For the first seven years of her life, Gaia Orion spent her time mostly barefoot in Africa, this provided the foundation for her love of nature and aspiration for living free. She studied and graduated in Paris as an architect before moving to Canada, becoming a self-made entrepreneur, and a mother of three. In just ten years she built a successful career as an artist — as well as a corporate creativity coach — and has exhibited in cities around the world, with her artwork featured in over 60 different publications. Featuring strong feminine images, she aims to use her art to invite women to embrace and reconnect to who they are in the full scope of their power and capacities.
My first job ever was… working for Zap Pizza in Paris, I wanted to practice riding a moped delivering pizzas before deciding if I should buy myself one!
I became an artist because… I never imagined myself being an artist, I am still getting used to the idea. For me, life has unfolded step by step and turned me into an artist!
My proudest accomplishment is… I moved from bustling Paris, France to a hermit life in the forest in Canada. After 20 years I still miss my family and friends, the French food and the European way of life although I know that being uprooted allowed me the freedom to take bold decisions and find my way to living a meaningful extraordinary life.
My boldest move to date was… Over 20 years ago, after my twin girls were born (and with a 14 month old boy) my husband and I decided to quit his job. We had no idea what we were going to do, we only had enough money to survive for 6 months. Necessity kicked our entrepreneurial spirit in gear and we have only worked for ourselves since then!
I surprise people when I tell them… I had three kids in 14 months! For my first son it was supposed to be twins and for the twins after, I had triplets at the beginning of the pregnancy! Imagine I could have had 5 kids in 14 months!!!
My best advice to people hoping to have a career in the arts is… just do it! The 21st century is the best time in the whole history of humanity to be an artist as there are countless resources available and many ways to bring income with our art. I run my international career from my little home by the river in the forest North of Toronto!
The key to creativity is… practice boredom, avoid distractions and find inner silence, this gives space for the Muse to show up. These skills are precious in our sensory overload world. Creativity is useful for anyone, not just artists, practicing these key skills would do good to everyone!
“The world would be so amazing if everyone followed their dreams and believed in themselves and if we all encouraged each other to do so.”
My biggest setback was… my self-esteem and confidence. I was very shy, I thought if people liked my work they would just buy it. I soon found out that I had to develop many social and personal skills if I wanted to be successful. It’s unfortunate that many artists (and people in general!) don’t believe in themselves.
I overcame it by… doing psychotherapy, meditation and many other healing modalities.
I wish everyone in the world knew… the potential available in all of us. The world would be so amazing if everyone followed their dreams and believed in themselves and if we all encouraged each other to do so.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read more, there is never enough time to read all the existing amazing books I want to dive into!
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love cooking, I make all my meals from scratch and I always hold back from taking photos and sharing on social media my beautiful creative meals. If I didn’t restrain myself people would think I am a foodie and not a painter!
The one thing I wish I knew when starting out is… Our uniqueness and differences are our strengths. Because my art is so different than everything else I saw around me it was hard for me to find my place in the world or feel that I belonged to the art world. Now I realize that the original visual signature of my art is the most important asset I have.
I stay inspired by… the harmony, peace and beauty of nature
The future excites me because… I feel I have worked hard to build a strong foundation to my career. Now my motto is to work smart not hard and to simplify to amplify. I really like getting older: my body doesn’t have the same energy so I adapt by being wiser and softer in my approach to everything.
My next step is… doing more teaching of creative tools especially in the corporate world and do more public speaking because now that I am not so shy anymore I really love it!
Winners, Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, CENTRAL
When Victoria Sopik and Jennifer Nashmi cofounded Kids & Company in 2002, their aim was to disrupt the traditional way childcare had been offered by launching as an emergency back-up centre. Their success came after a crucial pivot, however: rather than working directly with parents they began to partner with organizations, positioning corporate-sponsored childcare as a unique employee benefit that could assist with recruiting and retention, as well as reduce unexpected absences. With an emphasis on flexible part-time as well as emergency or planned back-up childcare, Kids & Company continues to expand in size and services.
My first job ever was…
V – Working at McDonald’s!
J – I cleaned cottages and waitressed at a resort in Muskoka.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…
V – I wanted to be my own boss.
J – I’m a creative person (especially for an Accountant) and like the ability to create a business vision and see it take shape.
My proudest accomplishment is…
V – My children.
J – Three beautiful, smart, independent, capable daughters.
My boldest move to date was…
V – Having 8 children!
J – Leaving a good, stable, well-paying job to start Kids & Company with my business partner.
I surprise people when I tell them…
V – That I am a grandmother to 5 beautiful grandbabies!
J – I’m an avid knitter.
“Never look back after making a decision.”
My best advice to people looking to grow their business is…
V – Not to overthink things.
J – Make a decision and don’t second guess yourself. Then don’t give up until you make it happen!
My best advice from a mentor was…
V – To never look back after making a decision.
J – Be careful who you take money from. Know your partners well.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be…
V – Gertrude Bell. She was the first women to receive First Degree Honours at Oxford University, pioneering diplomat, intelligent officer, mountaineer, archaeologist, linguist, author, museum founder and adviser to kings. A courageous woman far ahead of her time who refused to bow to societal expectations and limitations.
J – My grandmother. I miss her. She was a strong, kind woman.
I would tell my 20-year old self…
V – That the years and days fly by, try to live in the moment as much as possible!
J – Enjoy life’s small moments more.
My biggest setback was…
V – Constantly having small problems to deal with.
J – My mindset is that I constantly realign myself so I have no big setbacks, just new goals.
I overcame it by…
V – Never looking back after making a decision.
J – Being confident in myself.
The last book I read was…
V – The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine.
J – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
I stay inspired by…
V – Spending time with my grandchildren on a daily basis.
J – My business partner Victoria. We do our best to prop each other up.
The future excites me because…
V – Things are changing and evolving each and every day.
J – It’s constantly changing and there are a million things I want to try.
Success to me means…
V – Having the respect of my children.
J – Having the love and respect of my friends and family.
Finalist, Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, EAST
Arctic Consultants has been meeting the procurement needs of remote communities in Nunavik and Nunavut since 1984. Melanie Normandin took over the family business with her husband in 2009, and now works not only to ensure the day-to-day runs smoothly, but also to help guide growth on a strategic level. Combining four types of services — including wholesale food and general merchandise, expertise in the logistics of packaging and the shipping of products to Northern communities, and transportation — Arctic Consultants is aiming to become the leading procurement team serving communities North of the 55th parallel.
My first job ever was… babysitting kids.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Turn of faith, my husband had his eyes on my father’s company. I decided to jump in. That was the best career move I ever made.
My proudest accomplishment is… balancing a family of three kids, marriage and a growing business. It’s a struggle in constant adjustments but it all works out.
My boldest move to date was… buying a triplex with my boyfriend now husband three months after we met. That was fun.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I dream of taking my family on a long trip around the world with only a packsack.
My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… Surround yourself with the best.
My best advice from a mentor was… You only live once, don’t waste your time
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Ashevak Kenojuak, an Inuit artist from Cape Dorset that I find so inspiring. A soft, reserved petite women, yet strong and very independent. Her art is absolutely stunning. I wish I had the chance to meet her and talk to her eye to eye before she passed away.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Lucky you, all these wonderful years in front of you, enjoy.
“That year has turned out to be one of the most exciting, intense and fun year of my life. I am now a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”
My biggest setback was… I had planned on travelling around the world with a friend for one year. When this plan felt short, I was lost and had no idea where to go from there.
I overcame it by… I found a job in the video games industry that opened up a whole new fascinating world to me. I then met my husband and it was love at first sight. That year has turned out to be one of the most exciting, intense and fun year of my life. I am now a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
The last book I read was… Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles from Katherine Pancol. Light and very well written.
I stay inspired by… Planning a trip or planning renovations then doing it.
The future excites me because… It’s a mix of business and personal growth and confidence. My dreams and plans are getting bigger and bolder with time. It’s very exciting when I think of the future.
Success to me means… Freedom to live the life I want. Being independent, and in charge of my destiny. Surrounding myself with significant people and creating a great world for all my loved ones friends and employees.
Finalist, Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, WEST
When Mandy Farmer’s father started Accent Inns Inc. in 1987, he didn’t plan on having any of his children go into the business. But Mandy took over as president and CEO in 2008, bringing with her an innovative, lighthearted (and highly profitable) vision. With fun and unique amenities and on-property experiences, big brand personalities, Instagram-worthy decor, and a focus on keeping both guests and staff happy, she’s revitalized the family-owned chain (not to mention the exterior corridor motel market), growing it to eight hotels across BC under the Accent Inns and Hotel Zed brands.
My first job ever was… I was 14-years-old and a chambermaid in a small B’nB. I had to wear a full french maid outfit including a bonnet and a long black dress that came all the way down to my ankles. The worst outfit to clean a room in.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had a crazy idea I just couldn’t shake! After ten years of pitching business plans unsuccessfully my mentor finally told me to give up. This rattled me and I knew then that giving up was not an option, I just had to pitch it in a completely different way, which then lead to success and Hotel Zed was born.
My proudest accomplishment is… getting said business plan finally approved and opening our first Hotel Zed.
“Hire people better than yourself. You really need to curate a team that inspires you.”
My boldest move to date was… launching “the Nooner” Valentine’s Day promotion where we invited people to give the gift of their sexy selves: check in time at 11am, check out at 2pm. It was a hit! Fox news picked it up which has a circulation of 42 million.
I surprise people when I tell them… I’m an Honorary Captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.
My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… hire people better than yourself. You really need to curate a team that inspires you. Then your business grows and you also have so much fun working together.
My best advice from a mentor was… being told to give up…man, did that light a fire of determination within me!
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Tony Robbins.
I would tell my 20-year old self… You are in for an awesome ride! Buckle up!
My biggest setback was… I don’t really have one. I’ve been able to turn negatives into opportunities:
All our properties had leaky condo. Awesome! We get to change the look of the hotels and refresh our exterior!
An arsonist burned down one of our restaurants. We got out of our lease with a lack luster restaurant, scored the perfect tenant, built a better building and added a second floor with our gorgeous new Head Office on top.
Our properties have exterior corridors and realtors told me the valuation of our hotels was rock bottom. We turned around this “setback” by making motels cool again.
The last book I read was… Own The Day, Own Your Life by Aubrey Marcus
I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with the most amazing, interesting and smart people.
The future excites me because… we have the resources and that awesome smart team of talent for us to achieve our wildest dreams. I feel like we are on the cusp of something extraordinary. I don’t know what that is yet. Our team needs to sit down and figure out what it is, but I have an overwhelming feeling something great is going to happen.
Success to me means… loving what you do and having employees that feel the same. My New Year’s resolution was to build thriving happy communities for our employees in each of our hotels. I write this goal in a journal every single day.
Debbie McGrath is an award-winning business strategy and marketing and communications expert with deep experience in professional services, financial services, real estate services and consumer retail industries. Best described as a visionary and architect of winning marketing campaigns and developer of client-first business initiatives this University of Western Ontario graduate and three-time RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award nominee is now Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Client Officer at Echelon Wealth Partners. While the Director of Marketing for Chestnut Park Real Estate, Debbie’s efforts were acknowledged by the prestigious Christie’s International Real Estate’s Affiliate of the Year Award in 2016. Debbie is a member of the Board at the HART Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit that raises awareness and funding to provide housing and rehabilitation services for sex-trafficked women.
