Meet Shannon Hunter, Founder and President of Wander The Resort

Shannon Hunter

In dreaming up Wander the Resort, Shannon Hunter took the nostalgia of the classic Canadian cabin, brightened the palette and let in light to create spaces that are simple yet layered, modern yet warm, luxurious yet family friendly. The Prince Edward County-based, Scandi-inspired lakeside retreat opened in December 2020, at a time when Canadians needed the respite of local travel more than ever. Wander has since had multiple consecutive sold-out seasons through 2023, hosting a distanced experience. They’ve also launched a beach club and a gift shop where guests can find many favourite locally-made items found in the cabins. Named the best new hotel in Canada by Condé Nast Traveller in 2021, Wander is one of the few resorts in Ontario to gain global recognition.

 

My first job ever was… In grade eight I filed documents at an insurance brokerage after school. It was a quiet task, entirely unsupervised, and an education in working independently. I learned to trust my instincts. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Growing up, my parents prioritized stability, working jobs with benefits and pensions, over doing something they loved. They got through Monday to Friday by dreaming of the weekend, and their two week holidays. I knew early on this wasn’t for me. I wanted to dedicate my time to something I truly enjoyed and believed in. That I found value in, both the wins AND the losses.

I knew there would be challenges. But when everything is added up, the takeaway at the end of the day, everyday, is pride and joy. And I am grateful for the agency – everything I put in, every decision I make, I own. Win or lose. 

My proudest accomplishment is… having Wander recognized by both Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler in our first few months of business was beyond anything we could have imagined, but we were still very new when those articles were published.  Those early accolades, while incredibly flattering, also set huge expectations for our guests.  We completely by-passed the early phase of a new business where you get a pass on some things because you are “new”.  Guests arrived at our door expecting the “best new hotel in Canada”.  Being able to actually live up to those expectations is by far my greatest accomplishment thus far.

My boldest move to date was… opening a luxury resort in the midst of a global pandemic.

I surprise people when I tell them… I have two degrees. One in Zoology, the other in Radiation Sciences. I worked as a research associate in the Medical Physics department at Princess Margaret Hospital, with a focus on lung cancer treatment.

I knew it was time to launch my business when… I went on maternity leave from my job at Princess Margaret Hospital. I was already running an Interior Design firm as a side hustle, while working full time  as a research associate. I had a decision to make: take a year off and return to something that no longer excited me, or use the opportunity to build my business so that I could pursue my passion full time. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… there is no perfect time.  It doesn’t exist.  There will always be a million reasons NOT to do something. Do your homework, run your numbers…and get started.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… READ! I prefer a good book over TV, and typically read three to four every month. 

I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with a team that constantly challenges me, questions me and makes me work to earn and maintain their respect.

The future excites me because… the Canadian boutique hotel scene is still very much in its infancy.  In the last few years, there has been an awakening amongst Canadians that we have some incredible regions to explore in our own backyards. Thinking about how Wander grows as a brand over the next 10 years, and how we continue to foster a desire to explore Canada and beyond in a way that is authentic keeps me up at night in a good way!  

My next step is… doubling our current capacity to meet the high demand.  Currently, one of our biggest challenges is managing requests from our loyal guests to return to the resort. We are booked so far in advance that it can be difficult to accommodate..  This is really disheartening because I want more than anything to build a community of like-minded travelers who return time and time again.  Our welcome mats actually say “wander in, wander often”!  Getting our capacity to a place where that is possible, while still maintaining our private, boutique feel, is my next step on this journey.

Meet Fadwa Mohanna, CEO and Founder of One37 ID

Fadwa Mohanna

Fadwa Mohanna is the founder and CEO of One37 ID, which delivers the building blocks of Web3 enabling businesses and users to connect, exchange and verify data. Fadwa’s vision is to usher the next iteration of digital transformation enabling businesses to be Web3-Ready in 24 hours or less by providing ready-to-deploy solutions designed to work with One37 decentralized digital wallet; a mobile application that allows the storage and sharing of verifiable credentials, such as a digital identity, medical and financial records, and others.

 

My first job ever was… a telecom site engineer, installing the first telecom towers and infrastructure across North African villages and cities, driving hundreds of kilometers every day, climbing many towers, and connecting people in remote areas, villages, and cities together to provide everyone with the basic human right to communicate. I would be often met with surprise and a nervous laughter for being the only woman on site and for doing “a man’s job”. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur… because I am a firm believer that the bigger the challenge you solve, the deeper the impact your work will have and the more lives you can touch. Having travelled extensively, I have experienced, firsthand, the difficulty of proving your identity and getting the needed paperwork to work and travel. That led me to re-think digital identity at large and wanting to solve its current limitations and making everyone’s life easier.

