Rencontrez Isabelle Dion, PDG Boost Affaires Inc.

Isabelle Dion cumule plus de 25 ans d’expérience en communication et en service client. Sa volonté ferme de donner un élan à ses affaires la motive à créer Boost Affaires avec une associée d’expérience, en 2012. C’est à la fin 2016 qu’Isabelle reprend seule l’affaire. La mission de Boost Affaires: Ouvrir des portes à de nouvelles opportunités d’affaires B2B par une approche téléphonique rigoureuse, humaine et audacieuse basée sur une écoute authentique.

Mon tout premier emploi était… Caissière dans un dépanneur tout près de chez moi. J’ai obtenu cet emploi en prenant  une marche un dimanche de Pâques. J’ai parlé au propriétaire qui m’a embauchée sur le  champ!  

J’ai décidé d’être en affaires parce que… Comme un oiseau, la vie m’a fait tomber du nid pour que je vole de mes propres ailes….  On m’a référé mon premier client au moment où je venais de terminer un emploi et c’est  ce qui m’a lancée en affaires.  

La réalisation dont je tire le plus de fierté, c’est… D’être certifiée BonBoss et d’avoir persévéré comme entrepreneure depuis 14 ans maintenant. J’ai une équipe formidable avec laquelle j’ai créé une relation étroite. C’est  fantastique d’être sur notre X, de se réaliser et de permettre à ses collègues de participer  activement à l’atteinte de la vision d’entreprise. 

https://bonboss.ca/bonboss/isabelle-dion/ 

Mon plus gros incident de parcours fut lorsque… J’ai eu une associée de 2012 à 2016 et que j’ai dû racheter ses parts dans l’entreprise.  C’était prévu, toutefois, c’était pour moi une démarche de haute importante. J’allais de  nouveau être l’unique décideur de l’entreprise et assumer la pleine réalisation de ma  vision d’entreprise. 

J’ai surmonté le tout en… Étant accompagnée d’un mentor avec qui j’ai pris le temps de revisiter mon plan, mes  aspirations, mais surtout, de prendre mon courage à deux mains pour poursuivre mes  ambitions de croissance pour mon entreprise. 

Si vous me cherchez sur Google, vous ne saurez sûrement pas que… Je suis une passionnée de voyages et de découvertes, j’ai d’ailleurs travaillé de  l’Argentine et du Brésil à distance avec mon équipe. Mon côté aventurier, m’amène aussi à partir de façon spontanée selon l’inspiration du moment. J’aime avoir ma moto, traverser les frontières quand c’est possible. Ça me permet de ressentir la liberté et l’accélération qui sont une source de bonheur pour moi.  

Lorsque je me suis lancée en affaires, j’aurais aimé savoir que… Ma vision allait se réaliser et que pour cela je devrais y consacrer plusieurs années. J’ai  fait preuve de beaucoup de résilience. J’étais loin de me douter que mon entreprise serait  ma plus belle école et que mes succès comme entrepreneure seraient mes plus belles  réussites et source de fierté.  

Le meilleur conseil que je pourrais donner à ceux et celles qui veulent faire croître  leur entreprise, c’est… Que selon moi tout est possible. Pour y arriver il est important d’être ouvert, à l’écoute de  ses instincts, à l’affût des opportunités, se fixer des objectifs et y croire.  

Un grand leader est une personne qui… Inspire son équipe à se dépasser et à s’investir dans les défis de l’entreprise, mets en  valeur les forces de ses employés, développe une belle relation avec eux. Fais confiance  et encourage l’autonomie ainsi que le sens des responsabilités et possède une grande écoute. Les gens accompagnés d’un grand leader diront « Nous l’avons fait nous-même » et c’est ce que je prône dans mon entreprise.  

J’entrevois l’avenir avec enthousiasme, parce que… Je suis fière de mon équipe, de ce que nous accomplissons et des valeurs que nous  vivons. J’aime relever des défis et surprendre les gens en atteignant les objectifs fixés. J’aime réunir des employés de talents et les voir se déployer. C’est ensemble que nous  réussissons! 

Pour moi, avoir du succès, c’est… D’avoir de l’impact pour nos clients en ouvrant pour eux la porte à de nouvelles  opportunités d’affaires. De contribuer à bâtir des entreprises, et ce, par des relations authentiques, gagnant-gagnant. D’atteindre nos objectifs avec une équipe heureuse,  engagée et performante. 

Meet Evelyne Nyairo, Founder of Ellie Bianca

Evelyne Nyairo is the founder of Ellie Bianca, an all natural, environmentally sustainable, and socially conscious skincare line. Named after her daughter, the brand was inspired by Evelyne’s deep desire to bring change to the women of the world. She has over fifteen years experience working globally in Environment and Social Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, which has helped her develop authentic relationships that now allow her to source natural, sustainable, and ethical ingredients.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be creative with solutions without any limitations. I always wanted to provide solutions for Africa in the oil and gas sector. Years ago, I found myself doing fieldwork among the most beautiful wild mango trees in Chad. Not one to waste an opportunity for an incredible fresh fruit, I was introduced to a family where the mother and kids proceeded to expertly climb the trees in the hot sun to harvest mangoes for me to eat. Towards the end I was told to pay the husband when it was the wife that had picked the mangoes. I felt a knot of anger in my heart as I customarily handed the money over to the man, and I was motivated to help improve the lives of the women there. That is when I decided to start Ellie Bianca, a natural skincare line built on the pillars ‘Kind to Your Skin, Kind to the Earth, Kind to Women.’

My proudest accomplishment is… To see my daughter start university. I’ve had a lot of business accomplishments, but the bottom of it all is to see my daughter work being her own person. Holding Ellie 18 years ago ignited my passion to raise her to be a smart, happy and well-adjusted young woman with a successful future. Determined to ensure that gender inequity, bias, or prejudice of any kind would never hold me or my daughter back from reaching our desired vision or happiness, today I am so proud to see Ellie on the path to achieving that dream!

My biggest setback was… I never see setbacks as challenges and believe in living a life of no regrets. I see setbacks as an opportunity to comeback and ask myself how do I make the best out of a challenge. 

I overcame it by… I actively shift my mindset when presented with a challenge by looking at it as an opportunity to learn. With every challenge there’s an opportunity of a comeback.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was born in a rural village in Kisii, Kenya and went to an all-girls boarding school. My clan is called the House of Wealth hence I aim to upload my clan’s legacy with my entrepreneurial experience. 

My best advice for small business owners is… If your dreams are not scaring you, they’re not big enough. Be scared but do it anyways

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Taking time for oneself and scheduling time in my calendar for selfcare

When starting my business, I wish I knew…  To reach out for help. There’s a lot of help by both the government and various other organizations who are there to support entrepreneurs. I’d been doing it all by myself and I wish I had tapped into the resources out there to grow earlier and not done it the hard way

The future excites me because… Each step in this journey is getting us closer to building a billion dollar business. While the journey is not easy, our resilence is inspiring hope in others along the way.  

Success to me means…To me success is not just meeting the financial goal but the ability to give back to others along the way, even if it means having a positive impact on one person to reach their full potential.

Meet Xenia Chen, Founder of Threads

Xenia Chen is the founder of Threads, a direct-to-consumer tights and hosiery brand with a mission to make luxurious and high-end hosiery affordable to everyone. Threads has been featured in FLARE, NBC, FASHION Magazine, CBC The National, and several other media publications. Prior to Threads, Xenia worked in private equity and investment banking at top firms in Toronto and New York for 5 years, over which time she worked on transactions and mandates with a combined value of over $12 billion.

My first job ever was… Lifeguard/swim instructor.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I faced an everyday problem/frustration that I knew so many other women were also facing. I had this burning desire to fix it and come up with a solution!

My proudest accomplishment is… Launching Threads with my own personal savings and bootstrapping the company to what it is today. 

My biggest setback was… The COVID-19 pandemic. Being a young business in an industry that depends on people getting dressed up (either to go out or to go to work) was not easy. 

