any business. 

 

“Don’t be too busy to meet people. That’s where inspiration happens and where new opportunities arise. Being busy is too easy. Make time. The journey is as important as the destination.”

 

My best advice from a mentor was… I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors. Some formal, some informal, some I’ve never met. When Michelle Obama spoke the words, “When they go low, we go high,” that really stuck with me. We can’t control what others say, think or do. But we have the intrinsic ability to decide how we respond. The way we react, or even choose not to, speaks loudly to our values. We cannot take that for granted.

 

I would tell my 21-year-old self… So many things. Be all-in, commit, stay curious, connect the dots, listen and never stop dreaming — but perhaps above all, I’d say: don’t be too busy. Hard work is important. Holding yourself to high standards is important. Crossing the finish line on major goals is important. But don’t be too busy to try the road less travelled. That’s where growth happens. Don’t be too busy to meet people. That’s where inspiration happens and where new opportunities arise. Being busy is too easy. Make time. The journey is as important as the destination. 

 

My biggest setback was… Another chance to learn something new. Not all storms come to disrupt. Some arrive to clear your path. I make mistakes, we all do. That’s where learning happens. Most people won’t remember what you got wrong, just what you did to solve it or how you handled the situation. So, I choose to focus on the lessons learned, welcoming any bump in the road as a gift, and a chance to evolve. 

 

One piece of advice that I give often, but find difficult to follow, is… Balance. I’m an overscheduled mom to three terrific children and a full-time marketing executive. In my off-hours, you’ll find me gaining a new skill such as building fluency in my seventh language or garnering inspiration from a new book. There are no peaks and valleys; my life is go, go, go. The thing is: that is my balance. Most days, busy as I am, it feels just right and I secretly think I thrive on it. 

 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a huge Disney fan and a child at heart. There’s something incredibly magical about letting yourself simply be. That’s what Disney is for me and my family. The parks are where we celebrate birthdays and make memories, and no matter how often we visit, there is always something new to see or experience. And of course, there are the movies which are on auto-play in our house. The marketer in me will always be in awe of Disney’s creative genius and attention to agonizing details. The Disney empire is what my dreams are made of!

 

The future excites me because… Digital and human now go hand-in-hand. From a marketing standpoint, there’s really no such thing as B2B or B2C anymore. It’s about B2H; business to human. We’ve never had a better chance to lead with empathy, tell emotive stories, connect with audiences, and cultivate personalized and consistent end-to-end experiences. Data is a game-changer for marketers. I believe the digital acceleration of companies, buttressed by COVID-19, will help us gain additional real-time insights to deliver better products, solutions and connected experiences to customers in highly distinctive and relevant ways through scalable and measurable marketing programs. That makes me very hopeful for the future.

 

What keeps you motivated? My personal purpose is to make an impact and leave everything I touch better than when I received it. Achieving this means being motivated by driving change and transformations, challenging the status quo, building and supporting the next generation of leaders, navigating unchartered territory, and always learning. The sky has no limit — there is always room for more.

Meet Patricia Bebia Mawa: Executive Vice President of Silvertrust Media and Afroglobal Television

An alumna of Algonquin College of Science and Technology, Patricia Bebia Mawa has directed and produced over 15 television programs, published multiple editions of 3 magazines, and currently hosts Planet Africa on OMNI TV. In 2016, she and her husband launched Afroglobal Television, a 24-hour television channel that is currently on Rogers Cable, Bell Fibe, Eastlink, and Telus across Canada. Listed in the Who’s Who in Black Canada, she is a recipient of the Toronto Police Community Service Award, the International Women Achievers Award, the Martin Luther King DreamKeeper Award, and a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

 

My first job ever… was as host of a television program called Gospel Music Therapy on NTA Calabar in Nigeria.

My proudest accomplishment is… when my husband and I launched Afroglobal Television, a 24-hour television channel which is on Rogers Cable, Bell Fibe, Telus and Eastlink. I do have many other proud moments but what makes this stand out is all of the obstacles we overcame to make it happen.

My boldest move to date was… deciding not to pursue employment opportunities but to go into business full time.

I surprise people when I tell them…. I am a very shy person. I am more comfortable in front of the camera and an audience than in a one-on-one setting.

My advice for people interested in pursuing a career in the television industry is… to be authentic and bring something unique to the table.

My biggest setback was…. when I was fired a week after my wedding. I had taken permission from my boss to drop off my dad at the airport and when I got back, she said the dreaded words, “you are fired.”

I overcame it by… deciding to become a full-time entrepreneur and I have never looked back since.

Work/life balance is… recognizing your limits. Give everything your best but remember to give yourself the best. Knowing when to rest, when to say no and when to overlook certain things is the art of balance. It is not always perfect when you are juggling work and life, it is only perfect when you control only what you can.

 

“I believe that greater things are ahead. I look forward to the manifestation of the fruits of my labour and to continuing to make my mark on the world.”

 

My favourite thing about television production is… that I am able to educate, inspire and transform society. A picture speaks a thousand words, but a video speaks a million words!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I wanted to become a nun at some point in my life and was in a nunnery studying to become a nun for three years.

I stay inspired by… the next success story I am going to feature.

The future excites me because… I believe that greater things are ahead. I look forward to the manifestation of the fruits of my labour and to continuing to make my mark on the world.

I would tell my 21-year old self…not to focus on her limitations but to capitalize on her strengths.

My next step is… creating innovative digital footprints that will cultivate a no-excuse crop of people who deliver every single time.

Meet Fiona Morrison: Founder and Designer of the demi-fine jewellery company, Wolf Circus

Fiona Morrison is the owner and designer of Wolf Circus Jewelry, a line of demi-fine jewellery handmade in Vancouver, BC. Fiona first learned her craft through YouTube while studying at the University of Victoria, and began selling to friends around school. With an aim to inspire others to embrace their confidence during their daily hustle, Wolf Circus is now available online and in stores across Canada, the U.S., and internationally. Fiona’s most recent milestones include winning the Fashion Institute of Technology Design Entrepreneurs program in 2019 and making it to BCBusiness’s top 30 under 30.

 

My first job ever was… working part-time doing data entry for a floatplane manufacturer (super glamorous, I know!)

My proudest accomplishment is… winning the Fashion Institute of Technology NY design entrepreneurs grant 

The idea for Wolf Circus came to me when… I was studying at UVIC and had a few bolder jewelry pieces, which always sparked conversation with my peers. I realized that there wasn’t enough “badass” jewelry out there that my friends at university could afford. I learned everything off youtube and began by selling to my friends on campus. The word Wolf in our name came from a wolf head ring of mine which drew a lot of attention and Circus because of my father’s statement after I told him my idea “it’s going to turn into a circus”.

My boldest move to date was… putting $500 on my credit card worth of materials and starting the brand. Taking the brave first steps is always the most difficult. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I love Excel!

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… listen to your customers and always look for opportunities to pivot. Your early ideas of what your business may look like can always change and so can your business plan, just be open to looking at new opportunities and finding where the value is for your customers. 

My biggest professional influences have been… my Dad has always been a huge inspiration for me and has taught me a lot about problem-solving and helping me with putting jewelry together in the early years.

 

“I think it’s our job as a brand to slow down and focus our energy into producing products as sustainably as we can and better meet our customers’ needs.”

 

My biggest setback was… most businesses face plenty of hurdles during the early stages, including new market entry, cashflow, gaining customers etc. I think for most people, the biggest setback is really changing your mental state to how you perceive problems and looking for more creative solutions. I had to mentally shift and refocus our strategies to stay true to why I am doing the work that I am and rediscover what the real value is to our customers. If you are truly listening to your customers’ needs, you won’t be chasing them.

My passion for design began when… I was young; if I had a sewing machine at the time, I might have started a clothing line.

My favourite piece of jewelry from our collection is… the Simone necklace and Candice rings.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Wolf Circus is… I’m constantly amazed by how an afterschool side project could have grown into this, but if I had known, I wouldn’t have worked as hard! 

I stay inspired by… consulting and helping uplift other small brands.

My next step is… honestly, I don’t know. The climate and fashion industry is moving so quickly, and COVID had really made us rethink how we sell. I think it’s our job as a brand to slow down and focus our energy into producing products as sustainably as we can and better meet our customers’ needs. I’m not sure what those next steps are going to look like, however, being small and open-minded is always an advantage. 

Meet Leanna Falkiner: a leader in harnessing digital disruption in the financial industry

As digital transformation continues to disrupt the financial services industry, Leanna Falkiner is respected for helping Banks, Credit Unions and Insurers harness that disruption to power profitable growth. She is the Founder and CEO of evoQ International, a strategy consulting firm focused on helping companies across the financial services sector excel in the digital economy. Launching with a mission to go where she was needed most, she landed in the Caribbean. After solving problems for the region’s biggest Banks and Insurers, evoQ expanded across Canada to help clients ignite brands, modernize products, optimize channels and architect growth strategies. In addition to leading her team, Leanna serves on the board of Coast Capital Savings and North York General Hospital Foundation. Leanna has a passion for the outdoors where she enjoys hiking and cycling with her active preschooler. 

 

My first job ever was… Selling newspapers. At 10 years old I was going door-to-door selling subscriptions and collecting monies owed for my neighborhood paper. I made sure that people on my route received their papers on time, plus managed the payments while growing my customer base. A paper route teaches responsibility and was my first exposure to understanding that I love building businesses.

The best thing I’ve done for my business so far is… Assemble an Advisory Board composed of veteran CEOs to guide the growth of my firm. Their input and disciplined approach has been instrumental in shaping my leadership and underpin the value I place on diversity of thought when working with colleagues and clients. I’m fortunate to count these senior strategists as friends.

My boldest move to date was… starting a strategy consulting firm in a highly competitive market. At the onset, I opted to capitalize on untapped potential in the Caribbean where we applied our digital payments expertise.

My proudest accomplishment is…Being a MOM. If you had asked me a few years ago, I probably would have rattled off a bunch of career-related successes and financial wins, but now I measure my accomplishments by the number of hugs and kisses.

I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve never had a cup of coffee — especially as I love to network!

My best advice to people starting out in business is… Build a network of champions. Everyone has a support system, who is in yours? I encourage you to make connections across sectors, disciplines and tenures and nurture these relationships. It’s the quality of these connections that will support your entrepreneurial journey.  Your network doesn’t have to be large to be effective. No one makes it alone.

My best advice from a mentor was…Listen for the subtext. It’s easy to focus on driving business results but the real value happens when we take time to reflect on the motives, anxieties and professional pressures influencing our decisions. Emotions are always at play. Be mindful to listen carefully and critically while acknowledging your unconscious bias.

My biggest challenges have been… similar to other consulting firms — challenges like: attracting top talent, struggling to keep pace with emerging technologies or unexpected scope changes. Entrepreneurship has no insulation; we experience every bump.

I overcame it by… Embracing a growth mindset.