My first job ever was… as a camp counselor at Camp Onondaga, however, my first in-office role was during university as summer staff working in the file room at Thomson Rogers law firm. I was also a receptionist in my early days.
I chose my career path because… it satisfies my insatiable appetite to build and improve without limits.
My proudest accomplishment is… my children — for their infectious glow, independent spirit and determination in pursuit of their dreams.
My boldest move to date was… starting my own company, especially when my children were so young. My husband and I didn’t have financial elasticity to allow for failure and it was in an industry I didn’t have any experience in. What this demonstrated was my risk tolerance, which has been a great gift both in my career and for the personal financial decisions my husband and I have made.
I surprise people when I tell them… I played competitive badminton. My husband laughed and commented that it was a “backyard game” until I took him out on the court to change that perception. It’s the fastest sport in the world, most people don’t know that or believe it. A shuttlecock moves at 493km/hr. Google it!
My best advice to people starting their career is… be curious about everything.
My best advice from a mentor was… “There is no such thing as failure, you’re gaining experience.” I received this at a particularly dark time in my life and wasn’t emotionally available to receive it. With time comes distance, and upon reflection, those failures taught me incomparably valuable life lessons and I am ultimately thankful for them – with no desire to redo them, of course.
“A setback is simply a challenge with the potential for growth.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… trust your gut, it’s amazing how on-point our instincts are.
My biggest setback was…There have been a lot of perceived setbacks in my career and personal life, but I prefer to think of them as pivotal moments with opportunity. I believe anything is possible for anyone; the road might be challenging along the way, but if you’re determined to succeed, you’ll find a way around them. A setback is simply a challenge with the potential for growth.
I overcame it by… perseverance. Certainly, there have been days or weeks when I would’ve preferred to stay in bed and shutout the world, however, I didn’t (and still don’t) have that option. I have children who need me and a business that needs me. I have a commitment to financial security with my family. At times I’ve been forced to dig deep to find my motivation — but it’s always rewarding in the end.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend it with my children and husband doing an activity together, biking, playing tennis or golf.
The last book I read was…Isadore Sharp’s Four Seasons, The Story of a Business Philosophy. I bought all the available copies of this book from the publisher and recently distributed it to our company on our corporate retreat. His theory of trust, culture, brand and customer service was inspiring and he is a wonderful example of a Canadian entrepreneurial success story.
I stay inspired by… the limitlessness of what’s possible! The evolution of relationships and connections is amazing. I have had the good fortune of having worked for extraordinary people who are now business partners, despite the fact we no longer work for the same organization. One of the special qualities about Canadians is their interest in connecting people and I think that’s one of our greatest assets, our ability to network.
The future excites me because… a wave of change is coming. I feel as though a seismic shift is on its way, for women, for our daughters and for future generations. Doors that were closed are now opening, transparency is being demanded and expected and increased opportunity will hopefully be the result. #Metoo has been an unbelievable movement and its impact has been felt across every industry and at all levels of the corporate world.
My next step is… educating women and girls on the value of investing. To have control over your money is incredibly empowering and understanding the tools to generate and preserve wealth is a further step forward. Over 90% of women will have control of the household finances at some point in their life, however, only 40% of women have a financial advisor. Their hesitancy to participate in wealth preservation is due to a lack of trust and fear of the system. I’d like to bridge this gap to build a better future of financial independence for women.
SPP Marketing Services Inc. (SPP) had already been in operation as a promotions and experiential marketing agency for ten years when founder Elen Steinberg saw her winning opportunity: creating an innovative program using Canadian airports for marketing credit cards to the public. By overcoming challenges and bringing value to her bank clients, the company has been able to focus solely on premium credit card acquisitions since 1998. As the leading North American new credit card customer acquisition agency, SPP has enrolled over 5 million people for credit card products.
My first job ever was… Selling clothes in a boutique in Montreal.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Full time jobs in TV journalism were scarce and I needed to pay the bills.
My proudest accomplishment is… Having been able to give many people an opportunity to succeed – such as immigrant women and also raising two wonderful children while building a successful business.
My boldest move to date was… Switching the company into commission sales from being paid hourly as an event marketing agency.
I surprise people when I tell them… That they may not know me personally, but I can almost guarantee that they know what I do.
My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… Be open to opportunities. Be bold. Ask for the sale, the contract, the promotion. If you get a no you are not any worse off than you were before- if you get a yes, it changes your world.
My best advice from a mentor was… Get up and make 10 sales calls before lunch.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Golda Meir. I believe she was the first female world leader.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Always trust your instincts and never lose that unwavering belief in yourself.
My biggest setback was… When we lost 90% of our business in 1997.
I overcame it by… Not taking no for an answer and finding a solution to turn it into a yes. We came back stronger than ever from near bankruptcy and increased sales by 500% from before the setback.
I never go a day without… Being grateful for the great people I work with and the opportunities and continuing support from our clients.
The last book I read was… David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.
I stay inspired by… Seeing the big picture, looking for opportunities for expansion into new markets and showing new clients our capabilities.
The future excites me because… I see more opportunities for the company.
When Caroline Roberts co-founded Thoth Technology in 2001, she saw a market opportunity in Canada’s vibrant space sector, providing services to validate equipment for spaceflight. The space and defense company now has three divisions — Space Tracking and Navigation, Space Test, and Space Systems — with a headquarters at the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO). It’s here you’ll find Earthfence, the world’s first commercial deep space radar, which utilizes a 1,500 tonne antenna to track satellites in a 50,000 km range — the equivalent of detecting an insect at a range of 50 km.
My first job ever was… working as a cashier at an Elizabeth Drugs Store in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The store was one of a chain of drug stores that my grandfather owned. He was a medical doctor, a very successful entrepreneur, and a great inspiration to me. “Invest in banks,” he often said. “If the banks aren’t making money, nobody is.”
I decided to be a space entrepreneur when… I visited the European Space Research and Technology Center in Nordwijk, the Netherlands. The facility features massive thermal vacuum chambers for testing spacecraft, and I could see an opportunity to create a commercial company in Canada specializing in qualification services to validate equipment for spaceflight. We were the fourth country in space and the first to fly a domestic communications satellite. Canada has a vibrant space sector, and I foresaw a market to provide space-test services to large companies in need of overflow capacity as well as small companies who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this specialist equipment.
My proudest accomplishment is… having developed the world’s first commercial deep space radar. Earthfence utilizes a 1,500 tonne antenna to track satellites in geostationary orbits up to 50,000 km and is virtually undetectable. An equivalent performance would be to detect an insect at a range of 50 km.
My boldest move to date was… taking over the Algonquin Radio Observatory in Algonquin Park. The Observatory features a 46 m diameter radio telescope – the largest fully steerable antenna in Canada and one of the largest in the world. At the time it was transferred to my company, Thoth, it had just suffered major bearing failure. The refurbishment of it was a mammoth undertaking requiring around 20 person years of effort.
I surprise people when… they see me riding a powered unicycle. Professor Ue-Li Pen, Director of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, introduced us to it. It’s very fun and really turns heads. The best reaction we’ve had yet was from a little boy who saw us riding and asked his brother, “Are they robot people from the future?”
My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… believe in your big, bold visions.
My best advice from a mentor was… from Allan Carswell, who advised me to have kids. Allan is the founder of Concord-based Optech, makers of Canada’s first lidar instrument on Mars. I was 36 at the time and debating whether to have children. I was and still am very career focused. To convince me, Allan said, “Caroline, my son now runs the Company.” It was what I needed to hear at the time.
If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be… my business partner and husband, Ben Quine, and I happily do most nights.
I would tell my 20-year old self to… keep up the good work! Also, in addition to banks, invest in technology companies, and start contributing to that RRSP!
My biggest setback was… the failure of the British Beagle 2 Mars lander mission. Thoth had secured rights from the prime contractor, EADS Astrium (now Airbus), to sell the lander technology in North America. When Beagle 2 did not return a signal, it was a blow.
I overcame it by… taking the opportunity to improve the lander design with fewer moving parts and greater robustness. We also studied everything that went wrong with Beagle 2. One of the mission’s biggest problems was communications, so when the opportunity to take over the Algonquin Radio Observatory materialized, we seized it, as it is the only asset in Canada capable of interplanetary communications. We are working on a private Mars mission called Northern Light and have all the elements apart from the launch. I am hoping Elon Musk can help us out with that. Elon was a student at Queen’s University when I was there too.
I never go a day without… being thankful for my job, my family, friends, and life in Canada.
The last book I read was… Canoe Country: The Making of Canada by Roy MacGregor.
I stay inspired by… looking up! I am fortunate to live and work in an area with very dark skies. Some nights at the Observatory, you can read by moonlight and see your shadow cast by the Milky Way. With our optical telescopes, we can see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons. It is inspiring and humbling.
The future excites me because… of the tremendous opportunities we have thanks to the internet. Everything is at now at our fingertips because of a technology that I feel is still in its infancy.
In 2008, Toni Desrosiers was looking for a natural way to store her food — and ended up discovering a way to disrupt the fully mature, billion-dollar industry of plastic wrap. Through extensive experimentation (and looking to lemon peels, cheese rinds and onion skins for inspiration) she developed Abeego Wrap, the first breathable, reusable, beeswax food wrap. It aims to “keep food alive” by protecting it from air, light, and moisture while allowing it to breathe — so it remains fresher longer than airtight plastic wrap. The self-adhesive wrap can last over a year with proper care (hand washed with cold water).
My first job ever was… not a regular job. I started multiple businesses and my most successful childhood business was a yard maintenance company which I ran with my friend Ricki when we were nine years old.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it’s the work that aligns best to my natural big picture, innovative and inventive thinking style.
My proudest accomplishment is… inventing beeswax food wrap resulting in a new category of food storage that is trending around the world.
My boldest move to date was… to force myself to overcome my fear of public speaking by immediately saying “yes” if anyone asked me to be a speaker.
I surprise people when I tell them… I never studied the properties of plastic wrap when I invented Abeego, instead I looked at lemon peels, cheese rinds and onion skins to develop food wrap that keeps food alive.
My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… don’t study the model you are trying to disrupt too closely because you might unknowingly incorporate the same problems into your new idea.
My best advice from a mentor was… you don’t have ADHD and you’re not distracted. You’re a visionary and your unique entrepreneurial thinking style is valuable.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be... National Geographic Explorer, Elizabeth Lindsay. Her statement, “When an elder dies a library is burned and libraries throughout the world are ablaze” motivates me every day.
“There are many problems to solve and for an inventor like me that means endless opportunities.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… it’s all building to something bigger than you anticipated. Keep moving.
My biggest setback was… making the heart wrenching and critical decision to lay off almost my entire team two weeks before they went on Christmas holidays after a particularly tough winter season.
I overcame it by… surrounding myself by radically generous women who helped me get up emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually to come back stronger than ever. My sincerest thanks to all SheEO Activators that had my back.
I never go a day without… telling my daughter that I love her to the moon and back.
The last book I read was… Meaningful by Bernadette Jiwa.
I stay inspired by… looking at every problem as an opportunity in disguise.
The future excites me because… there are many problems to solve and for an inventor like me that means endless opportunities.