I overcame it by… Nurturing existing customers and finding new, unexpected customer groups and launching new products. A true testament to the idea that sometimes, the best ideas can come out of times of incredible challenge. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love cooking! My idea of the perfect night is cooking up a great meal with my husband and having our friends over. 

My best advice for small business owners is… Be open minded when listening to other people’s advice but be discerning about which pieces to actually take and implement. Trust your gut. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Take time to rest. It’s so important but I definitely need to be reminded of this at times. 

When starting my business, I wish I knew… Failure is not the opposite of success: it’s a stepping stone to success. 

The future excites me because… There’s so much possibility! We’re living in such a great time in history right now where we have so much knowledge at our fingertips – you can essentially learn anything off of YouTube and the internet and that is really exciting to me. 

Success to me means… Creating a life that you truly love and enjoy. And personal growth – accomplishing things that you, at one point, didn’t think was possible or in the cards for you. There’s no better feeling than looking back and knowing that past-you would’ve been so proud of present-you. 

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.

les finalistes des Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC 2021 sont annoncés

Nous sommes fiers d’annoncer les finalistes des Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC 2021. Un nouveau record a été battu cette année, avec plus de 10 000 candidatures de femmes des quatre coins du pays nommées par leurs collègues et leurs pairs. Après examen approfondi, 21 finalistes ont été sélectionnées dans l’ensemble des sept catégories de prix traditionnelles. Cinq autres candidates ont été choisies pour recevoir le prix Entrepreneure prometteuse, qui vise à récompenser des entrepreneures qui ont lancé des entreprises ayant connu un succès étonnant en moins de trois ans.

Les femmes qui forment ce groupe exceptionnel, diversifié et résilient ont été choisies pour leurs réalisations dans un large éventail de secteurs, dont les médias, la gestion du capital de risque, les vêtements, la construction, les services médicaux et la cybersécurité.

Compte tenu de l’incroyable essor du programme, la catégorie Évolution sociale a été élargie cette année. Ce prix comprend maintenant deux catégories : 1) le Prix de l’évolution sociale : Influence régionale, qui est remis à la gestionnaire d’un organisme de bienfaisance enregistré, d’une entreprise sociale ou d’un organisme sans but lucratif se consacrant à un aspect précis du changement social, à un niveau local ou régional ; 2) le Prix de l’évolution sociale : Influence nationale, qui est remis aux gestionnaires dont l’organisation a une portée nationale ou internationale.

Les Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC rendent hommage à des femmes propriétaires
d’entreprise partout au Canada qui retiennent l’attention en raison de leur importante contribution à la vitalité des économies locale, canadienne ou mondiale. Les candidates sont des visionnaires du secteur des affaires, et font preuve d’une détermination à toute épreuve afin de concrétiser leurs rêves. Les prix sont accordés à des femmes d’affaires et à des dirigeantes d’organisme sans but lucratif des trois grandes régions du Canada : l’Est, le Centre et l’Ouest.

« Nous sommes honorés de célébrer les parcours et réalisations extraordinaires de nos finalistes de 2021, a déclaré Greg Grice, vice-président directeur, Services financiers à l’entreprise, RBC. Nous nous réjouissons de voir l’influence grandissante des femmes entrepreneures au Canada, qui sont des pionnières, des mentors, des créatrices d’occasions pour d’autres femmes, et qui contribuent d’importante façon à notre économie et à nos collectivités par leur leadership. Il importe de soutenir leur avancement et de célébrer leurs réalisations pour créer un milieu des affaires plus inclusif et inspirer la nouvelle génération d’entrepreneurs dans une économie post-pandémie. »

Le nom des lauréates sera annoncé à l’occasion du 29e gala annuel de remise des prix, le mercredi
17 novembre. Il s’agira encore une fois d’un gala virtuel. Le gala, qui sera diffusé en simultané dans le monde entier, soulignera l’excellence des entrepreneures canadiennes. La conférencière invitée sera Nadine RenaudTinker, présidente régionale, Québec, RBC.

Pour plus d’information, visitez le communiqué de presse. 

Voici les lauréates du prix Entrepreneure prometteuse 2021:

Voici les finalistes des Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC 2021:

Prix Micro-entreprise Portail de connaissances pour les femmes en entrepreneuriat
Prix Nouvelle entreprise
Prix du dynamisme RBC
Prix de l’évolution sociale : Influence nationale
Prix de l’évolution sociale : Influence régionale
Prix de l’innovation
Prix de l’excellence

Announcing the 2021 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Finalists!

Pour la version française, cliquez ici.

We are proud to announce the 2021 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards finalists. A record-breaking year for the program, Canadian women entrepreneurs were recognized by their colleagues and peers with over 10,000 nominations from across the country. After an intensive judging review, 21 finalists were selected across seven categories. An additional five recipients were chosen to receive the Ones to Watch Award, which recognizes entrepreneurs who have launched businesses that have made an incredible impact in fewer than three years.

The women in this exceptional, diverse, and resilient group were chosen for their accomplishments in a wide range of industries including media, venture capital management, apparel, construction, medical services, cybersecurity and beyond.

In recognition of the incredible growth of the overall program, the Social Change category has been expanded this year. This award has now grown to include two categories: Social Change: Regional Impact, which recognizes a leader of a registered charity, social enterprise or not-for-profit that is dedicated to their unique brand of social change at a local or regional level; and Social Change: National Impact, which recognizes those whose organization has national or global impact.

The RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards recognize women business owners from across Canada who make impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian, or global economy. Candidates share a strong entrepreneurial vision and a relentless passion in pursuing their dreams. These awards recognize businesswomen and leaders of non-profits from three major regions across Canada: East, Central, and West. 

We are grateful to all of our partners whose contributions make this celebration of women’s entrepreneurship possible, especially the dedication and commitment of our Title Sponsor, RBC. 

“We are honoured to celebrate the stories and accomplishments of our 2021 award finalists,” said Greg Grice, Executive Vice-President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “We’re excited to see a growing force of women entrepreneurs in Canada who are trailblazing industries, mentoring and creating opportunities for other women, and making significant contributions to our economy and communities through their leadership. Supporting their advancement and celebrating their achievements are critical to creating a more inclusive business community and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs as we strive for greater growth and resilience in a post-pandemic economy.”

We are honoured to celebrate the accomplishments of our 2021 award finalists. These entrepreneurs have displayed remarkable resilience over the course of the year, demonstrating exciting growth and innovation as they adapted their businesses to a new environment.

The winners will be announced and celebrated at the 29th Annual Awards Gala, on Wednesday, November 17, where all attendees will be once again digitally transported into our Virtual Awards Gala. The Gala, which will be live streamed around the world, will shine a spotlight on all these amazing Canadian women entrepreneurs. Keynote remarks will be shared by Nadine Renaud-Tinker, Regional President Quebec, RBC.

For more information, view the press release.  |  Pour plus d’information, visitez le communiqué de presse

Sylvia Parris Drummond is making change and building community for Black Nova Scotians — through education, opportunities, and celebration.

Sylvia Parris Drummond

By Karen van Kampen

 

At the age of 16, Sylvia Parris Drummond discovered the importance of learning in order to teach others. She got a job overseeing a summer camp program in her community of Meadowbrook Hill, Nova Scotia, which provided her firsthand experience and insight into the education process. “If you give something of yourself, then you can help others benefit,” she says. “I recognized my passion to work in education and with the community.” 

Sylvia’s lifelong dedication to learning, community building, and social change has made a profound impact. She is CEO of the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, that is committed to creating academic change and opportunities for learners of African descent while celebrating the accurate history, heritage, and contributions of Black/African Nova Scotians. In 2020 she was recognized for her accomplishments with the Social Change Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an exceptional leader of a registered charity, social enterprise, or not-for-profit that is dedicated to their unique brand of social change. 

Community has always been an integral part of Sylvia’s life. She remembers families in her neighbourhood being generous in sharing their praise and expertise, which included baking soft molasses cookies. Childcare was provided for neighbourhood children as a part of community support. 