 

“Listen for the subtext. It’s easy to focus on driving business results but the real value happens when we take time to reflect on the motives, anxieties and professional pressures influencing our decisions. Emotions are always at play. Be mindful to listen carefully and critically while acknowledging your unconscious bias.”

 

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Embrace uncertainty. All business decisions contain some aspect of risk. Learning how to lean into calculated risk-taking is a skill. It requires you to evaluate the probability of success, identify mitigation actions and assess your personal perceptions, all at the same time. Making decisions with imperfect information can be paralyzing. However, having all the answers is not a prerequisite for success.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Spend time in nature enjoying a hike, bike ride, swim or soaking up the sunshine and scenery. Connecting with nature’s powers refuels my creativity, provides clarity of thought and nourishes my heart. My best business strategies happen when I am outdoors. Taking this time to reboot leaves me feeling energized.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that… For over 10 years I was an active disaster relief volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross Society; responding to local and international emergencies like the Walkerton Water Crisis, Pine Lake Tornado, Eastern Canadian Ice Storm and Thailand Tsunami. I have witnessed the best of humanity as communities came together to rebuild and recover from these horrific events.

I stay inspired by… Networking. I’m a natural connector, who subscribes to a pay it forward philosophy, always willing to facilitate a connection, offer a solution, or share a laugh over lunch. The strong, trust-based relationships I have built along the way are the most strategic and valuable asset in my arsenal. I find it energizing to meet and learn about people.

The future excites me because… The sky’s the limit and I’ve only gotten started. Small businesses will continue to fuel our economy. I’m enthusiastic about the forces shaping the future and seizing new opportunities.

How I’m navigating COVID as a mom and essential business owner

By Elyse Stoltz Dickerson

The spinning plates I tend to can be overwhelming in “normal” circumstances — like running an essential business, participating on boards, running charitable donation drives for my community, and being a parent, wife, and daughter. Add on a pandemic and suddenly things get far more challenging. There are two things I’ve learned as a CEO navigating through a pandemic with two teenagers: One, I can’t do it alone. The second thing I’ve learned? That’s okay.

Since I can’t drop any plates, I have to think creatively, delegate, and be okay with not doing it all. Surrounding yourself with a positive, helpful team is key to keeping everything spinning. My kids are old enough now to be a part of my team, and they’ve surpassed my wildest expectations. The other day, I told them that I needed them to pitch in by cleaning the house and doing laundry. When I arrived home at 6:15 pm, the house was impeccable. Spotless. Floors were mopped and vacuumed, laundry was folded, and everything was put away. At first, I assumed my husband had done it, but I quickly learned that my 12- and 14-year-old had done it all. I told them they were hired!

Asking for help and seeking advice from others when you are in uncharted waters is essential to survival. It helps you realize you are not alone in your daily struggles and failures.

Redefining and reframing what failure is also aids in keeping those plates spinning. A failure is a learning opportunity and reframing it as something gained instead of lost is a mentally strong move.

 

“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. And in tough times, being kind to yourself is a top priority — that includes giving yourself a break when you need it.” 

 

For instance, if you’re struggling with homeschooling your children and a math session ends in tears for the both of you, it might feel like a failure. However, if you reframe, you might find that there’s something to gain. Perhaps appreciation for teachers and educators might come to mind. Additionally, the fact that your child is still able to receive an education thanks to technology is a win. Sure, not everything about the situation is ideal, but making these mentally strong moves can improve your mood and outlook.

Since my business is essential, not only are we up and running, but we are shipping out inventory almost as soon as we make it due to high demand. Keeping everyone six feet apart with masks and face shields on is no easy task, but it’s necessary. Things feel hectic, but the same lesson applies to business: it’s okay to ask for help.

Women are disproportionately affected by the virus due to societal disparities in home and family workloads. Women with children are often the teacher, chef, principal, mom, boss, and employee all at once during quarantine. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. Asking for help from your boss, members of your team at work, kids (if they’re old enough), partner, and others helps lighten the load and leaves you feeling less alone.

At the end of the day, I think we’re in this together. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. And in tough times, being kind to yourself is a top priority — that includes giving yourself a break when you need it.

Elyse Stoltz Dickerson

Elyse Stoltz Dickerson

Elyse Stoltz Dickerson, CEO and co-founder of biotech company, Eosera. She resides in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband and two children. She was recently featured in ForbesWomen Magazine and recently named one of the Great Women of Texas by Fort Worth Business Press. Elyse has over two decades of experience leading teams in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Elyse holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. A lifelong athlete, Elyse has completed marathons, triathlons, and an Ironman.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

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

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

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

What financial resources are you tapping into?

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

 

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

 

What has surprised you? 

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

How far ahead are you planning? 

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

What keeps you positive?

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

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

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

Meet Meseret Haileyesus: Founder of the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment and Maternity Today

A social entrepreneur Meseret is the founder of both the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment and Maternity Today. With a background in, midwifery, economics, and global health, she drives social change by advocating for high-quality and accessible sexual and reproductive healthcare for women on a global scale, with a goal of ending gender-based violence. By starting and leading the non-profit research and educational organization, Maternity Today, Meseret has assisted many African women through their new motherhood journeys. As the founding president of the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment, she inspires research, advocacy, and policy for economic justice in Canada. Meseret is a member of multiple UN and World Health Organization programs, where she produces strategies to reinforce the reproductive health components for health sector reform programs in developing countries. Meanwhile, she is supporting Centre Town Community Health Centre and Community Development Framework Learning Forum in Ottawa while building her plant-based wellness and lifestyle brand, Nacre Organics. She is the proud mother of one beautiful daughter who inspires and motivates her every day.

 

My first job ever was… as a midwife at a rural place in Ethiopia — a place without enough water, electricity, technology, and reliable transportation to save mothers’ lives during childbirth. 

My proudest accomplishment is… 1) I’ve demonstrated through my own journey that women can be successful leaders. I’ve empowered my community to improve women’s access to economic empowerment, achieve gender parity and financial independence, and serve as role models. 2) I have mentored women-owned businesses and emerging women leaders and provided opportunities to marginalized groups in Ethiopia and Canada.

3) I’ve served as a zero-waste advocate: promoting healthy lifestyles by promoting nontoxic plant-based personal care products, green cosmetics, fairtrade, biodegradable, and zero-waste packaging.

4) I have created a platform to address mental health problems, that has supported over 45 women during the pandemic with mentorship. Most of them are already dealing with a lot of PTSD symptoms, loneliness, and isolation, which are then made worse by the pandemic. 

My boldest move to date was… learning how to say “no.” After pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I can now work towards my goals and dreams. 

I surprise people when I tell them… about my journey, my resilience to thrive, and my goal of helping others. 

I launched the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) because… Economic abuse is misunderstood in our community. I have seen domestic violence victims and survivors struggle with financial abuse, even after separation. Their partners regularly take their money, paycheques, social assistance payments, and tax refund checks, leaving them with little or no money. Most survivors have also accumulated debt because their partners used their credit cards, took out loans, or put bills under their names. It directly impacts a woman’s future, including mental health, and her ability to rebuild economic security and develop emotional well-being. As I see it, the solution is to invest in survivors and their financial security and build an ecosystem to support their long-term safety. 

Usually, in the public policy context, women’s economic security and violence against women are often examined separately from each other. Understanding the impact financial abuse has on women’s safety, and economic security is critical for developing policies, programs, and practices that promote these aims. CCFWE seeks Economic Justice for a victim of domestic violence.

What is the goal of CCFWE… to address Economic Justice through education, advocacy reviewing systems, policies, procedures, and advocates to remove any barriers to economic safety. We fight to influence policy that supports survivors’ successful transition to economic independence and healthy and safe life. Our advocacy efforts include engaging with survivours, policy-makers, developing education and awareness campaigns, and creating a policy agenda.

Gender-based violence is increasing during a pandemic… The top three reasons are 1. Self-isolation: It makes women more prone to domestic abuse as they are cooped up at home with their oppressors 2. Financial abuse: Financial abuse is on the rise as women and oppressors feel the pinch in this unprecedented time 3. Lack of a support system: The lack of a support system for survivors, such as counsellors, friends, or other means, is another main factor for the increase in domestic violence. Women are finding it difficult to reach out for help during this unprecedented time.

 

“Know your value and how much you are worth. Push your boundaries as it will help you reach the sky and surround yourself with positive people.”

 

My biggest setback was… As I reflect on the last 10 years, two big challenges stand out for me. The first was learning how to get out of my own way. This meant letting go of what I think others expect of me and focusing on being myself. The second was learning how to juggle priorities as a working mother. 

I overcame it by… Recognizing that I can’t do it all helped me learn how to trust and delegate.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is…because I truly love my work and have ambitious career goals, it can be difficult for me to keep a healthy balance between work and my personal life.

The best thing about what I do is… I am creating a unique platform for marginalized women leaders to address economic justice. I also want these women leaders to support other women. I want them to stand together to raise their voice, fighting against poverty and social justice. We need more women acting as global leaders!

My best advice from a mentor was… The best advice I received from a mentor was to stand up against the odds. Know your value and how much you are worth. Push your boundaries as it will help you reach the sky and surround yourself with positive people. 

I would tell my 21-year old self… To find the power of knowledge, aspire to inspire, and set periodic goals. To look for mentors and invest in relationships- be authentic, but see things through another lens. To embrace the opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone and learn from them. And finally, don’t let anyone define who you are and what you can do. 

If you Googled me, you still would not know… In 2012, I was a co-host of a local fashion blog, Be-Inspired, in Nigeria. I love to paint, cook and have a keen interest in interior design. 

The future excites me because… Professionally, there’s a lot to be excited about and manifest. A year ago, I remember thinking, “If only we could” do A, B or C. Now, we have actually made some of those wishes come true, and I have no doubt that we are on the right track. I can be a part of a group of inspiring global women leaders while also watching my daughter grow up at the same time. The strong people around me who collectively want to help others and make this world a better place make me excited.

My next step is…Innovating for the future by maintaining a dual focus on present performance and future trends and opportunities. I want to keep CCFWE adapting to change, to develop self-understanding, to go through renewal and self- preservation to keep improving as a leader. I am always looking for authenticity, talent, a clear vision, and the motivation to succeed. I will ensure continual high performance by all marginalized women leaders, leading to tangible progress toward the goals we wish to accomplish.

My entrepreneurial life as since May 26th

If you found this article through Amanda Munday’s Perspectives page, you may be wondering why it isn’t written by Amanda. In her own words: I’m taking a pause this month to amplify the voices of Black women entrepreneurs and use this amazing platform to make sure their voices are heard. Meet my friend and fellow entrepreneur Cheryl Sutherland, and her experience of life after May 26.

 

Hi, my name is Cheryl Sutherland and I am a Black woman.

I am also an entrepreneur, an amazing dancer and I have a delightful laugh and a smile that lights up the room, but what most people see about me first is that I’m Black.