Provincial Director, Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador
Finalist, Social Change Award, EAST
Heather Modlin established Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador (KANL) in 2009 to provide therapeutic family-based care (foster care). Their mandate has since expanded; in partnership with government, KANL offers residential care and support services to young people and families with complex needs, as well as working to influence policy and practice. Creating safe, nurturing, therapeutic environments designed to facilitate growth and development for children and youth with emotional, behavioural and mental health issues, KANL is helping those who are unable to successfully reside in a traditional foster home.
My first job ever was… at McDonald’s. I started there as a crew member when I was 16 (I loved working drive-thru) and stayed until I finished university at 22. I developed my work ethic at McDonald’s. During my time there I was promoted to Crew Chief, Training Coordinator, and Swing Manager. And I was Provincial French Fry Champion in 1982 ☺
I chose my career path because… I have been interested in working with “emotionally disturbed” children since I was 10 years old and read the book A Circle of Children by Mary McCracken. Originally I planned on becoming a child psychologist and did an undergraduate degree in psychology. My first job upon graduation was in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. This was my introduction to residential care and I was hooked.
My proudest accomplishment is… it’s not really my accomplishment, but I am most proud of my daughter Sam. She is 31 years old, well educated, a successful business owner, and a kind, thoughtful person with a social conscience.
My boldest move to date was… leaving my last job, after 18 years, to start Key Assets.
I surprise people when I tell them… I used to be extremely shy. And still am, in some situations.
My best advice to people starting their business is… be patient and persistent.
My best advice from a mentor was… have received so much valuable advice from so many mentors! One thing that sticks with me, from a former professor, is that having a healthy organizational culture does not mean that there will never be problems in the organization – that is not possible. Rather, the sign of a healthy organization is that it can withstand problems without having them rock the entire organization. In dysfunctional organizations, on the other hand, problems tend to shape the culture. I always remind myself of this whenever we are dealing with difficult situations.
“Stop worrying about what others think of you, and stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.”
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… any of my mentors and colleagues from around the world. I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people.
I would tell my 20-year old self… stop worrying about what others think of you, and stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.
My biggest setback was… when we first started Key Assets in Newfoundland and Labrador, it took a long time (over 4 years) before we were approved by government to provide family-based care. There were moments when it felt like it would never happen and it was difficult not to get discouraged by the lack of progress.
I overcame it by… responding to the needs that existed in the community at the time, and being flexible in our service delivery. And staying positive.
The last book I read was… Educated by Tara Westover – it was fantastic! I am a bit of a bookworm – I usually read at least 2-3 books a week.
I stay inspired by… going to work. I am inspired daily by our staff, carers and young people. The obstacles they have to overcome to sometimes just make it through the day, and the strength and resilience they display, is incredible. I am also connected to many amazing people in the child and youth care field and through Key Assets International, and they inspire me with their ongoing commitment to improving the lives of young people, families and communities.
The future excites me because… there is so much left to do.
My next step is… continue to grow, learn, and get better.
When MCIS Language Solutions was incorporated as a non-profit in 1995, its mandate was to provide interpretation services for victims of domestic violence in Scarborough. Latha Sukumar was hired as Executive Director in 1996, expanding the mission to improving access to critical information and services for all vulnerable persons who faced language barriers. Now, MCIS offers 50 different language services in over 300 languages, serving over 800 organisational clients, while sticking to its mission of improving the safety, wellbeing and security of its primary beneficiaries — vulnerable people experiencing language barriers.
My first job ever was… as a telemarketer.
I chose my career path because… I wanted to address gender inequality.
My proudest accomplishment is… building an organization with newcomer talent to address language access and equity issues.
My boldest move to date was… taking on our first large public sector project which doubled our volume and required us to ramp up service capacity overnight.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I love building a business as much as making a social impact – and marrying the two represents the best of all worlds for me.
“Show up for work every day no matter what and work towards incremental improvements, while embracing disruption.”
My best advice to people starting their business is… that you are in for the long haul and need to be consistent and work towards small wins to keep yourself motivated.
My best advice from a mentor was… to show up for work every day no matter what and work towards incremental improvements, while embracing disruption.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… George Carlin.
I would tell my 20-year old self… no setback is as bad as it first appears .
My biggest setback was… losing my father suddenly to cancer.
I overcame it by… practising meditation.
The last book I read was…Journey to Ithaca by Anita Desai.
I stay inspired by… reading about disruptive innovation and technology.
The future excites me because… there has never been a time like now when you have to keep innovating and changing, to stay ahead of the curve.
My next step is… to shift our organizational culture to embrace and execute MCIS’ strategy of continuous growth, influence and impact.
Founder and President, Educating Rural Girls in China
Finalist, Social Change Award, WEST
As the founder of Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC), Ching Tien’s deepest belief is that educated women have educated children — so providing education opportunities to women has a long lasting ripple effect and is a fundamental way to change people’s lives for the better. Since 2005, EGRC has been helping girls and young women — 842, to be exact — that live in impoverished rural regions of Western China to receive high school and university educations. Their students achieve over a 99% graduation rate, despite the fact that most of the girls have experienced hardship, discrimination and even abuse.
My first job ever was… working in a factory in a poor region of Western China.
I chose my career path because… I did not have the opportunity to finish my education in China. I believe education, and educating women is the fundamental way to build better societies.
My proudest accomplishment is… The help I have been able to offer to nearly one thousand young women. This aid has changed their lives and they are now able to lift their families out of poverty, and to give back to their communities.
My boldest move to date was… Founding EGRC when I had not much experience, funding and few connections.
I surprise people when I tell them… How much of a difference one person can make to the lives of many.
My best advice to people starting their business is… Do what you love. Trust yourself when things get tough. Keeping the expenses low is the key, especially when you’re just starting out. Stay focused on your goals and be flexible when circumstances change. Always be goal and impact focused.
My best advice from a mentor was… Start thinking and plan a way forward, have in your long term vision of a plan for succession.
“Dream big, follow your heart, and put ideas and thoughts into action.”
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… My mother who passed away too early.
I would tell my 20-year old self… To dream big, follow your heart, and put ideas and thoughts into action. Learn the skill of listening.
My biggest setback was… Fortunately I’ve not experienced a big setback. My biggest challenge has been to find the right people with passion, skills and experience to work side by side with me.
I overcame it by… I am still working on it.
The last book I read was… Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
I stay inspired by… The young women and girls I have helped: seeing firsthand the difficulties they have endured – how hard they’ve worked since from young age, and how much they have achieved.
The future excites me because… The world has realized the importance of empowering girls through education.
My next step is… To focus on the longevity of my organization
Joanie Metivier’s career started with a passion for wine, one that soon became rather irrational. Now a sommelier, wine writer and the first women to acquire her Whisky Ambassador title in Quebec, Joanie accumulated the accreditations including Certified CMS, WSET level 3 with distinction and ISG all while managing her personal blog dedicated to wine education and discoveries, becoming one of the biggest wine influencers in Canada. Her sommelier position at the Cellier du Roi and its complex and well diversified wine list has been rewarded by the Wine Spectator for two consecutive years. She may be the youngest Wine writer in Quebec, but her adventures and knowledge are rich and esteemed.
My first job ever was… so much fun. I was a clerk in an ice cream stand. It was thrilling to see all the little kids happy faces but even funnier to try every possible combinations. What can I say, I’ve always been curious.
I chose my career path because… I wanted to. After trying out various different fields, I would always come back at the end of the day to enjoy a glass of wine and it was fascinating. I wanted my career to be based around something I would never be tired of.
My proudest accomplishment is… the passionate wine lovers and wine experts community that I’ve built, especially around Winetourismmag.com. Joining so many people together towards a shared passion is truly rewarding.
My boldest move to date was… I completely forced my way to my sommelier position. Le Cellier du Roi restaurant was my first, and only, choice but there was no sommelier position at all. Neither did they even consider having one. I used my contacts, reached out and eventually proved them they couldn’t live without me, or at least, didn’t want to.
I surprise people when I tell them… literally anything that I’ve done! As a 27 year-old female, it feels like people expect very little of me. I’ll admit, I enjoy seeing their surprised faces.
“Just kick the door! Take actions, and don’t ever worry about your image or what people will think of you.”
My best advice to people starting their career is… It may sound like a common answer, yet I cannot stress this enough: just kick the door! Take actions, and don’t ever worry about your image or what people will think of you. There will always be individuals trying to get in your way, maybe even people that you once admired, but don’t let them impress you. To quote the very inspiring Casey Neistat: “The haters, the doubters are all drinking champagne in the top deck of the Titanic and we are the freaking Iceberg!”
My best advice from a mentor was… My first mentor bestowed a great care and importance to small things and small details in life. He also showed me to take coffee seriously. Not because it’s something that you need in your life, but because it’s something you enjoy.
I would tell my 20-year old self… to believe in my capacities and to stop doubting. Very soon you’ll be dealing with so much stuff you won’t have the time to overthink that much.
My biggest setback was… As I wine journalist, I was surprised by the dying “paper” media industry. Finding contracts, at least paying ones, was almost impossible.
I overcame it by… I strongly believe nothing can save this industry at this point. I’ve turned around and concentrated my efforts for online magazines and I even started my own, Wine Tourism Mag, with the help of precious and overly talented collaborators.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend it with my kids.
The last book I read was… No big surprises here, it was wine related: Chroniques de la Vigne by Fred Bernard
I stay inspired by… I have the huge chance and honour to meet the greatest and most inspiring members of the wine industry throughout the world: winemakers, famous estate directors, acclaimed sommeliers and driven brand ambassadors. Their passion and their vision is the most inspiring thing in the world.
The future excites me because… I have absolutely no Idea what lies before me. It will be a surprise, I hope a good one. I know there’s a very fast progression which fills me with hope and pride.
My next step is… I’ve been working for a long time on a book project: HOW TO PASS YOUR SOMMELIER EXAM. It’s dedicated to anyone interested about wine, on different levels to give them the boost of knowledge and confidence they may need. It’s almost done now!
When Jen Hamilton opened her first Oxygen Yoga and Fitness location, her goal was to create an environment where any person could come, regardless of age, gender or level of fitness, to channel their energy and focus back on themselves. Their mission for members — to realize “I Love my Life” — guides their business philosophy as well. Offering a wide variety of both yoga and fitness classes has attracted a broad clientele, and their unique FAR Infrared rooms sets them further apart from the competition. With a comprehensive franchise model, Oxygen Yoga and Fitness has grown to 68 locations across Canada — and more on the way.
My first job ever was… at A&W. I was actually under age to be working and I wrote a letter to the government asking permission for me to get a job and started working at 14 years old.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I don’t know if I decided to become an entrepreneur I think it happened naturally, I have always been very ambitious and have learned to trust in myself. I think when I gave up my security of my job with the school district that’s when I really took the plunge and trusted myself to become an entrepreneur. That was in 2006.
My proudest accomplishment is… my three beautiful children.
My boldest move to date was… choosing to become a single mother with three children as I started a business. I was completely terrified but trusted in myself to make this very big move.
I surprise people when I tell them… I have 68 locations sold across Canada and have built this business from the ground up since 2011. Selling my first franchise location in 2012.