As the second youngest in a combined family with 15 children, Sylvia understood the importance of taking care of family and kinship. “There was always that accountability that the older one took care of the next younger sibling,” she says. “That learning is rooted in you, and you don’t even realize how much it might show up in different things until you have the opportunity to think it through.” 

Sylvia was in grade nine when her father passed away. Two years later, her mother died. “No matter your age, you are an orphan when your parents are gone,” she says. “For me, it was so important to continue taking care of my younger sister.” Sylvia’s parents had taught her the importance of faith in her life, and during this time she found strength in her faith. 

“The intertwining of our humanity is so important, and the recognition that if you are successful, I am successful. Our hearts, our souls, our resilience, and our existence are still within our locus of control.” 

She moved with her sister to Antigonish where Sylvia attended St. Francis Xavier University, earning a science degree and teaching degree while her sister attended high school. Sylvia had a couple of part-time jobs during university and says, “It was a gift to be able to take care of my sister.” She had the benefit of caring people in her life, including professors at the university who kept an eye out for Sylvia and her sister. 

Sylvia continued her studies, earning a Masters in Curriculum at Saint Mary’s University. In 1995, she got a job at the Department of Education in Halifax where she worked in policy and diversity. She gained experience in the provincial and municipal government, which gave Sylvia a strong sense of how policy was developed, applied, and implemented. In 2010, she completed a Masters in Africentricity Policy Leadership at Mount Saint Vincent University. “It’s such an opportunity to be able to have studied and lived experience for your work,” she says. 

In 2015, Sylvia was appointed CEO of the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute. Today, she continues to work with the Department of Education as well as Regional Centres for Education, Labour and Advanced Education, and community organizations serving Black/African Nova Scotian communities to ensure there is genuine access to accurate information on the contributions of Black/African Nova Scotians. 

“We draw upon the diversity within our diversity and our uniqueness, but also the common thread within us,” says Sylvia, explaining that the essence of Africentricity is “the centring of our voices and our needs in terms of community, with a recognition that getting this right will benefit everyone.” 

The institute’s research, education, and policy activate the African philosophy Ubuntu and its belief in “I am because we are” and the universal bond of humanity. “The intertwining of our humanity is so important,” says Sylvia, “and the recognition that if you are successful, I am successful. Our hearts, our souls, our resilience, and our existence are still within our locus of control.” 

The organization’s reach and impact on individual and community pride continue to grow along with its Africentric publishing program, dedicated to sharing stories of the 50-plus Black/African Nova Scotian communities. Books include The ABC’s of Viola Desmond in both English and French and Black History: Africa, The Caribbean, and the Amercias that is used in African Canadian Studies courses.  

Reflecting on her experiences and lifelong journey of learning, Sylvia offers some sage advice: “Continue to value and respect those who went before you and all that they have done, because none of us get where we are by ourselves,” she says, adding that we also need to recognize our own strengths and accomplishments, and take time for self-reflection. 

“Your body and mind will tell you when to think about where you are at and what you are doing. Are you still going where you wanted to go?” asks Sylvia. “Have a vision, hold to that vision, and work for that vision.”

Mandy Farmer built an award winning retro-themed hotel brand — and kept it going through the pandemic by focusing on helping people.

Mandy Farmer

By Karen van Kampen

 

For 10 years, Mandy Farmer wrote one business plan after another, trying to sell the concept of retro-themed hotels to her business partners at Accent Inns. Yet she couldn’t convince them to invest in renovating old motels and rebranding them with a 1970s flair. 

Refusing to give up, Mandy brought her partners to a motel that was owned by Accent Inns. The property was projected to lose money, and Mandy asked for their advice on how to turn things around. Standing in front of the motel, her partners proposed Mandy’s idea as their own — suggesting they reinvent the property with a retro theme. Naturally, she agreed.

In 2014, the first Hotel Zed was launched. Today, Accent Inns operates three Hotel Zeds across British Columbia, entertaining guests with a 1980s arcade, mini disco, and bike path that runs through the lobby. “We are rebels against the ordinary,” says Mandy, echoing Hotel Zed’s tagline. 

As President and CEO of Accent Inns, Mandy is being recognized as an innovative hotelier with a passion to bring comfort and happiness to her guests. She was the 2020 winner of the Excellence Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, that honours an entrepreneur who has built and managed a successful business over a decade through timely innovation, strategic thinking, and smart execution. 

Looking back, Mandy remembers the pivotal experience of watching her dad become a hotelier. She was 13 when he built the first Accent Inn, transitioning from the family construction business into hotels. “I saw my dad come alive,” she says. “There was a jaunt in his step. He whistled. He talked to everyone about Accent Inns. He was so proud.” 

When Mandy was in her twenties, she became Sales Manager at Accent Inns. It wasn’t easy cold calling potential business customers, including film studios and insurance companies that needed accommodations for their employees on the road. “You’d have doors slammed in your face,” she says. “But it was also exhilarating to get a sale.” She worked her way up in the company by recognizing and seizing every opportunity. 

During her executive MBA at Royal Roads University, Mandy wrote her thesis on retro-themed hotels. She graduated in 2003 and became Vice President of Accent Inns. Two years later, Mandy was appointed president and CEO. Today, she continues to brainstorm innovative and unique ideas to grow the five Accent Inns and three Hotel Zeds. “It is in our blood to look at every single thing and decide, how can we make that unordinary?” she says.

Accent Inns are built on fun and humour, with secret jokes hidden in every room. Stepping into an elevator is like taking a hot air balloon ride, with guests surrounded by a 360-degree aerial photograph of the property. At Hotel Zed, things get a bit wilder, with a mini disco where people can DJ their own dance party and a retro office space with a secret switch on a bookshelf that opens onto a 1980s arcade.   

“I was able to go down the rabbit hole of fear and see that I could lose the family business. We kept talking about leading with love and opening our hearts wide.”

Mandy remembers working at franchised hotels that were very formulaic, giving her scripts to read when she was on the front desk. “We are the exact opposite,” she says. “We are surprising and fun, refreshing and real.” 

Mandy is also dedicated to the happiness and satisfaction of her 300 staff. New employees are told, “We hired you because you’re awesome. Please let your awesomeness show, however that is for you,” she says. They are given a name tag and asked to create their own title. There is a disco dancer and dog walker on the team. “It’s permission to be yourself at work,” she says. 

After so much success, the pandemic has brought about a difficult time for the company. “I was able to go down the rabbit hole of fear and see that I could lose the family business,” says Mandy, who decided that if they were going to go down, they would do so with their heads held high and help as many people as possible. “We kept talking about leading with love and opening our hearts wide,” she says.

 After hearing about a nurse sleeping in her car for fear of bringing the virus home to her family, Mandy began providing hotel rooms at cost to frontline workers. When bus drivers were being mistreated by some passengers during the pandemic, Mandy and her team gave drivers thank you notes and gift cards to show their appreciation. She gave her employees the gift of giving at the holidays by providing them with two gift cards: one for themselves and one to give to someone else. 

Then there were the party parades in which staff would drive by kids’ houses in Hotel Zed’s 1960s VW buses with signs and balloons, honking and wishing children a happy birthday. The parades were provided free of charge, which kept Mandy’s team engaged and feeling like they were making a difference. “It’s changed our company,” says Mandy. “To this day, we’re constantly asking, how can we help?”   

Looking to the future, Mandy is excited to continue to grow her business as well as her people. “It’s a passion for us to transform our employees’ lives, however we can do it,” she says. “I want their jobs to be the best of their lives so that when someone asks them when they’re 80 years old, ‘what was your favourite job?’ I want to be it.”

How Nicole Neuman overcome gender barriers in engineering and became an international expert in her field.

Nicole Neuman

By Karen van Kampen

 

As a young girl, Nicole Neuman was very quick at learning new things. But picking up new concepts without a lot of effort had an unintended side effect, she says: “A lot of boredom.” So Nicole tried a variety of activities, from car repairs, to cooking, to metal and wood work. In university, she took all her pre-law and pre-med courses and completed most of her chemistry major before choosing engineering as a career. 