My proudest accomplishment is… shattering many glass ceilings regarding what it means to be a woman in tech, in various parts of the world, opening the gates for a new generation of women engineers. Being the only woman in the room was an eye-opening, challenging, and empowering experience.

My boldest move to date was… never resting in one place, long enough, to feel comfortable or complacent and constantly seeking new challenges both on the personal and professional levels.

I surprise people when I tell them… I am a passionate collector of antique jewelry and love collecting historical pieces with great stories and creating new ways to preserve this heritage for the future generation. 

I knew it was time to launch my business when… I felt it was the only way to be true to myself. I had developed the habit of evaluating what I was doing from the perspective of my “older self”. It allowed me to “zoom out” and evaluate my life with some detachment and perspective. When my assessment was not satisfactory for an extended period, I knew it was time to answer my calling and launch my own business.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… It will never be easy, will never happen as planned and will never be perfect. Plus, “The way to eat a bicycle is one piece at a time.” No matter how big the problem is, break it down into small manageable pieces and make small cumulative achievements, every single day. 

My best advice from a mentor was… Are you willing to take one hundred percent responsibility for your life?” 

Some of the deepest changes in my life came after attending a retreat with my mentor “Jack Canfield”, author of “The Success Principles”. “If you want to be successful, you must take 100% responsibility for everything that you experience in your life. This includes the level of your achievements, the results you produce, the quality of your relationships, the state of your health and physical fitness, your income, your debts, your feelings-everything!”

When the going gets tough, I tell myself… “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Success takes time, years of grind, frustration, failure, self-doubt. It also takes a lot of hard work, patience, grit, consistency, and perseverance. However, if you keep your eyes on the prize, you can make it. Be flexible and keep adapting until you figure it out.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend it with my family and my community. Their light and wisdom are all the motivation I need to keep believing and building a better world. 

I stay inspired,,, by being a lifelong learner; always reading, watching documentaries, learning new skills, and taking on new challenges.

The future excites me because… I choose to believe in humanity! Despite all the negative news, there has never been a better time in history to be an entrepreneur, to have hope, a dream, a vision, and then move to execution. Every indication from the past shows that whenever we faced major hurdles, we always came together, adapted, and evolved.

My next step is… to keep figuring it out, one day at a time, breathing deeply, enjoying every day, never taking anything for granted and be very thankful and appreciative of every new day.

Meet Tiffany Callender, CEO of The Federation of African Canadian Economics (FACE)

Tiffany Callender

Tiffany Callender was named the inaugural CEO of The Federation of African Canadian Economics (FACE) in 2021. The national and bilingual Black-led non-profit organisation is focused on providing resources and information to the Black community across Canada, with the aim of accelerating wealth creation for Canadians of African descent. A community developer and social entrepreneur, Tiffany has spent her career developing and implementing programs to support Montreal’s Black community. In addition to being the youngest female Executive Director of one of the oldest Black organizations in Quebec, she was recognized by MIPAD as one of the 100 most influential person of African-descent under 40 in 2020,

 

My first job ever was… a day camp counselor. I volunteered at twelve years old and worked for that camp every summer until I graduated from high school. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… launching a product or service gives me an opportunity to be creative and challenged in a unique way.

My proudest accomplishment is… being the co-founder and inaugural CEO of the Federation of African Canadian Economics with a mandate to administer Canada’s historic Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund.  

My boldest move to date was… building a national Black economic strategy during a global pandemic.  The world was shrouded with uncertainty, but I was determined to work with others to find a path for Black businesses to survive and thrive beyond COVID-19. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I believe everyday people have the potential to make our society more equitable and prosperous.  

I knew it was time to launch my business when… the solution that was so obvious to me was not found in the market.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… take advantage of resources to support you while you develop your company.  You will have many questions throughout your entrepreneurial journey, just remain determined and relentless in finding sources for the most reliable solutions.

My best advice from a mentor was… expand your concept by expanding your network.  There are knowledgeable individuals that can guide you while you build your vision.

When the going gets tough, I tell myself… nothing worth achieving is without struggle.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend more time being still. A little extra time outside of my schedule would be best used by being in the moment.