Growing up in Canada, I’ve never really noticed how it’s affected my life. Understanding the reality that is mine, is one where the sky is blue and water makes things wet. The understanding that it’s my responsibility to make a police officer feel calm when I get pulled over, the understanding that when somebody is following me in a grocery store it’s for a very particular reason, understanding why that person would ask me for drugs at a party over everyone else. I just inherently know that people are going to treat me differently and that’s what life is.

Now when I moved to the US that was a different ball game. I had the opportunity to be with other Black people who have a very different experience of being Black. Where a valid reason not to get hired or to fire someone is because they wore their natural hair to work. Where you could never really own your achievements, because it often gets explained away as affirmative action. Where you should know someone at the bank when getting a loan, otherwise you’ll get a horrible interest rate.

What really frustrates me is when these things show up in business. This was supposed to be the space where I’m able to break the glass ceiling, make an impact in other people’s lives, and retire my Mom. Instead, there were new obstacles I had to learn to handle, only due to the color of my skin. To be Black in business for some of us means mostly selling our goods and sharing our story to people that may not look like us, who often ask us to present a different version of ourselves.

I’ve ignored many micro-aggressions and “seemingly” small details in the name of being in the same room of those who can deem success our way. Things like going to wellness events and being the only melanated person there and being pointed out as the one with the crazy hair when you wear your natural curls. Worse even, when people who don’t know you, attempt to tell you about yourself, your culture, your struggles, and what you need to do better while other faces awkwardly look away and say nothing.

Then May 26th happened.

I keep using this analogy of when I lost my dad. I was 22 when he died and I remember being in a room for the first time with people who knew. The awkward glances, the sad faces, the understanding of how completely broken my life was in that moment.

That’s what it’s been like to be a Black person since May 26. Our secret has been revealed. The badly kept secret that we kept telling and nobody felt “comfortable” enough to do anything about it. Irrefutable evidence that our lives were never the same, based on the colour of our skin.

Unable to be denied.

Things got awkward.

People lost friendships.

People made new friends.

People got angry.

People cried.

A line in the sand was drawn.

For those who were unaware of this reality, there’s been a mad scramble and they are attempting to figure out what they should do, what they could do, how to not mess this up, and how to talk to their children.

So how are you handling this new normal?

The only thing I can say is that I have hope. Hope that enough people in power care enough to not let things go back to the way they were. I hope that people actually listen to what I have to say in all of my vulnerability and authenticity and understand that this is a reality that exists, even though it’s not one you may have experienced. I also hope that the opportunities that I’m getting are not because of guilt; they’re because now people can see me, finally allowing my work to be used in a way that it should’ve been seen 4+ years ago. I’m constantly asked for tips and tricks and the only thing I can really give you with this:

You’re gonna mess up and that’s OK. A baby doesn’t learn how to walk in one day. They fall and stumble and we never yell at them to give up, do we?

Everybody’s grieving right now and grieving looks different on everyone. Be nice to yourself and be nice to other people.

“The only thing I can say is that I have hope. Hope that enough people in power care enough to not let things go back to the way they were. I hope that people actually listen to what I have to say in all of my vulnerability and authenticity and understand that this is a reality that exists, even though it’s not one you may have experienced.”

 

Educate yourself. I’ve created a giant resource library with the help of my friends, and you can learn about the history they never taught you, learn to look inside, learn about what you can do in order to support the people you care about. Podcasts, books, movies, training, terms, history, and more. Check it out.

Not every person needs the same thing. I have an e-commerce company all about positivity and gratitude, and what I’m looking for are places to speak and do workshops, connections to stores that will stock my goods, and how to finally figure out inbound marketing for my website, PleaseNotes.com. It’s OK to ask people what they need, it’s not OK to ask them what you should do.

Help in your own way. Offer to support something you do for work or that you’re passionate about. If you’re a marketing professional, offer your service to a Black-owned business or offer to help in a way that feels good to you. If you have a huge platform on social media or otherwise, offer to elevate and amplify the voices of people who are just as good in this industry, but are continually overlooked.

To make this a long-lasting change, it has to be something that we can do easily and we can commit to, individually. From making monthly donations, signing petitions, visiting Black-owned markets, writing to school boards, or calling out the biases you notice with other people, and within yourself, this work is going to be ongoing. The people that came before us didn’t get a chance to do it yet and I would like this generation to be better known for breaking this curse than avocado toast.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

What has been your most successful solution so far?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

What has surprised you?

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

 

How far ahead are you planning?

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

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

 

What keeps you positive?

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

 

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

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

How Carinne Chambers-Saini launched the DivaCup — and brought menstrual cups to the mainstream

By Karen van Kampen

 

Fresh out of business school, 24-year-old Carinne Chambers-Saini set out to revolutionize the menstrual care industry. She teamed up with her mother, Francine Chambers, to create the DivaCup, a reusable silicone menstrual cup that collects rather than absorbs menstrual flow. 

“I thought, we are going to change the world with this,” says Carinne. “I had a completely unrealistic view of how things would evolve. No one would take us seriously.” It took a year to find a supplier willing to develop and manufacture the DivaCup, and another year for the approval process as a class II medical device. Then came the biggest hurdle: getting the product listed. “The retailers just laughed at us and said, we’ll never carry this,” says Carinne. “That was definitely one of the hardest blows because we were so excited about the product and we knew what we had.” 

In 2003, DivaCup was turned down by all mass-market retailers. But the mother-daughter duo never gave up. “You keep going, no matter what,” says Carinne. “That’s the grit that people talk about.” Years of patience and hard work has paid off. Today, DivaCup is sold in 60,000 stores in more than 30 countries, bringing the menstrual cup to the mainstream, and its CEO and co-founder is being recognized as an industry trendsetter. Carinne was the 2019 winner of the TELUS Trailblazer Award (now the Innovation Award) — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, that is granted to an entrepreneur with outstanding leadership who has set standards for originality, quality and successful management. 

The daughter of two entrepreneurs, Carinne says the creating part of business has always excited her. In high school, she worked at her mother’s jewelry store in Kitchener, Ontario, helping with buying and creating custom pieces. In 1992, Francine saw an ad for a menstrual cup. “That started the whole journey,” says Carinne. Reflecting on their own experience with a menstrual cup, as well as customer feedback, Carinne and Francine set out to create an improved, modernized version. 

The initial setbacks with mass-market retailers proved to be a blessing in disguise. Carinne and Francine were running the business from home, assembling packages in their basement, and realized that they weren’t ready for mass market. They focused on the natural market instead, and gained a loyal following at eco shops, natural food and outdoor adventure stores. It took five years to get listed in every Whole Foods region in Canada and the U.S. By 2011, DivaCup was listed in 3,000 natural and niche stores in Canada and the U.S. 

 

“We had to change our story and show retailers how the DivaCup could bring profit into the category, and how it was a destination product that people would be looking for.”

 

Diva International began building its team, setting up its headquarters and taking the business to the next level. Carinne stopped doing sales meetings with her mom. “It’s hard to get taken seriously when you are your own sales team,” says Carinne. “You just don’t have the credibility.” Then came an opportunity that would catapult DivaCup into the mainstream.

In 2012, a company had pulled their ad from the jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square at the last minute. The rep trying to fill the space was a fan of the DivaCup and called Carinne with the opportunity. The ad would run four times an hour, 24-hours-a-day for a year. It was a lot of money, “but something in our gut kept telling us we have to do it,” says Carinne. “As an entrepreneur, your best asset is your gut and intuition.”

A new buyer for Shoppers Drug Mart saw the DivaCup ad in Times Square, and suddenly Diva International was viewed as a real player in the industry. “We had to change our story and show retailers how the DivaCup could bring profit into the category,” says Carinne, “and how it was a destination product that people would be looking for.” In 2013, they brought on Shoppers Drug Mart as their first national account. 

With Shoppers on board, they approached other mass-market retailers with their success story. But there was still a lot of work to be done. It took five years to bring on the remainder of the mainstream retailers — including CVS that in 2015 started carrying DivaCup in almost 10,000 locations. Yet being listed in the mass market isn’t necessarily the magic bullet that will solve all your problems, cautions Carinne. To succeed, “you have to build the demand and build the market for your product,” she says. For Diva International, this includes investing in education on women’s health and menstruation, which has become one of its core missions. 

The DivaCares program aims to expose the global issue of period poverty in which girls and women lack access to menstrual products. “It is happening in North America, right here in Canada,” says Carinne, who points out that one in seven girls in Canada has left or missed school due to lack of access to period products

DivaCares also fights discrimination around menstruation by helping to normalize the conversation. At home, Carinne talks openly to her daughter and son. “Boys need to be part of the conversation,” she says. “It should not be something that’s reserved only for girls. It just propagates the taboos and shame around it.” 

As a certified B Corporation, Diva International uses its brand as a force for good, says Carinne. As an entrepreneur, she says it’s important to “think about how your business can become a vehicle for contribution and change in the world.”

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has surprised you? 

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

How far ahead are you planning? 

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

What keeps you positive?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

What has surprised you? 

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

 

How far ahead are you planning? 

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

 

What keeps you positive?

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

What has surprised you? 

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

 

How far ahead are you planning?

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

 

What keeps you positive?

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

 

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

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

Meet Monique Peats, clinician and co-founder of an award-winning health tech

Monique Peats has always had a passion for helping people, and her resume proves it; she’s an awarded clinician, entrepreneur, co-author, international presenter and health tech innovator. Recognizing the challenge of stigma, shame and accessibility had long plagued those seeking support, she co-founded Life Recovery Program (LRP): Inward Strong — an award-winning, simple and practical online program for people coping with addiction, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues. Based in Waterloo, she also maintains a private psychotherapy practice. 

 

My first job ever was… delivering a small local paper, the Waterloo Chronicle, at the age of 12,  as well as babysitting. I remember a neighbour hired me to look after her 3-month-old, and I knew nothing about babies. I laugh now, because I have no idea what she was thinking when she decided to leave her newborn with a 12-year-old (it may have had something to do with the fact that I lived two doors down and my mom was at home during the day so able to help at any time). Upon reflection, that’s who I am — curious and open — so even if I don’t fully know how to do something, I’ll try my best and allow myself to experience what often ends up being a growth-full moment. 

I decided to go into psychotherapy because… I simply wanted to help people, to try to make a difference. This desire to help people was quite strong even at a young age.  I tossed around several possibilities: lawyer, doctor, pastor, teacher, then clinician. During my studies at a private college, I stumbled on “systems thinking” and family therapy and became intrigued, and my passion and desire to help individuals and families navigate life evolved from there.  

My proudest accomplishment is… I’m extremely proud of my ability to be present and in the moment, even when it’s scary or painful. My dad passed away unexpectedly on May 21, 2020, and a few days later, I found a letter I wrote to him several years ago for Father’s Day expressing how amazing he was and how much I love him. Being present and in the moment causes me to give freely, express, share and process my thoughts and feelings without hindrances. We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic and the residual painful impact spotlighted in the media of injustice, inequality, disparity, pain and grief — and yet, I choose to feel it all, including the joy and gratitude of the gift of my life and all that it entails.  

