Meet Marcia Woods, an entrepreneur bringing fresh produce to the masses

Despite the increased demand for farmers’ and micro-produced crops, logistical challenges have prevented farmers from entering the commercial market, forcing buyers to pay high prices for imported items. Marcia Woods is addressing that problem as Founder and CEO of FreshSpoke, a innovative new platform that is disrupting the traditional food distribution process by connecting producers and wholesale buyers using tools that streamline the process. It’s a timely solution that, having launched in late 2016, has already grown to 125 food producers, selling over 700 locally produced products. But Marcia’s career hasn’t always been defined by success. Learn her story. 





My first job ever was… Picking cucumbers as a young teenager. I was so excited about the job and had big ideas about all the money was going to make. It turns out I was the slowest cucumber picker ever and since you got paid by weight, my wages were dismal. Needless to say, I didn’t last long but did develop a deep appreciation for the stamina of farmers.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… When the Internet was burgeoning in the mid 90’s, I was completely blown away – it was going to change everything and I wanted in. So, I gave up my day job and started a web design company. Becoming an entrepreneur was not a deliberate career path for me. Starting in my 20’s I always had a gig or two on the side of my day job so the idea of running a business wasn’t a foreign concept.


My proudest accomplishment is… The work we are doing right now at FreshSpoke to improve the health of our fragile food system. For too long distribution challenges have kept our local food producers out of the supply chain. We are changing all that with a marketplace platform that connects local food producers with wholesale buyers using an innovative shared delivery system that leverages the excess capacity that already exists in the distribution system.


My boldest move to date was… Making bold moves that have taken me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. It’s hard to isolate just one.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I much prefer to be behind the scenes.


My best advice to people starting out in business is… Build stuff that matters! I teach entrepreneurship and occasionally judge pitch competitions. The idea that gets me excited isn’t the next great social network but rather disruptive products or technology that solve real problems for people or businesses, and one that your customer is willing to pay for.

Secondly, we’re all in love with our own ideas but it’s important to be coachable. Seek out potential customers, mentors and experts in your space and really listen to feedback and heed advice. It can be really tough but it saves precious time and resources in the long run.  


Pitching for venture capital is… Is serious business. You can never be too prepared.


“Seek out potential customers, mentors and experts in your space and really listen to feedback and heed advice. It can be really tough but it saves precious time and resources in the long run.”  


We can support more women entrepreneurs by… Continuing to to tell the stories of women in entrepreneurship.


My best advice from a mentor was… Brevity! Be as clear and concise in your pitch.


My biggest setback was… In 2012, the bottom completely dropped out of my life professionally and personally. My second start-up failed which set a series of unfortunate events in motion.


I overcame it by… Being resilient and resourceful by nature (and one bottle of scotch later), I moved to Barrie, Ontario and began to design my life in such a way that would afford me one more chance at launching a successful tech start-up around something that really mattered — that turned out to be local food.


Work/life balance is… Challenging when you’re in start-up mode but oh so necessary if you want to be at peak performance. We trick ourselves into thinking that working 18 hours a day is productive when in fact it has the opposite effect.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am a political junky.


I stay inspired by… Listening to the stories of our customers, and local food producers. Their passion and determination against all odds is inspiring.


The future excites me because… I hear lots of negative commentary about the generation coming of age but I don’t share that mantra. I love the way millennials think, live and work. They are driving a positive economic and cultural shift in our workplaces and marketplaces.


My next step is… Looking forward to continuing to be involved in the local food movement and sustainable farming beyond FreshSpoke.



Do you know a successful female entrepreneur who deserves recognition? Nominate her for the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

The Dolce Vita of Debbie Travis

Debbie Travis

Ever since the launch of Debbie Travis’ Painted House in 1995, she’s been inspiring people in Canada (and beyond) to do a little more with their home decor. Now, Debbie’s inviting women to join her at the Tuscan villa she transformed from top to bottom – but that’s not nearly all she has on her plate.