I stay inspired by… my children. I have realized that my drive to evolve our society for the better is intrinsically linked to my desire for their wellness.

The future excites me because… every action I take today is building the positive future I will experience. Once I grasped this concept, optimism set in, and opportunities became abundant.

My next step is… converting my experience as a founder into a new, social purpose organization that will ensure youth have an early start and equal access to educational resources across the country. I intend to remain a woman who is one to watch.

Meet Lisa Karandat & Alexa Monahan, Co-Founders, Good Juju Body & Home

Lisa Karandat & Alexa Monahan

Lisa Karandat and Alexa Monahan are Co-Founders of Good Juju Body & Home, a line of all natural and plastic-free everyday essentials. Having spent much of their careers having a direct impact on the health of Canadians, the pair came together with a mission to inspire, educate and empower people to make small, incremental changes to their daily routine — changing consumer behavior to make a measurable impact on the environment, while creating a more sustainable business model. 

 

My first job ever was…

Lisa:  Delivering newspapers.

Alexa: Cleaning grocery shelves.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

Lisa:  I have always loved business and reached a point in my career where I was drawn to take all the experience I had accumulated and use it to make an impact in the way that I wanted vs executing someone else’s vision. 

Alexa:  Having worked for a family business my whole life, I was ready to create my own mark in the world.  I like the challenge of learning something new every day and creating something that reflects my values and passions. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… Creating a purpose driven company that has is already making a difference in tackling the biggest issues of our time.  The climate crisis and diversity and inclusion.  The climate crisis is the biggest existential threat to humanity, and we are really proud is doing something to tackle this. A portion of each and every dollar earned and spent at Good Juju goes to supporting the climate.  

Our boldest move to date was… Having the courage to start Good Juju!  After we left our past careers we could have taken the safe route to get another job in the same industry.  But we took the look leap and as hard as it is, we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Being a woman in business has opened some doors, but also closed others, and to have the courage to continue to persevere is a daily decision.  

We surprise people when I tell them… We don’t want to be called Boss Babes or Mompreneurs.  Words have power, we are business people and we find too often that women are defined by these labels which would never be applied to a man.  We find that these terms can minimize our contributions and separate us from male entrepreneurs in a diminishing way.  We want to be champions for women as leaders but to ultimately work to inspire ALL entrepreneurs regardless of how they identify.   

We knew it was time to launch our business when… We looked around and we uninspired by the lack of sustainably minded businesses who offer great products.  For most companies, being sustainable means purchasing carbon offsets, but the reality is that the way we do business needs to fundamentally change.  Carbon offsets are not nearly enough.  When we started Good juju we wanted to inspire consumers with a better way of doing things, but to also inspire businesses to do better.  

Our best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Get a partner if you can. It’s very hard to do this on your own, and to have someone to cry with, celebrate with, and keep you going is invaluable! Having said that, if you are going to get a partner, make sure you share the same fundamental values around business.  Compromises will have to be made, but if you trust your partner and know they share your values, you are more likely to bend if they feel more passionate about something than you do.  It also allows you to have another perspective on things that you may not have thought about.  

Our best advice from a mentor was… Being an entrepreneur is an endurance sport and you need to take care of yourself.  Work out, take care of your mind, eat well, and rest.  Each day is roller coaster, and you can easily ride the extreme wave of emotions going high to low within hours.  To stay centered is practice and a skill that you need to cultivate to manage the stress and enjoy running your business.  

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

Lisa:  Call Alexa.

Alexa:  Call Lisa.

If we had an extra hour in the day, we would… Do something for me, walk, read, go into nature.  As an entrepreneur it is very hard to shut off, there is always work to do.  Those moments of self-care will have big returns.  You cannot pour into your business if you are empty.  

We stay inspired by… Other amazing companies and women founders.  One of the best things about starting Good Juju is the amount of women founders that reached out to network and help.  They are all doing such amazing things and keep us inspired to keep going with their success and keep us learning with the knowledge and sharing.   

The future excites us because… There is so much potential to do good in this world. We are trying to change consumers’ fundamental daily habits and the potential impact of that is huge!  Our goal is to remove 50 million plastic bottles from the waste stream by 2030. 

Our next step is… Focus on rapid growth.  We have proven our products and business model and now it’s time to scale.

