Meet Dr. Rumeet Billan, Incoming CEO of Women of Influence.

Rumeet Billan

Dr. Rumeet Billan is an award-winning, internationally recognized researcher and expert on workplace culture. As the Founder and Chief Learning Architect of Viewpoint Leadership, she has designed and facilitated programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors — transforming workplaces to enable trust, foster belonging, and build resilience. Rumeet is passionate about creating platforms that encourage women, youth, communities, and organizations to envision what could be possible, and she’s dedicated her time to support causes and lead initiatives that promote human welfare. A serial entrepreneur, Rumeet will be bringing almost two decades of leadership experience to the helm of Women of Influence. She takes over the role of CEO on December 1, 2022. 

 

My first job ever was… on an assembly line, working in a factory, packaging bags of chips. Something you would not see on my LinkedIn or on my resume, but played a significant role in the trajectory of my career.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… someone believed in me. I accidentally became an entrepreneur at the age of 21, and this stemmed from a conversation that I had with a friend at the time. Funny enough, my High School Guidance Counsellor suggested that I should pursue a career in Human Resources, which I tried, but entrepreneurship is where I landed. Over the last 18 years, we have not only made profit, but more importantly, we’ve been able to make an impact.   

I’m passionate about my industry because… I am driven to help transform workplaces through research, training, and development. I love that I get to share knowledge that can potentially change someone’s experience and/or viewpoint. I also get to make an impact in ways that can help others not only reach their potential, but exceed their own expectations. 

My proudest accomplishment is… still in the making.

A challenge I faced as a (racialized) woman in business isthat I was constantly underestimated early on in my career.

I overcame it by… letting people underestimate me without letting it impact me. I decided that I would let my work speak for itself. 

“I am driven to help transform workplaces through research, training, and development… I get to make an impact in ways that can help others not only reach their potential, but exceed their own expectations.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… time is your only real currency. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… the importance of intermittent recovery. Taking time to rest and recover throughout the year. I’m working on it!

The thing I love most about what I do is… meeting incredible people and hearing about their experiences. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… setting clear boundaries and not apologizing for them.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m an introvert. I need personal time to recharge. I also don’t know how to wink, but wish I did!

Work-life balance is… not my goal. The goal is work-life enrichment.

I stay inspired by… my six-year-old son. His curiosity, determination, negotiation skills, rationalizations, ability to bounce back, and kindness inspire me. I learn so much from him and absolutely love being his mama. 

The future excites me because… of the impact we are going to make together.

My next step is… here.

 

Read the announcement from our Co-CEOs »    |    Read the press release » 

Meet Jenna Caira, an Olympic medalist who is now helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

In her 27-year career in amateur and professional sport, 12 of which were spent in high-performance environments with Team Canada, Jenna Caira helped to lead her teams to success at every level, earning 10 international medals, 4 national championships and a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as co-captain of Softball Canada’s Olympic bronze medal team. She still managed to find time to excel in her professional life, working in corporate communications and partnerships, and as a motivational speaker and performance coach. In early 2022, she was appointed head of franchise recruitment for Laser Clinics Canada, bringing decades of training in high-performance teams, leadership, and success in diverse, high-stakes environments to her new position. 

 

My first job ever was… assisting with softball pitching lessons when I was 12 years old. I found the more I had to explain the dynamic pitching motion to others, the more I understood my body and its potential. It also increased my curiosity in asking “what else?” It enhanced my training by pushing me to meet smarter, more experienced people, which helped shape who I am today. 

My Olympic aspirations started when… I was 4 years old. I always had a passion for softball and aspired to playing at the highest level. I was fortunate to have a few role models and mentors in my life who guided me along my journey for 27 years. I focused on maintaining a growth mindset, but more importantly, I always competed and embraced the uncomfortable moments of pressure, regardless of the outcome

Transitioning from amateur sport to the business world has been gratifying! While these two worlds may seem so different, there are many parallels when it comes to goal-setting, leadership, team culture and work ethic. We all have transferrable skills that we can bring to different work environments, and it has been empowering to learn new skills every day in my role at Laser Clinics Canada. 

I’m passionate about my current role because… while I may not be throwing a ball and working towards an Olympic medal anymore, I am using my skills within an environment that can help other people achieve their dream of being small business owners

My proudest accomplishment is… winning a bronze medal for Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

“There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.”

My biggest setback was… myself. As an elite athlete, we constantly try to find ways to get better, stronger, and smarter. I had never participated in the Olympics before, and at one point I began questioning my abilities as to whether I was good enough to be a significant contributor to my team. I know many entrepreneurs starting their own businesses can relate – you’re in unknown territory. 

I overcame it by… choosing to be adaptable and remembering the “why” behind waking up every day to work towards making this dream a reality. I also learned it was okay to ask for help, and that having the support of my teammates and coaches helped me grow. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy working with Laser Clinics Canada. The unique 50/50 business model means we’re in it together to help make each clinic location a success. 

My advice for anyone changing careers is to give yourself credit for being courageous enough to try something new. When I accepted the role at Laser Clinics Canada in Franchise Recruitment, it wasn’t feasible to expect myself to have all the answers about the business right away. However, I could control asking good questions and being invested in my team every day. We must be open to feedback and willing to be open-minded as we pursue new opportunities. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is read non-fiction books and listen to podcasts! Get inspired by others because knowledge is power. My favourite book right now is “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… to just be yourself.  There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.  

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m now in starting rotation in my co-ed slow-pitch league! 

I stay inspired by… our Laser Clinics Canada leadership team. They encourage us to be creative, think outside the box and lean on each other to help bring this great business model to the Canadian market. 

The future excites me because… what I am contributing to at LCC will help create jobs, offer more opportunities for entrepreneurs who are passionate about the advanced beauty industry and provide a space to make selfcare a greater priority for everyday Canadians. 

My next step is… to build my professional relationship with Women of Influence! I follow this great network, and Laser Clinics Canada is incredibly excited to connect with other inspiring women! I will also connect with entrepreneurs who are looking to do something new with their careers and who recognize the power of being part of a trusted, award-winning brand like Laser Clinics.

Meet Tyg Davison, a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY.

Tyg Davidson

Tyg Davison is a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY, a full-service model and talent management agency based out of Toronto. With a modelling career spanning over a decade, Tyg has worked closely with some of the world’s most prestigious and revered designers, like Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, and has shot campaigns for brands like Miu Miu, Maison Martin Margiela, Zara, Saint Laurent, Adidas Y-3, and Rick Owens. After gaining invaluable experience and perspective as a model, Tyg wanted to manage and empower the next generation of models and founded CITIZEN. 

 

My first job ever was… at 15 years old, assisting the Recreational Director of a retirement home. I helped facilitate the activities for seniors living there which was so much fun. I made wise friends, always eager to impart advice, listened to Elvis CDs on repeat, and learned how to play Blackjack from a fiery group of women. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… although starting a company comes with risks, I feel so much more secure and confident in my life and in myself by building something that I am responsible for and rely on. 

As a model travelling alone internationally, I became independent very quickly at a young age. I was represented by many modeling agencies around the world, but I was self-employed. It is a misconception that models are employed by modeling agencies. When I took my first position as an agent with an agency as a full-time employee in Canada, I realized how much I missed the feeling of building something with my vision that I can shape and take ownership of — and also making my own schedule!

I founded CITIZEN AGENCY because… after having modelled for a decade and then working as an agent, I had the rare opportunity of experiencing both sides of the business. I saw so much room for change and evolution in the way models are managed in the industry. I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience. 

“I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience.”

I’m passionate about creating opportunities for the future generation of models and talent because… I say it often, but modelling changed the course of my life. It brings me such a sense of accomplishment and joy being able to facilitate that for others. It’s a difficult industry to navigate, but with the right team of agents behind you, it teaches you so much about yourself and how to navigate the world with independence and confidence. 

An international modelling career forces you outside of your comfort zone, immerses you in new cultures, challenges you with language barriers, and introduces you to talented people you would have otherwise never crossed paths with. I am so passionate about creating those special moments for others.

One of the most important things I learned about myself during my time as a model is… that I can do hard things. It’s a simple statement, but even now when I’m faced with a difficult situation, I say to myself, “you can do hard things” over and over. I will get through it — whatever it is, it will pass. 

There’s so much rejection in the fashion industry that I learned not to internalize as a model, people to stand up to, uncertainties and lessons to learn, and I had to take care of myself as a self-employed teen girl travelling alone.

My proudest accomplishment is… My proudest accomplishment has been developing a roster of models and talent who really are beautiful humans — inside and out. I feel like I’ve connected with everyone I represent and am so grateful to each of them for trusting me with their management. I’m really quite proud and humbled that they chose CITIZEN so early on in the agency’s story.  

My biggest setback was… My biggest setback so far has only been financial. Money does not buy happiness, but it does buy opportunity! I started modelling when I lived in a women’s shelter with my mother and sister, and it sent me across the world. I’m so passionate about what I do and am committed to making it work because I wholeheartedly believe it will. However, bootstrapping every business move on your own sometimes makes you move at a slower pace you’d like. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t give up! I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk. I often ask myself, “if I don’t do this, will the 99 year old me regret not trying?” Also, surround yourself with people who inspire you and support you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… “Just relax.” 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that there are no two days that look alike. I’m dealing with different people every day. All creatives, all inspired to collaborate, all interesting humans I feel fortunate to meet.

“I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk.”

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The reason I am where I am today is because of the people I have in my life. My partner is so incredibly supportive and pushed me to start CITIZEN AGENCY regardless of the uncertainty. I am beyond fortunate to have had someone so encouraging enter my life. He is exactly what I — and CITIZEN — needed. My family has cheered me on at every step and celebrated my growth. My friends have loved me through every doubt and dread. I am held up by my circle, and I owe everything to them. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… If you Google me, you’ll come across interviews in several different languages and good and bad photos of me in various states of undress, so it’s hard to come up with something that can’t be Googled! I suppose there are stories behind each of them: stories of hilarity, frustration, and often, absolute chaos! Those stories definitely can’t be Googled. 

I stay inspired by… Creating new opportunities and watching people grow, and it’s not just for the people I represent, but also for the community. I serve as a council member for Covenant House in Toronto, which I hold near and dear to my heart. Having stayed in a women’s shelter as a young teen myself, it’s so important for me to contribute ideas to an incredible organization like Covenant House for youth experiencing homelessness. 

The future excites me because… The future excites me because I work in an industry that is constantly evolving. I have so many ideas that I want to introduce not only in my agency, but the fashion industry here in Canada as a whole — but who knows what the industry will look like, even in the next year? That’s the exciting part, the inspiring part, the scary part. 

My next step is… My next step is a surprise. It’s phase two of CITIZEN AGENCY that I can’t wait to start working on when the time is right.

Meet Dr. Shara Ally, founder of NEUROorganics Inc, a mental health company incorporating Eastern approaches.

Shara Ally

| Photo by Charlotte Poolton Photography |

Dr. Shara Ally is the Founder and CEO of NEUROorganics Inc., a mental health company that incorporates Eastern approaches to care — inspired by a conversation Shara had with the Dalai Lama. She’s also Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Lotus Medical Community Clinic in California, and Mental Health Consultant and Strategist for RogersTV and KRS Home Care Inc. Shara sits on multiple health-focused boards, and is an accomplished researcher, lecturer, and international speaker. In addition, Shara added Ms. Canada United World 2022 to her titles and is now competing for the international crown, Ms. United World 2023. 

 

My first job ever was… making my first cup of coffee at Tim Hortons! 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it is an inspired space that allows for creating solutions to everyday problems that are innovative, novel, and unconventional. 

I founded NEUROorganics Inc. because… I wanted to share the lessons I received from the Dalai Lama through a mental health platform that cultivates an innovative approach to education and consultation to strategically help individuals fuel their pain from their past into their future purpose.   

I’m passionate about mental health because… I believe your mind is the greatest asset you have. In NEUROorganics, we teach our clients that just as you have physical health you have mental health, and it is essential to nourish it for internal wellness that is then exuded externally. 