By Hailey Eisen



“I’m currently living on a plane,” Debbie Travis says with a laugh while marvelling at the new phone system she’s just managed to set up to overcome the Wi-Fi challenges she’s been having in rural Tuscany. A brilliant multi-tasker, Debbie quite obviously thrives when she’s got a lot on the go.


Her personal brand is synonymous with home decor and DIY, and includes six television series – the latest being last year’s Oprah Winfrey Network documentary series La Dolce Debbie – nine books and a weekly syndicated newspaper column read by 6 million people. With the 2016 launch of the Debbie Travis Home Collection at Sears, an approachable fine-wine collection with Pillitteri Estates in Niagara and the recent transformation of a 100-acre medieval property in Tuscany into a stunning villa for women’s retreats (where she serves as the host), to say Debbie’s life is busy would be an understatement.


“What people often don’t know about me is that the most important hat I wear is that of TV producer,” she says. She and her husband, Hans Rosenstein, work together in the production and distribution business at their company Whalley Abbey Media (WAM), through which they produce all of Debbie’s shows plus other lifestyle series. They also produce a number of crime shows, including the hit American docudrama Real Detective. “I was trained in the U.K. in television production, and that’s what I love doing the most,” says Travis.


Born in England, Debbie met Hans at a television festival in Cannes. A few weeks later, they were married and living in his native Montreal. Because she didn’t speak French, she had trouble getting a job in TV in Quebec, so she started a painting business, bringing paint finishes that were hot in the U.K. to Canada and painting offices, restaurants and homes from Montreal to New York. From there her first television show, the award-winning Debbie Travis’ Painted House, was born in 1995 and helped pave the way for other decorating and home-improvement shows that followed.


“When it comes to starting any new venture,” Debbie says, “you need to have the confidence to just do it. And that’s not easy.” While she understands how a lack of confidence can hold a person back, Debbie says she finds the adventurousness of being an entrepreneur addictive, and that has fuelled all of her projects.


“Women are very good at talking and sharing – but there are always people who will bring you to your knees with a comment or negativity,” she says. “It takes a huge skill to get past that – to believe in yourself. You know I can’t even make a bed, and here I am running a hotel.”


“When it comes to starting any new venture, you need to have the confidence to just do it. And that’s not easy.”


When the idea of spending more time in Italy – one of her favourite vacation destinations – presented itself, Debbie didn’t stop at finding a holiday home she could share with her husband and two grown sons. “The more time we spent in Tuscany, the more incredible I felt,” she says. “I don’t know if it was the views or the people or the way of life, but I started to get this idea of, What if I shared it? If I feel like this when I’m here, then why not create a place where women could come, from all over the world, and be with other like-minded women?”


So in 2009, when she was giving a speech in Vancouver and the presenter asked, “What’s next?” she only half surprised herself with her response: “Well, I’m inviting women to a villa in Italy.”


“I’m still not sure where that came from,” she says, laughing. The retreat, which had been a spark of a great idea, didn’t yet have a physical location or a solid plan in place. But the next day, it was sold out.


In her true “just do it” fashion, Debbie found herself on a plane flying to London to get her best friend of 30 years on board. The two women, who maintain a great working partnership, rented a villa that summer and ran two successful retreats. They continued that way with one retreat per year until they found the perfect property, a 13th-century watchtower and farmhouse, and invested a huge amount of personal time and money into transforming it top to bottom.


While it’s still winter in Canada when Debbie Travis and I speak, there’s nothing cold or dismal about the place she’s working from. Nestled among organic olive groves, lavender fields, vineyards and orchards, Debbie’s luxurious Tuscan villa is not only her office away from the office, but a wildly popular retreat destination that’s now booking up years in advance.


Debbie isn’t just the creative force behind the operation, she’s actually involved in every single retreat, working alongside a life coach, yoga instructor, holistic medicine practitioner, chef and other experts that she’s hand-picked. “Some women arrive and are surprised that I’m here participating in the retreat,” she says. “Well, yeah, I’m here. I’m taking toilet paper rolls into every room. I love it.”