Meet Caitlyn Vanderhaeghe, President, CEO, and co-founder of KidStar Nutrients

Caitlyn Vanderhaeghe

Caitlyn Vanderhaeghe is President, CEO, and co-founder of KidStar Nutrients, a Canadian natural health company. A health advocate and licensed teacher, as well as a published children’s author and popular mommy blogger, her passion for all things natural health has driven her to develop nutritional supplements that are clean and pure, providing only the ingredients needed for optimal health and nothing more. When she’s not working to educate families about the importance of good nutrition and health, she can most often be found sharing her Frozen and Peppa Pig expertise or wrangling her three daughters, husband, and family dog on a local beach or neighbourhood park.

 

My first job ever was… My first “job” was selling flowers to our neighbours. I was about 9 years old, and I would go to my mom’s beautiful garden, make bouquets of her flowers, then go door-to-door selling the bouquets I made so that I could have some spending money at the corner store. When I was a bit older, I worked for my mom helping to pack orders and file the endless paperwork of an entrepreneur. After that, I always had something on the go.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… After searching for an effective supplement for my own family, I came up empty-handed. I knew that other parents were in the same situation as me, looking for a great quality product that kids would want to take. I have really high standards for my family’s health, so I started my own company to formulate clean supplements.

My proudest accomplishment is… As an entrepreneur my proudest accomplishment to date is seeing my products on the shelf next to all the big brands. 

My boldest move to date was… Starting my own company! 

I knew it was time to launch my business when… I couldn’t find an iron supplement that wasn’t filled with sugar, fillers, and harmful ingredients, to treat my daughter’s iron deficiency. I saw there really was a need for clean, healthy, sugar-free supplements.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Just take that step. And keeping moving forward! Nothing good comes from going backwards or standing still.

My best advice from a mentor was… When you need help, ask for it! 

When the going gets tough, I tell myself… No matter what happens, the success of my company is not a reflection of my self-worth.

I stay inspired by… My three daughters. They are my biggest fans and everywhere we go, they tell other kids and people all about KidStar and how one day they are going to run a company, too! 

The future excites me because… I am already seeing companies following suit with cleaner supplements for kids and even more companies are focusing on preventing nutrient deficiencies. 

My next step is… Increasing education so we can spread the word on why we need clean supplements to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Meet Marie-Claude Desjardins, Owner & COO of Hardware Rebels.

Marie-Claude Desjardins never imaged that her lifelong interest in drawing, organizing space, and planning would one day be used to create products. She founded Hardware Rebels in 2019, a hybrid import/export and industrial design co-development company that supports manufacturing companies in the creation of products and the supply of specialized components in the field of commercial, residential, government and hospital furniture.

My first job ever was…

Working in the kids’ department of a Globo shoe store when I was 16 years old.  Who knew that sandy little feet, torn socks and Disney movies on a loop would be essential to solidifying English as my second language?

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

I saw a need in my industry for a new way to do things and I decided to go for it.  In that moment, I just felt it was my calling.

My proudest accomplishment is…

Aside from my kids, of course, my proudest accomplishment is to have made groundbreaking changes in a male-dominated industry. 

My boldest move to date was…

Leaving the comfort of a position as General Manager.  As a single mom with no safety net, I jumped into a gigantic void of unknowns to start my own business.

I surprise people when I tell them…

That I did my motorcycle licence and bought my first motorcycle at the age of 40.  I approach riding the way I face my entrepreneurship; I decide of the destination and I’m steering my way forward.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

I realized that the cliché of having to move on when you know you can do it better than your boss was true.  I just had to do it.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

My favourite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘’Do Not Go Where The Path May Lead, Go Instead Where There Is No Path And Leave A Trail.’’  It sums it up.

My best advice from a mentor was…

‘’Just try it!  If it doesn’t work, try something else.’’  For me it means, don’t give up and don’t believe those who would tell you that you are crazy.  Use it instead as fuel to succeed.

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

Well, Marie, grab a coffee and roll up your sleeves, because it’s going to be a long night…

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

Love to mentor young adults coming into the workplace in order to help them best develop their skills and achieve their full potential.

I stay inspired by…

The difference that my team makes in peoples’ lives through smarter designs, creative solutions and out-of-the-box thinking.

The future excites me because…

For the first time in my life, I get to truly lead, not follow.  I love what I do and I just can’t get enough.

My next step is…

To further develop two new business divisions within Hardware Rebels.  I guess that’s why people think I don’t sleep.