I navigate my challenges by… As an entrepreneur, founder of an awarded online wellness program, who also juggles a private practice, being authentic with myself and others is imperative. I believe this perspective enables me to navigate some of the most challenging times and experiences both personally and professionally. It’s not always easy, yet authenticity of self enables me to acknowledge, reset, move through and adjust accordingly. 

My boldest move to date was… choosing to leave a salaried, secure job to work for myself as a clinician in private practice, to fully lean into my desire to be present with hurting people as they navigate some of life’s toughest journeys, and to take the leap to become a founder of a company that addresses the most stigmatized issues, mental health and addiction/behavioural.  Our company has experienced stigma because of the issues we’re trying to help resolve, yet it’s worth the bold effort because people are receiving help, one by one.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I co-hosted a late-night talk show and sang back-up for a friend who was a guest on City TV.

My partner and I started an online wellness program because… we both have clinical backgrounds and recognized that there aren’t enough qualified people to help all of the hurting souls who deserve access to mental health and behavioural health resources. We were saddened by the many stories and stats of people losing hope, suicides, broken relationships, and that so many experience blocks to access.

 

“Don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun.”

 

My best advice to people starting out as an entrepreneur is… don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun — if you believe and have passion, surround yourself with people who balance out your skills, focus on gratitude and choose to not take it personally, you’ll experience the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference, whatever that means to you.

My biggest setback… occurred a few years ago when we finally received funding, had an amazing new team member, and focused on what seemed to be the right vertical to target our sales. Everything seemed so promising, we predicted the best financial targets to date, based on all of the opportunities and positive leads. Then it all fell apart — our targeted ‘perfect’ vertical that all of the market research validated had high need, high stigma (both mental health/addiction/behavioural issues etc..) and high desire for our self-directed anonymous solution, ended up having a low response to technology, meaning they weren’t open to utilizing an online solution. We were gutted. The role of stigma and shame was not accounted for in the market research. On top of it all, a key member of our team experienced a personal trauma.  The ripple effect was that we had to cut back and go back to a skeleton team. It was a devastating blow and we were all exhausted.

I overcame it by… choosing to not lose hope, resiliently recharge, refocus and rebuild. Remembering why we started all this, which is our desire to help meet a need that continues to devastate lives and families, has enabled us to focus on new verticals and opportunities that expanded our vision. We are now exploring opportunities in both Canada and the US.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… maintain a healthy balance consistently and rest to recharge. The only time I take a break and experience true reconnection with myself is when my husband ‘forces’ me to book a holiday someplace far away, which often involves hiking a mountain, exploring a new country or city.  Rather a tricky undertaking during a pandemic. I juggle my private practice, our company, and a personal life, which means that I am tired and exhausted a lot of the time — yet I love what I do and I am so grateful for it all and the amazing impact our online Inward Strong program is having on the lives of so many. I am a passionate person by nature, yet my goal is to be more passionate or compassionate towards myself, be more attentive and more mindful to notice when I need a break — so that I can chat with friends, read a book, take a course or whatever it may be that sparks my curiosity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend time with friends and family, and then complete the four workshops and courses that are waiting in my inbox before they expire.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I took a course in hang gliding, sat on various boards, use to be involved in church ministry, sang in several vocal groups, performed in numerous musicals as well as performed and travelled as a soloist in a variety of venues across Canada and the US, and co-chaired and co-hosted the first Bell “Let’s Talk” event in the Waterloo region.

I stay inspired by… holding on to hope and faith. I know that there is a need, I know we have an awesome solution, and many have shared the power of our program and how it has made a positive difference in their lives. Inward Strong works — sometimes it’s easy to forget when you’re in the trenches that it really does work! — and for that I am grateful.

The future excites me because… Covid-19 has caused the tide to change in so many ways, and I believe the diversity that is now being highlighted across the board will become the new complexion of our world, it will become the norm rather than the novelty, at least that is my hope. 

My next step is… to choose to stand in hope for a better future for all of us, that diversity on all counts will become the new normal and to become a stronger voice that leads others towards hope, help and healing in whatever way I can, including and especially through our online resource.

Meet Gabby Nobrega: Principal at Breakthrough Communications and Consulting Inc.

Gabby Nobrega is a natural business-builder, senior executive, and mentor. Her passion in life is helping organizations grow, transform, and protect their corporate reputation while fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion. Her career runs the gamut from launching video games for Nintendo, working on initiatives that have shaped advertising to kids and social influencer activations, pop-ups and private events for TIFF sponsors to press tours for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and helping companies manage high-profile crisis events spanning class-action lawsuits, employee fatality, and CEO misconduct. Following successive senior roles and achievements, Gabby put her entrepreneurial passion to work launching Breakthrough Communications and Consulting Inc. Today, she consults CEOs, senior leaders across multinationals, SMEs, not-for-profits, and foundations on their own brands, presentation skills, and media training.

 

My first job ever was… delivering the newspaper. I recall having to drudge through the snow, carrying what were heavy (Saturday) papers, waking up early to ensure the papers were there bright and early, having to collect the monies owed and submit them. It taught me about responsibility and the value of hard work at an early age. I had several jobs during my University years and my first job out of University was in PR. I fell into it. I had just graduated with a BA in English and one in Labour Studies there were few jobs in unionized environments for women, I was downtrodden and took a job to pay off my student loans. It was kismet.

I launched Breakthrough Communications and Consulting because… it was the right time to take my experiences in agency, at a large trade association, and a Fortune 100 company, and create a role that allowed me to bring a full scope of services from business development through crisis communications (and all that lies in between) to a range of cross-sector companies. There was a tremendous risk but significant upside to growing something and have a material impact in helping companies breakthrough. I’ve often told people that I’ve had more unique experiences in my career than some people have an in a lifetime from helping public companies steer through very high profile crisis events, and orchestrating multi-partner fundraising campaigns that benefit children in need, to working with A-list celebrities at a world-renowned film festival. It’s a large and exciting scope that leverages my career experiences, strengths, and passion. 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… there are a few: among them the opportunity to pursue your passions and self-direct many choices including the assignments you choose, along with some flexibility. While there is autonomy, I have also found it to be a wonderful experience growing an extensive network with people across a range of companies that I otherwise might not connect with and learn from. The scope has forced me to keep current in several areas and always push myself to think outside a narrow role or vertical. I can approach a project without bias and a much more holistic perspective. The journey has also been fraught with disappointments and risk forcing discipline that large companies have. My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to look at the fundamentals, insurances, legal, trademarks; create policies around scope creep, be flexible, know your worth, and negotiate fairly and with transparency. Think long term when it comes to your business growth and in your partners’ success.

My proudest accomplishment is… the number of people who have either reported into me, or I have mentored, or coached and we are friends many years later; they’ve gone on to great things and they have shared with me that I had a hand in their amazing journeys. That and managing the press tour for Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton during her Canadian “What Happened Tour.”

My boldest move to date was… getting on a plane, flying to New York, representing Canada as part of a global pitch for IBM with Lou Gerstner in the room. I had been on an Apple computer and had to convince the executives I could manage their business along with global teams who were all tech experts. We won the pitch, and I learned firsthand what it meant to rise to an occasion.

I surprise people when I tell them… the unvarnished truth. What it’s like being an entrepreneur, married to an entrepreneur, both facing risks, headwinds, trying to figure out what’s best for your kids, including a child with Down Syndrome with several health complications. I’ve often told people my life reads like the opening of a book: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope and the winter of despair.” Thankfully, there’s been much more light and laughter than darkness.

 

“Amidst chaos, we’ve seen compassion, creativity, and courage flourish. That excites me and gives me hope.”

 

My best advice from a mentor was… realize that each person will leave the same meeting with an entirely different perception including about you, be careful to own yours and manage it.

I would tell my 21-year-old self… success is not your title or compensation, it’s your reputation and your integrity, the rest will follow.

My biggest setback was…  finding myself in a situation where the fit was not right. I believe in similar situations too many of us see the wrong fit as a personal shortcoming. I think if we do that, we risk selling ourselves short. That‘s not an excuse to not learn and grow, it means you have to place a premium on the culture as much as you may the role.

I overcame it by… reflecting as part of my self-awareness journey and opportunity to learn and grow as a leader; seeking the input of others who were unbiased and could offer a balanced perspective and advice; showing-up and actively pursuing opportunities to advance to the organization’s success notwithstanding, and move on.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… “give it your all, but don’t give it all away.”  What I mean by that is we often forget to look after ourselves in our desire to chase it all; be it success in our career, the proverbial pursuit of ‘work-life balance’ inner peace, you name it. I spoke on a panel this year about when this hit me like a ton of bricks during a women’s conference I was attending. The speaker was retiring and wanted to share this advice with those of us in the room. I recently was on a panel and wanted to pay it forward by sharing the same advice. It resonated with many people in attendance and in social media posts that event, leading me to believe this is something others may be facing.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I nearly died. Gave birth to a disabled child 11 months later. I’m grateful for both. They have shaped my life in countless ways, from my ability to appreciate the small stuff.

I stay inspired by… reading, chasing my passions like cooking and travelling, and by surrounding myself with a circle of people who want to do good for others and invite me to be a part of their journeys.

The future excites me because… there is a crop of emerging leaders who want to change the world, who are fearless, principled, and have access to digital platforms and networks that can create global movements. Amidst chaos, we’ve seen compassion, creativity, and courage flourish. That excites me and gives me hope.

Meet Vanja Bannan: Founder of the highly creative communications consulting agency BannComm

Vanja Bannan cites fleeing war-torn (former) Yugoslavia in 1992 as a child as a defining moment in her life — her family’s struggle and determination to thrive taught her the importance of perseverance and the power of building relationships. Cultivating strong relationships through chemistry, empathy, and respect became one of Vanja’s core life strategies. In 2014 Vanja Bannan founded BannComm, a modern communications consulting agency specializing in highly creative digital marketing solutions – based on these principles. Despite multiple personal setbacks, including some heartbreaking ones, her resilience carried her through: today, Vanja and her award-winning teamwork with some of the leading companies in culture, architecture, and technology.

 

My first job ever was… working at Timothy’s World of Coffee. My family had recently fled the vicious conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and my brilliantly resourceful parents purchased the franchise in order to survive. My sister and I worked long, long hours alongside mom and dad. We all wore a lot of hats, we were tired more often than not, but we were together and we were alive. I was 15 years old.

I launched BannComm because… it served two important purposes for me. First, I was fascinated with the constant evolution and innovation of the communications sector. I needed a job that wasn’t chained to a cubicle, a job with dynamism and a constant pressure to thrive. A firm that pushed the digital envelope was the ticket.

Second, BannComm was my rock throughout several huge life challenges. It was one thing I knew I had complete control over, during times when life decided to throw a lot of curveballs my way.