After more than two decades in the industry, Nicole has become an international expert in her field. As President and CEO of Synergy Engineering Ltd., she leads a team of electrical, instrumentation, and control engineers to design and supply turnkey projects around the world, primarily to the mining industry, as well as local infrastructure and industrial projects. 

Her impressive achievements are being recognized: Nicole was the 2020 winner of the Innovation Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours a forward-thinking entrepreneur who has demonstrated outstanding leadership within her company and industry while setting standards for originality, quality, and successful management. 

Looking back, Nicole says, “I was always very driven growing up.” When she started babysitting at the age of 12, Nicole made a resume and business cards. In high school, she saved up her money from lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons to buy a snowboard as well as a car so that she could get to the hills at Whistler. From 1993 to 1995, she competed in snowboarding while attending university.  

In the mid-nineties, it wasn’t commonly accepted for women to be in electrical engineering — but this didn’t deter Nicole, who joined Synergy as a co-op student in 1995, while studying at Simon Fraser University. Three years later, she joined the company full-time. As she worked her way up in her field, Nicole experienced first-hand what it was like to be a woman in engineering. 

“I was met with hostility with a capital H,” she says. In one instance, Nicole was hired by a local mine to conduct a training course in an area in which she was an international expert. When she asked a conference room of engineers to open the manual that she had created, most of the men shut their binders, put their heads down, and closed their eyes, refusing to follow along. “I just carried on. What can you do?” she says. “When I left, I cried in my car, thinking, what am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself?” 

As an entrepreneur, Nicole says it’s important to surround yourself with a network of like-minded mentors who have encountered similar barriers, as well as mentors with inspiring attributes that you admire. When you discover characteristics within yourself that help you to excel, she says, then you become a leader who others look to for inspiration. “That’s really empowering,” says Nicole. “Once you get to that stage, you want to keep growing because you want to keep leading, keep demonstrating.” 

Nicole has several powerful women mentors in her industry as well as a couple of men mentors who were early adopters to accepting women in the business. She says it’s important to see herself as an engineer in the mining industry rather than a woman in engineering. “There is this whole sentiment of going up against it, but you really need to think of it as joining it; joining the team,” she says. 

In 2015, there was a downturn in the mining industry, and Synergy faced a few hard years. Nicole was Executive Vice-President after working her way up in the company, and along with her team, she began targeting other markets and diversifying Synergy’s client base. 

At the end of 2019, Nicole took over as President of Synergy. Today, the company has between 50 and 60 employees and has expanded the manufacturing side of the business, with half of the employees in engineering and half in manufacturing. Nicole’s goal is to manage multiple projects with multiple teams at once to avoid downtime between projects. 

Nicole has worked hard to foster connection within her company and once COVID is over, she will continue focusing on team building and nurturing company morale that emphasizes personal values. “Our employees, I want what they do to have mattered to them, to have mattered to their children and grandchildren,” she says, adding that her long-term goal is to leave a legacy in which she looked after her company’s projects and the employees who ran them. “I want to leave a positive influence in people’s lives,” she says.  

Nicole has a strong relationship with her 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. She volunteers as treasurer for hockey and Brownies, roles that keep her connected with her kids’ activities. Nicole recognizes her children’s drive and dedication for things that interest them. “I think they thrive to succeed in certain areas because they witness this of me,” she says. 

Since she was a girl, Nicole has always had a strong character. Reflecting on her experiences and challenges along the way, she says, “It has certainly crafted me into the strong individual that I am today.” 

How Desirée Bombenon transformed the call centre industry with her purpose-driven Certified B Corporation.

Desiree Bombenon

By Karen van Kampen

 

In 1989, while studying business administration at the University of Calgary, Desirée Bombenon joined the dispatch department of Page Direct, a Calgary-based paging and telecommunications company — typing out messages for pagers. “It was extremely interesting to hear the variety of messages that were going over the voice message centre with people not realizing that a person was actually typing the message,” says Desirée. 

With the rise of cellular phones, the company sold its paging assets. Desirée had worked her way up in Page Direct, and she had an idea to reinvent the dispatch centre as an after-hours answering service. Instead of shutting down, Page Direct became PDL Contact Centres Ltd., and Desirée helped grow the business into a multimedia call centre providing more complex applications, including emergency response. 

Then in 2013, along with business partner Marc Bombenon (who is now her husband), Desirée launched SureCall Contact Centres Ltd., offering customized services for clients while creating more of a consultant role for frontline staff. Desirée followed her passion to utilize business as a force for good and built SureCall into a purpose-driven Certified B Corporation, maintaining the highest levels of sustainability and ethics while creating a dynamic and positive work environment. 

After more than 30 years of helping to transform the contact centre industry, Desirée is being recognized for empowering her employees while demonstrating business excellence. As CEO of SureCall, Desirée was the 2020 winner of the RBC Momentum Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has created a responsive business that can adapt to changing market environments and leverage opportunities for continued growth.

“People are not loyal to companies. They are loyal to other people. We need to treat people with respect and kindness, and they will be loyal.”

Desirée’s road to entrepreneurship was driven by her passion to help build community, diversity, and gender equality. She decided that through business, she would make an impact. “I call myself the accidental entrepreneur,” says Desirée, who focuses on finding creative, innovative solutions rather than taking on a figurehead role. “If you find the best entrepreneurs, it’s not people who think, one day I want to be an entrepreneur — it’s people who think, how do I find the best solution to this problem? How do I create something cool and interesting? This is going on in my community, what can I do about it?” 

In the call centre industry, there is often a high turnover rate of frontline staff doing the same routine tasks every day, and Desirée questioned how she could create change in the industry. SureCall began with a team of 40 staff from PDL, and as the company grew, Desirée wanted to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. This included taking the cognitive bias out of hiring and assessing candidates in terms of their values and talent. 

In 2016, SureCall implemented a no resume, no interview process. Instead, potential candidates fill out a profile that is based on their cultural values. Applicants who score at least 85 per cent are typically hired. “We don’t know what gender you are, what religion you are, what colour you are,” says Desirée. “It enables us to have diverse, non-biased recruitment. That’s really important to the creativity and the inclusiveness that our team feels.” 

SureCall continues to invest in employee education and training, offering meaningful work for frontline staff. As clients rely on frontline employees to help improve business operations, the employees feel valued for their contributions. “People are not loyal to companies. They are loyal to other people,” she says. “We need to treat people with respect and kindness, and they will be loyal.”

SureCall supports the health and wellness of its diverse team, providing a weekly session with a nutritionist/trainer, 15-minute back massages on Wellness Wednesdays (which is suspended temporarily during COVID), and a meditation and prayer room. “We respect everybody’s differences and we try as much as possible to make accommodations that help them feel like they belong,” says Desirée. 

“Leap, and a net will appear.”

Today, SureCall has approximately 130 employees across Canada who offer customized services to clients around the world. The company is expanding its global clientele and has a 2022 vision of at least 25 per cent of its business coming from outside of North America. Desirée also remains focused on giving back to her local and global communities. 

SureCall contributes two per cent of its top line revenue to its GoodCall program that supports local, national, and international causes. SureCall’s Hero Girls program, which Desirée built while attending Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, helps to educate girls in underserved and developing countries. This includes Nepal where a rigid caste system is a significant barrier to girls’ education. Currently, more than 100 girls are being supported through scholarships and other Hero Girls initiatives. In her local community, Desirée mentors young girls into leadership roles, helping them embrace their true selves along the way. 

When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Desirée says, “Don’t worry so much. Don’t sweat the small things and lose your focus.” It’s also OK to fail. In fact, “Failure is your first step to your best performance,” says Desirée, adding that it is necessary to fail in order to reach your full potential. Even though growing her business has come with some sleepless nights, she says it’s important to let go of your fear, “leap, and a net will appear.”

How Sahar Saidi built LUS Brands into an eight-figure business in under 5 years.

Sahar Saidi

By Karen van Kampen

 

In 2015, with 15 years of work experience and a Global Executive MBA, Sahar Saidi couldn’t find a job. Rather than working her way up in a company, Sahar had a diverse background in consulting and employers didn’t know where she fit into their organization. 