Meet Naomi Blackman & Mikayla Wujec, Co-Founders of Alder Apparel.

Founded by National Geographic Explorer Mikayla Wujec and fashion marketing leader Naomi Blackman, alder apparel was created in Toronto, Canada. Naomi and Mikayla met as childhood friends and shared similar frustrations with outdoor clothing options for women. With their combined backgrounds, they decided to take a chance at making something better. They offer inclusive sizing, community-informed design, sustainable and ethical production, and a playful brand that starkly contrasts with the performance-driven, hard-core athletic brands that currently dominate the outdoor space.

My first job ever was…

For Naomi: working at a neighbourhood sandwich counter/bakery. I was fired after less than a month for switching a shift so I could have the day off to celebrate my mom’s birthday. It took me years to admit that I was fired because I was so embarrassed. I can now see the influence that (and many other work horror stories) had on my philosophy around building a better workplace. 

For Mikayla: Working at Soft Moc shoes in Toronto during high school. It instilled in me a) a true love for comfortable shoes and b) a deep respect for retail workers. Being in the retail business now, I recognize how that early experience taught me the value of excellent customer service and the reward of helping people find products that will improve their everyday life!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…

For: Naomi: I wanted to be part of building something from the ground up. I’ve worked for a lot of big brands in my past and I was always excited by new initiatives and the possibilities of designing and growing something from scratch. 

For Mikayla: I believed in the purpose of alder and knew that time spent chasing a dream of getting more people outdoors was time well spent, regardless of the outcome. I’ve always been attracted to having the independence and autonomy of being your own boss, to succeed and to fail on your own plan of action and to the challenges of learning on your feet.

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Naomi: seeing alder in MEC stores. While we are still primarily direct to consumer, MEC was always a special place growing up and it was almost surreal to see alder merchandised in-store!

For Mikayla: Starting the non-profit Riparia with two fellow National Geographic Explorers, Andrea Reid and Dalal Hana. Through Riparia we run free canoe-camping trips & day camps on rivers and lakes in Canada to steward a love for science, learning and fresh waters in young women aged 13-18. Working with young women to build their confidence in the outdoors, expose them to exciting scientific tools and methods like underwater drones and portable microscopes and watching lasting friendships emerge between them has been so unbelievably rewarding. That age is such a difficult time for so many and the difference a week in woods and on the water with supportive women around you can be truly transformative.

My boldest move to date was…

For Naomi: quitting my well-paying, full-time job when alder was just an idea! I quit my job at Joe Fresh in September of 2018 and we launched alder in September 2019. It was most likely a bit premature, but I was so excited about the idea of alder and was so confident in our vision for the brand that it felt like the right decision. 

For Mikayla: Other than starting an e-commence apparel business with zero business and fashion background or experience? I would say quitting my job, giving up my apartment and booking a one-way ticket to the Solomon Islands to work on marine conversation project for National Geographic in my mid-20’s. The professor’s, scientists and researchers thatmet with my co-researcher and I before we left laughed in our faces and said there was absolutely no way two women could do research there solo. Look who’s laughing now!

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Naomi: that I’m a registered Canadian amateur boxer.*

*I did a charity boxing match during my advertising days and would 100% still lose in a fight. 

For Mikayla: I’m an advanced SCUBA diver with over 500 dives! Being in the water is one of my favourite ways to spend time in the outdoors and scuba diving is such a spectacular way to see underwater environments. Swimming with bull sharks in the south pacific is one of my top scared-as-all-hell but exhilarated-beyond-belief experiences to date. 

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Naomi: it just felt right. I’ve had ideas for businesses in the past, but there was always an excuse not to go for it. When Mikayla and I started talking about alder, everything just clicked into place.

For Mikayla: My cofounder Naomi and I decided to do it together. Our skillset was perfectly matched with her background in marketing and apparel and mine in sustainability and the outdoors. We became absolutely captivated by the idea of launching an outdoor brand that centred belonging in the outdoors instead of performance and building products that were versatile enough for adventures + everyday life. We talked about it non-stop, researched our eyes red and were full to bursting with excitement about building it together. Within months we quit our jobs, got a small loan from Business Development Canada and didn’t look back. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Naomi: find a group of likeminded entrepreneurs and be vulnerable together. It WILL get tough and the attitude of going it alone or pretending everything is great when it isn’t won’t help you. Commiserating and celebrating with entrepreneurs who are either in our stage or a little bit ahead of us has been unbelievably transformative for my mental health and for our business.