My best advice to people starting their business is… grow their business is to make sure they are passionate about what they are delivering. Then, secondly, to have a team that is able to be as passionate as the leader in their area of expertise.
My best advice from a mentor was… to learn to delegate more and use their time and energy where best needed to support the growth and development of the company.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Princess Diana.
“Trust in yourself and don’t let your ego get in the way of decision making processes.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… to trust in yourself and don’t let your ego get in the way of decision making processes.
My biggest setback was… sometimes letting my emotional side get too involved, rather than the logistical side of understanding that there is a yes and sometimes a no answer when making business decisions.
I overcame it by… making an advisory team to help in decision-making processes.
The last book I read was… The Greatness Guide by author Robin Sharma
I stay inspired by… being accountable to myself and surrounding myself with like-minded people. I continue to re-write and re-establish goals for myself and celebrate those accomplishments.
The future excites me because… I feel completely grounded with my children, my business and significant other. I have been successful in finding balance with these three areas in my life, as I am creating more time to be present.
My next step is… to support my Master Franchisers in the growth and development of more franchise locations across Canada. My goal would be by 2019 to have 100 locations sold in Canada.
Brasserie Les Enfants Terribles is a family-run restaurant group guided by a “just like home’’ concept, with a welcoming atmosphere and a menu featuring local products and unique spins on more traditional dishes. Francine Brûlé opened her first location at 53 years old — after 35 years in fashion, without knowing anything about the restaurant industry — and over the last decade has grown the brand to include five locations serving more than 13,000 clients each week, creating more than 500 jobs in Quebec. What’s next? Five more locations over the next five years.
My first job ever was… I started working at the age of 14 in a clothing factory in Montreal, in the pressing department.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to follow my own vision, work at my own pace.
My proudest accomplishment is… Without any doubt, my family. I have three beautiful, talented and successful sons that inspire me every day.
My boldest move to date was… opening a restaurant at 53 years old, after 35 years in fashion, without knowing anything about this industry.
I surprise people when I tell them… the truth.
My best advice to people starting their business is… Follow your heart, live your passion. Stay focused on your main goal, work hard and don’t let yourself be distracted by the many roadblocks that will come your way.
My best advice from a mentor was… Give my 150% in everything I undertake.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Coco Chanel.
“I learn something new every day and that’s what keeps me going.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… Have fun, enjoy every second of it and do everything with your heart. We say it often, but it’s true. Life is short, time flies, we must enjoy every moment.
My biggest setback was… having three kids in five years while running my own business and working more than 60 hours a week.
I overcame it by… working smarter. I knew I had to do more in less time, so I had no choice but to organize myself and find ways to be more efficient. And I made sure I had employees I could rely on at any time.
The last book I read was… Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and I am just starting the second part, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
I stay inspired by… the successful accomplishment of intelligent, creative and passionate pioneers that surround me.
The future excites me because… it’s a surprise every day. I learn something new every day and that’s what keeps me going.
My next step is… to open five new restaurants in five years and grow my catering business.
Founded in 2016, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health is committed to making the right to family accessible to everyone. As a doctor in reproductive medicine who had been through the system for assisted fertility personally, Marjorie Dixon saw inequality for different segments of the population, service that was lacking in providing care to women, and gaps in innovative, evidence-based treatment options. She knew it could be done better. Currently reporting twice the Canadian standard rate of success per cycle, Anova’s growth has been substantial: from a clinic of 8 employees to a full-IVF centre with a team of over 80.
My first job ever was… I was 15 years old and I was working for the city of Dorval (Quebec) in the parks and recreation department. It required me to work equally in French and English and allowed me to hone both my organizational and communication skills. After 1 year, I was promoted to District Supervisor. This job ultimately taught me to work with budgets, plan out the summer season and prioritize on a daily basis. I also learned a lot about being innovative with marketing materials and the promotion of special events through the city. This was the beginning of my zeal to improve upon what had been done by others before me.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…
I also was part of a program in high school called “Junior Achievers of Canada”. I loved our bi-weekly meetings and planning
Page | 1 of 3 strategies for growth and the ultimate success of our T-shirt company. We began the process by selling shares and “pitching” our idea to friends and family. I was elected VP marketing by my peers and along with the president and VP of production developed an affinity for running a company as a team with shared vision. In fact, we were the only company that was profitable for our school sector in Montreal and I went on to win the VP Marketing of the Year for all of Canada. I was offered a summer position at KPMG, but regrettably declined the position—I had accepted a position at Merck Frosst in their clinical research department as I was focused on entry into medical school. My entrepreneurial spirit was put on hold, but I longed to figure out a way to marry both of my interests.
The above experiences gave me much to digest. Then I went to train in the USA for my fellowship program for three years. Upon my return to Canada, there was a sharp contrast where it came to science and medicine and the delivery of top tier patient care. In Canada, I surmised that we were being somewhat complacent when it comes to developing cutting edged technology and science in medicine. My goal then became clear: I aimed to create the ULTIMATE combination of global standard care, research development and innovation in Canada BY a Canadian (woman) FOR Canadians. Alas, the idea of Anova Fertility was “conceived” and was crystallized.
My vision with Anova Fertility was to create and provide an environment for fertility health, that was innovative, that offered individualized, compassionate and evidence-based medical care for all patients; no matter their marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic or religious background. Essentially, I knew this new amalgam paradigm of innovation and patient-centred care would ‘shake up’ the industry.
My proudest accomplishment is… I am proudest that I am able to be a voice for women and patients who for so long have not been able to advocate for themselves due to the stigma and shame that is associated with infertility. I have spoken up and made a difference AND managed to grow my business in concert. I should also add that a big perk has been to include my family and young children on this journey. I am certain that the “teachable moments” that I have shared will serve to educate and inform them for their future life paths. They have actually already asserted that they too share my entrepreneurial spirit!
My boldest move to date was… opening my dream center, even when it seemed as an insurmountable task! I am a firm believer that there is a solution to every problem. Furthermore, I know that one cannot experience the true exhilaration of success without first appreciating the abyss of the failure that has preceded it. My mantra to live by is: Out of adversity comes opportunity!
I surprise people when I tell them… my alternate career choice was in the entertainment industry; piano and vocals are my things! I sang back-up for Michael Bolton during his “Time, Love and Tenderness” tour in the 90s. I always sing for my patients…
My best advice to people starting their business is… You must find your passion and follow it unwaveringly: finding the right fit is key. Your support system is important; this may include your friends, family or close acquaintances. Never forget where you came from, as those close to you will help you navigate through the hard times and keep you true to yourself and as you reach your end goals.
It is beneficial that you find a good mentor and set goals. Nothing happens by accident. Goal setting is a healthy way to determine if you are living up to your own ‘measuring stick’. If certain goals aren’t achieved as prescribed, it gives you the opportunity to redirect or adjust your plan.
My best advice from a mentor was… Do not undersell yourself. As women we have this strange concept built within us that we should be driven by humility as opposed to being bold, affirming and celebrating our successes. It’s about learning from the past, enjoying the present and creating/ pushing the envelope forward for the future for your industry. Know both where you came from and where you are going. Dream big!
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Rosa Parks. Woman, defiant, courageous, women’s advocate, blazing a trail without fear – and never caring what people would do to overtly intimidate and undermine her. She was willing to risk it all to make way for other women to have a voice. I am referring to Rosa Parks pre-Montgomery bus strike. She stood her ground, insisted that she deserved to be respected and wanted to be that impetus of change for justice and equality for black women everywhere. I stand on her shoulders today as a female business owner of colour and have immense gratitude for the risks that she took to allow me to be here today. I would ask her where and how she mustered the strength to be fearless and use her voice and pen as a narrative of truth to overcome adversity.
“Attach yourself to a mission greater than yourself. It is what will get you out of bed when the going gets tough, and keep you fighting when you feel like you have no fight yet.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t allow yourself to be propagandized; do your research and push your own envelope. When you have an idea and plan in place to bring it to fruition, remember that you do not require approval from everyone that you respect. The very people that present constant obstacles (aka the ‘haters’) to your ideas are the very ones that will drive you to succeed. Thank them for that gift. Remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained!
My biggest setback was… understanding and realizing that the very people I have idolized may not be as they appear and may actually disappoint us hugely. This can even include our mentors. I have learned that this life is a very long, novel–full of chapters; there will be unhappy and happy moments. People can play a role for different amounts of time and then move on… and I have learned to be alright with that!
I overcame it by… realizing that my vision could not be clouded by anyone, if it’s not to be done, I would make it happen. I had to come to a full understanding of every aspect of my business, from small operation to a multi-departmental center. I understood the role of making new regulations, advocating for patients, what could (and should) be done in private and public sectors. I set out to create a model for women’s healthcare. When people tell me that I can’t, watch me go!
The last book I read was…The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. (I love a good “girl-power” novel).
I stay inspired by… constantly critically appraising the scientific literature on fertility, interpreting new data from our state-of-the-art center and continually striving to exceed standards. Also, knowing that the extended Anova team has played a critical part in helping patients to achieve THEIR goal/dream of becoming a parent –THAT inspires me every time. It is why I became who I am today.
The future excites me because… This is a hard question, as I would like to do so many things. Right now, I am intent on opening up more Anova Fertility Centers in the next five years in a “hub and spoke” model. The main fertility center will serve as a hub and other subsidiary centers will act as spokes. In fact, we have just collaborated to open a satellite center in Sudbury–again increasing access where it is otherwise limited. Contributing to growing families with the help of modern science is something that I am truly passionate about!
I want to bring the science of fertility medicine in Canada to global standards and further offer it to Canadians from a Canadian source. My pet peeve is that Canadians can be woefully complacent where it comes to science. I am proudly Canadian, this country is a fabulous place to be and it provides its residents with access to healthcare universally. I believe this should hold true in the field of women’s health and fertility. I want to put Canada on the map in that global space and I plan to be there to lead it into its next, phenomenal iteration.
Throughout my years in school I was told that women would be the next doctors, astronauts and leaders of future generations. I am a woman’s woman; if I can find another young girl/ woman to motivate, push, inspire to become the innovator and show that we too possess the drive to exceed all expectations in business– then I’m all for it!
I have been very blessed on this journey in that I am living both my business and professional dreams with zeal and passion! I will continue to lead the field with global sights in mind, combining the science with exciting new technology. Though this vision may be daunting or unbelievable to some, it is what excites me most– what’s next for Anova!!!
My next step is… To continue providing and exceeding the standards for top tier fertility care on a local, national and international levels. Access to care is also primordial to my mission, so I will ensure that we do not overlook those in remote areas.
Knix is a direct-to-consumer women’s intimate apparel company that is reinventing intimates for real life. Having launched in 2013 with leak proof and absorbent underwear, their assortment now includes comfortable wire-free bras and tanks, t-shirts that block sweat, loungewear, a line for teens, and more. Founder Joanna Griffiths credits authenticity, a focus on empowering women, and size inclusiveness (they offer up to a size 22) for building a trusted relationship with their community of over 250,000 customers from around the world — leading to a Knix item being sold every 10 seconds.
My first job ever was… Unofficially, I swept hair of the floor at a hair salon when I was 12. Officially, I worked as a camp counsellor at a sleepover camp from age 15.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I believed in my capacity to make the world a better place.