“I was applying for jobs that I knew I was qualified for,” she says. “I was really shocked and disappointed.” So Sahar continued to forge her own unique career path. 

In 2017, she launched LUS Brands, a direct-to-consumer premium hair care brand, earning $1.3 million in sales the first year. In year two, she grew her company 750 per cent. After four years of high growth, Sahar has built a profitable business with less than $100,000 in start-up capital, and she is being recognized for her achievements.  

As founder and CEO of LUS Brands, Sahar was the 2020 winner of the Start-Up Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has built a profitable business since its inception, and whose company has been in operation for three to five years. 

“I’ve always had a very unconventional career path,” Sahar says, reflecting on her road to entrepreneurship. The summer before starting her Bachelor of Business Administration, she took a commission-based sales job selling energy contracts. “At the age of 18, I started making a six-figure income,” she says. After her first year of business school, Sahar took a year off to pursue the sales opportunity, and never went back. “Not having that piece of paper never stopped me in my career,” she says. By the time she turned 25, Sahar had a VP sales position at a multimillion dollar company. 

Yet Sahar says she has always valued education, and in her early thirties, she set her sights on an MBA. Sahar met with the Associate Dean of York University and explained that while she had only one year of her BBA, she had 12 years of work experience — “and that should suffice for a bachelor’s.” 

In 2013, Sahar began her Global Executive MBA at Rotman School of Management. For the first week of her program, Sahar spent hours straightening her hair. “I wanted to fit in with my peer group,” she says. “I wanted to look professional.”

“People around the world with wavy, curly, textured hair have been told that their hair is not beautiful, it’s a problem to be solved.”

It wasn’t a new ritual. As a girl, Sahar spent Saturdays straightening her hair; it was an all-day ordeal in which her mother used curlers to remove small, frizzy curls before blow drying Sahar’s hair with a large, round brush. For pin straight hair, her mother would iron Sahar’s hair on an ironing board. 

“People around the world with wavy, curly, textured hair have been told that their hair is not beautiful,” she says, “it’s a problem to be solved.” Sahar kept up the weekly routine until she was in her teens and continued to straighten her hair for special events and important business meetings — until she launched LUS, short for “Luv Ur Self.” 

During her two-year MBA program, Sahar continued to work in consulting, but the excitement was wearing off. “I wanted stability,” she says. “I wanted certainty at this point in my life.” When she couldn’t find a job after graduation, Sahar started thinking about her own experiences with curly hair products. After 20 years of trying every product on the market, Sahar still couldn’t find one that worked. She was also turned off by the negative messaging in the curly hair space. Those with curly hair were told, “Tame your frizz. Control your mane. Get sleek, professional curls,” she says, which required multiple hair products. So Sahar set out to create an all-in-one styling product for three different types of curls. 

Sahar used Google to find the best hair care formulators in Canada. “I Googled how to start a hair care brand,” she says. “Google will teach you anything.”

She spent months testing out different formulas on her own hair before enlisting the help of family and friends, using their feedback to adjust her first line of products. In 2016, she began pitching to investors. “I had my MBA. I thought I’d put together a pretty rock solid business plan,” she says. But investors couldn’t see how a “shampoo company” could thrive in such a competitive, fragmented space. 

So Sahar used her personal line of credit and a small business loan to launch LUS, with about half of her $100,000 in start-up capital used for inventory. “If you’re serious about your company, you have to get rid of your safety net,” she says, explaining that it’s difficult to keep your full-time job and launch a successful business on the side. Sahar also advises entrepreneurs to ignore the naysayers. “If you have a really big idea, most people should tell you you’re crazy. If everyone gets it, your idea isn’t novel enough.”

Working around the clock, Sahar built her line of five products with only two part-time remote contractors. Today, LUS has 37 employees and sells 20 products online — and she has big plans for future growth and expansion. LUS partnered with a third-party fulfillment centre in the Netherlands to ship to customers across the EU faster and with lower shipping costs, and Australia and the UK will soon be added to the LUS global website. 

Sahar is also focused on a long-standing personal goal. “One day I will be able to leave a legacy behind for my family and take care of my parents,” she says. “That’s something that’s been really important to me and a driving force.”

How the co-founders of Three Ships built a transparent and affordable natural beauty brand.

By Karen van Kampen

In March 2017, 23-year-old Connie Lo and Laura Burget put together $4,000 in savings and launched Three Ships in Connie’s kitchen, hand making and hand-labelling natural beauty products. A month later, they landed their first retailer with an order of 40 packages of cleansing wipes. 

“I was floored,” says Connie, remembering how she raced to tell a colleague at her day job, “We just got our first order for more than a unit!” From that initial small order, the duo had big ambitions. “We always knew that we wanted to make this a massive company,” says Laura. “We believe in this mission,” adds Connie. “It’s a brand that people need.” 

Today, Three Ships is sold in approximately 1,000 stores across North America including Whole Foods, Hudson’s Bay and more than 500 Target locations in the U.S. Getting into Target “was definitely a mission,” says Connie, which included a year of cold calls and reintroducing herself to the buyer outside the men’s room at a trade show. “Laura and I started this business with a lot of determination and hustle.” 

The pair are also being recognized for their vision and hard work. As co-founders of Three Ships, Connie and Laura were the 2020 winners of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours entrepreneurs who own and operate a small but impactful business. 

From the first time they met for a quick sushi dinner that turned into a three-hour business meeting, Connie and Laura knew they shared the same entrepreneurial vision. As a young girl, Connie joined her dad on business trips, watching him sell, pitch and negotiate for his cookware business. “That’s when I fell in love with the idea of running my own business,” she says. During the third year of her commerce degree at Queen’s University, Connie was co-chair of the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition and was exposed to start-ups pitching their brands. Then Connie met Laura and found her own innovative idea. 

As a chemical engineering student at the University of Toronto, Laura ran two businesses: an on-campus retail bookstore and a College Pro house painting franchise, both with eight employees. In her fourth year, Laura started brainstorming business ideas for a start-up after graduation. At the same time, she began using natural skincare products and was frustrated by how expensive and misleading they were, with brands purporting to be natural, sustainable or green without evidence to back up their claims. 

When Laura proposed the idea of a clean, affordable skincare line, Connie knew they were onto something big. As a “skintellectual” who researches the ingredients and science behind skincare products, Connie understood the confusion and lack of transparency in the beauty industry. When they launched Three Ships in the spring of 2017, “Our mission was to be the most transparent natural beauty brand in the world,” says Connie.  

What the pair lacked in financing, they made up for in grit and hard work, spending evenings and weekends mixing, pouring and labelling products in Connie’s kitchen. “We were literally measuring things out by the teaspoon and individual drops of essential oils,” says Laura. Then they carried the finished products on the streetcar to Laura’s apartment, where she shipped everything out to customers. 

As long as you have thick skin, you learn this stuff along the way.

In the early days, the pair lugged suitcases of products to farmers’ markets and craft shows, making much needed cash to keep the business afloat. Even though their margins would have been higher with a B2B model, Connie and Laura always stuck with an omni-channel approach. “When it comes to skincare and cosmetics, people like to be able to smell, touch and feel the product before committing to a new brand online,” says Connie. There is also the brand reputation and trust factor when brands are sold in reputable stores. 

While the business was starting out, Connie worked in marketing and sales at Kimberly-Clark and Laura had a sales position at a software company. During off hours, Laura worked on product development and packaging design while Connie went door-to-door in downtown Toronto with samples and a price list. Connie remembers walking into Urban Outfitters and learning from a sales associate that the retail store didn’t deal with buying. She would have to contact the merchandising team in the U.S. 

“As long as you have thick skin, you learn this stuff along the way,” says Connie, adding that it’s important not to give up. Several years later, Urban Outfitters contacted Three Ships, and will start carrying their natural beauty products this spring. 

It wasn’t easy negotiating with large retailers at the age of 23, says Connie. Being young and without financial backing or connections in the beauty space, Connie and Laura worked hard to fight imposter syndrome. “I think what helped was really just doing it,” says Connie, adding, “I don’t think it ever fully goes away because the challenges that you face as you’re growing a business are always changing.”