For Mikayla: My top three tips would be: 

1.There truly is no perfect time to start, just get going.
2. Done is often better than perfect.
3. You don’t have to learn and know everything yourself. Outsource competencies you don’t have, ask for advice and hire people who are better than you!  

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Naomi:” You’re probably putting tough expectations on yourself that no one else has for you.”

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Naomi: to be grateful for what these past few years have given me. It can be tough, but the engagement with work, mental challenge and flexibility of running alder has made my life so much more rewarding than I could have imagined. 

For Mikayla: How stoked would 8-year-old Mikayla be to be living my life. How proud will 80-year-old me be to look back at it? I find I feel the lowest when I’m focusing on specific challenges and frustrations and taking a step back to view the larger landscape of things gives me so much gratitude.

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

For Naomi: sleep. We underestimate the power and importance of rest, particularly in the entrepreneur community. I love my full nights and sleep ins and don’t think I could do this if I burned myself out with 3-4 hour sleeps. 

For Mikayla: Write more terrible poetry. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer and before I write some good stuff I know I have to write a lot of bad stuff. I’m firmly in bad-stuff-stage but writing uses such a different part of my mind and takes me completely into another world. It’s a wonderful break from work and fuels creativity in other areas of life. 

I stay inspired by…

For Naomi: listening to podcasts and reading articles about other founders’ stories and fantasizing about the future of alder. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I go for a walk and play my favourite music and just daydream about what it will feel like to open alder’s first store or hire our 100th employee. 

The future excites me because…

For Naomi: of our team. We’ve been so fortunate with our team so far and I’m excited to continue growing it! One of the more motivating and exciting parts of owning a business for me is the ability to structure a work environment that I’ve always wanted to have. We work hard at alder, but both Mikayla and I wanted to create an environment that recognizes there’s life to be lived outside of work. We also wanted to build a workplace that feels both supportive and exciting while also providing opportunities for growth and ownership within the company. We started alder from the beginning with work hour flexibility, work from anywhere and a 4-day work week so that our employees can structure their work around their lives and not the other way around. We also decided early on that our employee happiness is the most important thing and to us, that meant focusing on lots of touch points, feedback and communication to make sure our employees feel heard and supported. 

My next step is…

For Naomi: raising funds! Mikayla and I are gearing up for our Seed Round this Fall. We’ve had amazing success to date and have some big plans for 2022 and beyond. 

 

Meet Esther Vlessing, Co-Founder & CEO of Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers.

While pursuing her bachelors of science degree at U of T, Esther Vlessing built and scaled a national clothing line. She then went on to work on the Canada Goose design team. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Esther connected with the Deputy Ministers Office and Department of Economic Trade and Development in Canada to plan and execute a nation-wide emergency manufacturing response unit. She co-founded Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM) to tackle Canada’s personal protective equipment shortages and logistical needs. CEMM activated and retooled two dozen domestic factories, created hundreds of domestic jobs and supplied over a million units of PPE to various levels of Canadian government.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… There were problems I wanted to solve that other companies or individuals weren’t yet addressing. In the case of my current venture, Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers, there was a huge need for local manufacturing during the pandemic, and I stepped up to meet the need. 

My proudest accomplishment is… CEMM! Building a company with zero upfront investment into a profitable and meaningful enterprise within 3 months. We were able to manufacture sufficient isolation gowns to protect Canada’s front-line healthcare workers and kept over 450 local seamstresses and factory workers employed during the height of the pandemic. 

My boldest move to date was… cold-calling the Premier’s office telling them I’d be able to help set-up a national manufacturing effort. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I started my last company during a 3-day water-fast. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage” (from the movie, We Bought a Zoo). Mustering up the courage to do something you’re scared to do can move your idea or business forward in immeasurable ways. 

My best advice from a mentor was… As an entrepreneur you don’t have to be good at everything. There is a huge advantage to hiring other people who are better, smarter, and have more experience than you. Especially if you’re starting something that’s new for you, look for guidance in veterans who have walked the path before you. 

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…  to view set-backs, obstacles and instances of rejection as universal protection or redirection. A favourite mantra of mine is: “everything happens for you, not against you.”

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… walk to more places! So many of us lead such sedentary lives and travel from point A to point B without moving our bodies. I’m a big believer in healthy-body, healthy-mind, so the extra hour would definitely be spent moving.   