Her weeklong retreats that run from May to October provide women the opportunity to get away, by themselves or with friends, for a uniquely rewarding journey that involves a lot of talking, eating and drinking, self-care, hiking, biking, swimming, dancing and the forming of invaluable connections. Lifelong friendships and even business partnership have been forged among women who’ve arrived knowing nothing about one another. As Debbie explains it, “Whether they’re at a crossroads in their lives, are about to turn the page of a new chapter or are perfectly content right where they are – every woman leaves happier, revitalized and more empowered.”


Thanks to the huge success of the Girls’ Getaway retreats, they’ve opened up spots for a couples’ retreat as well as for private groups and corporations. Currently, Debbie is spending about eight months of the year in Tuscany – once you see the photos of her villa you’ll know why – but she’s back and forth a lot between Italy, the U.K. and Canada.


“What’s amazing about technology is that you can really work from anywhere,” she says. “I can sit outside with a glass of wine from my vineyard and this fabulous view and I can be working in my PJs.” It’s from this perch that Debbie will likely spend a good part of this year working on her next book, which is still under wraps, as well as adding to her Sears collection and expanding her wine offering. Of course, she’ll also make time to hand-pick olives from her grove in order to create her annual batch of organic olive oil and stuff bags with lavender (also freshly harvested on-site) to use within the villa.


“People ask me when they come here, ‘Why are you doing this?’” she says. “And it’s true, I could make more money selling mugs with my name on them in a department store. But this makes me a better person, and a happier person. And we all have to be able to find that – to be open to that.”

#MOMBOSS: Meet Trina Boos, Whose Business Growth Plan Included Having Three Kids

Over the past few weeks, Hafsa Pathan has chatted with several working moms in various fields to get a feel for how they balance, well, everything. Their home life, their personal life, their social life and their work life. Oh, and the lives of their little ones (and sometimes significant other), seeing as the mother figure is responsible for so much in many families (ever wondered why they call it the motherboard?). One of her first meetings was with the ever-talented Trina Boos, president of Boost Agents, a now 6-year-old recruitment agency in Toronto that specializes in matching professionals with careers in digital, advertising, creative and marketing.


By Hafsa Pathan


Trina has accomplished a lot in her career: she has started two successful businesses; she worked in one of Canada’s largest and most successful advertising agencies; she helped to grow a startup digital agency that was then sold to Arlene Dickinson’s Venture Communications; and she also sold customer experience, insights and strategy to companies across Canada. In addition to this, she’s a mother of three kids aged 6, 2, and 7 months.  


How does she do it all?


Almost six years ago, Trina started Boost Agents in her living room while she was still breastfeeding her first child. She has memories of planning a business, sticky notes covering the living room wall, meeting with the bank, accountant, designer and web developer, and launching her business in the industry, all with a baby in tow. Two more babies later, she’s seen Boost Agents take shape in ways she never thought possible.


Her growth plan for the company and herself included having three children by 2016. This equated to having a child almost every two years, which meant that the business needed to either grow or remain stable while she left to nurse each one. 


Trina knew that she would never be able to take a full 12-month maternity leave as is typical for many mothers in Canada. She was able to take almost four months off after both her second and third children, but any more than that would have left her team back in the office in need. That said, she set up a temporary nursery in her office, breastfed during meetings with staff, and pumped between interviews to juggle things as the nurturer of a newborn baby, and the leader of a growing business.


While many entrepreneurs understood the challenges of balancing family and work, many others in the community did not. A fellow mother asked her, “Don’t you want to be with your baby?” Another looked her up and down on a Friday afternoon and asked, “Why are you so dressed up? What?! You’re going back to work ALREADY!?”


The outward criticism was a little surprising, but Trina had known that not everyone would relate to her experience. What she does by juggling her two major priorities works for her, but it’s not something she would wish for most people. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” she says. “Juggling is just part of the job. If I were to listen to what everyone thinks about how I handle my life, I would be crippled… I wouldn’t do a thing. It’s important to stay strong, and stay focused on your goals, what’s best for you, your kids, your business and your family as a whole.”