My proudest accomplishment is… going from ESL to LSE! The mirrored acronyms are a coincidence: English as a Second Language and The London School of Economics—but they are a constant reminder for me. I came to Canada with limited English skills, something that puts many immigrants at an immediate disadvantage. But through hard work and resilience, the situation can absolutely be flipped 180 degrees. 

Fluent in English, I graduated from LSE with a Master’s of Science in Communications in 2007. The effort made to get through my academic career was as much for myself as it was for my family: a way to say thank you to my parents for all their sacrifices, to show them that it was absolutely for something. That is what I am most proud of.

My boldest move to date was… falling in love and building a life with a man who had cancer. 

When I met Brian, he had already been diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As we started to fall in love, I had a lot of conservations with myself and my support network. Tough ones. But in the end, I decided I wasn’t going to base my life on a “what if.” 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… learning how to ride the rollercoaster and leading by example for my children. The highs in this life are high, and the lows are really low. But it’s forced me to grow a thicker skin and made me more mature. I’ve learned how to better accept feedback, in all its forms. Every hard lesson was a good lesson in the end.

And since I am the business, and the business is me, my children get to experience facets of the rollercoaster. I try to show my children what hard work and perseverance looks like every day, and I know they’ll be better for it.

 

“Heartbreak will make you stronger. Lessons, good and bad, will make you wiser. You will end up where you are supposed to be.”

 

The most difficult thing about what I do is… learning how to cope with risk, yet still, always be taking it and meeting it head on. Risk is everywhere. There’s risk in sitting and doing nothing, there’s risk in betting it all. I feel like many people have a limited relationship with risk and understanding its nature and how you invite it or mitigate it. It’s scary stuff, and exciting stuff, and necessary stuff. Difficult, always. Essential: you bet! 

I surprise people when… I tell them about my personal obstacles. I’ve shared some of the big ones here already. In person I can come across as bubbly, positive, and living a charmed life. Behind the curtain, there are hardships, grave mistakes, and ugly cries. 

My best advice from a mentor was… it’s actually not from a mentor, it was from a psychologist on a TV show of all places. They spoke about removing the word “just” from your vocabulary and paying attention to how damaging it can be to your tone, your frame of mind, your ambition. The word “just” is weak. It does nothing but undermine your efforts: everything you have done and everything you are trying to do. Think about this! Take for example: Hi, I am just following up on the email I sent vs Hi, I am following up on the email I sent. “Just” is an unnecessary placeholder. I took this to heart and it truly changed my overall attitude and the way I do business.

I would tell my 21-year old self… to worry less, to trust her gut and intuition. To as quickly as possible internalize the fact that lack of control is inevitable. Heartbreak will make you stronger. Lessons, good and bad, will make you wiser. You will end up where you are supposed to be.

My biggest setback was… my husband and I struggled with fertility. In the end, it worked out—we have two beautiful kids—but dealing with it all put my growth plans for BannComm on the backburner for some time. I was distracted, scared, vulnerable. 

I overcame it by… leaning on BannComm! Despite being backburnered, BannComm was still there for me. It was my first creation and the one element that wasn’t completely out of my control when all else seemed to be. It served as an oasis of stability and calm, a port in an otherwise soul-wrenching storm.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… non-existent. I rarely give out advice in general; I do not think I have all the answers. In the rare case that I do, it’s going to be something I have lived and followed as well. I strongly believe in dialogue vs monologue. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how incredibly important relationships are to me. They are the core resource that I rely on for everything good in my life. My job title and web bios surely imply that relationship building and maintenance is a top skill, sure. But it can be hard for me to succinctly express the depth to which I value and respect the power of a strong relationship.

One thing that is keeping me motivated is… leading by example for my children—Theodore and Vivienne. This experience with Women of Influence and all that led up to it has only further crystallized how important it is to be a role model for them. Vivi or joiedevivi as I affectionately call her especially motivates me. As a girl growing up in today’s rapidly evolving world, she is beginning to face her own challenges, ask her own questions, and become her own woman. Being her guide is my greatest honour. 

My next step is… to continue helping my clients navigate through this aggressive, pandemic-catalyzed digital shift, and prepared them for the post-COVID-19 digital world.

Meet Bianca Lee Mondino: a Toronto-based DJ who spent over a decade in the banking sector before pursuing her passion

Bianca Lee Mondino is a Toronto-based DJ and experience curator known for her ability to lift people through music and inspire women through joy-driven action. In the past 4 years, Bianca has been booked to DJ internationally in sunny locations like the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Croatia. In April of 2019, Bianca quit her corporate job of over 12 years in banking to pursue her creative passions full-time With a focus on corporate and special events, Bianca has had the incredible opportunity to work with brands like Bumble, YouTube, Toronto International Film Festival, TD Bank, Elevate Tech Fest and more. Outside of DJing, Bianca is the founder of Sunday Soul Service — a feel-good oasis that celebrates all those who identify as women. With a mission to help women fill their cup first, Sunday Soul Service curates unique phone-free experiences around the city to help women disconnect from the hustle of their every day and reconnect with their favourite versions of themselves.

 

My first job ever was…*technically* at Tim Hortons as a Customer Service Representative (just before I turned 16), but I started babysitting my neighbour’s kids when I was about 13.

I decided to give up my career in banking and follow my dreams of becoming a DJ because… it brought me a feeling of joy that I’ve never experienced before! I will never forget the feeling of waking up after my first DJ set (it was for a good friend’s 30th birthday); I woke up smiling from ear-to-ear and felt a sense of fulfilment that was entirely new and exciting. There are certain moments in my life where I’ve just felt called to trust my intuition fully, and this was one of them. There was something in me that told me I needed to explore this newfound passion project a bit more, and it turned out to be something I was able to grow into a sustainable career (having a corporate background + network really helped here). It was also a dream of mine to become my own boss one day!

My proudest accomplishment is… finding the courage to seek help so that I could better understand my experience with debilitating anxiety. There was a point when I told myself I couldn’t go on being miserable/sad/depressed every single day, and that there must be something or someone to help me through this. After some very honest conversations with myself (and with Google search), I found and began my first form of therapy (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

My boldest move to date was… leaving my stable, coveted 9-5 job to pursue my creative passions full-time!

I surprise people when I tell them… I am introverted! People look at my line of work and think ‘wow she’s the life of the party’, but in fact, after a fun DJ set or event, you will NOT find me looking for an afterparty. I crave solitude so that I can recharge.

I would tell people thinking about making a career transition… three things:

  1.  Invest in yourself – before I made the leap, I hired a business + mindset coach who helped me move through my limited beliefs + build my brand, a lawyer to help me structure my business and an accountant to help me get my books in order. While I understand resources can be a challenge, there are a ton of free tools and resources online these days. Investing in yourself to me doesn’t necessarily mean financially, but rather setting aside some time to work on moving you closer to your transition goals.
  2. Start an emergency fund – I put aside about six months worth of living expenses before I quit because I knew realistically I had certain financial responsibilities and a lifestyle I wanted to (at least somewhat) maintain.
  3. Start thinking about other streams of income you can tap into based on your skills and experience – for me, because I had over 12 years of experience in business, communications, PR, and branding, I began offering 1-on-1 strategy sessions for women.

My best advice from a mentor was… think about your “why” before making any big decisions. There was a time when I was seriously considering pursuing an MBA and my mentor asked me WHY I wanted to do this. This question totally stumped me and it turned out that I wasn’t actually sure why I wanted to do this. Once I honestly asked myself “why”, it became clear it wasn’t actually something I personally wanted but rather an impression of what I thought was the “right” thing to do. I am grateful for this advice because not only did it save me a lot of time and money, but I also truly believe it was not the right path for my journey.

 

“There are certain moments in my life where I’ve just felt called to trust my intuition fully, and this was one of them.”

 

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… it’s OK to ask for help!!! I feel like we can be our own worst enemies at times and especially as an entrepreneur/solopreneur it can be an incredibly lonely journey. However, I’ve realized that we don’t have to do it alone. I am making a more conscious effort to “receive” because I am notorious for being that person who just wants to give and figure things out on my own. More recently I’ve started to become more open to sharing my challenges on social media, joining communities and just simply asking for help from my network.

My biggest setback was… experiencing debilitating anxiety, which I first experienced six years ago. While I wouldn’t consider it a setback per se (I believe obstacles and pain can make us stronger), it was a really dark and challenging time for me. I felt like the world was against me and I couldn’t make sense of why I was constantly unhappy in my job, relationships and just life in general. It wasn’t until I starting seeking help that I now say anxiety really freed me. It helped me understand myself on a much deeper level (I also learned that I’m an empath during this time and this helped clarify a lot) and I’ve become a lot more intuitive because of it.

I overcame it by… seeking help and being transparent about what I was going through! I realized that I did not have to suffer alone. I started to warm up to the idea that there are professionals and resources available to help me heal and move through this challenging time. I also learned that it’s OK to talk about what I was going through – I understand this is not always easy or may not feel safe, however it helped to share what I was going through with loved ones and friends.

The best thing about being a DJ is… the people and energy. From the people, I’m DJing for, to the ones planning the events and everything in between. Some of my fondest memories are the incredibly energetic dance floors – one particular memory was earlier this year in Bahamas where I was fortunate enough to guest DJ a week-long corporate reward program. I will never forget a moment when the entire dance floor was packed and I was playing “We Found Love” by Rihanna and Calvin Harris. The energy was so electric and the entire dance floor (imagine 300+ people) was jumping in unison for most of the song. It gave me goosebumps to think that this was now my life. All that to say – I feed off of energy. I am also so lucky to work with some incredible clients and event companies. Travelling for work is also a nice perk – travelling gigs are some of my favourites!

The most challenging thing about what I do is… it can get lonely! While being an entrepreneur/solopreneur is often glamorized, it can get really lonely especially when you first make the transition. When I first started facing the challenges of being a solopreneur, it was hard for some of my friends and even family to relate to what I was going through because it was so new. However, I remained patient and open and was fortunate enough to meet more people who were in similar positions through Facebook communities, events, etc. This is one of the reasons I am a huge fan of WOI – I have met so many incredible women at events who genuinely want to help each other and learn about each other’s work. I am grateful for spaces like this!

While social distancing, I’m spending my time… on a few things! First, I’ve been working to bring more light into the community through Sunday Soul Service, a space I founded in September 2019. The mission of Sunday Soul Service is to help women (and those who identify as women) fill their cup first via experiences that help them disconnect with the hustle and reconnect with their favourite versions of themselves. Once the quarantine hit, we adapted our traditional in-real-life experiences to a virtual format, and so I’ve spent much of my time curating and producing virtual wellness experiences. I’ve been fortunate to know many incredible experts and healers who stepped up during this time to help me bring this to life (shout out to Hannah O’Donovan of Lovedey who helped me spearhead the virtual experience idea). Second, I’ve been having so much fun doing weekly, feel-good Instagram Live DJ sets! I do a 30-minute set once a week that is simply meant to help give people a little pick-me-up (they are literally called The Pick-Me-Up). Finally, I’ve been embracing my feminine energy more – to me that means proper sleep, solo dance parties, and just creating space to learn more about myself (journaling has been a huge help here!)