My proudest accomplishment is… changing everyday. Today, it’s having a built a company that empowers women all over the world, makes game changing products and employs over 40 people and has ships 35,000 packages a month. Tomorrow will likely be the same, just the scale will be different.
My boldest move to date was… pivoting our business to be direct-to-consumer. It meant shutting down our largest revenue driver (wholesale) that had been three years in the making, reorganizing the entire company and basically starting from nothing but it has lead to so many great things.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I get intimated leading meetings. I can comfortably speak in front of a room of hundreds of people, but leading team meetings still makes me nervous.
My best advice to people starting their business is… Make something that people need. Life is so much easier when you are selling something that a large number of people need. We started with leak proof underwear. Was it a sexy idea? No. Was it needed by millions and millions of people? Yes. Make sure that you are creating something that the world needs.
My best advice from a mentor was… Attach yourself to a mission greater than yourself. It is what will get you out of bed when the going gets tough, and keep you fighting when you feel like you have no fight left. At Knix we fight everyday to empower women to be unapologetically free. Not only has it been my shining star when the days were dark, but it’s also attracted an incredible group of people to work for the company.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… right now it would be Sara Blakely from Spanx. I have so many questions for how she did what she did.
“Attach yourself to a mission greater than yourself. It is what will get you out of bed when the going gets tough, and keep you fighting when you feel like you have no fight left.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… to learn how to ask for help. You don’t have all the answers, nor should you. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.
My biggest setback was… Oh there are setbacks every day. It’s hard to think of one particular one. The thing about being an entrepreneur is that every day there is a new obstacle that you have to come or some mistake that you made that you had to make them right. What would have felt like a huge set back three years ago, now feels like a small bump in the road. As you grow, your ability to navigate setbacks gets easier and easier. Last week, I had a financing deal that I have been working on for the past several months fall through two days before closing. It was meant to be our first external capital raise since 2015 and we had $10 million lined up. I had a quick cry, and then popped a bottle of Veuve or “failure champagne” to toast all of the things that I had learned from that terrible experience. Three years ago that would have been catastrophic, today, it’s a brush off your shoulders, take stock of what you can learn from it, and move on.
I overcame it by… realizing that my resilience is my greatest strength.
The last book I read was…Artemis by Andy Weir. I’m a massive sci-fi nerd.
I stay inspired by… being connected to our end customer. Right now my biggest “fix” is reading through the comments of our Instagram profile. There are so many examples of women supporting women through the community we are building. It’s one of the most beautiful places online and it’s impossible to have it inspire you to keep going.
The future excites me because… I feel like we are just getting started. We have so many amazing products in store, so many incredible experiences to offer our customers and we have the people and the platform (our combined reach is now over 1 million strong) to really have an impact and change the way that women feel about themselves and their bodies.
My next step is… to hire a CMO and a COO. You are only as strong as the team that surrounds you. I’m excited for the next chapter where everyone I work with is smarter than me and knows more than I do. I’m excited for the learning that will come from it.
When Jennifer Denouden first started in real estate investing, she was looking to replace her income as a Private Banker so that she could spend more time with her children. Just over four years later, the Avana Group has built or acquired over $60 million worth of real estate and over 20 corporations. Avana Homes is one arm of the business, focused on building revenue producing real estate — from single family homes to multi-unit buildings, as well as commercial and industrial buildings. The company also offers high-end custom home building, and works with the provincial and federal government to produce affordable housing.
My first job ever was… as a gas jockey at the XTR in Milestone, Saskatchewan when I was 13.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to live a life that I designed, on my schedule and with the power to make a real impact.
My proudest accomplishment is… how many businesses I have been able to diversify into by capitalizing on my success in Avana. I have been able to help some really passionate, hardworking, amazing people see their entrepreneurial dreams come true by investing in them.
My boldest move to date was… leaving my Private Banking job at age 26 to start a home building and property management company, which I knew absolutely nothing about and had zero experience in.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I have four kids under the age of 5 and I am only 30.
My best advice to people starting their business is… put on your seat belt and get ready for the wildest ride of your life. Write down your goals, break it down into steps, and work harder than you ever knew you even could. If you do this day in and day out, you will see success. Be stubborn with your goals but flexible with your methods.
My best advice from a mentor was… sacrifices in your early adult years will pay off in dividends for the rest of your life.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… my grandfather, George. He was my role model and had the strongest influence of anyone else in my childhood.
“Write down your goals, break it down into steps, and work harder than you ever knew you even could.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… to keep your standards high, believe in yourself and follow your intuition.
My biggest setback was… regulatory changes. Since starting my business four years ago, there have been several mortgage rule changes, income tax changes, PST changes in my province, increasing interest rates etc. These are all beyond my control, and it takes a lot of time and money to navigate through it all.
I overcame it by… relying on my professional team of advisors, doing a significant amount of research and diversifying into different sectors.
The last book I read was… Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter.
I stay inspired by… I am truly focused on making my community and this world better than when I found it. I feel that I have built a strong network and I plan on continuing to use my network to make positive, meaningful impact.
The future excites me because… I am so excited to see what my future holds. I have several businesses that I am very passionate about, the best team of employees and business partners, and an absolutely amazing family. I have a one, two, three, and five year old and that excites me more than anything else.
Before starting her own clinic, pediatric dentist Ella Choi had worked at three different dental offices, learning a lot about how the business should be run. In 2015, she founded Playtime Pediatric Dentistry to bring her own vision to life: a nurturing place for children and their families, fostering both a child’s trust and positive feelings about dentist visits and oral care. She now owns two Playtime Pediatric Dentistry offices in Lower Mainland, BC, as well as a general dental practice under the name Encore Dental, located in Port Coquitlam.
My first job ever was… working at a tea cafe in Toronto. As a high school student, getting complimentary bubble tea sounded like a good deal. From that experience I learned the importance of customer service and how front line staff can really make the difference between an excellent experience and a bad experience for a customer.
I decided to be an entrepreneur when… I was looking for a clinic to work at three years ago and I found it very difficult to find a place with treatment philosophy that aligned with mine. I wanted to create a nurturing environment for patients and staff using experience and knowledge I gathered working as an associate dentist for five years. I also wanted to make sure that I could provide patients with the latest technology and offer different options by tailoring each treatment plan to different patients. The best way to provide the treatment I believed in was to create a dental clinic of my own.
My proudest accomplishment is… balancing motherhood and the career that I spent so many years building. It is still work in progress and I may not find the perfect balance, but I am so fortunate to be a working mother. I feel energized by my work and when I am with my child, I am very present.
My boldest move to date was… acquiring two dental clinics within a month in 2016. There was a lot of due diligence, staff training, and transitioning that had to happen in a short period of time. I learned so much from the previous owner dentists and was able to integrate the positives of each clinic to make all of my dental clinics more successful.
I surprise people when I tell them… I took two months off for maternity leave. The short maternity leave is the biggest downfall of being a self-employed mother, but it is inevitable as an entrepreneur.
My best advice to people starting their business is… make sure you surround yourself with excellent and experienced people who are invested in helping you become successful. I really enjoy working with people who are experts in their field, hardworking and sincere.
My best advice from a mentor was… that if you are a good clinician, you will be successful no matter how competitive the market is. In 2016 the opportunity for me to acquire a pediatric dental clinic in Vancouver came up. I was at first hesitant at the thought of running another business in a highly competitive market. I trusted that if we provide the superior service to parents who demand specialized care for their children, people will seek us out. It was a calculated risk and it has paid off. We are projecting 20% growth this year.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… my late father. My father passed away from cancer when I was 17 years old. One piece of the advice he gave me is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. When challenges come up, I remind myself to keep my eyes on the long term goal and not to be weighed down by the daily grind. I wish I could get more life advice from him.
I would tell my 20-year old self… not to trust other people’s words without fact, check for yourself. When I was younger and inexperienced, I would hear other people’s suggestions and advice and gullibly trust them. It is important to gather your own facts and make an informed decision.
“Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When challenges come up, I remind myself to keep my eyes on the long term goal and not to be weighed down by the daily grind.”
My biggest setback was… when a competitor opened its doors next to me shortly after I opened my dental clinic.
I overcame it by… focusing on my own goals and worked on differentiating ourselves by focusing on patient care and quality of dental services.
The last book I read was… Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Written by the creator of Dilbert, it is an entertaining story of his failure and success and I really enjoyed it.
I stay inspired by… my husband. He is a constant thinker and reader. He enjoys reading biographies of great people in history, and keeps a journal of his inspirations, goals and dreams, which I think is a fantastic habit. A lawyer by training, he is logical and systematic in his approach. He has taught me to be more careful in decision making and he is proud and supportive of my career achievements.
The future excites me because… I am just starting my career. I am honing my skills and waiting for the next opportunity to grow and expand my business. I am constantly learning and challenging myself to be a better entrepreneur.
My next step is… to grow each dental clinic to reach its maximum potential and prepare for further growth and expansion.
Finalist, Micro Business Award presented by Diversity Institute & Magnet Export Business Portal, WEST
Launched in 2007, The Roundtable is reimagining the traditional consulting firm model through an approach where participants share knowledge through group and team coaching programs. Founder Glain Roberts-McCabe designed the program to increase individual and collective impact, foster collaboration, and drive better business results. With more than 750 graduates from more than 120 companies across the country, over 80 per cent of The Roundtable clients are repeat customers, and their business continues to grow organically through word of mouth referrals.
My first job ever was… placing mailing labels on copies of the Castor Review, my village of Russell’s local newspaper. I was paid $5 for a couple of hours work. Ironically, my first job after graduating school was with the Ottawa Citizen designing retail ads. The Citizen paid much better.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I realized that my need for flexibility and autonomy was so high that I was essentially unemployable. I’m a big believer in working to your strengths and making sure your values are aligned with your work, so self employment has been a wonderful fit for me.
My proudest accomplishment is… the relationship that I have with my daughter Nia. We are very close and I learn so much from her empathy and insights. She has a wonderful strength and belief in herself that I just didn’t have at her age. She makes me very proud.
My boldest move to date was… leaving my full-time job while my husband was a stay at home Dad to our then three year old daughter. Taking the leap into entrepreneurship at that time was incredibly scary since we were relying on my income alone. I am grateful for my husband who supported me unconditionally in making that move.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I was born in England. I think people still expect to hear an accent.
My best advice to people starting their business is… When you focus on the financials, your business will grind to a halt. Instead, keep your focus on serving your customers and doing great work. When you do that the numbers will take care of themselves.
My best advice from a mentor was… give yourself 12 months and give it your best shot. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you can always go back to employment. I’ve taken this to heart and each year I step back and evaluate how I’m feeling about things in my business and whether I want to keep going. So far so good.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… my grandmother on my father’s side. She was the first woman to graduate from a university in Wales with a Masters of Science. I would love to hear what her journey was like and what motivated her to keep going despite the sexism and taunting she faced from the male pupils.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Believe in yourself and trust yourself more. And don’t take things so seriously. Kick back and have some fun. Travel more. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself at work.
My biggest setback was… Before I quit my full-time job, I had been on a very solid upward career trajectory. I made a six figure income and we were able to live a comfortable life. When I quit, the financial pressure it put on our family was heavy. I felt like I was back in my early twenties but this time we were struggling to pay our mortgage instead of rent and had a three year old to worry about. The first-year of self employment was incredibly hard. We rapidly went through our savings and each month we struggled to pay for the basics. It was tough emotionally and mentally.