My proudest accomplishment is… helping my clients in NEUROorganics get to the other side of suffering. This achievement demonstrates the importance in the work NEUROorganics provides as it helps to shape healthier individuals, families, and communities. Mental health and wellness is not to be underestimated, nor can you ever graduate from it. The NEUROorganics methods of fueling your pain from your past into a your future purpose, allows you to live with improved self-awareness, self-worth, and confidence. 

My biggest setback was… caring too much about what others thought of me. As a result, I overexerted myself and my resources to try to impress them and hope to gain their approval. This within itself will deter you from success, guaranteed. 

“The quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life.” 

I overcame it by… surrounding myself with the right mindsets that fill my cup in my personal and professional lives. I tell my NEUROorganics clients all of the time that the quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn to love being uncomfortable. Entrepreneurship does not follow a specific methodology, nor is it linear. However, there is incredible learning and intrinsic value that comes with the entrepreneur lifestyle. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… the incredible and empowering transformation my clients experience in NEUROorganics. They are no longer victims to their mind; rather they have learned how to use their mind as an asset. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my failures! Failures, mistakes, and setbacks create a synergetic opportunity for learning, refining, and synthesizing your idea.   

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I have 48 allergies! 

I stay inspired by… a quote I subscribe to by Denzel Washington which is, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” This is a great reminder to keep pushing forward when it’s hard, and not to settle when things are easy. 

The future excites me because… I have the opportunity to fuse my pageant, business, medical, and entrepreneurship platforms to create solution-orientated mental health solutions for individuals and communities. The cross-pollination across these industries felt out of reach at one point, and have simultaneously come together in an effective and meaningful way. 

My next step is… to optimize the mental wellness journey of my clients and empower business development to serve larger audiences to accelerate NEUROorganics. I also plan on engaging my Ms. Canada United World 2022 platform to support women and their mental wellness. If I win the Ms. United World 2023 crown, this will allow for a shift from national to international impact for women and the audiences I touch through this incredible platform. 

Meet Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, an award-winning social and environmental justice activist.

Jackie Bouvier Copeland

Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland is an award-winning multidisciplinary innovator, educator, artist, and activist. She is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund (WISE), an organization that facilitates a network and connects donors and social financiers to underfunded activists, technological innovators and other stakeholders invested in finding solutions to the environmental crisis. In addition to her work with WISE, Dr. Copeland has also founded Black Philanthropy Month, an initiative dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness around Black giving and philanthropic efforts. Recognized as a HistoryMaker and included in the Congressional Record for her civic contributions, Dr. Copeland has been working in the social and environmental justice space for 40 years, with her work efforts reaching at least 20 million people. 

 

My first job ever was… My very first job was as an administrative assistant with the Navy in the Naval Aviation Engineering Services Unit at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, specifically in its Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Unit. It was a great introduction to the good, bad, and ugly of the work world, and it was part of the Mayor’s summer youth employment program.  

I became interested in pursuing social and environmental justice as part of my work because… I lived through many injustices starting in childhood. I always wanted to do what I could so that people in my community, the nation, and the world did not have to suffer these same challenges. 

I founded The Women Invested to Save Earth (WISE) Fund because… Innovators from all backgrounds can help us address the most compelling challenges facing our community in the world; unfortunately, women and people of color only receive one to two percent on average of philanthropy and investment support for their nonprofits and their businesses. 

My hope with The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund is that we can create a new model for how all innovators, regardless of background, can be supported for their merit, qualifications, and the potential their innovations have to address social issues and the climate change challenge facing our entire world. 

I created Black Philanthropy Month becauseI created Black Philanthropy Month 20 years ago for several reasons: to celebrate and raise public awareness that giving is written into the DNA of every Black culture worldwide; to educate about innovative, diverse forms of Black giving; to build global Black unity and community impact through collective giving; and lastly, especially as of 2020, to promote fair access to all forms of private capital for economic justice — the last frontier of Black civil, racial, liberation movements. 

Black Philanthropy Month advances a global movement to advance Black giving and social finance innovation in all forms for the betterment of our communities everywhere and the planet we share for all people.

“I have absolutely no doubt that I have done my best to be good in the world.”

My proudest accomplishment is… Being a mother and supporting the development of my now 32-year-old child, an accomplished artist and activist. Also, I’m proud of my leadership role in my family and my community. I am blessed to be recognized as a HistoryMaker for my 40 years of civic contributions, including my early contributions to Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance initiative, as well as Black Philanthropy Month, Reunity, and now WISE founder. It is also a miracle that, with much support, I launched my first album, Blachant, as both executive producer and singer-songwriter — an almost lost personal goal.  

My biggest setback was… There have been many setbacks, but I think of life in terms of overcoming. Poverty, dramatic family troubles, workplace discrimination, and health challenges are a part of my story, but I’ve been blessed to overcome these challenges and grow through difficult experiences too. I’m still here, thriving, leading, and serving with my joy and faith intact, stronger than ever.  

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… I’m much better at it now, but the one piece of advice I definitely have trouble following is to care for myself while caring for others. I work harder now to live with “radical self-care,” although that’s still a work in progress. Becoming a master life coach now helps, as it encourages me to be a better self-care role model.  

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… If I had an extra hour in a day, I’d spend it hiking, praying, meditating in nature, catching up with loved ones, writing fiction, poetry, and songs, or creating my wellness movement practice.

The thing I love most about what I do is… I have absolutely no doubt that I have done my best to be good in the world. I can document it. I can almost count the number of communities and people I’ve touched. What motivates me and partly why I think I’m on the planet is to do my utmost to heal people, society, the planet we share, and in the process, myself.  

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a certified Zumba instructor and a global Black home chef. I’ve even won awards for my African Soul Collard Greens, mixing how I learned to cook low country cuisine with West African cooking. Dancing and cooking for friends are two of my favorite social activities. 

The future excites me because… Even in the midst of struggle, we all need to find ways to hold on to joy. I stay inspired by the challenges we face and the prospect of making life better for many people today and for future generations. My faith, life purpose, and stories of past and present social justice leaders gives me inspiration and strength. The future is daunting but inspiring because we have many opportunities to create a better world for all — together.

Meet Karen Collins, Chief Talent Officer for BMO Financial Group.

Karen Collins

Karen Collins is the Chief Talent Officer for BMO Financial Group, the 8th largest bank (by assets) in North America — with 12 million customers, and over 43,000 employees. Joining the bank in 2005, she held progressively more senior leadership roles across the organization, and now has enterprise accountability for Talent Management; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Leadership & Succession Planning; Executive Development; and Organization Design & Effectiveness. Karen serves on the Perimeter Institute Board of Directors and as a member of the Boulevard Club’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She is a proud wife and mother, has two beloved Labrador retrievers, and enjoys travelling with her family and staying active.

 

My first job ever was… babysitting for kids in my neighbourhood.

I decided on a career in human resources because… I’m passionate about helping leaders achieve their potential and I love to unlock tough issues related to human and team dynamics and change.

I’m passionate about my current role because… I have had a chance to impact BMO’s culture, talent, focus on inclusion and people ecosystem during one of the most interesting periods in history!

My proudest accomplishment is… most recently, how BMO supported our people during the pandemic — we kept people safe and working and feeling personally cared for. Over my career my proudest accomplishment has been helping other leaders grow, thrive and achieve their goals.

My biggest setback was… working for a company where I realized the values of the organization did not align with my personal values.

I overcame it by… seeking a change to move to a new company (BMO!) that did align with my values and learning a lot from the experience — it was one of the most formative learning experiences in my career. 

“As we come through the pandemic into the next chapter there is so much new and bold thinking about the new ways of working.”

My advice for aspiring HR professionals is… think of yourself as a business person first; while you may be focused on human capital most of the time, it’s really important to understand how the business works — focus on products, technology, systems, revenue as well as people.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… create work-life balance and take real breaks from work… I am getting better at this, I think!

The thing I love most about what I do is… working alongside my team, my colleagues and the bank’s leadership team.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… learning agility — being excited by new things, taking in feedback and learning from it, seeking out new perspectives and being resilient. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am an introvert.

I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with mentors, leaders, colleagues and team members who inspire me on a regular basis.

The future excites me because… as we come through the pandemic into the next chapter there is so much new and bold thinking about the new ways of working.

My next step is… yet to be written!

Meet Traci Shepheard, founder of MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio.

Traci Shepheard

Traci Shepheard is the Founder of MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio: a 1972 vintage Airstream called the MINDSTREAM.. After working in her corporate career for over 20 years, Traci was accustomed to all that came with a fast-paced work life. To manage her stress and keep herself grounded, Traci often relied on her own mindful practice. In doing so, Traci had the idea of creating her own mobile meditation studio with a mission to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness with as many people as possible. With this mobile studio, MeditationWorks creates an experience that is meant to disrupt people’s workdays — in the most positive way possible, they come to you for wellness at work.

 

My first job ever was… Working at Perino’s Pizza Parlor at age 14.   

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit with a plethora of ideas inside my head. For over 20 years, I have been percolating on how I could positively impact people while building human connection. 

In 2015, I bought a mini art piece that said, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take” and placed it where I could see it every day, along with an excerpt from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford graduation speech: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary. I knew I had a unique idea; I decided to make a dramatic change and take the leap. 

I founded MeditationWorks because… I wanted to create a wellness experience that was aspirational, turnkey, and easy to connect people in a world that is so connected, yet disconnected. In 2018, I attended a “Passion to Purpose” workshop and a key ‘aha’ takeaway was that often, your purpose is something that upsets or angers you. I realized how true this was — the disconnection that social media causes infuriated me and I wanted to do something about it. Providing wellness at work fosters culture and team building while cross functionally bringing people together for the betterment of their health, happiness & wellbeing, which in turn prioritizes a healthy versus burnt out workforce; disconnecting to reconnect! 

I’m passionate about mental health and wellness because… your health is your wealth.  

My proudest accomplishment is… to echo similar sentiments as Gabby Bernstein, I am proud of my courage to go to the places that scared me the most so that I could heal, be, and feel.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary.”

My biggest setback was… I was about to launch MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio “The Mindstream” in April 2020 when the pandemic hit. My first corporate client was going to be Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) during the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors playoffs for all of their employees; obviously this never happened, and my whole concept had to be completely altered while keeping the same mission and purpose intact. 

I overcame it by… Turning the concept inside out and having the mobile experience outdoors —drive-in style— and taking it to the frontline healthcare workers at Ontario hospitals. We then tested a virtual model with employees working remotely, and have now brought to life over 600 workplace wellness experiences around the world, virtually and in person, since our launch on May 6, 2020. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Persistence and a positive mindset are your superpowers. When you get tired, learn to rest and not to quit.  

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Making rest and resetting a priority.  

The thing I love most about what I do is… Connecting with and helping our clients and participants around the world. I am continually humbled and exhilarated by the feedback we receive from our wellness experiences. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… My persistence.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was my high school mascot “Skippy,” the saber-toothed tiger, which originally was kept a mystery to students.

I stay inspired by… LIFE! If you can dream it, you can do it.  

The future excites me because… I believe a silver lining from the pandemic is that it elevated the importance of mental health and self-care; there is Power in the Pause! 

My next step is… Continuing to evolve and optimize the MeditationWorks workplace wellness offerings, while staying true to our core values and mission. We finally welcomed people INSIDE our mobile studio exactly 2 years from the day of our launch on May 6, 2022, and we look forward to welcoming many more people inside the Pause Lounge on board the Mindstream for wellness at work, the “constantly moving happiness mobile.”

Meet Natalie Borch, founder of body-positive fitness space, The Pink Studio

Natalie Borch

Natalie Borch is an entrepreneur, dancer, and advocate for body acceptance and inclusivity. Having grown up in the competitive dance world, Natalie never truly felt like she fit. She spent years as an adult learning to accept and love her body. She rebuilt her life after deciding to leave her marriage in 2015 with a 4-year-old in tow. After walking through the fire of divorce, Natalie found her voice and opened The Pink Studio Dance + Fitness because she wanted to create a body-positive and inclusive fitness space that celebrated all bodies and abilities. In addition to running the daily operations of the studio, Natalie is a speaker for retreats, corporate events and on TV about the power of body confidence. 