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I once hugged a panda! It was one of my life goals to volunteer at a panda research centre, and so I volunteered at a base in Chengdu, China about 5 years ago. It was a dream come true!

The future excites me because… I believe as we come out of this we are going to crave human connection more than ever and seek out more opportunities to play and heal.

My next step is… studying energy medicine and energy psychology and looking into how I can incorporate some of these techniques into my work to help people manage day-to-day stress. Also, I’m expanding my DJ offerings to a virtual format so that I can bring more feel-good music to people!

Q&A: How Joanna Griffiths is adapting to a new normal.

Joanna Griffiths is the Founder and CEO of Knix and Knixteen, the direct-to-consumer intimate apparel brands that are reinventing intimates for real life. Through a focus on product innovation and a mission to empower women to be unapologetically free, a Knix item is now sold every 7 seconds, and the company has shipped over half a million orders in the last twelve months alone. Joanna has been recognized on both the national and international stage for her work as a marketing disruptor championing the topics of body inclusivity, fertility, mental health and postpartum.

 

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

Running a company during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging experience. It has pushed us to think creatively and pivot our tactics. One area of the business that we have really had to focus on is our distribution, ensuring that our warehouse is properly stocked for the demand that we are seeing for Knix products. As you can imagine, with border closures and new regulations, it has been a challenge to have products shipped internationally. 

Another reason I have been so focused on distribution is due to the launch of our Knix PPE campaign back in March. We are raising funds through our community to provide hospital-grade PPE products to frontline healthcare workers. I am pleased to share that we have raised over $400,000 and have secured over 330,000 units of PPE. This project has become my nighttime job, but I am so happy that we have been able to support the people who need it most. 

 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve? What has been your most successful solution so far?

We are trying to problem-solve different ways of introducing our products and experiences to consumers virtually. We have always been a nimble company, so we have been able to pivot our strategy pretty seamlessly. 

As soon as we started to see global lockdowns come into play, we were quick to act. When our stores closed, we launched Virtual Fittings, building on our customer’s online shopping experience, while also providing employment opportunities for our store associates. 

This April, we had initially planned on having our annual warehouse sale in Toronto, instead of cancelling it, we decided to launch it virtually to consumers. Taking the warehouse sale to a virtual platform was a huge success and we sold more items in the first 10 minutes then our full three-day warehouse sale last year. 

Currently, we are working on executing a new strategy around our swimwear launch. We had initially planned on during a live photoshoot in Tulum Mexico and had opened up a casting call for our customers to apply to be a part of it. The response was overwhelming, and within two weeks, we had over 11,000 applicants. Now that a photoshoot (especially one abroad) is out of the question, we selected 25 of these applicants to participate in an at-home content series. The photos from this series will come together to form our campaign, making it truly one of our most relatable swim campaigns. 

 

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

During the COVID-19 crisis, we have been staying connected to our customers through our Instagram channels, asking our community how they are feeling and reaching out directly to those who say they need to talk. 

With our Knix team, we implemented a 9:30 am daily company-wide video call. It gives me an opportunity to connect with the full team and provide updates on the different projects that we have on the go. It has been a great way to start the day and helps the team feel more connected during this time of social distancing. We also have a weekly wins and learnings video call where each team member gets to share a success or win in their life, whether it’s a personal success or one that is work-related. It is a very positive meeting that helps brighten everyone’s week. 

 

What financial resources are you tapping into? OR What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

Like so many organizations we don’t qualify for any of the business relief programs so there aren’t a ton of financial resources that we are tapping into. I’ve been hosting weekly zoom calls as part of the Female Business Empowerment Project along with Jessica Mulroney, Melissa Leong and Michele Romanow. Unfortunately, we are seeing this is the case for many. My best advice is to model out what different situations look like for you and your business. What would it mean if your supply chain is shut down and you can no longer get access to product, your fulfilment center can no longer ship, your physical retail doors can’t open etc. I would work on a best, better, worse and worst case and make sure that you are planning your cash spend accordingly. This is something we did at Knix back in Mid-March. It was helpful to plan these scenarios with a clear head. 

 

“Trust your gut and be confident in the decisions you make. During times of crisis, continue to support your community and give back when you can.”

 

What has surprised you?

The biggest surprise for me is seeing how effectively our team has been able to work remotely. In a strange way, our company community feels stronger than ever. I am blown away by the creativity and agility that is being demonstrated daily by every one of our teams. 

 

How far ahead are you planning?

Our plans are shifting and changing every day, but we are continuing to look ahead at the next six to twelve months. It is hard to know what the world will look like by then, but we are continuing to plan and prepare either way. 

 

What keeps you positive?

The tight-knit community that we have built is what keeps me so positive. We receive so many DMS and emails on how we have made a difference in women’s lives, how we have helped them regain their confidence and their love for their bodies. We have truly attached ourselves to our brand mission of helping women live unapologetically free, and that is what motivates me and the team to be so passionate about the work that we do. 

Most recently the work that we have done to secure PPE for healthcare workers and homeless shelters has added an extra layer of community building to our work. These frontline workers are risking their lives every day to help our country battle COVID-19. It really warms my heart to be able to help them during this crisis. It makes all the extra hours and emails worth it. 

 

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

I encourage other entrepreneurs to be creative and agile with their thinking. Trust your gut and be confident in the decisions you make. During times of crisis, continue to support your community and give back when you can.

#WOIAsks Honourable Mary Ng — Twitter Chat Recap

From promoting Canada to the world as a great place to do business, to helping our entrepreneurs and businesses grow and access new markets —Minister Ng is focused on helping Canadians succeed. First elected the Member of Parliament for Markham–Thornhill in April 2017, Minister Ng wasfirst appointed to Cabinet in July 2018 as Minister for Small Business and Export Promotion. After being successfully re-elected in November 2019, she became Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade. Prior to serving as a Member of Parliament, Minister Ng served as Appointments Director for the Prime Minister, and as Executive Director for the President of Ryerson University where she oversaw the creation of a world-leading business incubator for tech start-ups. Throughout her 20 years of public service, Minister Ng has been a devoted community leader with a focus on creating jobs, fostering entrepreneurship, and empowering small business to innovate and grow. We caught up with her last week for a #WOIAsks Twitter Q&A to discuss what is being done to help small businesses, and how she’s navigating life in lockdown.

Meet Noëlla Coursaris Musunka: an International Model & Philanthropist advocating for girls’ education

Congolese-Cypriot International Model, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka credits her first trip back home, at 18 after 13 years living in Europe, as the catalyst for her philanthropic endeavours. Beyond the catwalk, Noëlla is also the Founder & CEO of Malaika, a grassroots nonprofit that works to educate and empower girls and communities in her home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A unique, fearless, and elegant spokesperson, and the face of leading beauty and fashion campaigns across the globe, she is a voice for the power of girls’ education worldwide. Founded in 2007, Malaika’s education and health programs are today impacting thousands of lives and are all offered free of charge. Noëlla has shared her insight at a number of world-class forums spanning the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Economic Forum in Davos to the university halls of Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and MIT. In 2017, Noëlla was named one of the BBC’s 100 Most Influential & Inspirational Women of the Year, and in 2018, she received an award at the 100 Years of Mandela celebration.

 

My first job ever was… Supporting younger students with their homework. I had a few little jobs as I was doing my Business Management degree and they all taught me to value every person at every level. 

The biggest lesson that I have learned from my career professional model has been… That every job is an opportunity to give back and raise the profile of important issues in society. I have always built in some sort of fundraising or support for Malaika in my work with brands. 

One of the highlights of my modelling career has been… Working with some incredible brands that have excellent values and want to help make the world a better place through the way they produce their products and distribute them. Also working with some great people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. 

I decided to become a philanthropist because… I saw a need and wanted to help. I felt it was important to raise awareness of the need for girls to have an education because it is their right and will benefit their community and society as a whole but I didn’t just want to speak about it. I wanted to act and make it happen in the DRC. 

I got the idea to set up Malaika from…My first trip back to the Congo at the age of 18 having grown up in Europe. My father died when I was five and my mother sent me to live with family in Europe so I could obtain an education. When I returned I was shocked to see the poor living conditions my mother was living in and the number of girls not attending school. It was socially acceptable for boys to be given more opportunity when it comes to education. At that moment I thought something needed to be done and the idea grew as I spent the next few years studying and working.

My proudest accomplishment is… My children, JJ and Care, first and foremost. They remain my priority and I am already proud of who they are becoming. I am very proud of Malaika and so opening the school was a significant accomplishment in my life. Seeing the girls grow and develop year-on-year always makes me extremely grateful that I’ve been able to start something that then a team of international volunteers and staff, along with our generous and supportive donors, have grown and developed to be what it is today. Opening our first well and our 20th well was also a special moment due to the impact we knew it would have on the community by protecting them from waterborne illness and disease. 

My boldest move to date was…The first time I went to New York for a modelling campaign. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I don’t take a salary to run Malaika.

My biggest hope for the girls in my school is…That they are healthy and happy. 

 

“Being a mother, leading a non-profit organization, being the ambassador for the Global Fund for AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria…, as well as my modelling career — it all takes time and involves travel and time away from the family.” 

 

My best advice from a mentor was…To stay focused on my mission and not get sidetracked by all the needs that present themselves but continue to strengthen what we have already. 

My biggest setback was…Not having my parents around when I was growing up. My father died when I was five and my mother sent me to live with family in Europe as she knew it would open up more opportunities for me to gain an education. It was painful and challenging but it helped me to become self-sufficient and very driven.

I overcame it by… Choosing to make the best of the opportunities I had been given and not focusing on the loss. 

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… To sometimes say no. 

The best thing about what I do is… Going to the Congo each year and seeing the difference that Malaika is making by empowering an entire community via our school, community centre.

The most challenging thing about what I do is… Balancing it all. Being a mother, leading a non-profit organization, being the ambassador for the Global Fund for AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, doing various speaking engagements and events to raise awareness of girls’ education, as well as my modelling career. It all takes time and involves travel and time away from the family. 

While social distancing, I’m spending my time… Homeschooling my children and enjoying the time with them. I spend so much time travelling and working away from home in normal circumstances that I relish the opportunity to spend time with them. Of course, I am still working to try and support the community in Kalebuka where we have had to close our school and our programs at the community centre. This is a huge challenge for our students and their families as the price of food has gone up in the area and they were receiving two meals a day from the school and from our agriculture where we grow food for the school canteen. We have launched an emergency fund to feed 60 families per week and are doing awareness-raising about hygiene through our 20 wells. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am a very sensitive person and I was a tomboy when I was little. 