She was nursing her eldest when she signed legal papers during the launch of her business. She’s given speeches to groups of entrepreneurs with a newborn in her arms. And she’s brought each child in to meet the team of eleven employees currently employed at Boost Agents. She jokes that she’s got little recruiters in training.


“If I were to listen to what everyone thinks about how I handle my life, I would be crippled… I wouldn’t do a thing. It’s important to stay strong, and stay focused on your goals, what’s best for you, your kids, your business and your family as a whole.”


“It’s been incredible to see the business develop and reach these key milestones, and to see that with each milestone I’ve managed to have another baby while the business continues to grow.”


After baby number two, Trina realized that in order to focus on Boost’s management and growth initiatives, she needed to remove herself from the day-to-day tasks of her business and hire a team that could support the client management and business development aspects. Doing so has helped tremendously, and given her employees more confidence. She says that “it’s been exceptional to see how empowered they feel.”


She had hoped to take six months off after her third child, but three months in decided that the business needed her back part-time. She set benchmarks and guidelines for the team and for herself, so as to be more disciplined around when she would work and when she would be more hands-off. It’s changed the whole vibe of her maternity leave, providing some structure to her time away, and as a result she’s really been enjoying her time with her newborn, while also being available to the team.


One of the most important things Trina told me was that she designed her life with one key word in mind: simplicity. She’s only responsible for the things she wants to be responsible for and those are her kids, her husband, and her business. That’s it. When she and her husband aren’t working, they’re spending quality time with their kids, rather than dealing with household chores.  “I was forever exhausted when I came home from work, and I dreaded doing the laundry, cooking and cleaning, so it made perfect sense to bring in some extra help.”


Trina hired her mother to clean, cook, and maintain the house. Her mom also plays a part in raising the kids (alongside Trina and her husband, of course). It’s popular strategy — I spoke with a handful of other moms who say that they, too, have hired a cleaning service or grocery delivery service to get these mundane tasks done.


Trina also believes that a working mom is invaluable to her children. She describes her 6-year-old daughter like this:


“She’s fierce, she’s independent, she’s a strong little woman. She has opinions about life that she’s willing to stand her ground on. She’s not a fighter — she’s a very cooperative person — but she has principles. She’s only ever known a life where her father is as equally as involved as her mom — in fact, he sometimes handles 70% of the household stuff. She has a progressive way of looking at her world; she hears a lot about business and its challenges, and I can attribute that to her having a working mom.”


Another key takeaway from my chat with Trina: a happy parent leads to happy kids. Kids want to see their parents happy, and this in turn makes them happy, whether they realize it or not. Trina also stresses that it’s so important for new moms to know that their children are adaptable.


People often talk about how children feed off the negative energy of their parents, and how running a business can feed into that. But by structuring the time she devotes to her family and her business, Trina brings her positive energy to both, and has been able to see both her family and her business thrive.



Hafsa Pathan is a PR Account Executive at Eighty-Eight, and also the founder of Honey Lemon Events, a party styling and planning business in Toronto. She spends her time trying to balance motherhood, her career and entrepreneurship. She even manages to take a shower daily. (Ok — every other day.)

Winners Announced for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

RBC CWEA Winners

We are excited to announce the winners of our 24th annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

The CWEA awards recognize the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. This year’s judging panel was comprised of twelve of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Ian Portsmouth, Publisher & Editor of PROFIT Magazine; Tracie Crook, COO of McCarthy Tétrault LLP; Rajini McRae, Senior Director, Pricing and Treasury Relations, RBC Royal Bank and; Raymonde Lavoie, Co-Founder and Partner, DesArts Communication.

Our judges selected six ventures and the eight incredible entrepreneurs behind them as the recipients of the prestigious awards, which span across six distinct categories. The winners include two business partnerships comprised of sisters; the founder of Canada’s leading wellness brand; and the CEO of one of the country’s leading mortgage firms with over $20 billion dollars in assets.