 

My first job ever was… I taught dance classes for kids at a community centre in Vancouver where I grew up. I loved choreographing routines!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…  I wanted to do things differently. I was tired of seeing weight loss as the sole focus of fitness studios, and I was done feeling intimidated walking into a yoga studio or dance class because I didn’t have a certain body type. I wanted to be loud and proud about what I stood for.

I founded The Pink Studio because…  I want everyone to feel like a dancer. Dance needs to be more accessible and I wanted a space where people of all ages, sizes and gender expressions could learn to dance. Many adults share their experiences with me of quitting dance as a young person or not even starting because they didn’t have a “dancer’s body.” We see a lot of folks coming back to dance in their 40’s and 50’s and finding their love for dance again. 

Why pink? Definitely the most common question I get asked! Reclaiming the colour pink has been a marker of modern-day feminism and something that I was very intentional about as an entrepreneur when creating our branding. For me, pink is a powerful colour and it makes a statement. I want to challenge the idea that the statement it makes is one of weakness or timidness. Pink is still regarded as a feminine colour and anything feminine is still seen, by both men and women, as holding a lower status. We applaud young girls who learn to code, love Spiderman and playing baseball. We don’t celebrate as much when young men want to wear lace, do ballet and play with Barbies. 

Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. 

I don’t believe pushing girls to be more like boys is the answer to gender equality. Instead of making masculine tendencies the ideal standard, shouldn’t we hold the “girly” qualities to the same high regard? It has also been interesting to see how often people assume the studio is “women’s only.” Some have asked “Well aren’t you afraid you are off putting to men with all this pink?” Um… how do I say this nicely? Not even a little bit. But seriously, this was also a deliberate choice because I wanted men to know they are always welcome here. However, I only want men in our classes who feel comfortable in a very femme-positive space. Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. From day one, we have always been a place for all gender identities and gender expressions. 

I’m passionate about adult dance and body positivity because… I’ve experienced how life-changing body confidence is. When I hated my body, that insecurity seeped into every area of my life. It’s hard to live a BIG life when you’re constantly trying to make yourself smaller. When I learned to love myself and love my body, it changed everything. I left an unhappy marriage, I applied for a new job where I could start to hone my business skills, I started making plans to open my business, and I finally felt worthy of it all. All of this while parenting a young child. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Opening the doors to The Pink Studio. There were a lot of barriers and many reasons that could’ve held me back, but I actually did it and I could not be prouder. Opening this business was harder than giving birth and going through a divorce so sometimes I still can’t believe I did it! There was a circle of people around me who helped make this possible. 

My biggest setback was… The pandemic. I had survived the first two years in business. What I thought was the hardest part. We had just started to become profitable and then the world changed. The fitness industry has been closed for longer than most, and we have been hit hard. 

I overcame it by…  Gratitude and a lot of help from my brother. Grant is my brother and also co-owner of the studio. The first 5 days in lockdown in March 2020 we worked harder than we did when the business first opened. We had to create a whole new online platform, figure out how to teach 30 classes a week online, and lead our team of teachers and staff through the process. It was overwhelming, but we did it and that’s how we have survived the past two years.

People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  Surround yourself with the right people. Find other entrepreneurs to be friends with, and mentor each other. Find a partner who believes in your dreams as fiercely as you do. Spend time with those who lift you up and challenge you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Don’t take things personally. I take everything personally because it feels like my business is so personal, but that makes it hard for me to make objective decisions or see the big picture sometimes. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… Hearing from clients about how our classes impact their whole lives. I’ll never forget the woman who told me after taking a month of Beginner Beyoncé classes with us, that her co-workers pointed out to her that she was raising her hand more in meetings and seemed more confident. And there was another woman, the only client who’s every made me cry, even though she didn’t realize it. She was 62 years old and came in giggling one day for her ballet class, so excited to show me her brand new ballet shoes. She told me that she dreamed of having ballet shoes since she was a little girl, and that she had assumed that dream has passed her by. I had to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom because the whole thing just made me so emotional! 

I stay inspired by… Seeing so much diversity and representation now in dance and fitness. People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting. 

My next step is…  There is another business idea brewing right now that I’m really excited about. It’s adjacent to the idea of The Pink Studio, but not the same. More performance based, and it will definitely celebrate all bodies, ages and genders!

Meet Nia Lee, founder of a social marketing agency and a skincare subscription box.

Nia Lee

Nia Lee is the Founder and CEO of Socialee Media Agency, a boutique social media marketing agency that helps beauty and lifestyle businesses create high-performing, visionary content for their social media channels. After gaining experience working for several notable brands like Bite Beauty, NYX Cosmetics Canada, Shea Moisture Canada, and DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Nia launched her own beauty brand, Oilee Skincare with a mission to promote skin health instead of skin perfection. Oilee Skincare is the first-ever subscription box that helps people with oily, acne-prone skin discover new skincare products from indie & BIPOC-owned brands. Since then, Nia and her business have partnered with brands like Province Apothecary, Skin Actives, Dermala and The Body Shop.

 

My first job ever was… I always say it was Tim Hortons, but actually, it was doing my local paper route back when I was 14 years old, living in Markham, ON, making $40/month. I wanted a job really badly, so I remember applying for a bunch, but never hearing anything back. 

My cousin was doing the paper route at the time, and I used to help him out until he quit and I decided to take over. I remember dragging my cart through the snow; my hands used to be so gray and ashy afterwards — what a time! But, I made my $40 every month, and I could buy whatever I wanted with it. That made me feel good until I turned 16 and got to apply to a job that paid me at least minimum wage!

Before Oilee Skincare, I was… Passionately helping beauty and lifestyle brands make their mark on the world with visionary content for their brand’s social media within my boutique social media marketing agency, Socialee Media Agency

I founded Oilee Skincare because… I wanted to create a brand and community that focused on stopping the stigma of having oily, acne-prone skin, because I’ve had oily, acne-prone skin since I was 18 or 19 years old and I hated it when I was younger. I would do everything to stop my oiliness from showing, and it made me super self-conscious. Fast forward to the pandemic; I wanted to shop more intentionally with indie and BIPOC-owned brands in mind, especially those that catered to my skin type and tone. I fell in love with these brands, their products, the way they made me feel, and knew that it wasn’t about getting rid of my oiliness but instead, taking care of it. 

From there, I spent a lot of time researching. Seeing that a lot of people were also feeling self-conscious about their oily and acne-prone skin, I knew my ‘Why’ for creating Oilee Skincare had to be about embracing it and taking care of it, focusing on skin health over skin perfection, and changing the narrative around having oily, acne-prone skin because it’s nothing to be ashamed about! Making the decision to feature indie and BIPOC-owned brands came down to me having the pleasure to work with and use a lot of these brands over the years, and with new brands launching every day with innovative products, it was no brainer.  

“There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up.”

One of the most important things I learned about myself in my time as an entrepreneur is… To never stay down no matter how many times you get knocked down. There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up. Have a moment to feel all the feels, but get right back up because tomorrow is a new day! 

My proudest accomplishment is… Getting the opportunity to work with some really notable brands over the years, both within my agency and my brand, like Bite Beauty, Shea Moisture Canada, DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Province Apothecary, The Body Shop, and even Canva! 

I’m a child of a Jamaican immigrant, I don’t come from money, and I don’t have endless connections — all I have is my ability to be myself, work hard, and give everything I do my best shot. I’ve been incredibly blessed, and I am beyond grateful for each and every opportunity. 

My biggest setback was… Being a perfectionist! 

I overcame it by… Realizing that not everything in life needs to be perfect right then and there. In the words of PR and Brand Strategist and Sakita Holley, “done is better than perfect.” 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t be afraid to start over, change your mind, fall 100 times, and experiment. Oh, and remember to HAVE FUN. It’s not always going to be a cake walk, and you will have your hard days, but enjoy the journey and try your best to celebrate your wins (I’m working on this myself!).

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Celebrating my wins! I don’t know what it is, but I just never take the time to smell the roses. My brain is always going a mile a minute, but when something amazing happens, no matter how big or small, I try my best to acknowledge it. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Spend more time with my friends and family. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that I get the opportunity to meet and connect with dope beauty founders every day. I love hearing their stories about how they built their brands, which may allow us to build a genuine relationship that may lead to us working together some day!

“When you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time.” 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Oilee Skincare is… How building a brand from the ground up is going to take a long time — especially when building a community that is safe for those with oily, acne-prone skin is such an important part of what we do. I can be impatient sometimes, wanting everyone and their mom to know about Oilee Skincare overnight, but I know at the end of the day, when you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I played the flute for seven years, from grades 6-12, and I was pretty darn good! 

I stay inspired by… Tapping into content from my favourite content creators, podcasts and business owners, including Ronne Brown, Kontent Queens, To My Sisters, The Financial Diet, MILLION DOLLAZ WORTH OF GAME, David Never Sleeps, Adella Afadi, Kennedy Johnson, Fab Socialism — trust me, the list goes on! 

The future excites me because… Every day there’s an opportunity for something amazing to happen, and the simple fact that I am blessed enough to be able to do at least one thing a day to work towards moving the needle, make someone’s day, or be inspired by others around me,  makes the future very exciting. 

My next step is… Finding a business partner and building a team to help grow Oilee Skincare. I know I cannot do it all by myself, and frankly, I don’t want to either! There’s so many more smart people out there that I know could really help Oilee Skincare become a household name and help shift the beauty industry to ensure that we always value skin health over skin perfection. If you’re reading this and that is you, feel free to connect with me!

Meet Sky McLean, founder of Western Canada’s fastest growing hospitality brand.

Sky McLean

Sky McLean is a Canadian entrepreneur in the hospitality space that has built a successful empire with her company Basecamp Resorts, a business that provides modern boutique hotels in locations across Alberta and British Columbia. After receiving her MBA in real estate from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, Sky moved to Calgary, Alberta to work with a local developer. While there, Sky became interested in the Airbnb business model and managed to secure a bank loan to open her first mountain hotel property. Since then, Sky and her team have managed to turn Basecamp Resorts into Western Canada’s fastest growing hospitality brand. Currently, Basecamp Resorts runs seven modern mountain boutique hotel properties and Sky plans to open six more locations over the next three years. 

 

My first job ever was… Babysitting at age 12, every day after school. It was for a family with three kids, two dogs, two turtles, and a cat.  I dealt with homework, piano lessons, friend dates, and pretty much everything else in between! It was mayhem!

I first became interested in real estate when… I was a kid. My parents loved to look at open houses and I got dragged along with them.

I decided to become an entrepreneur because… I was frustrated by the way other people did things and the way they looked at making deals.  I thought there was a better way.

I decided to launch my first boutique mountain hotel property, Basecamp Resorts, in 2017 because… I believe in the home-away-from-home hospitality model. It’s the best way to travel. I was and still am on a quest to brand what I’m offering with Basecamp Resorts — we provide guests with all the comforts of home in our suites like kitchens, living areas, washer/dryers, and multi-bedrooms, but we also have all of the amenities and conveniences of a hotel like 24-hour concierges, room cleaning services, hot tubs, and more.

I expanded the Basecamp Resorts brand because… I believe that the modern traveller has a desire to stay in this type of property, where they feel at home while travelling. Canada is home to some of the world’s most picturesque mountain destinations, and I want to provide interesting experiences to people coming to explore and have adventures in these beautiful communities, from couples, to groups of friends, to families.

“If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be the fact that I am royally determined to grow this business, no matter what.”

I’m passionate about hospitality because… I love to travel the world while still having the comforts of home while I’m away. I always knew I wanted to offer this experience to all of my guests. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Having my two kids. In business, it would be opening the doors to the first Basecamp Resorts property in Canmore in August 2017.

My biggest setback was… Getting debt financing for my first Basecamp Resorts property.

I overcame it by… Persevering.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Listen to your heart and your gut, and don’t let anyone influence you about what to do if it’s not what you truly feel is right.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… There are times when you have to say no to a deal.

The thing I love most about what I do is… The people; from working every day with my incredibly talented team to meeting all the wonderful guests who stay with us.  

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The fact that I am royally determined to grow this business, no matter what.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I biked 8,000 km across Canada on a road bike.

I stay inspired by….. Continuing to have my passions outside of the business, like mountain biking and skiing. 