The future excites me because… So much is happening to help elevate Africa and education for girls. We are also producing a template to support others to duplicate Malaika as a community-based model that will suit any context. We will also see our first graduate students in the next few years and I can’t wait to see how their lives unfold and also how the community develops and further reaches its potential. At our community centre, we also provide education to adults and youth. We teach literacy and math and also entrepreneurship and sewing. We already have a brand called Mama Ya Mapendo, which includes accessories and bags made by women who have been educated at our centre. Presently they are sewing masks that we are giving to people in the community to help protect them from getting COVID-19. I’m excited to see how other businesses will develop over the coming years and how they will give back to the community, as Mama Ya Mapendo is doing now in this current crisis.

Q&A: How Debbie Fung is adapting to a new normal.

In 2007, Debbie Fung co-founded Yoga Tree Studios with one studio in Thornhill and a vision to create a yoga community that was inclusive and accessible to all. Today, she’s built the business into an award-winning brand with five premiere locations across the GTA, offering 2000 classes a month. When COVID-19 forced doors to close, Debbie had to pivot at lightning speed to digitize her services and keep her community connected. 

 

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

Yoga Tree social media channels, and pivoting to an online platform. 

 

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

How to weather this storm, and continue the momentum of growth we have achieved through these years to overcome the changes COVID-19 is forcing on businesses.  

 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Changing the way we communicate and connect with our community by expanding our programming online immediately once our doors closed on March 15, 2020. 

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?
Before COVID-19, our company had already leveraged the use of many softwares including Egnite, Homebase for employee/instructor schedule management, database management via Mindbody and other software’s to support our daily operations. 

But when city-wide quarantine order was put into effect, #Virtualislife!  

With customers, we are connecting daily via our social media platforms and have been offering free daily Instagram LIVE classes since March. This week, we’ve launched our LIVE virtual classes where our teachers now can see each student’s pose and suggest modifications and verbal adjustments. Yoga on Demand was also launched this week to offer students with HD quality classes that can be streamed on TV.

We are also staying connected with our team via virtual meetings, group chats and collaboration through Egnite.  

 

“Having a clear and realistic picture of where your business stands financially will help you make good decisions as you move forward.”

 

What financial resources are you tapping into?

Unfortunately, we had to place part of our operations staff in furlough in hopes that we can weather the storm and hire them back ASAP. Rent is the next challenge for many small businesses, with no income, it makes it extremely challenging to pay full rent without any streams of revenue coming in. This is the case for many facilities across the country. We are currently rallying together with other small business owners via savesmallbusiness.ca to plead for rent relief measures for small businesses. 

It’s going to take a while (even if the city allows the non-essential business to open) for our city to return to its normal state. This includes having enough cash flow to sustain several slow months with decreased customer foot traffic and sales post-COVID. We have applied for the $40K loans for eligible businesses that are federally backed but this doesn’t solve all the problems with cash flow.

We need to continue to focus on digital transformation and in contrast, it is not something that enterprises can implement as a temporary project. At Yoga Tree, COVID-19 has fast-tracked our digital transformation — but it is here to stay. We are rethinking our business model and our strategy and accommodating to work from home needs that most likely will be the new normal when this is all over.  

  

What has surprised you? 

When the first COVID-19 case was reported in Toronto on January 25, 2020, we immediately issued a notice to all students with all the safety measures our studio put into place, including hand sanitizing stations, updated cleaning protocol and the installation of medical-grade air purifiers in each studio room. I think we’ve been transparent in communicating with our members as things unfolded and feel that COVID-19 was something that didn’t appear overnight and surprised us. 

What surprised me was that we are more resilient and adaptable than I thought. We quickly found solutions to difficulties and adjusted our actions accordingly to make it work.  

 

How far ahead are you planning? 

Before COVID-19, we were ready to break the ground at our newest Yorkville location. Our focus has now changed since COVID-19 and we are now prioritizing digital transformation at Yoga Tree.  

 

What keeps you positive?

Our community online! There’s so much love, support and gratitude with this community and each individual is trying to uplift each other by leaving positive affirmations after our live classes and by taking care of their mental and physical wellness. 

 

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

Take the time to fully understand your current position.

Having a clear and realistic picture of where your business stands financially will help you make good decisions as you move forward. With everything that’s happening right now, we will be at an all-time low and might overborrow from institutions. Knowing how much you need to cover current expenses is a great start, but also don’t over-forecast on loans and sink yourself deeper into unmanageable debt. 

Although government-backed loans are helpful, it requires you to take out at least 50% of the loan in the first six months and if it’s not managed properly, it will do more harm than good for a small business. 

 

 

 

Meet Yael Benarroch, a mother of six with a recruiting agency for working moms

Yael Benarroch spent 17 years as a senior trade marketing and sales professional before leveraging her experience in a new entrepreneurial direction — while on parental leave with twins. An energetic mother of six, her boutique recruitment agency, MOMforce, is dedicated to helping professional women partner with employers who understand that women can commit to meaningful, demanding careers while raising families. She’s not only helping professional mothers thrive in the workforce by connecting them with world-class employers that respect work-life balance, she’s also helping employers achieve their gender diversity goals, bringing them loyal, highly-skilled talent. 

 

My first job ever was… a hostess at the Pickle Barrel.

The idea for MomForce came to me when… I was 9 months pregnant with my twins, and my (hard-working, talented) close friend told me that she was too embarrassed to tell her manager that she was pregnant, because she thought he may feel like she was “taking advantage” by going on maternity leave again. This (along with several other events) sparked my passion for advocating for professional mothers and expunging the taboo of pregnancy and motherhood from the recruitment/hiring process.   

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was personally affected by a problem that I quickly realized impacted millions of women. I wanted to do my part to help resolve it.  

I surprise people when I tell them… Considering the average family in Canada has 1.6 kids, nothing surprises people more than when I tell them that I have six. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Being able to manage my time between caring for my six kids, including my newborn twins, while launching a new business.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… There will be setbacks. Expect them. Focus on your mission and purpose to get you through those tough times.

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… being patient and being comfortable in the grey zone.

 

“Take every setback and feel confident that it’s part of the journey. Learn from it, gain strength from it, and let it propel you forward.”

 

My best advice from a mentor was… the biggest opportunities are sometimes disguised as challenges and hardships. Take every setback and feel confident that it’s part of the journey. Learn from it, gain strength from it, and let it propel you forward.

I would tell my 20-year old self… to keep working hard, have your priorities clear and straight and follow through with your goals — even if they take longer than expected to achieve, stay positive and stay on course.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… network, network, network. Connect with people that share a passion for your mission and/or are experts in the field. These people will help you navigate through the journey.

 

I stay inspired by… knowing that a service like MOMForce will help my 5 daughters feel confident that they can achieve their professional dreams while raising a family. They will be raised knowing that the two are not mutually exclusive.

My next step is… to continue making MOMforce a trusted service for both companies seeking top talent and professional moms looking for family-friendly organizations to maintain and advance in their careers

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… slowly sip a hot coffee from start to finish without interruption. 

How Rola Amer went from pharmaceutical marketing to children’s fashion.

When Rola Amer enrolled in the Executive MBA program at Smith School of Business, she intended to return to her career in pharmaceuticals. But she soon realized she was an entrepreneur at heart — and as a working mother of two struggling to keep up with clothes shopping for her kids, she saw a problem she could solve for many other parents. The founder of Choulala Box shares her story.

 

By Hailey Eisen 

 

Every entrepreneur has a story of how they started their own company. Rola Amer’s leap from the corporate world was fuelled by a combination of gut instinct, confidence earned during an Executive MBA program, and her struggles shopping for kids’ clothes. 

Rola was well into a career with Hospira, an American pharmaceutical company (now part of Pfizer). Having been pegged as “top talent” within the company, she was climbing the ladder at an impressive speed. She’d gone from sales to regulatory affairs and clinical research. Eventually, she found her niche in marketing. 

“I was focused on goals and metrics. If they dangled the carrot, I would jump for it. I loved and thrived in that environment,” Rola explains, from her home office in Montreal. 

“While I was still in my 20s,” she recalls, “I had ownership of profit and loss statements, had my own business unit and a national sales team and manager working under me, and I travelled a lot. I was fully living the corporate lifestyle.”  

Today, Rola’s professional life looks much different. 

She’s at the helm of Choulala Box, a sustainability-focused company that encourages kids to learn about clothes and the art of self-dressing, while providing parents access to curated pieces of clothing from a number of brands. 

Her entrepreneurial journey came after a challenging first maternity leave, during which Rola found herself feeling lonely and unstimulated. She headed back to work eagerly. But three years later, when she got pregnant with her second child, an idea began to take shape. “Pfizer was buying our company, and while I wasn’t worried about job security, I began to think about what I could do to bring more value to myself and my career.” 

Having grown up in a family that empowered women to educate themselves, Rola says she had always considered post-graduate education. Knowing she’d be heading into another maternity leave, the idea of doing an Executive MBA while she was “off work” started to feel exciting. 

And so, seven months pregnant, Rola began an 18-month Executive MBA through Smith School of Business. The school’s national program enabled her to take part from Montreal, while connecting her to participants from across Canada. She intended to go back to her job, armed with more business expertise. Unexpectedly, one of her biggest takeaways from the program was a level of self-confidence she’d never had before. 

 

“As a working mom of two, I had really found it impossible to shop for my kids’ clothing. Shopping in a mall with babies and small children was a huge challenge, and I didn’t want to spend my weekends running around.” 

 

“I thought I was super-confident. But I was really driven by other people’s validation and approval,” she says. “The MBA really changed that. The level of thinking was way up, I excelled in the program, and thrived as a member of my team. This was all the validation I needed.” 

The program also gave her a new understanding of her own capabilities. “Interestingly,” she recalls, “prior to starting the MBA, I was connected with an industrial psychologist for a series of interviews and testing. He said to me, ‘You’re one of the most unique people I’ve met in the corporate structure. You’re an entrepreneur, and while you’ll continue to thrive in your career, you’ll get to a point where you’ll find something lacking — and ultimately, you’ll be unhappy. That’s when you’ll pivot.’”

Rola kept that advice in mind, but she still had no intention of leaving the corporate world. After heading back to her job, however, she says her body began to revolt. “I was experiencing extreme anxiety, and I started to hate going to work.”

The time had come to step out on her own. Enter her adventures in buying children’s clothing. 

“As a working mom of two, I had really found it impossible to shop for my kids’ clothing,” Rola explains. “Shopping in a mall with babies and small children was a huge challenge, and I didn’t want to spend my weekends running around.” 

Shopping online wasn’t much better. She found herself buying items she didn’t really like, and her purchases weren’t sensible. Dressing her kids every day, she struggled finding pieces that worked together. “There were always clothes in their closets with tags on them that they’d never wear. I knew there had to be a simpler way for all of this.” 

In 2017, clothing subscription boxes weren’t really a thing yet. Montreal-based Frank and Oak had done it for men’s fashions, but nothing existed for kids. Rola’s original plan for Choulala Box was to deliver capsule wardrobes for kids (sizes 2 to 6), which she would curate. Her goal was to simplify the shopping process, giving parents 10 pieces of clothing to mix and match in a far more sustainable way. The clothes would always be high quality and versatile. 