I overcame it by… recognizing that in order to really focus on building my business something had to give. We ended up selling our house and buying one in a less upscale area. I took as many ‘cash flow’ jobs as I could to help bridge the financial gap and I hired a coach to help me build a solid plan to grow The Roundtable business. I can honestly say that, although the choices we had to make as a family were tough, I have zero regrets. It’s often so easy to focus on what we think we’re losing that it’s hard to see all the possibilities and potential that come with change.
I never go a day without… taking a deep breath and thinking of three things I’m grateful for in my life. It keeps me centered and happy especially when the entrepreneurial journey can be so uncertain.
The last book I read was…Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I’m in a book club where we actually do read the books and I love it because it gives me a break from all the leadership books I read.
I stay inspired by… continuously learning new things. I am currently obsessed with learning about how our energy drives results and the neuroscience of coaching. Learning feeds my creativity and helps me continuously innovate the work we do at The Roundtable.
The future excites me because… it’s always changing and dynamic. I love the seasons and chapters of our lives and how, as women, we grow into our power more and more as we get older. I really believe women are finding our voices in a way that is authentically powerful and is going to take our world to a new level of evolution. It is our time.
Finalist, Micro Business Award presented by Diversity Institute & Magnet Export Business Portal, CENTRAL
It took four years of struggle, perseverance, and long conversations with safety authorities for Luann Baker- Johnson to build Lumel Studios, a Yukon glass blowing and hot glass facility that offers lessons as well as Northern-inspired glass creations. But Lumel is not just a glass gallery or a teaching studio — they are creating social connections within the Whitehorse community for locals and visitors alike. With the goal of making glass blowing accessible, they are teaching individuals of all ages and from all walks of life, including special programs for seniors, the homeless, those struggling with addiction, and more.
My first job ever was… mowing lawns for $0.10 a lawn.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… there was a dream to be fulfilled.
My proudest accomplishment is… I am a world traveler, marathon runner, mother of 6, skydiver, carpenter, welder, potter, glass blower, business owner, Governor Generals award winner, outdoor adventurer, but if I really think about it, my proudest accomplishment is surrounding myself with happy people.
My boldest move to date was… turning down the proposal from the love of my life to go off and travel across Africa (I said yes a year later).
I surprise people when I tell them… I get power tools for Mother’s Day presents.
My best advice to people starting their business is… dream big – the worst thing that can happened is that you fail, and there are worse things than failure.
My best advice from a mentor was… My high school drama teacher told us, “Clean the excess paint from the rim of a paint can before closing it.” This advice covers so much …always do a good job…always clean up…always be aware that present activities influence future efficiencies. He was a cantankerous man, but in my memory his practical wisdom outweighs his grumpiness.
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… my daughter Rondi, she died in 2006 and I would like to tell her that we were very proud of her and that we still love her dearly.
Finalist, Micro Business Award presented by Diversity Institute & Magnet Export Business Portal, EAST
After a life-threatening illness, over 20 years ago Kathleen Quinlan made the decision to limit her exposure to the dangerous chemicals that can be found in personal care products. This eventually led to the online launch of her Fiore Botanica Natural Skin Care line in 2009, incorporating the traditional aromatherapy she had studied with 100% natural, ethically-sourced ingredients — all hand blended in the company’s own facility, and offered at an accessible price. Their first retail store opened in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia in 2013, and within five years they’ve outgrown three different locations in town, and are looking to expand again.
My first job ever was… making pies. I learned how to make great pies and butter tarts from my mother. To save money for university I started my first business, The Pies the Limit, when I was 13 years old. Every nickel I earned making and selling my pies went towards my education. I continued my business throughout my college years in Toronto.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I’ve always been “the bucks stops here” kind of person, wanting to control my destiny both financially and professionally. While working towards my dream of Fiore Botanica, I was a very successful self-employed Massage Therapist working in the major motion picture industry and in private practice. I love the hustle and creativity that being self-employed requires, and the transition to entrepreneurship was logical for me.
My proudest accomplishment is… being the finalist for the East in my category! I feel that this happened as a result of the careful growth of Fiore Botanica, never taking on more than we had the capacity to deliver. Particularly when moving into the amenity market, it would have been easy to have given into the enormous demand. My methodical and rational approach to growth has allowed Fiore Botanica to be built on a solid foundation of trust and goodwill in the marketplace.
My boldest move to date was… leaving my successful and established Massage Therapy practice in Montreal, Quebec, to move to rural Nova Scotia to focus on growing Fiore Botanica full-time.
I surprise people when I tell them… that my business has flourished in a small rural community. In-store and online, Fiore Botanica is proving that dedicated marketing, active customer engagement, and thinking nationally (and internationally) can translate into success. With online conversion rates running 5-6% above industry average, international exposure at the Golden Globes, and a repeat customer rate of at least 55%, Fiore Botanica has proven that success can be achieved in a rural setting.
My best advice to people starting their business is… know your business, but also know about business. Like the three “Rs” all industries share fundamental principles that need to be mastered to create a solid foundation upon which to build. Mentors, experienced business owners, and teachers abound that can be invaluable in teaching you, formally or informally, the skills you need to develop in order to start on the right foot with clear-eyed determination. All you need to do is ask.
My best advice from a mentor was… to really listen, whether to others or, what is sometimes harder, yourself. I have learned so much just from paying attention to people. Being in the moment with others helps you learn to be present with yourself. By cutting out the noise, this ultimately helps you learn to focus and make better decisions.
“Mentors, experienced business owners, and teachers abound that can be invaluable in teaching you, formally or informally, the skills you need to develop in order to start on the right foot with clear-eyed determination.”
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… my father, he was my very first mentor. His guidance, advice, and support are touchstones I rely on even today. Through his words and his example, I learned the importance of integrity, honesty, hard work, service, and community. His lessons have taken me far in my life and govern me every day.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Your life is going to have many twists and turns taking you down roads that weren’t in your plans. But at one point you will come to understand that your plans weren’t meant to be made, but rather discovered. The most difficult roads will lead to the most beautiful places and you are going to learn that you have strength you never knew you had.
My biggest setback was… my own doubts. When I was in my thirties, I realized that this was what I wanted to do, but I constantly second guessed myself, undermining my own dreams. I thought that a dream that began in a kitchen, with just a humble spoon and a bowl, was far too modest to grow into a serious business.
I overcame it by… engaging with successful women. I heard their stories, many with the same humble beginnings, and recognized myself. Their determination, work ethic, and passion resonated with me and I realized that I had those same qualities that I could give to my business.
I never go a day without… feeling and embracing joy. Whether it’s connecting with family or friends, dancing by myself to my favourite music, laughing without restraint, or just marveling at the very fact that I am living my dream, taking the time to immerse myself in happiness and feel gratitude helps me keep everything in perspective.
The last book I read was… my journal. I have been chronicling my days since I was 16. This narrative of my life helps me take a step back and reflect, and the poems or quotes I have gathered over the years provide inspiration and grounding.
I stay inspired by… working on new formulas in my lab. It’s my happy place, where I feel the most creative and alive. When you spend years working on a formula, and see it go on the shelves, that’s gratifying. When people take time out of their day to call or write to say that my product has impacted their life for the better in large ways or even small, there’s no words to describe that feeling.
The future excites me because… I see my business as part of a future when completely natural products will be the rule, not the exception. Fiore Botanica has differentiated itself as a company that has always been 100% natural, right from inception. Our current clients and the new “green” wave of consumers appreciate and respect that commitment.
On CBC’s Dragons’ Den, Michele Romanow fields pitches from some of Canada’s most hopeful entrepreneurs. As a serial entrepreneur herself, it’s a job she truly embodies: recognizing opportunity, and knowing how to create something magical.
By Teresa Harris
Michele Romanow isn’t in the business of ‘making it’ — at least not in the traditional sense. An entrepreneur who by the age of 33 already has four businesses under her belt, to Michele, success is not the byproduct of impressive profits, or high-profile acquisitions (although she’s experienced both.) Instead, she lives her life by one compass: opportunity. And while it has taken her career in some unpredictable directions — from a fishery to a regular seat on CBC’s Dragons’ Den — it hasn’t led her astray yet.
Michele launched her first business — an on-campus, zero-consumer-waste café — while studying at Queen’s University. Following its success (the café is still open for business today, 11 years later), Michele and two of her engineering colleagues, Anatoliy Melnichuk and Ryan Marien, spent their last year of undergrad playing one game: “We spent hours trying to come up with the next million dollar idea,” Michele remembers. “Anything and everything was on the table.”
This led to the discovery of an unexpected industry in dire need of disruption: caviar. Due to overfishing, the world’s caviar supply was down by 95%, and even the biggest names in the business were unable to access the seafood delicacy.
“We asked one of the most famous chefs in America why caviar wasn’t on his menu, and he asked if we had any to provide him,” Michelle explains. “We realized then that if a really famous chef couldn’t get the product, no one could. So off we went.” First-hand research informed their business plan — “The internet is only going to have, at most, 15-20% of the info you actually need,” says Michelle — and after winning a few startup competitions, the team relocated to Evandale, New Brunswick, which had one of the few remaining natural supplies of Atlantic sturgeon, to launch Evandale Caviar.
Having never even set foot in a fishing boat before, Michele couldn’t have guessed that her first gig out of school would send her wading through the ocean in rubber boots on Canada’s east coast. And despite the business’s eventual failure, the experience only focused her drive to continue to create and innovate.
“As an entrepreneur, you feel like you’re failing 90% of the time, and succeeding 10% of the time,” she says. “You just gotta keep going, and when something starts to work, it’s magical.”
It didn’t take long for the magic to start happening. After taking a strategy job at Sears in 2011, Michele quickly noticed that the way consumers shopped was shifting. Eager to return to her entrepreneurial roots, she launched Buytopia, a dealfinding site that by 2013 had 2.5 million subscribers and had provided over $100 million in shopper savings.
“As an entrepreneur, you feel like you’re failing 90% of the time, and succeeding 10% of the time. You just gotta keep going, and when something starts to work, it’s magical.”
Her next business, a mobile couponing app called SnapSaves, further capitalized on changing trends in retail shopping by digitizing traditional paper coupons. A huge success, SnapSaves was purchased by Groupon in 2014, and rebranded in the U.S. as Snap by Groupon.
“I always thought that my job as an entrepreneur is to search for great opportunities in places where the markets are broken.” Looking back at her two successful businesses that followed her foray into caviar, it’s clear to see that Michele’s entrepreneurial strategy is disruption. So what does she see as the next industry in need of disruption?
“The next ten years are really going to be about revolutionizing financial services,” she says. “The customer experience that people have come to expect is totally different than what the customer is getting in financial services. Consumers want the Uber experience — service at the tap of a finger.”
This prediction, along with her personal desire to see entrepreneurs succeed, is what informs Michele’s newest company, Clearbanc. By providing business loans based on data insights rather than personal credit scores, Clearbanc hopes to facilitate entrepreneurs with great ideas, but less-than-ideal financial backgrounds.