The future excites me because… I love what I do and who I do it with.

Meet Bonnie and Melissa, co-founders of Creamery X, a vegan ice cream shop in Toronto.

Bonnie and Melissa

Bonnie and Melissa are the founders of Creamery X, a business specializing in frozen custards and vegan ice cream in Toronto. After working in corporate roles for many years, they decided to leave their jobs and embark on an entrepreneurial journey centered around their love for desserts. Though starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to have its difficulties, Bonnie and Melissa have remained committed to their passion, making people happy, and giving back to local communities. 

 

My first job ever was… 

Bonnie: A group of friends and I all got jobs at the same fast food restaurant.

Melissa: I did babysitting for many years and then was a cashier at a grocery store. Typical teenage job stuff!

We founded Creamery X because… We were looking for a change from the corporate world, and we both had always wanted to own a small dessert type of business. With COVID, we had lots of time to explore ideas and test recipes! With Bonnie’s love of ice cream and Melissa’s passion for baking, this was a natural fit.

We’re passionate about the work we do because… We get to make people happy every day, and we love to see their faces when they try something they’ve never had before. We also love meeting and working with other small, local businesses. Through our Charity Flavour (a different monthly flavour with a portion of proceeds going to local charities or nonprofits), we are able to give back to causes that are important to us.

We decided to create our designated “Charity Flavour,” a different monthly flavour with proceeds going to charity because… It is important to us to work with small, local charities and nonprofits making a real difference in our communities. We have the privilege of sharing these organizations with our customers, highlighting the work they do, and raising awareness. We work with and contribute to a range of organizations: dog rescues, LGBTQ+ nonprofits, eating disorder treatment centers, and more. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… For both of us, it would be building our business from scratch. We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.

Our biggest setback was… We’ve had lots of setbacks! Ice cream machines have broken down, we’ve had flavour disasters (comes with the territory), and we’ve been declined for funding by major banks due to the seasonal nature of an ice cream shop. 

We overcame it by… Persevering even when it seemed impossible. We kept churning ice cream even when it meant staying up all night or sleeping in shifts to get it all done (true story). We believed in our unique product and vision of creating a community hub. 

“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”

“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  

Bonnie: Believe in yourself and your vision no matter what. No matter how many no’s or disasters, pick yourself back up and keep moving! 

Melissa: Figure out what sets you apart and lean into it. Embrace what makes you unique or weird and share it with the world.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… 

Bonnie: Slow down and take breaks. When I get going, I can’t stop until the task is done. Melissa always calls me a whirlwind.

Melissa: Don’t overthink it! We come up with perfect flavours and I can’t help but think of just one extra thing to add over and over. It’s a blessing and a curse.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… We both feel that having each other has made a huge difference. Being able to create something so exciting and fulfilling with your partner has been amazing. We both bring different skill sets that work together really well. 

Having a background in business has also served us well — it has given us skills in contract negotiation, customer service, marketing, and finance.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

Bonnie: I’m a sucker for a self-help book. I love learning about human behaviour and how to interact with different types of people.

Melissa: I have always been a visual artist. Now I get to express my creativity through flavour creation and cake decorating.

We stay inspired by… We get inspiration from so many places and people. The wonderful folks from the charities we work with inspire us to continue to build our platform and stay appreciative of what we have.

The future excites us because… We have so many plans for the future! We are growing and building something we believe in. We are learning all the time and meeting incredible people. We can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Creamery X!

Meet Assel Beglinova, Co-Founder and CEO of tech start-up, Paperstack

Assel

Assel Beglinova is the co-founder and CEO of Paperstack, a platform that provides working capital for e-commerce sellers. At 18, she moved to Canada from Kazakhstan as an international student without any connections. She went to school to study accounting, and pursued a career in the banking industry. When Assel got laid off during the pandemic, instead of looking for another job, she decided to take everything she learned and launch a company. She met her co-founder, Vadim Lidich, at Tea Club Toronto — a community Assel founded to help other founders with startup challenges. In the first year, the pair closed a pre-seed round of funding, and in the span of a few months, they were accepted into three prestigious tech programs: Google for Startups, Communitech’s Fierce Founders, and Techstars.

 

My first job ever was… as a volunteer at a student association. I remember it being so hard to get my first job because I didn’t have any experience and I just arrived in Canada — plus, my English wasn’t great at that time. My responsibilities were simple, like promoting upcoming events and handing out flyers, but it was so much fun, and it pushed me to speak English with so many strangers! I am so grateful that I had this opportunity.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to build an amazing product that will empower millions of people around the world. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I knew the stats and data were against me — less than 3% of VC funds go to women, plus I am an immigrant. I knew from the beginning that the journey will not be easy and there will always be wins and losses, but I have such a supportive community that has my back. I am so grateful for such tremendous support!

I founded Paperstack because… I love helping e-commerce founders succeed! I felt like they deserve better and more flexible solutions. It is so humbling and thrilling to receive messages from our customers who tell us how we are helping them meet and exceed their goals — that is success to me.  

I’m passionate about the tech industry because… It unlocks so many opportunities and options for many people from many different backgrounds. I think it’s amazing how you can build a solution in North America and somebody in a different part of the world will integrate it into their day-to-day operations. Tech also allows us to discover talented individuals around the world and build something powerful with them.

My proudest accomplishment is… being able to take steps to make my dream a reality: Moving from Kazakhstan to Canada, and changing my career from banking to a tech entrepreneur without a computer science background. It wasn’t easy; living thousands of miles away from family is very hard! Of course, I miss friends and family, but I’m so grateful for tools like Whatsapp that bring me closer to those most important to me.  

I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!

My biggest setback was… I didn’t have any connections in Canada when I started. I had to build my network from scratch! It was a lot of cold calling and outreach — I’m so grateful to networks like Women of Influence and so many more who bring together dreamers and doers!

I overcame it by… reaching out to people every day. I remember setting the goal of 10 calls per day. I remember printing my resume and going to 10 places with it every day in Toronto, or sitting in the library and applying to 10 jobs every day. After many attempts, one person said ‘yes,’ which led to our first customer and the first investor!

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn how to not let one ‘no’ affect the rest of your day. Another thing I think is important is to filter the advice you follow by considering whether or not the person has done it themselves. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… not letting every ‘no’ get to me — I’m not a robot! There are, of course, people I really want to work with; when I don’t get that ‘yes’ it can be disappointing, but I’m pretty resilient. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… connecting with people everyday: Our amazing team at Paperstack, our valuable customers, our supportive investors, our advisors, and our champions in the ecosystem.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the ability to move forward no matter what, even if 10 people told me not to do it.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!

I stay inspired by… listening to podcasts and meeting with strong people who were able to overcome obstacles in their lives.

The future excites me because… I can create it by doing something today.

My next step is… being relentlessly focused on how I can continue to bring even more value to my customers every day. This is what I think about when I wake up and until I go to bed!

Meet Kathryn Plouffe, co-founder of eco-friendly period care provider, Only.

Kathryn Plouffe

Kathryn Plouffe is the Co-Founder and CEO of Only, an online eco-retailer that provides affordable, organic, and eco-friendly period care products. Only is a company that offers consumers sustainable goods, offsets all carbon emissions, and shares a portion of its profits with local organizations that are dedicated to ending period poverty in Canada. Alongside their biodegradable organic cotton pads, liners, tampons, and medical-grade menstrual cup, Only also provides consumers with Canada’s first reusable tampon applicator, which is good for up to 10 years.

 

My first job ever was… Doing demolition work on the houses my Dad was renovating. I mostly helped clean up debris from the demo and was only allowed to paint the insides of the closets. Wise choice, Dad.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It honestly felt like the natural route for me — I can’t remember it ever being a conscious decision. The 9-5 lifestyle felt riskier to me.

I founded Only because… I was convinced there was a better way for people to experience the commercialization of menstruation. Better for them and much better for the planet.

I’m passionate about sustainable period products because… They should be the norm already. We have the science, technology, and logistics to provide a more sustainable experience for menstruators, so why wouldn’t we pursue that versus the plastic wrapped, rayon-based, carbon footprint heavy alternatives?

My proudest accomplishment is… Finalizing the distribution agreement between my company and our European manufacturers after a long, three year journey. What I love most about that accomplishment was that I intended to do my Master’s in International Affairs, but feel like I got a practical MBA instead.

I get to decide what needs to be done to move the needle every day. It can be the most exhilarating part of the job. Although, I admit that some mornings I miss having someone tell me what to do. Decision fatigue is real.

My biggest setback was… Managing my anxiety while building an investment-worthy company. Anxiety has definitely held me back from opportunities I should and could have taken.

I overcame it by… Consistent exposure to experiences outside my comfort zone: Meetings with potential investors, lawyers, accountants, marketing teams, logistics teams, our manufacturer, etc. After so many of these meetings, I became confident in myself instead of self-conscious, and felt like what I had to say was legitimate. I was worthy of being heard. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Two things: Find mentors and be resourceful. Keep figuring it out day after day, little by little. If you don’t know something, someone or some source does, and use that to your advantage. Conduct your own experiments if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Going to bed early. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… I get to decide what needs to be done to move the needle every day. It can be the most exhilarating part of the job. Although, I admit that some mornings I miss having someone tell me what to do. Decision fatigue is real.

 If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… For building a startup, I think it’s been key for me to have a teammate who shares my passion for this company, a.k.a. a business partner. For me, that’s Phil Faubert, and there’s no chance I would be where I am today without all of his support, sweat, heart and soul he’s poured into building this company with me. A business partner will keep you motivated, accountable, and offer alternative solutions to your business problems.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a hockey playing, video gaming, winter-loving person and proudest fur parent to my dog Puck and cat Nala. Growing up, my life goal was to get to a position that was powerful enough to allow body checking in women’s hockey (This is still a big goal of mine!).

I stay inspired by… Keeping my circle positive and inspiring. I haven’t always had this attitude; I was sticking with friendships, relationships, places of work, or following accounts on social media that didn’t make me feel good. I no longer make time or space for negativity, gaslighting, or general bad vibes and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself in my late twenties.

The future excites me because… I’ll soon be able to offer menstruators the period products they deserve! I’m so excited to share this beautiful, innovative, sustainable product line across Canada and start understanding what more I can do for my customers. 

My next step is… Making it through my first four quarters of Only being a revenue-generating company alive!

Meet Nadia Ladak, founder of FemTech start-up, Marlow.

Nadia Ladak

Nadia Ladak is the founder of Marlow, a FemTech start-up that has developed the first-ever tampon and lubricant designed to be used together for a smoother, less painful insertion experience. She is passionate about empowering a generation of menstruators to prioritize their menstrual and sexual health by sparking conversations around these topics that are often awkward — although they shouldn’t be. Before launching Marlow, Nadia worked as a management consultant at KPMG, where she worked across a number of retail clients in go-to-market strategy, customer experience, and e-commerce projects. Nadia is also committed to giving back to her community through her role as a catalyst board member at Holland Bloorview Children’s Hospital, and as a mentor for the Junior Achievement Company Program where she provides weekly coaching to high school students as they operate their own small businesses.

 

My first job ever was… working as a receptionist at a yoga studio.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… of the impact you can make. Entrepreneurs are working on the world’s to-do list by solving pressing challenges we are all facing. It is so inspiring to connect with these individuals and to see the passion and determination they have to change the world for the better. 

I founded Marlow because… I want to empower menstruators to live life on their own terms, not by what is dictated by the time of the month. Inserting tampons can be an uncomfortable process for those who are new to using them, who have pelvic floor conditions like vaginismus, who experience vaginal dryness, or for those who have a lighter flow, especially at the beginning and end of their cycle. Our lubricated product creates a smoother insertion process to allow menstruators to continue to live an active lifestyle while on their period. Through education and innovative products, we can help people get off of auto-pilot and take their menstrual health into their own hands. 

I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because…I believe it is an important part of our overall health. In the last decade, we’ve seen a surge of companies excel at physical wellness and mental wellness, and now it’s time to look forward towards menstrual and sexual wellness. In order to have holistic wellness, we need to prioritize all aspects of our health. 