I stay inspired by… reading interviews and memoirs written by fellow entrepreneurs. There is such a wealth of knowledge from those who have walked the path before us, and so many are willing to share their experiences! Some of my favourite reads include “What I Wish I Knew When I was 20” by Tina Seelig, “Girlboss” by Sophia Amoruso, and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg.  

My next step is… to reach back and offer the support and guidance I wish I’d had as a post-grad entering the work-force. I’m currently writing a book that recounts my entrepreneurial journey from the first company I started during University to the second I built into an 8-figure business, and all the struggle, challenges and down-time in between. The book is an example of how trusting and listening to life’s signs and directives can help us navigate our path to build the career (and life!) of our dreams.

Meet Alison Duke & Ngardy Conteh George, Co-Founders of OYA Media Group

In 2018, celebrated veteran filmmakers Alison Duke of Goldelox Productions and Ngardy Conteh George of Mattru Media joined forces to create OYA Media Group: a woman-led, award-winning production company based in Toronto. Named after a powerful African goddess, OYA brings an authentic perspective to media platforms, from film and TV to virtual reality through socially relevant, life-changing stories that amplify Black experiences.

My first job ever was…

For Alison: as a clerk in a department store. I was in the jewellery department and was responsible for changing watch batteries and bands. I got a lot of props from the customers for being a young woman working with tools. I enjoyed that.

For Ngardy: Delivering newspapers with my older siblings, I must have been 6 or 7.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

For Alison: I wanted to be an independent filmmaker who made socially conscious films that catered to underrepresented communities. Early on in my career, I knew that there was an untapped market that was hungry for quality entertainment and programming that reflected their realities. I thought it would be a great business model to make work specifically for this market. For 15 years I produced community films to understand the type of films this audience wanted. Now I’m incorporating this research into mainstream films.  

For Ngardy: Opportunities were not coming my way to tell the stories that I wanted to tell so I created my own production company to create the opportunities for myself.  

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Alison: I have two: being a co-founder of OYA Media Group, and turning it into an award-winning production media company with full-time staff in just a few years is something I am extremely proud of;  and creating the OYA Emerging Filmmakers program, which gives back by providing a pathway for young talent who are eager to work in our industry, is equally rewarding.   

My boldest move to date was…

For Alison: getting an agent. I am now represented by Gary Goddard Agency. (So is Ngardy) 

For Ngardy: Walking away from a full time job while being offered a promotion to work full time for myself.Then over ten years later pivoting from that to form OYA Media Group with Alison.  

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Alison: that I am inducted to the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Windsor for Basketball. 

For Ngardy: My age.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Alison: Ngardy and I were about to produce the television documentary Mr. Jane and Finch for CBC. We had similar business and creative sensibilities but working in different silos. It just felt like we would be much stronger working together under one company instead of in our separate companies with redundancies. Working together allowed us to develop more projects at a faster rate while lowering our business expenses.

For Ngardy: I realized how well we work together and that we clearly had a similar vision that would be better achieved together. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Alison: Start slowly, and build as you gather information. Understanding what works best for both you and your clients takes time. Finding successful entrepreneurs that you can talk with is key. We participated in a few different business accelerators that teamed us up with successful entrepreneurs. They gave us a fresh perspective on how to assess our business properly, in terms of productivity and growth. They were also able to advise us on how to overcome certain challenges that we were facing. It was great to hear that we were not alone. A lot of entrepreneurs go through the same things so why not get a mentor who can help walk you through some of the challenges. Getting information is the key. 

For Ngardy: Under promise and over deliver.  Listen to your inner voice, it’s there for a reason, trust yourself.

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Alison: find an easy way to communicate your business structure and how your business works to your staff.  

For Ngardy: Definite your long term goals and dedicate a percentage of your time and energy to them each day/week/month/year.  

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Alison: The sun will rise again tomorrow. 

For Ngardy: I’m strong enough to get through. 

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

For Alison: Learn to speak French. 

For Ngardy: Play tennis more often. 

I stay inspired by…

For Alison: Setting goals, working on our OKRs (Objectives, Key Results), talking to other female entrepreneurs through networking groups and accelerators. Also reading a lot of books. It could be fiction, biography, or even non-fiction. I am always inspired by a good story.

For Ngardy: Learning, constantly learning through multiple mediums, these days it’s mostly watching documentaries and television shows, listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

The future excites me because…

For Alison: We’ve planted creative seeds over the past 3-4 years and many of them are starting to sprout. It’s exciting to see our company grow in the number of staff and projects. I am excited by how well we are doing. 