“Small business banking is broken to non-existent. If you walk into any bank across North America and say you need capital, they’re going to say ‘It’s so nice to meet you, write me a business plan that I’m never going to read, we’ll give you credit based on your personal credit score.’ That’s not small business lending, it’s personal lending disguised as small business lending.” Having gone through the challenging process of self-funding her businesses simply because she didn’t know how to access capital, Michele hopes to eliminate the layer of bias that prevents viable business plans from getting off the ground.
“Algorithms don’t discriminate. In my version of the story, we use data sources to make better underwriting decisions and give [small business owners] capital with zero personal guarantee.”
This year, Clearbanc estimates they will lend over $100 million, which is more than most Canadian venture capital funds will do over four to five years — a remarkable milestone for a company that is just two years old.
“It’s my personal mission to empower the people within my organization to be able to go off and build their own thing if they want to. Because it’s how you solve problems in the world: you build companies around how to solve those problems.”
When she’s not leading the Clearbanc team as President, Michele finds incredible value in her board positions at Freshii and Vail Resorts. Inspired by Freshii’s founder Matthew Corrin, Michele was eager to contribute to his mission. “He is an extraordinary entrepreneur, and has built one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the world. To help him expedite that growth when [Freshii] went public was exciting for me.”
It’s this desire to be surrounded by not only a solid support system, but those that ignite her passion for creation and growth, that informs the way Michele curates her teams. Instead of hiring individuals with the intention of them staying with her for the long-term, she takes a different approach.
“If anyone I work for wants to become an entrepreneur, my job is to make sure they acquire my skill set within two to three years of working for me,” she explains. So far, four of her previous employees have launched their own businesses, and Michele has jumped on as their number one supporter, and in some cases, their first investor. “It’s not only my job in terms of Clearbanc’s mission to create more entrepreneurs, but it’s my personal mission to empower the people within my organization to be able to go off and build their own thing if they want to. Because it’s how you solve problems in the world: you build companies around how to solve those problems.”
So what are the skills Michele hopes her employees — and anyone she works closely with — acquire? “I was only successful because I was extremely scrappy, early and throughout my career. I believe in being the Chief Everything Officer,” she laughs. From living in rubber boots for fifteen hours a day to hitting the streets to promote Buytopia, Michele’s lived experience proves one thing: successful people do what unsuccessful people weren’t willing to do.
Paige Viggiani is the Co-Founder, and lead Lash Extension Artist at Studio Eighty Seven. Before entering the beauty industry, Paige received an honours degree from York University in Communication Studies and a Diploma from Humber College in Fashion Business, and served Women of Influence as our Events and Marketing Manager. With a passion for beauty, an entrepreneurial spirit and an eye for detail, it became clear that eyelash extensions would be her main focus. So, in 2017, Paige attended Lash Forever Canada and received her Certification as an Eyelash Technician. In 2018 she became a member of WALAD (World Association of Lash Artistry and Development), and joined the Sugarlash Pro brand Ambassador team to continually refine her craft and stay up to date with the latest techniques and products in the lash extension industry.
My first job ever was… as an admin assistant for a small entrepreneurial company. I learned so much from this position because I got to see how a small business owner has to be able to take on every role in their company. It also taught me to be creative with marketing and to always think of exciting new ways to reach customers, since often times marketing budgets are very tight.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted the freedom of making my own schedule and being accountable to myself. I was also a part of planning the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Gala presented by Women of Influence for two years. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many successful women and see them being recognized for all their hard work; it is such a strong motivator for anyone thinking of starting their own business.
My proudest accomplishment is… This would have to be when I was selected to be a brand ambassador for Sugarlash Pro. Sugarlash Pro is the leading eyelash extension supplier and training academy in the world. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of five lash artists in Toronto to be an Ambassador for them. This would have to be my proudest accomplishment in my business to date because I felt that all my hard work and dedication to being the best lash artist I could was recognized.
My boldest move to date was… when I quit my job as events and marketing manager and took the leap to focus on my business full-time.
My best advice to people starting a business is… to learn everything you can about marketing with social media. It has been the main driver of my business. It doesn’t matter how great your service or product is, if no one knows about it and customers can’t find you, you won’t have any clients or sales.
My best advice from a mentor was… to fake it til you make it, visualize your success and whole heartedly believe in yourself.
I would tell my 20-year old self… not to worry so much what other people think, and to do what makes you happy.
My biggest setback was… This would have to be when I first started to learn to do eyelash extensions. There were so many times I thought I would never be good enough to be able to offer my service to paying clients.
I overcame it by… being persistent and trusting the process. There is definitely a learning curve and with any skill, practice makes perfect.
Work/life balance is… very important to me, and I think a realistic goal that people can achieve. I spent so many years running around working multiple jobs just trying to save up for the next steps in my life. I would put work above my relationships and friendships. I’m realizing now that those relationships and experiences are so important in life and that we really do have to put work and our phones to the side occasionally and spend time with the people who mean the most.
The last book I read was… I don’t often have time to read books, however the next book I’m planning to read is Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port.
I stay inspired by… always wanting to improve my skills and be better than I was yesterday.
The future excites me because… I am just now starting to scratch the surface in my business and there is still so much to achieve!
My next step is… to focus heavily on marketing and expanding the services I offer to clients.
Dallas Mercer and Kathleen Mullally both launched their businesses after spotting a gap in the industry where they were employed. Brought together by the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle initiative, we spoke to them about the opportunities that inspired their leap from employee to entrepreneur, and the strategies they’ve used to make their businesses a success — from the services they offer to the technology they use.
Successful entrepreneurship always begins with a great idea. For Dallas Mercer and Kathleen Mullally, that idea came from gaining experience in their respective industries, and spotting an area where a key service was missing, or not adequately provided.
Dallas Mercer founded her eponymous consulting company in 2002. Originally providing disability management services, Dallas Mercer Consulting has expanded to offer occupational health and safety as well as industrial hygiene services to more than 460 organizations in a variety of industries across Canada.
Dallas built up her expertise in the field through a series of positions in her early career. First as a government employee handling workers’ compensation, then as an advisor for employers with the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council, focused on the areas of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety. Having seen both sides of the equation, Dallas recognized a problem: “Employers didn’t really have the tools internally to know what they were doing and manage the system, and it was costing a lot.”
After her husband’s job transfer prompted a move from Atlantic Canada to Montreal, Dallas found a new role with a firm that was doing something similar to what she thought would be beneficial to employers. She launched Dallas Mercer Consulting just a few months later. “I started the business to help employers navigate the complex workers’ compensation regulatory landscape and sick leave process, and that’s still my focus 15 years later,” she says, adding that helping them manage claim duration and escalating expenses is an easy proposition to sell. “We’re actually no cost to our clients because they save much more than they spend on us, so it just becomes a natural fit.”
When Kathleen Mullally opened The Small Business Specialists in 1986, she had a specific target market in mind for the accounting services her company offers. It all began with a position at another CA firm, where she found she really enjoyed working with small business clients, but couldn’t convince management of the benefits of servicing them better.
“I could see that the advice we gave them was really critical for the operations of their company,” Kathleen explains. “Unfortunately, this company wasn’t interested in helping out the small businesses because the bottom line was their driver, and they weren’t making a lot of money on them. For me, that was a mistake. When small business owners are taught what they need to know, they become big business owners. When you work hand in hand with them, they become partners with you for a very long time after that.”
Kathleen has grown her Calgary-based firm on that premise — exceptional client service, offering more than just day-to-day accounting and financial statements. “My role, as I see it, is an educator. Entrepreneurs have a skill set and a vision, but don’t always have all the knowledge and skills required to make a successful company. Sometimes they need an outside perspective on how they are running the company or hiring, or helping them realize they can’t wear all the hats. They want to be successful, and I can help them be successful.”
Dallas and Kathleen largely credit word-of-mouth for enabling them to continuously add new clients over the years. It’s a benefit “that comes from doing really good work for companies,” Dallas says. But how have they been able to offer the same level of service, even as their businesses have grown? Both women point to technology.
“It is critical that we keep up to date with new technology and education,” says Kathleen. “It allows us to work more effectively, giving us more time to pass our knowledge onto our clients to help facilitate their growth.”
The Small Business Specialists keep their internal operations running smoothly by employing a software solution for their tasking system. This enables Kathleen and her team to know where a file is, who is working on it, what is outstanding, and when it’s due. Dallas and her team use video conferencing to talk to companies across Canada while being based on the East coast, keeping the costs of a national presence down. “Being able to have face-to-face meetings without flying out is pretty critical for us,” she says.
While both entrepreneurs are quick to point out that the use of technology has allowed their businesses to grow and scale, they are also aware that there’s more it could be doing for them. For Dallas, her ultimate goal is to employ technology “to get rid of paper.” She’s been working with Olivia Baker, the University of Waterloo intern paired with her as part of the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle program, to get the process started.
“Olivia’s been helping us with how the individual disability managers can improve some of their systems, creating forms and digitizing them,” Dallas says. “And as we move further in this direction, it will make a big difference from the perspective of being able to have disability managers from across the country communicate with each other and access information. I can’t grow without it.”
Kathleen also hopes to make more processes in her company digital — both internal tasks and paperwork for clients — but her immediate focus is on building a website, something she never felt she needed because of her past success with referrals. “What I realized was, the younger generation of millennials go online and Google everything. They don’t take their dad’s word that this is a good accountant. They want to seek this information out themselves. Because we didn’t have a presence there, what I discovered is that we weren’t getting as many new millennial clients as I would like.”
It was a learning process for Kathleen as well as her intern, Jenny Jin. “When people think of making websites, they usually think of the technical side — styling the theme,” says Jenny. “The project taught me the importance of project management. Now, I have both the technical and communication skills to create a website.”
And what did Olivia, Dallas’ intern, learn from her participation in the program? “Seeing my entrepreneur’s success has inspired me to pursue my own projects, and possibly start a business of my own in the future,” she says.
To that end, the women have some valuable advice for those who hope to follow in their footsteps: “They really need to ask themselves why they want to do this,” says Kathleen. “What is their passion? Passion will help them move through all the obstacles they’re going to run into. Cash flow. Budgeting. Competition. It’s a really big learning curve.”
Dallas echoes her sentiments: “I don’t think it’s any one thing that makes anyone a successful entrepreneur. Certainly, I’m passionate about what I do, so I don’t ever feel like I work. I work hard, I work a lot of hours, but I don’t complain about it because it’s what I love.”
The Cisco Circle of Innovation program is one part of The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle initiative, which addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.
As the founder and CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, Joanne Fedeyko is focused on bringing together her extensive network across Canada’s startup scene and her influential network in the Valley. Her aim? To help Canadian businesses succeed on a global scale.
By Marie Moore
If you ask Joanne Fedeyko what she loves most about Silicon Valley, she points to how collaborative the culture is. “Everybody is trying to win and win big” she explains, “but everybody is there to help each other. When you meet with somebody, often the person will say, ‘How can I help you?’”
It’s a question she herself asks often. As the founder and CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, Joanne helps Canadian organizations navigate the ecosystem of innovators and investors in the world-renowned technology hub. She’s also passionate about supporting women in tech, and has formed a network of Canadian women in the Valley to advise female founders, as well as help other women in technology establish the deep connections that are invaluable to their success in the industry.
That she’s built her company and career on the caliber of introductions she’s capable of making points to her insider status in Silicon Valley — impressive, considering where her journey began.