My proudest accomplishment is… hearing the stories from our community about how our products & education have empowered them in their lives. Our mission is to change “The Talk” about menstrual and sexual health for the next generation from uncomfortable to refreshing — it’s incredible to read the comments and DM’s from our community, sharing that they turn to Marlow to learn more about their bodies. We can actively change the narrative around these topics, one conversation at a time. 

My biggest setback was… navigating the Health Canada process during the pandemic when they were quite busy managing COVID vaccines and approval. 

I overcame it by… partnering with a research lab and regulatory consultant who helped us build our strategy and path forward. Often it is nerve wracking asking for help, but it’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and to partner with experts who can help drive your business forward quickly, because as a start-up, speed is your biggest advantage. 

“Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward.” 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… find a low cost way to test your idea before jumping all in. Start by sharing your idea with your friends and family to get initial feedback. Then, you can do a customer survey to understand the problem space before building some initial prototypes. Entrepreneurship is all about continuous learning and iteration, so be open to building, learning, measuring, and adjusting accordingly.

The thing I love most about what I do is… having the opportunity to create change in a space that impacts 50% of the population at some point in time. Every day, I wake up energized and excited to empower menstruators with the products and education they deserve. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of the people around me. Whether it be my family, co-founders, advisors, or investors, I have been so lucky to receive support and mentorship as I embark on my entrepreneurship journey. They put up with the late night rants, they celebrate my wins, and they’ve taken the time to learn way more about tampons than they could have probably ever imagined! 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I started my university career in music. Growing up, music was always a huge part of my life. I was in choirs, participated in musical theatre, and played guitar and piano. I went on to study music in my first two years of university before pursuing the Ivey Business School program at Western University. Entrepreneurship has been the perfect career path for me, because it allows me to combine the passion and creativity I learned in music school with the analytical & financial management skills I learned in business school. 

I stay inspired by… taking things one step at a time. There’s a million things you could be doing, but it’s about finding ways to make the minimum viable progress everyday. Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward. 

The future excites me because… of the rise in mindful menstruation and the overall boom in FemTech. Pinterest released their 2021-2022 trends report that shows that terms like ‘period care’ are up 3x in search volume. Gen Z and millennials are increasingly looking to prioritize their menstrual health — we want Marlow to be at the forefront of this movement.

Meet Rachael Newton, founder of suction-free menstrual cup brand, nixit.

Rachael Newton

Rachael Newton is the founder of nixit, a suction-free, made-in-Canada menstrual cup that is revolutionizing menstruation. Rachael started her career working as a lawyer for an investment bank for nine years before branching out on her own and starting nixit. As a progressive period care brand, nixit is helping to make using menstrual cups mainstream, and is also invested in changing and leading the conversation around menstruation.

 

My first job ever was… Waitressing at a cafe in Sicily, Italy. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to make a positive impact on the planet and have a positive impact on those who menstruate. It wasn’t a conscious decision to become an entrepreneur, but once I felt the gap in the market and landed on the idea of nixit, I felt compelled to start. 

I founded nixit because… No one else was making what I believed to be the perfect menstrual cup. I truly believed that our suction-free cup is the future of period care and that if I could get it to market, I could both improve people’s period experiences and drive collective waste reduction. This is still my belief!

“Our mission is to not only to improve people’s cycles, but to spark conversations that make people feel comfortable to talk about this human experience. By destigmatizing menstruation, we empower people to make choices that are right for them.”

I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because… The traditional menstrual care market is based on the idea that periods should be managed with products that aren’t good for our bodies or the environment. The idea that we shouldn’t talk about or question our periods has fuelled the use of these products — and benefited the companies that make them. 

Our mission is to not only to improve people’s cycles, but to spark conversations that make people feel comfortable to talk about this human experience. By destigmatizing menstruation, we empower people to make choices that are right for them.

My proudest accomplishment is… Reading feedback from our customers! To be told that something I made has changed someone’s life and improved their period experience is extremely gratifying — it makes this journey feel all that more worthwhile. 

My biggest setback was… The pandemic. It was difficult managing home-schooling, looking after the children (they were three and five years old when it started), and running the business — which I have bootstrapped from the beginning. I obviously had to prioritize my family, but that meant nixit could only be tended to late at night and in the early mornings.

I overcame it by… Accepting that things at nixit would move more slowly than I wanted them to, but that we would get there eventually. 

Meet the Mustafa sisters, founders of Sabreen Cosmetics, a clean brand for women of color.

Sabreen Cosmetics

Saliah, Kareemah, and Najiyyah Mustafa are the Co-Founders of Sabreen Cosmetics, a safe, non-toxic, luxury cosmetics brand. Deeply impacted by the passing of their aunt Nabeehah Sabreen, these sisters had the idea to launch a beauty brand that doesn’t sacrifice quality or safety while representing Black women and women of colour in the luxury beauty space. Today, Saliah, Kareemah, and Najiyyah honor their aunt and continue to celebrate her life by inspiring other women to live a life full of elegance, wellness, and luxury.

Each Mustafa sister brings their own unique perspective and skills to the Sabreen Cosmetics brand. As CEO, Saliah handles the daily management decisions and execution of the brand’s short and long term goals; Kareemah manages the marketing, PR, and business development initiatives of the company as COO, and Najiyyah leverages her understanding of fashion, consumer trends, and beauty to keep the brand tapped into the changing beauty landscape as CCO.

 

My first job ever was… 

Saliah and Najiyyah: At Dance Place in Northeast Washington, D.C. Dance Place is a dance studio founded by Carla Bloom. We were able to learn how to effectively manage a dance studio, from front of the house to production. We are honored to have learned so much from Dance Place, as it provided first-hand experience in business operations.

Kareemah: My first job was at a private medical practice as a medical biller. The experience taught me the importance of finance and accounting in a business. 

We decided to be entrepreneurs because… we are passionate about making a positive impact in the world. As entrepreneurs, we are able to utilize our knowledge and creativity to fill gaps in the beauty industry for our patrons. In addition, we are able to honor our aunt in the process. As a legacy brand, we are building our business to be able to pass it down to future generations.

We founded Sabreen Cosmetics because… we wanted to honor the life and legacy of our beloved aunt Nabeehah Sabreen. Losing our aunt so quickly at the ages of 16, 15 and 13 affected us tremendously in different ways. However, through embarking on this journey, we were able to turn a tragedy into something positive to keep our aunt’s legacy alive.

“During our research, we made a shocking discovery: Almost 75% of products marketed to women of color have potentially harmful ingredients.”

We’re passionate about clean cosmetics because… we know the impact that clean cosmetics will have on women of color. During our research, we made a shocking discovery: Almost 75% of products marketed to women of color have potentially harmful ingredients. Many beauty products are formulated with toxic synthetics, petroleum-based ingredients, and heavy metals such as lead, aluminum, and chromium. These ingredients are often linked to a myriad of health complications such cancer, hormone disruption, and developmental and reproductive damage. We are honored to aid in delivering products that are safe for use and safe for the environment without sacrificing luxury, quality, and performance.

Our proudest accomplishment is… creating healthy, safe, and luxury products that our consumers are proud to use as well as building a community where women of color can be represented in the luxury clean beauty industry.

Our advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to ensure you truly understand and embrace your brand’s mission, your consumers, and their pain points. Understanding your ‘Why’ will serve as your motivation and give you the resilience needed when obstacles occur throughout your business journey.

The thing we love most about what we do is… that it does not feel like work at all. We love everything about our company, and working together as sisters is truly one the best feelings in the world. It has allowed us to form even stronger bonds amongst each other and it is something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Additionally, we love the process of critically thinking about the pain points of women of color and developing products that truly meet their needs.

If we were to pick one thing that has helped us succeed, it would be… the life lessons that our parents instilled in us as children. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

Saliah: I enjoy collecting vinyls at local record stores in my free time.

Najiyyah: I am a lover of all things luxury and have an extensive sneaker and shoe collection.

Kareemah: I am a lover of luxury handbags.

The future excites us because… the landscape is quite vast for our niche and we are excited to be curators of luxury, elegance, and wellness in the space. Women of color deserve to have access to luxurious, safe products with nuance. 

Our next step is… to continue to inspire women of color to live a divine life of luxury, elegance, and wellness — now and for future generations.

Meet Graydon Moffat, vegan chef turned superfood-inspired beauty brand founder.

Graydon Moffat

Graydon Moffat is the founder and superfood mixologist behind Graydon Skincare, a leading indie beauty brand based out of Toronto. Her previous culinary skills as a vegan chef and background in holistic wellness inspired her unique take on skincare — she started formulating topical products with superfood ingredients, resulting in a powerful and natural line of face, body, and hair products. At Graydon Skincare, you’ll find only plant powered ingredients including botanical retinol, collagen, peptides, vitamin C, probiotics, and even gemstone crystals. All of Graydon’s products are hypoallergenic, non-irritating, vegan and cruelty-free.

 

My first job ever was… Working at Canada’s Wonderland. It was a humbling experience and gave me an appreciation for customer service. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I guess I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Before I started Graydon Skincare, I ran a small vegan meal delivery business called Divine Dishes. I created mouth-watering, nutrient-dense meals and delivered them to my customers. 

I founded Graydon Skincare because… I was mixing up superfood skincare creations in my kitchen and sharing them with my friends, yoga students and an esthetician friend of mine. That friend used my “eccentric smoothies” on her clients and noticed impactful results. That’s when I had my aha moment and realized that I could take my superfood skincare to the next level.

I’m passionate about clean beauty because… Skincare empowers people to look and feel their best. Through clean beauty, I have the opportunity to disrupt conventional beauty and make beauty better. I’m so proud to be one of the small companies that inspires the beauty giants to follow suit. That is meaningful work to me. 

My proudest accomplishment is… As an entrepreneur, I’ve accomplished many things that I’m proud of. I’d say my proudest accomplishment so far is aligning with one of Canada’s favourite dragons, Arlene Dickinson. 

“I had a lot of fear about the cost associated with bringing people on board. Eventually, I had to have faith that my ideas and products were good enough and I didn’t need to be afraid of the financial commitment required to build a team.”

My biggest setback was… Trying to do this on my own. I started out as a one woman team, attempting to do everything myself. Starting and growing a business on your own is not an easy task. 

I overcame it by… Hiring my first employee. I had a lot of fear about the cost associated with bringing people on board. Eventually, I had to have faith that my ideas and products were good enough and I didn’t need to be afraid of the financial commitment required to build a team. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t try to do it all on your own. Hire people who can help you and have faith in your business!

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Make time for self-care! It’s so important but self-care always seems to take a backseat to other things that we think are more important. I have to continually remind myself that taking the time to relax in the tub, do yoga or meditate is beneficial in the long run. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… It’s simple; I love giving people good skin days, every day! 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… Besides hiring, networking has helped me succeed. Feeling the support of other entrepreneurs and like minded people is helpful even if they’re in another industry because all small businesses tend to have similar challenges. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Many years ago, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. 

I stay inspired by… My kitchen. All Graydon Skincare products are inspired by superfoods and every single one started as a concoction that I whipped up with my trusty blender. 

The future excites me because… I can see the changes in beauty happening! The divide between clean, indie brands and conventional, legacy brands is starting to converge and beauty will be a better place with more transparency around ingredients and packaging.

My next step is… Continuing with product innovation! I love blending superfood ingredients and finding the perfect balance between ingredient efficacy and cosmetic chemistry to develop clinically proven products that nourish the skin.

Meet Jessica Sheppard and Rhaelyn Gillespie, founders of the world’s first oil-based breath mint.

Mintier founders

Mintier is a first of its kind product solving a universal problem: bad breath. When founders Jessica Sheppard and Rhaelyn Gillespie learned that sugar is the main ingredient in traditional breath mints, they questioned what that does to your oral health. It turns out sugar feeds the oral bacteria in your mouth, making your breath worse and at an accelerated rate — so they created a 100% natural alternative that is the world’s first oil-based breath mint. Since inspiration first hit in 2019, the duo has participated in Arlene Dickinson’s VenturePark Labs accelerator program, were fully funded on Kickstarter in less than 24 hours, and now Mintier is available in over 100 stores and online, both in Canada and the US. 