This year’s winners are:


ADP Micro Business Award

Isabelle Primeau & Marie-Helene Primeau, Premier Continuum Inc., Montreal, QC



Deloitte Start-Up Award

Angela Marotta & Melissa Paolicelli, Two Sisters Vineyard, Niagara Region, ON



RBC Momentum Award

Kate Ross Leblanc, Saje Wellness, Vancouver, BC



Social Change Award

Jennifer Flanagan, Actua, Toronto, ON



TELUS Trailblazer Award

Eva Sun, The Rice People, Richmond, BC



PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship

Kathy Gregory, Paradigm Quest Inc., Toronto, ON


“RBC is honoured to recognize women entrepreneurs and their immense contributions in the Canadian and global economies,” says Neil McLaughlin, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “Through their passion and dedication, these dynamic women are leaving their mark on the marketplace and their communities. They are an inspiration for other Canadian business owners.”

Congratulations to our winners! We are proud to honour your achievements and continue to be inspired by your success.



Marci Ien and Katie Taylor Agree: The Kids Are Not Alright

Canada is the 5th most prosperous nation, so why is it ranked 17th for children’s wellbeing and 27th for child health and safety? A group of influencers are teaming up through a new non-profit, Children First Canada, not just to answer that question, but to mobilize Canadians to improve the lives of children.

By Hailey Eisen

Canada is the fifth most prosperous nation in the world, but according to Sara Austin, founder of Children First Canada, we’re falling way behind when it comes to the protection and care of our children. “There is a big disconnect between what we perceive to be the case when it comes to the wellbeing of kids in Canada and what’s actually going on,” says Austin, a lifelong advocate for the rights of children internationally. “While we assume Canadian children are well cared and provided for, child poverty and suffering has reached epidemic levels in cities and towns across the country.”

Armed with this understanding, Sara recently stepped down from a senior leadership position with the President’s Office of World Vision Canada to found Children First Canada, motivated by a strong desire to put her extensive international experience to work closer to home. She saw an opportunity to unite existing children’s charities, kids hospitals, research centres, and corporations that donate to children’s causes, around a common vision and goal—to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. The organization’s mandate is simple: it will be a strong, independent voice for all of our country’s children.

With the official launch of Children First Canada this month, Sara is committed to building a national movement to engage Canadians and influence the government to drive positive change for Canada’s children. And, she has brought together an impressive group of leaders from Canada’s top charities, corporations, and media to help drive her mandate forward.

“I hope to leverage the collective strength and influence of these women and men to push the dial on an issue that absolutely requires our attention,” she says. “Children are our greatest asset, but those words are meaningless unless we build a concrete plan to improve the lives of our youngest citizens.”

Katie Taylor

That’s the very reason Kathleen (Katie) Taylor is lending her name and expertise to Children First. Most well-known for her title of first woman to lead the board of a major Canadian bank, Katie serves as the Chair of the Board of RBC and the Chair of Sick Kids Foundation. She believes children are the least advantaged when it comes to having a political voice or the ability to organize, and as such, it’s the responsibility of adults to advocate and act on their behalf. Katie was brought on board by Children First Canada to be part of their Council of Champions, a group of 20 influential and experienced leaders tasked with providing guidance on the strategic direction and key priorities for Children First, and to using their collective influence to drive change for Canada’s children.

“We are going to work to create a network of like-minded individuals across the country who can bring some semblance of organization and connection to the variety of children’s issues we face,” she explains. “These span from issues at birth that need to be dealt with through the acute care system, through to child poverty and access to facilities and quality education in early years. We know from the science that the first five years of life are the most critical to a healthy, happy, productive life—so there’s really no better place for us to be spending our time.”

“We are going to work to create a network of like-minded individuals across the country who can bring some semblance of organization and connection to the variety of children’s issues we face”

marci ien

Marci Ien, Canadian broadcast journalist, former host of CTV’s Canada AM, and Guest Co-Host of CTV’s The Social, has also joined the Council of Champions, lending her influence and passion to a cause she’s dedicated most of her career to championing.