Growing up near the 59th parallel in a Northern Albertan town of a few thousand, Joanne never considered she’d end up where she is today. “I didn’t map it out, that’s for sure,” she says. “I actually didn’t know the world was that big when I lived in High Level.”
She had already relocated to Calgary by the time she made her 1999 move to the San Francisco Bay area, but that did little to make her feel prepared for the scale of her new environment. “I was scared stiff,” admits Joanne. “I didn’t know anything about living in a big city.”
Working with Deloitte as a consultant, Joanne was able to arrange a transfer within the company. The job gave her a quick introduction to the rapid pace in the Valley. Accustomed to a yearlong process for implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions for her Deloitte clients up North, Joanne found that at her new office, the expectation was to complete the process in three months. It was an overnight, drastic change, but being immersed in a new mindset enabled her to adapt quickly.
“You don’t have any time to think about what it is that you’re doing, because you are put into the middle of this pace,” she explains. “And everybody around you is doing the same thing, and thinking it is normal.”
In the near twenty years that she’s lived in the San Francisco Bay area, Joanne says she has never once thought about moving back — although she is a self-described patriotic Canadian. Her love for her original home and native land is evident in her recent career choices. Prior to launching her own business a year ago, Joanne was the Executive Director of C100, a non-profit association of Canadian thought leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area committed to supporting and accelerating the innovation economy in Canada.
“At C100, I feel like I was really democratizing access in Silicon Valley for Canadians, and I loved it,” says Joanne. “Because of the privilege I had to run C100 and get exposed to the Canadian techie ecosystem, I saw what I thought was amazing opportunities from every stage and every province and every sector in Canada, from early startups to corporate to government.”
During her near two years in the role of Executive Director, Joanne built up an extensive network across Canada’s startup ecosystem, as well as an influential network in the Valley. It’s what enabled her to branch out on her own with Connection Silicon Valley, where she’s continued to create access and drive innovation strategy for Canadian companies, from all sectors and all stages. As Joanne sees it, exposing them to the passion, urgency, and collaborative big thinking that’s the norm in her new home can be critical to their success on a global stage.
“Because of my passion for Canada, I love coming back and being here. There is amazing technology, amazing people, and I think we really have a chance to play a more significant role — but it takes coming out of your comfort zone and thinking bigger,” says Joanne. “My fear for companies in Canada, even big corporations, is they aren’t thinking outside of their four walls. They’re not going to a place like Silicon Valley and getting a sense of urgency from seeing that people had their idea four years ahead of them and have $100 million in funding. They’re not looking enough to see who are the disruptors coming three, five or ten years down the line.”
“My fear for companies in Canada, even big corporations, is they aren’t thinking outside of their four walls. They’re not going to a place like Silicon Valley and getting a sense of urgency from seeing that people had their idea four years ahead of them and have $100 million in funding.”
While she’s quick to note that there are definitely some visionary thinkers in our tech scene, it will take industry-wide growth in both inspiration and aspiration for Canada to become a major player, competing at the level of Silicon Valley.
And that’s not to say that The Valley doesn’t have it’s own challenges. It’s impossible to ignore the many headlines that point to a boy’s club and issues with “bro culture.” She’s never let it stop her, but Joanne admits she has experienced sexist behaviour in the past, and she sees a long and challenging road ahead towards ensuring no woman is left wondering, would I have been treated differently if I were a man?
One of the efforts she’s championing to help bring about that change is TheBoardlist, an online curated marketplace that connects qualified female candidates with board opportunities. Founded in the US by fellow Canadian and Silicon Valley success story, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Joanne recalls being immediately impressed with the concept. “She launched TheBoardlist when I was still at the C100, and I thought, wow, that is such a cool idea.”
The expansion North of the border came after Joanne asked if the Canadian companies she was working with through Connection Silicon Valley could participate. With Sukhinder’s blessing, she spent a few months bringing it into the conversations she was having with local businesses, to understand what people’s reactions would be. She also looked into what was happening in Canada already, to figure out where this new initiative would fit in. “We are very collaborative in the Valley,” explains Joanne, “so TheBoardlist was here to get along and be a part of a solution, not the only solution.”
There was no denying the interest existed, from startups to corporate, and so Joanne helped lead the introduction of TheBoardlist to Canada. Since launching in April, almost 200 candidates have been nominated onto the platform by over 100 endorsers across Canada, and the next goal is to see that companies looking for female board members leverage TheBoardlist’s almost 2,000 candidates. It’s a success story that Joanne can certainly be proud of.
So what’s next for the girl from High Level, Alberta? She’s continuing to grow her business and focusing on her passions — helping Canadian companies succeed, helping women advance, and doing it all from her favourite place, Silicon Valley.
“There is no other place on the planet that is like the San Francisco Bay area. The pace that exists, the urgency, the dreaming big, thinking global, just the number of opportunities that are in front of you all of the time in different parts of tech — I admit it is a bubble that we live in, and the rest of the world doesn’t operate like we do, but it is magic what can happen out of it.”
It all began when Queenie received her first Valentine in kindergarten. This sparked her love of snail mail and passion for paper goods, and queenie’s cards was created. The cute, cartoony designs are inspired by everyday life, puns and inside jokes. After experiencing continued success on her Etsy store and at events such as the Etsy: Made in Canada Shows, queenie’s cards opened up a brick and mortar shop in May 2017 in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood.
My first job ever was… A summer high school job at Tilley’s Endurables. It was a great first experience in the retail world, I had a lot of fun!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to set my own rules, I believe in my work and I wanted to test my creativity.
The best part of my job is… As cliche as this sounds, making people smile and laugh! I cannot count the number of times customers have laughed so hard that tears would be rolling down their cheeks, all from seeing illustrations that I created.
The hardest part of my job is… Not being able to work 24/7. I’m not even a workaholic, I love a good vacation, but being the sole proprietor of a business means there is always something that should have been done a week ago.
My proudest accomplishment is… Opening up a brick and mortar shop! In May of this year, my pipedream of owning a gift store came true!
My boldest move to date was… Definitely quitting my full-time job as a graphic designer/photographer at a children’s toy company to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in NYC.
I surprise people when I tell them… Queenie is my real name, and yes, all of my cartoons are drawn by me!
My best advice to people starting their own business is… Do all the research. From your business name, if there’s a market for your products, who your possible competitors are, what your start-up costs will be, setting budgets, to how long until you will profit from sales and when it’s time to move on.
My best advice from a mentor was… Sometimes you have to work backwards to get to the start.
My biggest setback was… Copyright infringements (and still is my biggest daily nuisance).
I overcame it by… Public support and hiring a trademark lawyer. Not cool!
Work/life balance is… Incredibly hard. Everyday I feel mom guilt, as much as I try to set work hours it’s impossible to turn on an out of office message when you’re running two online shops, have wholesale and distributor accounts, and now a physical store which requires round-the-clock attention.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… What my home office looks like, because it’s a total sty!
I stay inspired by… Reading, travelling, going to museums and doodling random thoughts.
The future excites me because… I have no idea what the future holds!
My next step is… Preparing for the Etsy Made in Canada Show in Toronto! I’ll be at the MaRS building for the third year, and I can’t wait to see returning customers and meet new ones. It’s a sweet annual reunion for the vendors too, and I love discovering new talent. It’s where I first met the majority of my fellow maker friends.
Recognizing the need for a marketing agency dedicated exclusively to the arts and culture sector, Laura Murray launched Laura Murray Public Relations in 2011. As the principal of what is now known as Murray Paterson Marketing Group (MPMG), Laura has built a company founded on the passion, creativity, and integrity that define the artistic process. A classical ballet dancer and journalist by training, she brings the strength and discipline of dance to her leadership with the insight and exactitude of reporting to her work. Now six-years-old, the agency has grown from a two-person operation to a 15-person company that has earned numerous accolades for its innovative, full-service marketing and communications. Most recently, Laura was recognized as a 2016 Business in Vancouver ‘Forty Under 40’ winner, acknowledging the city’s most successful entrepreneurs under the age of 40 and the ones to watch.
My first job ever was… A very brief stint at Dairy Queen.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Truthfully, I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to wake up every day and do meaningful work that I was extremely passionate about, which meant circling back to my first love: the arts. Following my gut and heart, I started my own full-service marketing company – at the time of launch, it was called Laura Murray Public Relations – dedicated exclusively to servicing the arts & creative industries.
Transitioning from the arts to the business world was… Exciting, nerve-wracking, and challenging, but also filled with endless opportunities. Walking away from a career in dance was a difficult decision, given this had been my dream from the time I was six years old; I definitely mourned the loss of my former life when transitioning from the studio into an office environment. But I still carry a piece of the studio with me, and attribute much of my professional success to the drive, discipline, and persistence ingrained in me as a dancer.
My proudest accomplishment is… Being selected as one of Business In Vancouver’s 2016 ‘Forty Under 40’ winners. It was a tremendous honour and incredible validation of the countless hours, the sleepless nights, and the tremendous emotional & physical investment made as an entrepreneur. Being recognized by BIV for work I feel privileged and grateful to do every day meant everything. I’m still pinching myself!
My boldest move to date was… Taking the risk to launch my company, with no business degree or formal education, while remaining steadfast in my vision to work exclusively within the arts (despite the critics).
I surprise people when I tell them… My business partner, Brian Paterson, is also one of my best friends. We couldn’t be more different – he’s the yin to my yang – but I believe our complementary partnership and distinct roles are what has made MPMG so special. We recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, respectfully challenge one another, and collaboratively develop big, audacious goals.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Love what you do. You are going to eat, sleep, and breathe your business 24/7; it will become your greatest obsession, your biggest stress, and your most fulfilling joy. Beyond that, draft a solid business plan, hire an excellent accountant, persist in the face of adversity, prepare to hustle, trust your gut, ask for help, and dream big.
My best advice from a mentor was… “Go for it. What do you have to lose?” Growth is only possible when you’re prepared to take risks and make real change. If something scares you, chances are it’s worth doing.
“Growth is only possible when you’re prepared to take risks and make real change.”
My biggest setback was… To be honest, I don’t believe in setbacks. A willingness to try and fail is the cornerstone of innovation, creativity, and success. Every challenge I have faced throughout this entrepreneurial journey has been an invaluable learning experience and ultimately helped me grow stronger and even more determined.
Work/Life Balance is… I’m still trying to figure that out! It truly is a balancing act, and as a result, it is never static. Setting clear boundaries and priorities while also remaining adaptable is a constant exercise in discernment.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Fun fact: my father, Hugh Murray, was Senior Vice President and Executive Producer at IMAX before entering retirement last year. He was a pioneer in 3D film technology, working on films such as Avatar and Harry Potter, as well as many of the films screened on the OMNIMAX at Science World.
I stay inspired by… The people in my life. My husband and family always inspire me, as do the dedicated, driven, insanely talented dream team at MPMG. I also draw inspiration from the artists whose visions we have the privilege of promoting across Canada.
The future excites me because… It’s full of endless possibilities. I believe that your dreams are only limited by your imagination and work ethic. In many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.
My next step is… Discovering the answer to that is the fun part! In the not-too-distant future, I would love to create a foundation that focuses on supporting the needs of start-up artists and arts organizations. Creating an opportunity for burgeoning artists to excel is one way for me to give back to the community that has been instrumental to my success.