My first job ever was… 

Rhaelyn: Subway Sandwich Artist… Yes, that’s what we were called. Subway is where I learned to work hard and that hard work turns into money. I would often ask to extend my shifts and stay late for my coworkers to pull 12-hour days because I just liked making my own money.

Jessica: Walmart cashier! I met so many great people working here and some I still keep in touch with. It taught me how to be accountable, how to work hard (even when you don’t want to), and how to prioritize my time.  

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

R: It partially runs in my blood, with entrepreneurial roots through two of my aunt’s and also through my dad. Although they cautioned me about the amount of work, stress, time, and luck it takes, it still felt like my calling. Plus, I was fortunate enough to meet the most perfect cofounder to embark on this venture with.

J: I was searching for a breath mint that would actually work and could not find one. I really could not find something that would freshen my breath while I was on the go, and would be good for my oral health. After meeting Rhae and brainstorming this idea further, it was a no-brainer that we had to do it. It’s been an exciting journey creating a product we believe in so much.

I founded Mintier because…  

R: This was a problem that needed to be solved, and a category that dare I say it, needed to be disrupted. Bad breath is a universal problem that we all experience, and it blew our minds to learn that sugar feeds the oral bacteria in your mouth and that traditional mints and gum are primarily composed of sugar. A little counterintuitive right? We thought so, and sought to create a breath mint that was entirely sugar-free and sugar alcohol free. The only way to do this was to create the world’s first oil-based breath mint, Mintier.

J: It was a problem I personally needed a solution to. Mintier is a game changer because it’s convenient to bring with you on the go while giving you long lasting fresh breath. It’s everything we needed and more! 

“I’ve found a lot of my confidence in business and when I look back at how long it has taken to get to this moment, I’m genuinely very proud of myself for not giving up.”

I’m passionate about our product because…

R: Natural products are a part of my everyday life and routines, and to find a product that fits into that, solves a serious problem, and gives me fresh breath I can help others be confident in is a serious passion 

J: Oral care is a part of our self care. Taking care of my body through natural products has always been important to me and having a product like Mintier that truly makes a difference in my everyday life is something I am very passionate about.

My proudest accomplishment is… 

R: When we presented for a demo day my aunt streamed it to our TV and my 92-year-old Nonna went over to my parents house, the house I grew up in, to watch. My mom later told me that my Nonna grabbed my mom’s hand while we were presenting with tears in her eyes, and now she thinks I’m famous. She is the coolest, smartest, most magnetic woman to be around and I’m so proud to make her proud. 

J: Starting this business. I’ve found a lot of my confidence in business and when I look back at how long it has taken to get to this moment, I’m genuinely very proud of myself for not giving up. I owe a lot of that to having Rhae as a co-founder to lean on, learn from and just have a good friend by my side through some of the harder days. (We’ve had lots of them!) 

My biggest setback was… 

R: Delays delays delays, and it was so frustrating. 

J: Trying to make a sugar-free breath mint in my kitchen. Some of the best founder stories I’ve heard were started by the founder making it in their kitchen — and I couldn’t make this idea work! Little did we know that you needed some type of sugar or sugar alcohol to bind the mint into the solid form. Although it was a pivotal moment for Rhae and I, at the time it felt like a set back.

I overcame it by…  

R: Focusing on what we could control was what got us through it. Shipping delays, supply chain issues, and manufacturing delays were out of our control, but launching a crowdfunding campaign, participating in an accelerator program, and strategizing our launch were in our control so we decided to focus on that. It all worked out in the long run!

J: Trying to figure it out! It’s really just as simple as that. We spent a lot of time researching. At the end of the day we wanted to create a breath freshener that worked and was completely free of sugar and sugar alcohols and we did just that.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  

R: Don’t delay, get started as soon as you can! There’s so much to learn on the go, and so many inevitable mistakes to make, the sooner you get started the sooner you can learn and grow. We actually started a health & wellness focused business a year ago as we were planning and preparing Mintier. They now operate as sister companies!              

J: If you feel like you have it in you to be an entrepreneur — just go for it! It’s a cheesy saying, but better to try and fail than fail to try.                                     

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… 

R: Work/life balance. Honestly my work is my life and my life is my work but it’s very hard to separate the two. I’m not even sure that I want to at this point in my life, but I’m sure as time goes on and my priorities shift, there will be some changes I need to make.

J: Time-block your day. Although I always plan my day the night before, and some days I have great time management skills, there are many days right now that seem like there’s just not enough hours in the day!

“We are so devoted to this business and see the potential in Mintier. We traded in the 9-5 lifestyle for a 24/7 lifestyle and I absolutely love it.” 

The thing I love most about what I do is… 

R: The reactions people have to something we’ve created is so humbling. It’s really what gets me through the tough days.

J: Seeing Mintier in the hands of our customers and retailers carrying it in their store. It still feels very surreal some days! 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…  

R: My work ethic. We are so devoted to this business and see the potential in Mintier. We traded in the 9-5 lifestyle for a 24/7 lifestyle and I absolutely love it. 

J: I’ll second what Rhae said — quitting our stable 9-5 jobs and giving our all to Mintier has already proven to have been the best decision we’ve made for the health of the business.

I stay inspired by… 

R: Consistently reflecting on my “why”. This is an exercise that a manager asked me to complete and it really shifted my perspective on work, goals, and the alignment of my day-to-day work towards those goals.

J: Taking time, even if it’s just walking my dog, to unplug and take a step back. Taking a step back really helps me see the full picture when I feel like I’m caught up in a busy day.

The future excites me because… 

R: Mintier has so much potential because bad breath truly is a universal problem. Plus, I get to build a business with one of my best friends. How cool is that?!

J: We are just getting started! We have a lot of work to do but I’m really just so excited for this journey we are on together. 

My next step is…  

R: Getting Mintier into a store near you! For now though you can order on our website to try the new standard of Fresh Breath!

J: To change the way you experience a breath mint and the way you think of fresh breath. Mintier is a game changer and we can’t wait for you to try it! 

Meet Nisha Grewal, founder of luxury skincare line, Ambari Beauty.

Nisha Grewal

Nisha Grewal is the founder of Ambari Beauty, a Vancouver-based luxury skincare brand that blends ancient ingredients with modern innovation. Growing up in a proud Indo-Canadian home, Nisha and her family leaned into herbs, spices and adaptogens (healing herbs and mushrooms) for skin health benefits and pain relief. Seeing the added benefits of visits to medical spas, Nisha was inspired — she worked with a research team to create her line, combining clinical actives, smart adaptogens, and broad-spectrum oil. Launched in February 2021, in its first year Ambari Beauty built a loyal customer base across North America, landed Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman as retail partners, and Kourtney Kardashian as a fan. It’s now a multi-million dollar brand. 

  

My first job ever was… a kickboxing instructor and lifeguard.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I loved business and was passionate about product research and development.

I founded Ambari Beauty because… I wanted to create products that delivered instant professional-level results from the comfort of your home.

I’m passionate about skin care because… taking care of my skin helped to build my self-esteem and self-confidence. Being able to leave the facialist or derms office with glowing skin and no makeup on gave me a great sense of pride. I want my customers to feel just as proud of their skin after using our products.

My proudest accomplishment is… my formula, the Modern Blend, and all of the amazing feedback we’ve gotten about it from retailers, celebrities, and influencers. The Modern Blend combines smart adaptogens, clinical actives, and broad spectrum oil to give you overnight results.

My biggest setback was… launching Ambari during a global pandemic and trying to secure investments and retail distribution during a time when many brands were going out of business.

I overcame it by… showing how our unique value proposition of professional-level at home skincare served a growing consumer demand, and eventually securing retail distribution with two of America’s biggest luxury retailers, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. 

“Learn as much as you can about whatever industry you’re trying to break into. That might mean taking on an internship, or getting a mentor. From there, it all comes down to long-term planning, hard work, and determination.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to learn as much as you can about whatever industry you’re trying to break into. That might mean taking on an internship, or getting a mentor. From there, it all comes down to long-term planning, hard work, and determination.

The thing I love most about what I do is… receiving messages from happy customers and seeing how my products have transformed their skin.

The most exciting moment for my business so far has been… partnering with Kourtney Kardashians brand, Poosh!

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my work ethic, drive and dedication. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if my parents hadn’t instilled these values in me from an early age.

I stay inspired by… looking at other female entrepreneurs. I personally know how hard it can be to manage a business, be a mother, and find time for everything else in between. I respect strong females who are making a difference to shape their industries and act as role models for other young aspiring female entrepreneurs.

The future excites me because… it is full of new and exciting opportunities for growth!

My next step is… to expand Ambari’s product line into new markets internationally.

Meet Justice & Nia, sisters building a platform for scalable social impact.

Justice Faith Betty and Nia Faith Betty

Justice Faith Betty and Nia Faith Betty are sisters and the founders of Révolutionnaire, an online platform for young changemakers that are passionate about having a positive impact on the world. Initially, Révolutionnaire was first created to revolutionize dance apparel after Nia spent years not being able to find dancewear that complimented her complexion and decided to design her own line. After disrupting the dance world with her inclusive apparel, Nia’s sister Justice — a woman equally passionate about social change, the racial wealth gap, access to education, and youth empowerment —  was inspired by Nia’s journey and presented her with an idea: what if more young people had the access, support, and resources to make necessary changes in this world? Together, these sisters worked together to transform Révolutionnaire into a resource passionate activists can utilize to scale their impact. Accompanied by a team of 30 Gen Z activists, organizers, and community leaders, Justice and Nia launched Révolutionnaire in June of 2021, and it is now a multi-pronged apparel and social change platform that focuses on food and housing insecurity, environmentalism, racial equity, anti-gun violence, and criminal justice reform. In 2022, they were honoured with our Top 25 Women of Influence Award

 

Our first job ever was being the co-founders of an e-commerce cupcake company, Cupcakes by Nia

Before my work with Révolutionnaire, I was…. a management consultant (Justice) and a ballerina (Nia). 

We founded Révolutionnaire because… as a ballerina, Nia spent countless hours dyeing dancewear to match her skin tone because there were no apparel options for dancers of colour. In 2019, Révolutionnaire launched as Canada’s first apparel company catering to dancers of colour. Inspired by Révolutionnaire’s impact within the dance industry and our passion for social change, we made it our mission to build Révolutionnaire into a platform to address a range of causes and empower others to make a difference. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… launching Révolutionnaire as the destination for young people who want to make a difference and have access to the network, tools, and information they need to scale their impact across causes.  

“Faith is literally in our names, and we attribute our successes thus far to maintaining our faith and belief in our dreams and power to make a difference.”

Our best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… join Révolutionnaire to find content, conversations and community around the causes that you care about and tactical ways to make a difference. 

If we were to pick one thing that has helped us succeed, it would be… unwavering faith. Faith is literally in our names, and we attribute our successes thus far to maintaining our faith and belief in our dreams and power to make a difference.  

One of the ways we spend our downtime is… painting (Justice), and pilates and spin classes (Nia).

One person we are inspired by is… Deborah Cox. Deb has been an incredible supporter and source of inspiration. She is not only an immensely talented force, but she is also a trailblazer, a testament to the power of dreams, and an individual who has used her platform for decades to spread joy, hope, and optimism. 

A podcast we think everyone should know about is… Flowers & Crowns. This new podcast with host Bryan Lattimore is a celebration of Black Excellence and is dedicated to creating a little extra love and light in our world. Featuring guests like Misty Copeland and Steve Pamon, the podcast also gives listeners a chance to honor inspirational figures by giving them digital flowers on the F&C website.

One thing that we think could help change the course of history is… young people embracing their power and potential to make a difference. We created our platform to support that vision by building youth power because young people are experts in our experiences and deserve a voice in crafting solutions to the problems we all face.

Meet Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo, a banker-turned-entrepreneur supporting BIPOC founders.

Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo

Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneurship consultant, a business coach, and an advocate for women entrepreneurs who is passionate about encouraging, empowering, and supporting women to use entrepreneurship as a tool for leadership and economic advancement. She’s the CEO of Simply Ejibola Inc., the Founder and Principal Consultant at de Sedulous Women Leaders, and has also been the lead creator of several entrepreneurship initiatives like femImmiGRANTS, a grant specifically for BIPOC female entrepreneurs in Canada, the iiNTEGRATE NEXT program for newcomers in Canada, the iLaunchHERproduct, a program aimed at connecting women-owned businesses with big box retail stores in Canada, and the Rise Up Pitch Competition, a national grant program for Black Canadian women entrepreneurs. Ejibola has been recognized for her work by several organizations like the Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Immigrant Magazine, Diversity Magazine Canada, 2022’s 100 Accomplished Black Women, and she is also one of our 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence Awards recipients.

 

My first paid job ever was… a Country Manager position at the West African Capital Market School (WACMS) in Lagos, Nigeria, where I was responsible for both operations and administration of the company. I remember on my first day of work, I got my fancy little office bag stolen from me on my way to the office (on a bike); it was not a pleasant first day at my first job. On the other hand, my first unpaid job ever was helping to manage my Mum’s convenience store in my junior and senior high school days after school at the popular Number 5 in Lagos, Nigeria. Those were full of pleasant memories.

Before my work with Simply Ejibola and ilaunchHERproduct, I was… a Senior Business Advisor at Scotiabank helping small and medium enterprises with their business growth needs. I had a portfolio of business clients assigned to me to manage their financial and investment interests. I paid particular attention to my business clients at that time because I was gradually becoming an entrepreneur myself. This led to my curiosity and inquisitiveness as to why I’d always get businessmen booking appointments with me for their funding needs, and I hardly saw women inquiring about the bank’s financing products for businesses. I eagerly wanted to understand more about the entrepreneurship ecosystem beyond financial support for entrepreneurs, so I stepped out of banking and got into the field.

“As a banker who was skilled at putting together a business plan, I couldn’t even get the attention of another banker to go through my plan without them stopping at the name of my business on the cover.”

I founded ilaunchHERproduct because… I became an entrepreneur and got to realize the several challenges associated with running a business, particularly as a woman, and most especially, as a Black entrepreneur. As a banker who was skilled at putting together a business plan, I couldn’t even get the attention of another banker to go through my plan without them stopping at the name of my business on the cover. 

I faced other challenges like not being able to get approved for a business credit card for four years; the numerous “no’s” I got from big box retail store buyers got me asking myself questions like, if a woman like myself cannot access a business credit card of just $1,000, how do I begin to build business credit to help me access more funding to grow my business? If I can’t access enough funding, how can I increase my inventory to scale my business? If I’m able to use personal financing to increase inventory volume, how can I assess where the demand will be for my product, like retail stores, if buyers are not giving me a chance? 

There were lots of questions, and I felt it was time to make a change, to disrupt the status quo I’d experienced in conventional banking, to diversify the retail shelves and get more Black-owned, immigrant-owned, women of color brands on the shelves. I drafted all of these challenges and put them together to create iLaunchHERproduct. 

iLaunchHERproduct is a solution to help solve the challenges faced by women-owned businesses in growing and scaling their brands, using retail channels as a tool. Getting them approved for a $1000 business credit card by our TD Bank partner to help these women build business credit was one of the solutions. Having the women work with partners like EDC, BDC, TCS, and WEKH was one of the solutions in educating and providing them with the tools required to scale their business through retail, and getting WEConnect International to connect these women with big box retail store buyers in their database was another solution. iLaunchHERproduct is a total package that has the potential in creating not only business growth, but also economic growth.

The thing I love most about what I do is… the joy and the celebration of the little wins that comes from the women as a result of engaging in our programs, or receiving the femImmiGRANT to add a new product line to their brand offering, or getting a call from TD Bank that they’ve been approved for a business credit card because they’re an iLaunchHERproduct applicant gives me so much happiness. 

Being able to help women-owned businesses build a solid business structure, redefine their business model, draft a growth strategy plan, rebalance their cash flow structure, and for me to actually receive an email from the women testifying to their brand’s improved business operations is what I love most about what I do. It feels so refreshing, so satisfying.

I’m excited about the ilaunchHERproduct program because… I cannot wait to see the products from our top 25 sit on the shelves of big box retail stores across Canada; I want to be able to say loudly, “Her Product, Her Story, On Shelves.” I’m particularly excited about this program because of the two research reports coming forth from it. The first report — led by one of our partners, EDC — will be based on the 158 applicant responses to the survey registration; the second report, led by another one of our partners, WEKH, will be based on the top 25 applicants, particularly on the ultimate outcome (quantitatively) of getting connected and having their products on the shelves of big box stores.

“When it seems like there is no way, or the doors are not opening up for you to spread your wings, build the exact table you’d like to sit at and lead that table towards the cause you are so passionate about.”

My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… be inspired by your own vision. Be mentally ready to sacrifice a lot by stepping out of your comfort zone in achieving every dream that keeps you up late at night and that makes you daydream of how the world would be a better place with the solution you’re presenting. 

It’s not going to be easy, but you will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and when it seems like there is no way, or the doors are not opening up for you to spread your wings, build the exact table you’d like to sit at and lead that table towards the cause you are so passionate about. Let your imagination be your form of courage, let it be your strength, and I’ll see you at the top — the place where we all belong.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… there are several things that have helped me succeed, but if I were to pick just one thing, that would be my fears. Over the years, I have found that it is when I am fearless in the midst of my fears that I start to act on pursuing my dreams; that I begin to have the audacity and unstoppable energy to keep going. My fears have challenged me to push, move, and build like I have a deadline to meet. My fears have pushed me out of my comfort zone to perform at my very best.

One of my favourite ways to spend my downtime is… watch movies with my family, go on a drive with my family irrespective of the distance, and sleep (I usually end up daydreaming).

The people I’m inspired by are… Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

A book or podcast I think everyone should know about is…  Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson,  Higher Is Waiting by Tyler Perry, and the Dave Ramsey Show podcast.

One thing that I think could help change the course of history is… getting a complete cure to all forms of cancer would help change the course of history — so many talented, creative, innovative people have left us as a result of this illness, depriving them a chance to fully share their potential with us. Lots of unused talent in the grave as a result of this illness. 

Meet Candies Kotchapaw, a non-profit founder developing future Black leaders.

Candies Kotchapaw is the founder of Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT), a youth-centred organization that creates programs that develop future Black leaders. Through providing mentorship opportunities, training, skills development, and industry-specific knowledge, Candies’ goal is to strategically dismantle entry point barriers and socio-economic inequities that have faced Black communities in Canada for far too long. For this work, Candies has been recognized as a 2021 Top 75 Canadian Immigrant finalist, 2021 G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Canadian delegate, and 2021 Alumna of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Program. She is also one of the Top 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women and one of our very own 2020 Top 25 Women of Influence Awards recipients.

 

My first job ever was… working as a customer service representative for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Princess Margaret Home Lottery.

Before my work with DYLOTT, I was… struggling to find work in my field of social work. I had several short-term contracts as a Constituency Assistant. I also worked as a cashier at No Frills grocery store. 

I founded DYLOTT because… I was tired of the narrative of only accepting traditional industry, precarious work as the status quo for brilliant Black young people. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… I get to have a hand in positively impacting the lives of Black young people, when systemic barriers suggest it shouldn’t be possible; and I get to see this legacy happen in real time. 

I’m excited about the ​​Permanent Forum for People of African Descent because… this is another means to advance the human rights of continental Africans and people of African descent globally. It’s also a way to hold decision-makers around the world accountable to meaningfully create sustainable pathways for economic, environmental, and legislative justice.

My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… be committed to the cause you believe in, even when momentum hasn’t swung in your favour…yet!

“We have more worldly wealth than ever imagined, technology to solve major problems, and activists and advocates who are more easily accessible thanks to social media. We are contributing to our history now, so with all these resources, let’s manifest the positive change we want to see now.”

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… reminding myself that “greatness is embedded in my very DNA.” A mentor of mine reminds me of this every time I hit a milestone or feel stuck.

One of my favourite ways to spend my downtime is…watching the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation TV show and the Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible movies. I love learning about new ways to solve problems, so these movies give me inspiration.

One person I’m inspired by is… the Prime Minister of Barbados, Honourable Mia Mottley. Her passionate call to action on behalf of Caribbean Island states during COP26 — the UN Climate Change Conference — made me even more excited and proud to be a Black woman changemaker. I hope to meet her one day soon!

A book I think everyone should know about is… Poised to Emerge, a book written by the late Bishop Iona E. Locke, and Don’t Drop the Mic: The Power of Your Words Can Change the World by Bishop T.D. Jakes.

One thing that I think could help change the course of history is… Using the tools and opportunities we now have at our disposal as a force for our collective good. We have more worldly wealth than ever imagined, technology to solve major problems, and activists and advocates who are more easily accessible thanks to social media. We are contributing to our history now, so with all these resources, let’s manifest the positive change we want to see now.

Meet Ashley Brewsmith, a renowned stylist with an inclusive and sustainable mission.

Ashley Brewsmith

Since starting her career in 2001, Ashley Brewsmith has worked as a hairstylist on everything from film productions to fashion shows, was a featured stylist on OUTtv’s Shine True (a series celebrating the trans and gender non-conforming community by helping them to present the way they feel), and has been a salon owner since she was 23. In 2010 she moved Toronto locations and opened The Proudest Pony, which offers gender-free pricing and an LGBTQ-safe environment. Already a partner with Green Circle Salons — who divert hair clippings and salon product packaging and waste from landfills — in May 2021 Ashley launched a line of eco-friendly Proudest Pony Shampoo + Conditioner Bars, that are plastic-free, paraben- and SLS-free, and made in Canada with plant-based ingredients.

  

My first job ever was… in a kitchen at a restaurant.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I like setting my own rules.

I founded Proudest Pony because… I saw a way to do haircare products better.

I’m passionate about sustainable hair care because… I care deeply about the impact our choices have on the planet and the creatures we share the planet with. 

My proudest accomplishment is… surpassing 10 years of running a successful business. 

My biggest setback was… losing my first supplier for my shampoo/conditioner bars and all the work I did to establish that relationship. 

I overcame it by… powering forward with my vision for the product line.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… don’t overthink — do!

“The future excites me because there has been so much innovation in creating sustainable alternatives for everyday products, and this gives me hope.” 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to carve out time for yourself, separate from your career,

The thing I love most about what I do is… connecting with like-minded individuals.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… an optimistic outlook.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I have way too many hobbies that I bounce in and out of.

I stay inspired by… following my passions and not getting hung up on details. 

The future excites me because… there has been so much innovation in creating sustainable alternatives for everyday products, and this gives me hope. 

My next step is… introducing The Proudest Pony products to as many people as possible! And inspiring people to make the switch away from plastic packaging — one of our bridgeable shampoo/conditioner bars is equal to three regular sized plastic shampoo/conditioner bottles (and most of what’s inside these is water).

Meet Rachael-Lea Rickards, founder of hilarious-to-heartwarming Real Talk Candles.

Rachael-Lea Rickards

Rachael-Lea Rickards is a self-described Artsy Fartsy Toronto Girl, with a creative brain that never shuts off. She’s a playwright and published author, acted in the musical theatre production ‘da Kink in my Hair, and also comes with a background in corporate training and leadership. All of this experience has helped with her business, Real Talk Candles, but the spark that got her started on her entrepreneurial journey was actually a traumatic event: while waiting for an Uber, she was randomly hit in the face by a stranger. Candle-making helped her deal with the anxiety it caused, and once she added in her writing skills to create hilarious ‘scent’ descriptions, her hobby turned into a business — and took off. 

 

My first job ever was… Canadian Tire. I was and still am terrible at math, so when the man who wanted me to ring through 20 million nuts and bolts at the register glared at me when I lost count, I knew very quickly, this wasn’t for me!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It fits my lifestyle and personality. I tried to fit into the corporate world, but then soon realized I needed to create a work environment where I can sing, dance, and create. It’s important to love going to work every day. And I can switch it up if need be; I’m not a stranger to a really beautiful tailored suit for important meetings, but I function just as well in a pair of yoga pants and some really great music playing in the office.

I founded Real Talk Candles because… It was born out of trauma. About a year ago, I was decked in the face by a complete stranger. Just standing there waiting for an Uber. And like most women, we just figure, “ah, it’s no big deal. I’ll get over it!” Well, it wasn’t that easy. The candle making was a way to relax and work through that anxiety. 