“I really do believe that a country is measured by how well it treats its kids—and we’re lacking sorely,” says Marci. “What I like about Children First Canada is we’re bringing so many other children’s groups and charities into the fold and working together.”

This collaborative effort will extend beyond adults to bring youth voices forward in the form of a Youth Ambassador Program, to empower kids with the knowledge and skills to advocate for themselves.

“I have seen, up close and personal, what giving kids the skills and the confidence they need—telling them they can—can do for them in later life. But it takes time,” says Marci. “We see these kids grow up to become teens and young adults, they become leaders—they can change the course of our country.”

Heading into Canada’s 150th year, it’s that change Sara Austin is working diligently to achieve. “I’m ready to harness the sense of goodwill and pride Canadians have for this country and transform it into real change for the children who need it the most.”

To lend your support to improve the lives of Canada’s children, take the pledge to put Children First: raise your hand to volunteer, raise your voice to spread awareness, and raise funds to help children’s charities.


Three Signs That You Should be an Entrepreneur

joanna track

Wondering if it’s time to start your own business? If you are at that crossroad in your career, Joanna Track is here to help you get over to the other side. As a serial entrepreneur — she’s the founder of,, Good Eggs & Co., and The Bullet — Joanna has figured out how to judge if you’re ready for your next (or first) venture.

By Joanna Track

I love starting businesses. While some people find that less palatable than a root canal, for me, the inception is my sweet spot. And the recent launch of my latest brain child, a daily email news digest called The Bullet, makes it my fourth time at this particular rodeo.
But it’s not without angst. While I relish in the adrenaline rush I get from developing the idea, bringing my team together, and breathing life into the concept, I can admit that there are moments when the words “What was I thinking?” are raging through my head (usually at 3am).
Like you, I have a voice inside of me that rolls all of my fears and insecurities into one giant ball of anxiety. It sounds exactly like the voice of the skeptics and naysayers. And it asks why I want to put myself on the line again, take a chance, dance with potential failure, make more work for myself, and so on.
How do I get past it? By reminding myself of what I was thinking and feeling when I decided to give it another shot. And if these resonate with you, it might be your time for a new venture, too.


1. You need to play in the game.

While I’ve met some great people and done interesting work over the last three years at my consultancy firm, Good Eggs & Co., at times I felt like the overqualified water girl – very supportive, but not part of the action. If your current role has you feeling like a cog in the wheel rather than the captain of your ship, you might have just the personality needed for running your own business.


2. You want to practice what you preach.

I’ve spent over a decade building content platforms and strategies both for my own brands and for clients. I know it requires dedication, commitment and passion for a subject. The Bullet checks all those boxes for me. What ignites your passion?


3. You like to be uncomfortable.

My latest venture has me writing about the news. Why is this uncomfortable? Because I spent the early part of my life limiting my need to string a sentence together (that may seem like an odd reason to major in mathematics, but it’s true). Why do I love it? Because it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. If you love expanding your knowledge and expertise, there’s no school quite like entrepreneurship.

So, here I am. I get up at 5:45am to watch and read the news, edit copy, update HTML, and send the Daily Bullet into the world. Could it be a colossal failure? Possibly. Could your idea for a business be a big flop? Maybe. But we both have a chance for great success, and we get to do it on our terms.



Small Practices to Build Powerful Teams

By Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Awakened Company, a thought-provoking read that explores how treating businesses as communities can transform them for the better. With more than a decade of international executive search experience, Catherine speaks around the globe, and offers The Awakened Company’s services to help other teams awaken to a new concept of success.

If you’ve read my other Women of Influence articles, you already know that I believe we need a new model for doing business. And I understand it can sound like an overwhelming task. In practice, it’s possible to build a powerful team—and start on the journey of becoming an “awakening company”—with a few small steps. Incorporate these ideas into your own business, and you will soon see the results:

Make gratitude part of your everyday culture. Catch people in the act of being awesome, and thank them for the things they do. Don’t underestimate the positive impact of a card expressing your gratitude.