For Ngardy: Underrepresented and systematically excluded perspectives are being centred in all aspects of creation and across the industry. I look forward to telling these stories and working with these creators.

My next step is…

For Alison: We are looking to expand our slate of projects internationally. There are a few Canadian companies that do that quite well and we are building relationships with them. Slowly but surely, we will find the right international partners because our audience is there too.  

For Ngardy: To keep growing and to see OYA grow into the force it’s on track to become.

Meet Julianna Tan & Shawnda Blacklock, Co-Owners of The Little Market Box

Shawnda Blacklock and Julianna Tan were neighbouring vendors at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market who wanted to tackle the question: How do we support the individuals and the families who are relying on the farmers’ market as their livelihood? The day after the In comes The Little Market Box: an online platform for purchasing market goods that fosters the success of local producers who are doing what they love to do, like feeding their animals, planting and harvesting their crops, or getting up at the crack of dawn to bake fresh bread. Simultaneously, The Little Market Box offers customers accessible fresh food without the time constraints or parking complaints of a traditional farmers’ market and without compromising the dedication to locally produced goods.

My first job ever was…

For Julianna: as a dishwasher at my parents’ restaurant. I was in grade 3 and I had to stand on a milk crate to reach the sink!

For Shawnda: working for my Grandparents in their small town grocery store and then working for my mom in her own clothing store.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

For Julianna: I was just taking a “break” from my academics and it turned out to be a much longer break than I imagined!

For Shawnda: I enjoy the freedom of following my own path (plus I’m not really employable!).

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Julianna: building both of my current companies (Those Girls at the Market & The Little Market Box) with no formal business education or funding. It’s fun to have an idea, launch it with limited resources (we started our chocolate company with $300), and grow it into something that gives back to you and back to itself. 

For Shawnda: the sincere relationship I have with all of our customers and producers. 

My boldest move to date was…

For Julianna: signing up to have a chocolate booth at our local farmers’ market before I had any experience or knowledge in making chocolate. My sister’s life motto is “Jump! Then build your parachute on the way down.” It forces you to learn quickly and adapt- there is no room for excuses when you’re in action. It worked!

For Shawnda: opening The Little Market Box the day after the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market closed.

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Julianna: I was adopted! My sister and I are biological sisters, but we were adopted together when I was 3 months old and she was 2 years old. We reconnected with our biological parents when we were young and lived between the two families as we grew up. 

For Shawnda: that I’m a Certified Laughter Therapist.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Julianna: we needed a solution that no one else was offering (and I had a very enthusiastic friend and soon-to-be business partner aka Shawnda). 

For Shawnda: we could see the possibilities of our own vision becoming REAL.

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Julianna: reframe the paths you wish to explore as “experiments.” Three-month experiments, one-year experiments, five-year experiments. With this reframing, you cannot fail- you only succeed or learn something. Remember, you can revisit the paths you strayed from after your experiment. Take the shot.

For Shawnda: baby steps, learn, develop as you go and don’t be afraid of change.

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Julianna: life is not a singular road you travel down. It is a vast journey through many mountains that will constantly change your perspective and consequently change your path as you explore yourself and the world around you.

For Shawnda: Learn SOMETHING from EVERYONE. 

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Julianna: we’re all here just spinning on a big rock that’s floating in the universe. You might as well have fun.

For Shawnda: DON’T GET in my OWN WAY.

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

For Julianna: take a Spanish class!

For Shawnda: spend more time outdoors with my cats and the people I LOVE. 

I stay inspired by…

For Julianna: constantly listening to podcasts on a wide range of topics, reading books (I’m addicted to self-help), and using my Passion Planner (I highly recommend checking out this day planner).

For Shawnda: watching and helping others choose and follow their dreams. (When the pictures on the vision boards become real ~ I get goosebumps)

The future excites me because…

For Julianna: we’re building it now. I’ve realized it’s easy to overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time (in one week or a couple of months), but it’s easy to underestimate what we can accomplish over longer periods of time (one to five years). We’re planting seeds everyday that have the potential to grow into something bigger than we ever imagined they would be. How exciting!

For Shawnda: I believe in the products and the PEOPLE we support. 

My next step is…

For Julianna: Redefining our dream store and making the moves that support that dream.

For Shawnda: More space, expansion to support our dream store.