I’m also a writer, so I bridged the two worlds together. My audience was thirsty for “Real Talk” and I think that’s why they continue to do so well. The pandemic brought a lot of fear and uncertainty, and I believe women just needed to laugh. And who doesn’t love candles, right?

I get my candle ideas from… I want to say research, but really, they just come to me (I spend a lot of time talking to myself in the shower!). I am my audience, and my audience is me. I’m your average 40-something who has friends both younger and older. I always say, my candles aren’t for everyone; you must have a dry sense of humour.

My proudest accomplishment is… a tie between starting Real Talk Candles as well as dealing with anxiety and PTSD — that was one of the hardest things to do, and it is a continual effort.

“I tried to fit into the corporate world, but then soon realized I needed to create a work environment where I can sing, dance, and create. It’s important to love going to work every day.”

My biggest setback was… I think my setbacks have allowed me to grow. We used to be located near St.Lawrence Market, but our building neighbours at the time complained about the scents. The building loved us being there, and told us we could stay — but the caveat was that we couldn’t make candles. We were flabbergasted. I knew we had to move. 

I overcame it by… I called on community. I asked for patience from our customers, as we had to halt candlemaking until we could find a new space. We had to move literally overnight. But because of that, we were able to open a front-of-house retail store in Leslieville. We’ve been welcomed into a space that celebrates who we are and the neighbourhood agrees. This would have never happened if we were still at our old location.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t wait. You’ll never truly be ready. Look after your finances and know what you’re spending. Know your audience and sell to them. If you don’t know who they are, then you’re wasting your time. Engage with your customers, not just when you need them. Social media content is key!

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Work-life balance. It’s so important to carve out that time to step away from the business. Do something not related, stop talking about it, go and swing on a swing or walk in the grass with no shoes or socks on in the summertime.

The thing I love most about what I do is… I’m able to make people happy primarily women. I make them laugh, think, and start conversations by the candles they buy. I’m so proud to be able to do that. And I can be unapologetically myself with what I create. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… A strong team. My company culture fosters open communication and support. With that, I feel just as supported.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I can be shy. If you googled me, you’d think the opposite. I’m a powerful speaker and the stage doesn’t frighten me at all. But have a cute boy cross my path, and I’m a babbling fool! (Any matchmakers out there?)

I stay inspired by… Continual learning. Not getting too comfortable with what I know. Surrounding myself with like-minded women who have walked the walk before me, who inspire me to be bigger than my circumstances or current position.

The future excites me because… There is one. As simple as that sounds, the pandemic has really made me grateful for every day that I’m able to breathe and live. And with that, it’s another day to inspire and create. I love watching my business grow and I see the Real Talk Brand expanding triple fold by next year.

My next step is… I’m already in the beginning stages of expanding the home décor side of Real Talk Candles. Soaps are our latest venture and they launch next week. We are also working on a line of “not so polite, but so honest” greeting cards. 

On my bucket list is… a TEDx talk by the end of 2022. I claim it!

Meet Charlene Li, co-founder of EATABLE, a gourmet popcorn brand with Happy-Hour-inspired flavours.

Charlene Li

Charlene Li is the co-founder of EATABLE — a Toronto-based company that creates small-batch gourmet popcorn infused with wine, spirits, and cocktails. Frustrated by the lack of clean yet flavorful snacks on store shelves, Charlene and her husband left their corporate jobs and worked for over a year to perfect recipes, collaborating with professional pastry chefs to learn the art of traditional confectionery and chocolate making to create the “perfect pairing” of their two loves: A good snack and a good drink. Now their gourmet popcorn inspired by Happy Hour is sold in over 200 retailers in the USA and Canada, earning plenty of press accolades and a spot on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

 

My first job ever was… working at a donut shop. Sweets and coffee have always been a big part of my life!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to live life on my own terms, and create something that brought joy to the world in some way.

I founded EATABLE… to create a unique snack that helps people “savour” everyday moments in their lives. After all, food and drink is the heart of our celebrations. We wanted our snacks to bring people together and allow them to share a moment of indulgence, anytime, anywhere.

I’m passionate about the food & snack sector because… there is so much room for innovation, especially by women- and minority-owned businesses. The customer packaged food space has traditionally been dominated by large mass-market players with high barriers to entry. With more consumers moving towards online shopping with an appetite for discovering new better-for-you brands, the landscape is opening up opportunities to level the playing field for innovative, socially conscious, small companies to break through the noise.

My proudest accomplishment is… Being a mom of two young kids (aged 2 and 6) and finding a way to live through the day-to-day chaos of balancing my entrepreneurial life with my family life. 

“If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be an acute awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses — it has helped me understand my own limits, and to start building a team that fills in the gaps.” 

My biggest setback was… experiencing intense burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was so challenging finding ways to pivot throughout the rapidly changing business landscape, and there was immense pressure to have everything figured out. I quickly learned that putting self-care on the backburner during these times took a massive toll on my physical and mental health. 

I overcame it by…  In order to continue being fully present in my business and in my family, I had to make self-care a priority. I found ways to carve out extra time to rest, took up meditation, and established firm boundaries between work time and family time. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  not to waste time chasing perfection before launching your idea. We spent over a year tinkering with our initial popcorn recipes before we found the confidence to release them to the market. Over time, we learned that nothing beats seeking continuous feedback for your product, and listening to what your customers tell you — they know best!

The thing I love most about what I do is… seeing people’s reaction when they taste our bestselling “Pop the Champagne” popcorn — the look of surprise and delight on people’s faces when they feel the popping sensation never gets old to me!

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… an acute awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses — it has helped me understand my own limits, and to start building a team that fills in the gaps. 

I stay inspired by… reading books and listening to TED talks from great leaders and public figures that focus on the importance of keeping a positive mindset and always daring to think bigger.

Meet Katie Derrick, founder of Fern & Petal, offering all-natural essential oils and bath products with a sustainability mission.

Katie Derrick

Founded by Katie Derrick, Fern & Petal was born out of her difficult search to find high-quality, all-natural products that were made locally. From essential oils to bath products to room sprays, her small, family-run business puts quality first. All of their handmade products are free of dyes, fragrances, and synthetic preservatives, and are bottled locally in Vancouver, BC. Plus, with every order they make a donation to plant a tree — with their efforts so far reaching over 20,000 trees in Canada, which works out to roughly 3 million kg of carbon taken out of the atmosphere every single year

My first job ever was… Nannying for these two amazing children. What an incredible journey it has been to see these kids grow into the young adults that they are today. They have become family and I still speak with them regularly. They even stop by once in a while to help out!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I’ve always wanted to feel good about what I’m doing and help to improve our community; even if it’s with small wins. Starting Fern & Petal has allowed me to follow my dreams and achieve these small wins with some incredible people and organizations. I am so blessed to have such an amazing opportunity to do things that I truly care about.

I founded Fern & Petal because… Health and wellness are so incredibly important, especially these days. I have always cared about finding trustworthy products that I can use in my daily routine, but it’s been challenging to find brands that stick to their ethos. With Fern & Petal I really focus on being authentic and only using natural ingredients that anyone can understand.

I’m passionate about Fern & Petal because… I love being able to flex my creativity and create products that I want to use myself. The first essential oil blend we sold was Feel Good. I created it over a year before starting Fern & Petal and it was always my go-to because of how great I always felt when diffusing it, so it was a natural first choice! Since then, all of our products have come from something similar; each product shows a different side of who I am and things that I love!

My proudest accomplishment is… I am deeply humbled by the community and support we have. Hearing our customers’ feedback and seeing our customers speak passionately about the products we have made makes me excited to get up every day.

I am also so proud about what our community has helped us achieve. We have planted over 20,000 trees in Canada which works out to roughly 3 million kg of carbon taken out of the atmosphere every single year. And we have so much more to go!

“You don’t need to be an instant, overnight success; start small and grow your business organically. Our first sale was at a tiny market and our first year was a collection of small wins.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Be realistic. Entrepreneurship isn’t about wealth; there are plenty of easier ways to get that. It’s about building your own journey and creating small wins that mean success to you. 

Start small. You don’t need to be an instant, overnight success; start small and grow your business organically. Our first sale was at a tiny market and our first year was a collection of small wins. 

Don’t give up. We instinctively want things to happen overnight and when they don’t happen, we can get discouraged. Good things take time; just keep at it and you’ll find your success when it’s meant to happen.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Stay focused and organized — which will help you achieve your goals faster. I often get side-tracked and end up doing things that can be put off until later, which can often derail me from finishing the things I want to do that day.

The thing I love most about what I do is… My community — the people who support us, the kind feedback and sometimes the honest feedback we receive, has helped us become what we are today. Every single email we get we personally read and respond to. We love giving back to organizations and helping improve our community as a whole. I love ending every day feeling like I have helped do something special.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… My family has been such an incredible support. They have been there every step of the way and helped us grow the business. Even early on, my mom sat next to me at every single market and helped us without hesitation. We have grown to be a fully family run business. Without the family, I don’t think we would be where we are today.

The future excites me because… We want to continue to do these small things that can become big changes over time. I can’t wait to look back in five years and see the positive impact Fern & Petal has made!

Meet Erica Gilmour, co-founder of Hummingbird Chocolate, an ethical and sustainable bean-to-bar brand.

Erica Gilmour

Erica Gilmour is the co-founder and President of Hummingbird Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in the small town of Almonte, Ontario. With a background in International Aid and Development, Erica was a teacher and librarian in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe and traveled extensively working for non-profits to improve livelihoods in places like Lebanon, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. Her love of eating chocolate and interest in assisting farmers to access markets led to the founding of Hummingbird Chocolate with her husband, Drew. Since launching in 2012, they’ve won over 85 international chocolate awards for their products — all made from cacao sourced directly from farmers at better than Fair Trade prices, grown sustainably, and farmed ethically and humanely. 

 

My first job ever was… as a cashier at a grocery store.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I saw an opportunity to be involved in something that I knew I would love and that could make a difference for cacao farmers. Hummingbird is one of just a handful of craft chocolate makers in Canada, ethically sourcing cacao beans from small farms and co-operatives and going through a 10-step process to craft fine chocolate bars.

I founded Hummingbird Chocolate because… it’s a very delicious way to make a difference. We source fine flavour cacao beans from small farms and co-operatives, paying higher than fair trade prices. And I’ll never get tired of watching people try their first bite of craft chocolate and realizing that the mass-produced stuff they’ve been eating all of these years is a pale comparison.

I’m passionate about craft chocolate because… it makes people happy and brings joy. I work with an amazing team of creative and passionate people. I feel that we can make an impact on how we all view the value of food and agriculture.

My proudest accomplishment is… growing this business from just myself and my husband making chocolate in our basement to a team of 17+ people who care as much as we do. And winning the top honours from the Academy of Chocolate in the UK — the Golden Bean award — was pretty amazing too.

“I founded Hummingbird Chocolate because it’s a very delicious way to make a difference. We source fine flavour cacao beans from small farms and co-operatives, paying higher than fair trade prices.”

My biggest setback was… being an early entrant into the craft chocolate world and needing to introduce the concept to our customers. The idea of bean to bar chocolate is still not commonly understood so there’s been a lot of education on our part to explain how we’re different, why people should care, and why our products are a bit more expensive than what they’re used to (and why it’s worth it).

I overcame it by… providing samples at every opportunity and having as many conversations as possible with customers.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… do your research, but don’t be too focused on a specific plan or path. Be open to evolving circumstances and opportunities as they come.   

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to not be so busy working in the business that I don’t have time to work on the business. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of the weeds and look out on the vista.

The thing I love most about what I do is… dreaming up new product ideas and bringing them to reality.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… flexibility and, apparently, a pretty good palate for chocolate.

I stay inspired by… interacting with our customers in our store and on social media. Hearing their ideas, impressions and feedback motivates me to try to continue to improve.

The future excites me because… we’re soon moving into our new, larger facility where we’ll have a larger retail store and café and more equipment to expand our offerings. I’m excited that we’ll be able to source more fine cacao beans from our partners and create new, delicious offerings!