In late 2018, they moved out of Connie’s kitchen and started working with three contract manufacturers, keeping up with growing demand while staying true to their affordable, all-natural brand. “Our level of transparency is what sets us apart,” says Connie. Their target audience of 25- to 35-year-old conscious consumers can search the ingredients glossary on their website, and all products remain under $40 USD. Connie and Laura remember being unable to afford the natural beauty products on the market when they launched Three Ships, “So we would never want to stray from this original founding problem,” says Connie.  

Looking to the future, Laura and Connie are focused on retail expansion, growth in current stores and new product rollouts. “It’s going to be an exciting year of product launches every two months,” says Laura. “We have big ambitions.” 

2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Winners

We are proud to announce the six winners of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These award winners join the five recipients of the up-and-coming entrepreneur ‘Ones to Watch’ award category, which was announced in September 2020.

These winners are shining examples of the perseverance, ingenuity and grit it takes to be an outstanding entrepreneur. They have demonstrated that despite the challenges that have existed this year, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive in Canada. This year’s winners and recipients span sectors that include healthcare services, engineering, beauty, technology, hospitality  and beyond.

“We’re honoured to celebrate the achievements of Canadian women entrepreneurs who have been critical to the success of our Canadian business community and economic growth,” says Greg Grice, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “RBC is proud to partner with Women of Influence to put a spotlight on all of this year’s winners and finalists who have made tremendous contributions to their industries and communities through their work. Their leadership, commitment and entrepreneurial spirit serve as an inspiration for the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs as they pursue their aspirations to be part of a resilient and thriving economy.”

Now in its 28th year, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program recognizes the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. The judging panel of the awards program is comprised of 14 judges who are notably some of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Karen Brookman, Partner and Chief Innovation Office West Canadian Digital Imaging; Farah Mohamed, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Policy & Public Affairs, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Elizabeth Dipchand, Intellectual Property Lawyer, Dipchand LLP and Paulette Senior, President & CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The official announcement of the 2020 award winners was made at the first ever virtual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards gala that took attendees on a cross-country tour to discover the Canadian cities and towns where innovation is taking place. It was held on November 18th and hosted by Marcia MacMillan, Anchor, CTV News Channel.

This year, over 8,600 nominations were received recognizing women entrepreneurs from across the country.

The Gala also honoured the recipients of the Ones to Watch Award: Eno Eka, Eny Consulting Inc.; Jenn Harper, Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics Inc.; Nadine Chalati, Chalati Lawyer Inc.; Rogayeh Tabrizi, Theory+Practice and Suzie Yorke, Love Good Fats.

“Now more than ever before, we are honoured to be able to recognize the incredible achievements and perseverance of this year’s award recipients,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO & Head of Events, Women of Influence. “These women have faced the challenges of 2020 head-on, and seized the opportunities to continue to pave the way for women entrepreneurs across Canada; a strong testament to the bright future of Canadian business.” 

For more information on this year’s award winners, visit our RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards webpage

Meet Mandy Farmer, President and CEO of Accent Inns and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Recipient.

With a focus on customer experience and team building, Mandy Farmer is an innovative hotelier known for her passion and dedication to making people feel safe and at home in her hotels. Mandy is the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Recipient. 

My first job ever was… a chambermaid, what we now refer to as a room attendant. However, the title of chambermaid was very fitting because I had to wear a floor length black dress and a frilly white apron complete with a bonnet, all while vigorously cleaning a room.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love the ability to imagine some crazy idea, rally the team to see how the heck we would do it, and then implement it to perfection. Our brand new Tofino location is the epitome of this: it has a bike path through the lobby, psychic’s den with Tarot card reader, secret passageway to a 1980’s arcade, a mini disco and so much more!

My boldest move to date was… putting a bike path through our lobby.

My biggest setback was… COVID. It made the world stop travelling.

I overcame it by… quickly pivoting! Hotel rooms became office spaces, we welcomed and cared for out of town chemotherapy patients, we raised money with the United Way to provide free rooms for essential service workers who are afraid to bring the virus home with them.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how nervous I get right before any public speaking event, whether it be townhalls with my team, media interviews or award functions (yes, I’m talking about the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!)

When starting my business, I wish I knew… to dream even bigger. We are often bound by how far our imagination can take us.

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… surround yourself with the most awesome team ever and grow the business together. Nothing will stop you then!

A great leader is… someone who inspires the team with a vision and the means to achieve it, then gets the hell out of their way.

The future excites me because… there are so many boring hotels for me to transform!

Success to me means… having fun, my team enjoying their work, and customers happy with their experience!

 

Meet Nicole Neuman, President and CEO of Synergy Engineering and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Innovation Recipient.

As the President and CEO of Synergy Engineering, Nicole Neuman leads a world class team of EI&C engineers specializing in the design and global delivery of large materials handling projects. Nicole is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Recipient in the Innovation category.

My first job ever was… a Red Cross swim instructor ahead of my lifeguarding years when I was 15. I was fortunate enough to selectively attend high school — provided my assignments were complete — so that I could work at the pools.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I’ve always enjoyed leadership roles and have been passionate about how I can contribute to people and our society. I found I had a knack for math and physics and I really enjoy working with people on new innovative technological solutions. I feel great when the people working with me are motivated and energetic encouraging that energy with a tangible goal we achieve together is extremely rewarding. I gravitated towards the senior leadership role at Synergy Engineering with the support and trust of my colleagues.  

My boldest move to date was… devoting my career to engineering in the mining industry!  I was originally discouraged from engineering by the people closest to me, but transferred into engineering from sciences at Simon Fraser University. Joining Synergy Engineering as a co-op student in 1995 and working at mine sites was extremely challenging — both emotionally and socially. At that time, there were very few women in electrical engineering and even fewer in mining, which presented huge challenges.

My biggest setback was… the first time I went to a large copper mine to implement a modification on a drive system I designed, and I was openly shunned by the mine employees (who were all men). They refused to work with me, sarcastically asking me what tool I needed to use to turn a screw as part of the modification, and then calling me the most horrible swear names to my face. At the end of that exercise I was driving away in tears.

I overcame it by… looking for women role models in the industry. The company leadership also helped shelter me from site work at local mines after that, often sending in a male electrician with me to interface with the mine staff while I led the electrician through the solution. Having a female role model was key to rising above the challenges that come with being a female engineer in a male dominated industry. Overcoming this particular type of challenge was empowering I hope to be that role model for others to encourage more women in this field.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… about my personal passion for the ocean and boating. Being on the sea revitalizes me, so I spend many days on my boat in various coves and bays along the BC coast whenever I can.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… more accounting principles, HR Law, and merger/acquisition tactics these are the areas that have been my greatest focus for learning and company growth and optimization most recently. These have been very fun to learn on the fly, but having a basic education in these areas would have been extremely helpful.  

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… follow your talent, your driving interests, and above all, reach out to more seasoned individuals to seek mentorship or to simply bounce ideas off of. Whatever your challenges, someone has gone through something similar, and I know from experience that when one overcomes challenges they like nothing better than to help others succeed as well.  

I stay inspired by… attending conferences and participating in engineering societies. There are so many passionate and ingenious people in this industry networking with them energizes the brain and encourages my drive to always do things better.

The future excites me because… I know I can contribute to mining technologies for greener solutions. The visibility we are gaining is connecting us with more diversified leading edge businesses and exposing us to interesting strategic opportunities that will keep all of our people engaged and excited for the work we do.

Success to me means…  success is really measured by how enjoyable the resulting work environment is for our employees. The biggest goal I can set would be to have everyone feel successful and proud of what they can accomplish in their career. If we can have that at Synergy Engineering, we will be truly successful in industry and in our society.  

Meet Sylvia Parris Drummond, CEO of Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Recipient.

Sylvia Parris Drummond

Sylvia Parris Drummond is a lifelong community and public sector leader whose work is rooted in Africentric principles and guided by collaboration and active engagement. As the CEO of Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, she is the Recipient in the Social Change category of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. 