Rola quickly came to realize that her customers loved the concept but wanted to customize. They wanted to choose pieces for their children, personalizing their orders. More online services such as hers were beginning to come to market in the U.S., and Rola aimed to set herself and her business apart. 

During a brainstorming session, she came up with the term BLAST™ (which she soon after trademarked). The acronym stands for “bottoms, layering, accessories, socks/shoes, and tops” — all elements of a basic wardrobe. The Blast™ method makes it easier for kids to dress themselves, having items that all work well together to choose from, and empowers them to feel more confident and independent while having fun with their daily dressing. Rola also created a 49-card deck of cards to teach kids wardrobe basics.

The concept has earned her a lot of press, including stories in Goop, Motherly, and L.A. Parent. “We now have a subscriber base in the thousands and our conversion rate is 125%,” Rola says. “But it’s been a huge amount of work — way more work than doing an MBA with a newborn.” 

Despite sleepless nights and huge learning curves, Rola says she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her pivot came at the perfect time and the result keeps her learning and growing. She’s excited for the next ideas she’s working on to further transform Choulala Box.  

How Milica Kostic went from a Deloitte consultant to a Vogue-profiled designer.

When Milica Kostic began her consulting career at Deloitte, she came up against a common problem: finding an everyday bag that could fit her laptop, as well as appeal to her personal aesthetic. Anything elegant and professional lacked room and functionality — an issue that became more pronounced as she moved up in her career and began travelling every week for work. 

With planes and carry-on limits to contend with, extra essentials to carry, and more needs to be served — there wasn’t one handbag that could take her from the airport, to the office, to a dinner out. 

“That’s really when that pain-point became so much more prominent in my mind, and the initial idea started to form,” says Milica. “I realized there was a significant need in the market for designs that would be both functional and sophisticated for the professional woman.” 

Not an entrepreneur by nature, it took another push for Milica to consider meeting this need herself — and it came on a vacation to Tuscany. Her tour group visited some local tanneries with open workshops, and she learned about the rich history and quality of the leather industry in the region. “And that’s when something clicked,” she says. “The vision started crystalizing, and a few months after I got back, I started putting pen to paper.”

 
“I realized there was a significant need in the market for designs that would be both functional and sophisticated for the professional woman.” 

 

She began working on a novel handbag design, from the inside out. “I started by thinking about everything that the average professional woman needs in her handbag, as well as how to make it organized — so you’re not in the middle of a meeting rummaging through your bag to find something,” says Milica. 

What she ended up with became her signature interior, with a padded laptop pocket, multiple compartments to store essentials, including separate water bottle, passport and key pockets, and smart features like interior zippers and pen holders. It was all wrapped in a simple and elegant exterior. 

“I cannot draw for the life of me, so my first design was on a piece of paper in a coffee shop, with explanations all around,” says Milica, laughing. “It did not resemble a bag.” 

She hired a designer to create drawings that could be used by a manufacturer, started drafting a business plan for Voylan and within a year she was back in Tuscany to get the production process started. She knew the quality had to speak for itself, so took her time visiting tanneries, sourcing the best possible leather, and prototyping with manufacturers before selecting a family-run workshop and going into production.

Milica’s idea for a sophisticated, go-to line for corporate travellers first came to life in the Voylan Manhattan Tote.

In August of 2019, Voylan debuted with three handbag styles, hand-crafted with their signature compartmentalised interior. By November, Milica had received an email from British Vogue letting her know they loved the line and wanted to include it in their designer profile section. 

“We were a recently launched brand, so it was surreal to hear from them,” says Milica. “Not only was it an incredible honour, but also strong reinforcement that we’re on the right track.” 

Her business has also been validated by great feedback from her customers — but that doesn’t mean the process of launching Voylan has been without its challenges. 

“Going from employee to entrepreneur is a huge transition, and it takes even more discipline and accountability than I imagined,” says Milica. “There are always things you would do differently in hindsight, especially in situations where you are learning on the go. What I am trying to focus on is to learn from everything and continuously improve based upon those past experiences.”

 

“Going from employee to entrepreneur is a huge transition, and it takes even more discipline and accountability than I imagined.”

 

In addition to inspiring the design, Milica credits her consulting background with giving her the confidence to pursue the venture, and the capabilities to launch it successfully — from asking the right questions, to being comfortable with ambiguity.

“Being an entrepreneur, it is really hard to anticipate anything in the future — but it’s still important to make those plans,” she says. “You have to have a vision that you can anchor yourself to.” 

Milica’s vision for Voylan includes expanding the product line — they’re introducing wallets in the fall, with more products coming next year — while staying true to their commitment to provide exceptional quality, create investment pieces that are still accessible, and address the needs of professional women. For Milica, that’s as much style as it is functionality. 

“I have always seen fashion as a form of art and one of the ways by which we communicate a little bit about ourselves,” says Milica. “The fact that it is now a business I am growing is a huge source of personal satisfaction.”

Meet Angela Aiello: aka ‘Super Wine Girl’ who has tasted over 10,000 wines in her 20-year career

With 20 years of experience in the wine, spirits and food business, Angela has a wealth of experience and knowledge with the millennial market. Her expertise lies around consumer behaviour, social media marketing, experiential tasting events, building brand awareness and global wine/food/drink trends and education. She has also hosted educational seminars, panel discussions, and was previously the Wine Editor for an international magazine. She has written about, wine, food and drink for many lifestyle publications, and has produced/hosted national on-air TV and radio segments – including live-to-air showings and has mastered the art of online videos. Known as @SuperWineGirl, her career has been about democratizing wine and giving consumers the keys they need to be their own wine critic.

 

My first job ever was… at a Pizzeria in a town called Smithville, swinging pizzas and deep-frying chicken wings! 

I realized that I had a passion for wine… when I moved to the big city and had no friends, but a lot of wine – and I knew a lot about them! 

For me, the perfect glass of wine is… poured at the perfect temperature in a beautiful glass. Right now I’m sipping great Chardonnay or Grenache-based blends.

My proudest accomplishment is… having travelled to over 14 countries to learn about wine, including working in a cellar for harvest in the South African Winelands in 2018. 

My boldest move to date was… incorporating a business, expanding a business and pivoting a business. 

I surprise people when I tell them…I’ve tasted over 10,000 wines in my career! 

My best advice to people thinking of formalizing their interest in wine is…be prepared to work hard and long, the wine business looks luxurious, and there are moments that are, but the majority of time is spent hustling. 

 

“The wine business looks luxurious, and there are moments that are, but the majority of time is spent hustling.”

 

My best advice from a mentor was… you’re a rockstar, just keep hustling. 

I would tell my 21-year old self… in 15 years, you’ll look back and be proud of what you accomplished. 

My biggest setback was… stretching myself too thin over business opportunities.

I overcame it by… hiring a consultant to research the business and give me guidance.

The best thing about what I do is… tasting the world and telling my stories to others through social media, celebrity and chef interviews and constantly learning about the world at the same time.

The most challenging thing about what I do is… staying healthy and humble through bottles and egos.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…spend more time in grocery stores and prep more meals! 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I have size 6 feet! 

I stay inspired by…meeting with mentors and mentees and travelling as much as possible.

My next step is…to complete my book – it’s about sex, wine and pizza! Follow my IG account for wine recommendations “Juice du Jour” and have all of your wine questions answered by @SuperWineGirl.

Meet Jasmine Daya: a personal injury lawyer with a passion for the kitchen

Jasmine Daya is a lawyer and the Managing Principal of Jasmine Daya & Co. She is also Author of Law Girl’s Bump in the Road and JD in the Kitchen, blogger, podcaster and speaker. Jasmine has always viewed herself as an advocate and naturally chose a legal specialization in the area of personal injury, with a particular focus on claims involving minors, club assaults, particularly those involving bouncers or nightclub security, bullying and cyberbullying which is a developing area in the civil law context, elder abuse, personal injury claims arising from landlord negligence, fatality claims and catastrophic claims involving motor vehicle accidents. We caught up with her recently to find out how she is combining and celebrating the different parts of her identity. 

 

My first job ever was…flipping hamburgers and tossing fries at my parents’ Harvey’s restaurants.

I became a lawyer because…I watched My Cousin Vinny. I loved it and immediately saw myself passionately advocating for real people with my own style which is exactly what I do.

I decided to write a cookbook because… since I was a young girl, my mom and I had discussed writing a cookbook. My mom is an incredibly talented home cook, her creativity blows my mind however she does not have the patience to measure, note measurements, test and retest. The cookbooks have not only made my mom and I realize our dream of recording all of our family recipes but it has given us time together that we would otherwise never have had. Chatting (and gossiping) in the kitchen while waiting for the stove to heat as well as bickering about proper techniques has been more fun than I could have ever imagined.

My proudest accomplishment is…becoming a lawyer. It’s an honour and privilege to practice law in Ontario. Regardless of what entrepreneurial pursuits I am working on, my clients come first. They believe in me, rely on me, and no matter what, I always have their back.

My boldest move to date was… starting a personal injury law firm in a highly competitive market, in a highly competitive city when many personal injury law firms are folding.

I surprise people when I tell them…I have three children.

My best advice to people who want to pursue their passions outside of work is…just do it and stop thinking and talking about doing it.  What are you waiting for?

My best advice from a mentor was…the worst they can do is say “No”.  That advice is always in the back of my mind when I’m about to pitch one of my big ideas knowing that everyone will think I’m crazy which is usually the case.  Generally, people are taken aback by me and my ideas and watching facial expressions and body language has actually become quite entertaining.

 

“It’s okay that people underestimate me, it actually gives me an edge because they don’t see me coming and don’t know what hit them.”

 

I would tell my 20-year old self...stop stressing about what your parents are saying, go to law school.  They will come around and you will have no regrets.

My biggest setback was…three major banks shutting the door in my face when I wanted to buy my first commercial property and with only a week to waive the financing condition.

I overcame it by…buying the commercial property! The purchase required me to find the right people to structure the deal, time and energy but I did it.  Now, every time I see those same bankers, I smile large as they continue to stare at me in shock just like they did the first time they met me.

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…I am a true believer that “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” I pass those words of wisdom on all the time. In my case, I usually self loathe for an evening on the sofa with junk food, wearing my sweats and snuggle with my cozy blanket before I start working on the lemonade the next day. We all need time to process, but I need to learn how to stop being so hard on myself as it doesn’t just impact me but also, everyone around me.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…be able to see the surface of my desk more frequently.  The piles seem to stack up faster than I can clear them and my law firm is supposedly paperless!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I love potato chips.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my career is…it’s okay that people underestimate me, it actually gives me an edge because they don’t see me coming and don’t know what hit them. 

I stay inspired by…people. I love networking and meeting new people as you never know where those connections will take you or how their thoughts and opinions will help develop new and creative ideas for you to embark upon.

The future excites me because…the sky is the limit and I’ve only just gotten started.  I am beyond excited about what the future holds.

My next step is…to continue building my empire.