My first job ever was… running a summer program for young children. In reflection it was my first foray into learning from relationships and incorporating fun for all. 

I chose my career path because… it chose me. When I entered university, I knew what I did not want to do; but I was also not sure what I wanted. I followed my instincts and my strengths.  

When starting out, I wish I knew… that we all have fragile parts. When I understood that better, I could be easier on myself and be less judgmental.

The part of my role that I love the most is… learning by doing and being brave for the cause.  

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… holding tight to purpose in the face of structural pressures and expectations. The pressure and out-of-sync expectations often show up during financial negotiations and the need for meeting the needs and empowering the voices of those we serve.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… tons of the intimate pieces of me. I save those for my loved ones.

My best advice from a mentor was… grow confidence you do that by continuously learning, being open to criticism, being reflective, and taking risks. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… get clear in your mind the vision and purpose. Once you have that it is just a matter of staying the course. It most likely won’t be a straight path but with purpose in sight, you will get there. 

One thing for-profit businesses can learn from the not-for-profit world is… that they can start with learning that social change and justice can fit into a for-profit business model too.

I stay inspired by… prayer, affirmations, self-talks, and spending time with family and friends.

Success to me means… being nourished by what I am doing personally and professionally.

 

 

 

Meet Desirée Bombenon, CEO of SureCall and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards RBC Momentum Recipient

Desiree Bombenon

With more than 30 years of experience in business and strategic leadership, Desirée is the CEO & Chief Disruption Officer at SureCall. Under her leadership, SureCall has been recognized for numerous industry awards for service excellence, ethics, and integrity. With an impact-driven vision, Desirée pivoted her company into becoming a Certified Benefits corporation (B Corp) in April of 2019. Her success was recognized with a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the RBC Momentum category.

My first job ever was… working in a doughnut shop; I was allowed to eat as many doughnuts as I wanted, but it came off my pay and unfortunately most times I ate my pay cheque away!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I realized that I had some very creative ideas and dreams, and I was willing to work hard to make them happen. I also enjoy helping others reach their goals and being an entrepreneur allows me to do that in a very meaningful way.

My proudest accomplishment is… being able to pivot my company to a purpose driven entity with full buy-in from my partner and team. This enabled me to create the Hero Girls program educating girls in underserved and developing communities. We have touched thousands of lives in many communities through scholarships, micro loans, and direct support. It’s been my life-long goal to bridge the gender gap through equitable education for all people. 

My biggest setback was… getting lupus at the young age of 30; I was incapacitated for nearly a year and many things were put on hold as I learned to deal with this autoimmune disease. 

I overcame it by… having a very supportive family and team at work. I started a regular health and fitness regime, watch what I eat and stay out of the sun to avoid flare ups. Giving up some of my favorite things seems inconsequential when your health is at stake and people are depending on you.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I was an air force cadet when I was younger, and I have jumped out of a plane! 

When starting my business, I wish I knew… that no matter what, the sun will still shine the next day so get on with life and don’t sweat the small stuff. I spent too many sleepless nights worrying instead of keeping my eye on the big picture; I had to learn to just trust my instincts and believe. 

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… don’t hold back. Take some risks because nobody ever grew a business without taking risks. It may not always work out and in fact you will fail along the way, but there are necessary lessons that come with failure necessary to grow your business, and more importantly to grow your leadership skills. 

A great leader is… someone who knows that their job is to create more great leaders to support and nurture others to success, and to give back selflessly to their communities. A great leader always sees a bigger purpose behind everything they do.  

The future excites me because… I still feel like it can be designed and that we are really starting to see the beginning of a cultural intelligence renaissance like we have never seen in our lifetime. I have great faith in future generations, the glimmer of a world that is peaceful and equal is on the horizon. 

Success to me means… being responsible for my own happiness and speaking my truth. It also means making a meaningful difference in the lives of others through good work, a bigger purpose, and leading with love. 

Meet Sahar Saidi, Founder and CEO of LUS Brands and the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Start-Up Recipient

Sahar Saidi

Driven by motivation and a personal challenge, Sahar Founded LUS brands after feeling dissatisfied within the traditional job market. Funding a startup primarily from her own personal student line of credit — and built on a life-long struggle of not being able to find products that worked for her curly hair — Sahar wanted to prove to other budding entrepreneurs that you can start with very little and bootstrap your way to a hyper-growth, profitable business in a short time. She embarked on this path in 2017, and built a company that is valued at over $200 million in less than four years — earning her a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Start-Up category.

My first job ever was…working as a ride operator at Fantasy Fair, an indoor amusement park for kids, inside Woodbine Mall.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…no one would hire me! 15 years of work experience plus a recent double-MBA, and I couldn’t land a great job! I have always been entrepreneurial this is what I was meant to do.

My proudest accomplishment is…LUS! Starting my company with less than $100K and doing that on my own was the hardest thing I have ever done. I am extremely proud to have turned that $100K into a company valued at over $200MM in less than 4 years.

My biggest setback was…not being able to convince investors to invest in me when I was first pitching the idea of LUS. No one believed a “shampoo company” would survive, let alone thrive.

I overcame it by… knocking on doors and ignoring all of the No’s. Finally an account manager at BDC understood my vision and encouraged me to apply through the Futurpreneur program for a loan. It worked. I received a loan of $45,000. I then drew the rest of the money from a personal credit line, and that’s what I used to start LUS!

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…that I’m married and extremely family-oriented. Everything I do, including building LUS, I do for my family. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…Let go of your safety net. As long as you have a “backup plan” you won’t succeed. If you’re serious about becoming a successful entrepreneur, you have to be all-in. It’s either success or failure, nothing in between. 

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…to make sure you have balance in your life. Take real vacations where you get to unplug completely to rest and recuperate. As an entrepreneur, this is by far the hardest piece of advice to actually follow. 

Success to me means…accomplishing your true goals. Success isn’t about meeting your parents’ or society’s goals, it’s about meeting your own goals! This isn’t easy though, because it means having a high level of self-awareness. You first have to know what you really want, before you can set out to achieve your goals. Learning how to set goals early on in life (I started at 18), and checking in on my goals often because as we grow as individuals, our desires and goals should evolve too has been one of the biggest factors to my success. 

I stay inspired by…zooming my lenses out often and looking at the big picture. It’s easy to get bogged down in details when building a company and in the details, you will find lots of challenges and problems but when I zoom my lenses out, I can see how many customers’ lives we have touched with our products, how many people we are employing, and the bigger “why” to everything that we do every single day. 

My next step is…to teach other aspiring entrepreneurs how to do what I have done. I have learned so much in building LUS and my next step is to figure out the medium I will use to achieve this objective. I want to help others build their own companies and hopefully avoid some of the setbacks I have experienced in my journey.

Meet Connie Lo, Co-founder of Three Ships and a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Recipient in the WEKH Micro-Business category.

Connie Lo is a recipient of a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. With a life-long passion for entrepreneurship and natural beauty, Connie is the co-founder of Three Ships, a vegan skincare line based in Toronto.

My first job ever was… a café barista at the age of 13. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I didn’t want to feel like just a number in a large organization, and really wanted to see the direct impact of my actions on the world.

My proudest accomplishment is… surprising my mom for Mother’s Day this year during the COVID-19 lockdown with an at-home high tea, complete with pastries and desserts from her favourite spots across Toronto. Seeing her so incredibly happy and surprised is one of my proudest moments as a daughter.

My biggest setback was… imposter syndrome. I lived in constant fear that people would one day “figure out” that I was a total fraud, or that I wasn’t capable of running my own business.

I overcame it by… documenting every day what I did and how my actions contributed to our company’s success. By tying my effort directly to Three Ships’ growth, I was able to see that our success didn’t come down to luck or good fortune, but rather my hard work, intelligence, and resourcefulness.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m a huge wellness, fitness, and productivity junkie! I can spend hours procrastinating and researching healthy recipes, smoothie concoctions, workouts, and productivity hacks!

My best advice for small business owners is… you don’t need a lot of funding or any connections to build a company. We only had $4,000 in savings with absolutely no connections in the beauty or manufacturing space. With hustle and grit, we bootstrapped our business to where it is today!

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… creating a scheduled ‘end time’ to your work day. I probably achieve this 50% of the time! It’s hard when you love what you do but it’s so important to give yourself a break.

When starting my business, I wish I knew… to focus on staying in my lane, especially in the beginning days. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other brands that are farther along or have hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch their business. Focus on your mission and your company, and be proud of what you are accomplishing.

The future excites me because… we are at the cusp of huge growth at Three Ships. We’ve really hit our stride and I am so excited to share all the things we’ve been working on with the world!

Success to me means… living in alignment with your purpose, doing something that brings you and others joy, and being kind to everyone you meet.

Announcing the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Finalists!

We are proud to announce the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards finalists. In what has been an unprecedented year, this program continues to shine the light on the Canadian women entrepreneurs whose accomplishments are worthy of recognition and celebration. 

At Women of Influence, we are familiar with the challenges and opportunities that accompany entrepreneurship and innovation, and are honoured to celebrate the accomplishments of a diverse group of women  in a wide range of industries including healthcare services, engineering, beauty, technology, hospitality, law and beyond.

With over 8,600 nominations from across the country, we had the incredible task of selecting 18 finalists across six legacy award categories. In addition to that, five recipients were chosen to receive the Ones to Watch Award, which recognizes entrepreneurs who have launched businesses that have made an incredible impact in fewer than three years.

We are grateful to all of our partners whose contributions make this celebration of women’s entrepreneurship possible, especially the dedication and commitment of our Title Sponsor, RBC. 

“The unwavering resilience, creativity and passion of Canadian entrepreneurs has, and continues to be the hallmark of our economic strength as a country and business community,” says Greg Grice, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “Many of these businesses are led by inspiring women leaders who are important role models for the next generation of aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs. RBC is proud to work with Women of Influence to bring their stories to light, and celebrate their achievements and contributions to the Canadian business community through the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.”

We are honoured to celebrate the accomplishments of our 2020 award finalists. These entrepreneurs have displayed remarkable resilience over the course of the year, demonstrating exciting growth and innovation as they adapted their businesses to a new environment.

The winners will be announced and celebrated at the 28th Annual Awards Gala, on Wednesday, November 18, where all attendees will be digitally transported into the first ever Virtual Awards Gala. This immersive experience, which will be live streamed around the world, will shine a spotlight on all the amazing Canadian women entrepreneurs. Keynote remarks will be shared by Demetra Streda, Vice President, Commercial Financial Services Strategy, RBC.

For more information, view the press release.  |  Pour plus d’information, visitez le communiqué de presse.

The 2020 Recipients of the Ones to Watch Award are:

The 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Finalists are:

Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award
Start-Up Award
RBC Momentum Award
Social Change Award
Innovation Award
Excellence Award

How Geetha Moorthy began working with children on the autism spectrum — and built SAAAC Autism Centre to serve their needs

By Karen van Kampen

 

In 1983, two days after her wedding, 23-year-old Geetha Moorthy and her family fled Sri Lanka in the midst of a civil war, landing in Canada as refugees. Trained as an accountant, Geetha worked as a bookkeeper, but one job wasn’t enough to cover living expenses. So Geetha started teaching Indian Classical dance. “That’s my passion,” she says. 

As Geetha’s dance school grew, she says, “I wanted to give back to the community that accepted us. I was so thankful to Canada.” 

Geetha choreographed dance shows for different charities and non-profits and had an opportunity to work with children on the autism spectrum. Geetha learned that many individuals had never had treatment, and she also discovered a stigma associated with autism spectrum disorder. Some parents wouldn’t even say the word autism. 

“I thought, I have to do something about it,” she says. “I can teach them a little bit of math and English in my dining room, and I can teach dance in my basement.” In 2009, Geetha taught four students in her home. Today, with the help of 30 staff and more than 200 volunteers, Geetha provides programs for more than 400 families at SAAAC Autism Centre, an 11,000-square-foot facility in Toronto.  

As founder and executive director of SAAAC, Geetha was the 2019 winner of the Social Change Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that recognizes an exceptional leader of a registered charity, not-for-profit or social enterprise that is dedicated to their unique brand of social change. The SAAAC provides the autism community resources, workshops and caregiver support while celebrating the strengths of those on the autism spectrum. “We want to see their positives and take them to the next level,” says Geetha. 

In the beginning, SAAAC helped mostly South Asian families with their own unique challenges. “The caregivers were facing a lot of barriers — from financial to language to the stigma in communities,” says Geetha. It was difficult to navigate services and information on autism for caregivers whose first language was not English. 

“They were suffering in silence,” says Geetha. People would blame the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, she says, adding that families felt “ashamed to include their children in community life.” When the SAAAC expanded to serve families outside the South Asian community, they found that common issues brought families together.  

In 2009, Geetha ran programs out of her home and in local parks. Within a year, she had 25 students with another 25 on a waiting list. Geetha realized that she needed more space as well as evidence-based therapies including occupational, language and speech therapies in addition to her arts programs. She held a fundraising gala and used the proceeds to hire a few part-time therapists. 

In the beginning, Geetha found it difficult to ask for donations. “I was very shy. I was afraid to ask for help,” she says. Looking back, Geetha encourages others not to be stopped by the same roadblock — even if you might get no for an answer.

 

“If you have faith in yourself, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” 

 

A friend offered his consulting office to run SAAAC’s free programs after hours and on weekends. Geetha created a volunteer program in which volunteers were trained by SAAAC’s therapists. But Geetha knew that she couldn’t continue to run the SAAAC while also working full-time. “If one person doesn’t 100 per cent focus on something,” she says, “it’s not going to happen.”  

In 2011, Geetha quit her accounting job at a printing company and followed her passion to help others. For the next four years, Geetha volunteered full-time and didn’t get paid until 2015. “I’m a risk taker. I believe in myself most of the time. I think, I can do this,” says Geetha, adding that her passion was her driving force. While the SAAAC faced financial challenges, Geetha never stopped believing in her vision. 

The lessons she learned? Stay focused, invest in yourself, and gain knowledge in order to reach your goal. “You never know the limit to how much you can achieve until you take the next step and try,” she says.  

In 2012, the SAAAC received charity status. The organization’s funding includes reasonably priced fee-for-service, fundraising events and federal, provincial and city contributions. In 2017, the SAAAC moved to an 11,000-square-foot facility in Toronto where Geetha and her team run a dozen free and fee-for-service programs including ABA therapy, speech and language, and school readiness. 

In 2019, the SAAAC launched The Goodness Gift, a social enterprise that supports the employment of adults on the autism spectrum, training individuals on inventory, order processing, and making and delivering gift baskets. Geetha aims to have 12 employees by year three and plans to roll out the program nationally. “We want every single person on the spectrum to be employed,” says Geetha. “They have to lead a meaningful life.” 

Looking to the future, Geetha hopes to expand some SAAAC programs globally, training teachers to work with students and creating a model that could be used in rural areas that lack materials and facilities. 

And she hasn’t given up on roots as a dance teacher. Geetha dreams of doing a Broadway show with children and adults on the spectrum, highlighting stories that connect families. “We want to focus on the challenges that the families are facing,” says Geetha, “and then focus on the strengths and abilities of the children and adults on the spectrum.”  

 

Announcing the 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Winners

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

 

 


 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on this year’s award winners, visit www.womenofinfluence.ca/rbc-cwea.

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

 

Meet Margot & Marion Witz of Elizabeth Grant International

Margot & Marion Witz

Elizabeth Grant International

Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award Finalist

 

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

 

My first job ever was…

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

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

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

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

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

My proudest accomplishment is… 

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

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

My boldest move to date was… 

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

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

I surprise people when I tell them… 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

My biggest setback was… 

Margot – Feb 2016, when we almost lost the business

Marion – Feb 2016 when I almost lost the business

I overcame it by…

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

Marion –

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

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

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

Marion – Do more research.

I stay inspired by… 

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

Marion – Attending seminars and always striving to be better.

The future excites me because… 

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

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

Success to me means… 

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

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