Take time in each team meeting to focus on the team. At The Awakened Company, we check in at the beginning of a meeting, and check out at the end. Check in is where you share how you are really doing; what is going well in your life and what isn’t going so well. Check out is your opportunity to express how the meeting went for you, how you are now, and what you are grateful for.

Take time in each day for mindfulness. Research has clearly proven the benefits of practicing mindfulness, and it doesn’t require an unreasonable investment of time to see the results. Find moments throughout the day for mindfulness exercises individually, in pairs, and in larger groups.

Find unique ways to reinforce your values and vision. How unique? I have sent a cake with our vision written on it in frosting. Just remember to get other people in your organization involved if you are setting a vision and values, and consider reinforcing your strategy with rewards.

Once you have your basic values established, let them guide your hires. Each new employee needs to be a fit. While you are hiring and onboarding, go through your vision and values clearly. Let them know what their measurables for success are, and then give them the responsibility to achieve them, including control over their own work hours.

Bring back play into your organization. Our corner office is a yoga, meditation, and ping-pong room. If you don’t have the real estate for something similar, think about fun on a smaller scale. Like having Play-Doh on your boardroom tables.

Where will you begin?

Ready to awaken your own business? Get your copy of The Awakened Company, enlist The Awakened Company’s services and learn how companies are achieving a new standard of success. A best-seller within a week, one of Eight of the Best Business Books of 2015, and a Nautilus Silver Medal Winner for Best Business Book for 2015, it explores a new way of doing business: incorporating mindfulness and wisdom traditions to ultimately benefit companies, those involved in them, and the planet itself. It has earned praise from business leaders and industry experts, and is the blueprint for the successful executive search and team transformation company, BluEra, which was recently bought by DHR International, one of the largest executive search firms in the world.

From philosophy to tech, meet Danielle Graham

Unlike many people working in technology, Danielle Graham didn’t take the traditional STEM route in University—she studied the arts. From growing up in Namibia and Ethiopia, studying philosophy at the University of Toronto, history at Dalhousie University, and an MBA at Wilfrid Laurier, Danielle has landed as the Women in Tech Program Manager at the Communitech innovation centre in Waterloo Region.

To her, technology is all about creating solutions and making an impact on the world. Danielle’s resume is extensive, from consulting overseas in South Africa and Ethiopia to co-founding a company, Crio Water, an award winning sustainable home drinking water treatment company.

Communitech, Danielle’s employer, is a part of Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, an internship program with Cisco, Communitech, and Business Development Bank of Canada. The program has partnered entrepreneurs across Canada with interns from the University of Waterloo to help grow companies digital presence, all while using Cisco technology to drive future growth, collaboration, and success. Communitech is one of the groups who help source the innovative entrepreneurs to match with the interns.


I first knew I wanted to get involved in tech because I wanted to work on and create solutions that could have a lasting and scalable impact.

Mentorship is important because you can learn the right lessons from someone else in a few minutes, which could take you a lifetime to learn on your own.

My proudest accomplishment is founding the first Fierce Founders bootcamp (called the Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp) at Communitech. I created the program from scratch and turned 6 days of workshops into two 3-day sessions with a month in-between. The break allows companies to get customer validation and complete homework that is created by executives in residence, who support 25 women entrepreneurs in the community. The women who participate in this program create a network that continue to support other women in tech through community events.  

I surprise people when I tell them I grew up in Africa. I lived in Namibia and Ethiopia throughout my school years and only returned to Canada when I graduated from high school at the International Community School of Addis Ababa.

My best advice to young people starting out in tech is learn as much as you can. The more you can learn at a younger age, the more you will reinforce your own confidence in your ability to learn about and create new tech.

Engaging young women in STEM is important because they are equally talented and capable of engaging in this field. We are losing half of the potential talent in STEM if we don’t include women, and that has a huge negative impact on the STEM ecosystem and within innovation in Canada. There are many competitive and lucrative career opportunities within the field that are currently underserved from a talent perspective that women have the potential to fill.

More women are getting involved in tech – to a certain extent – but overall we are seeing the numbers decrease in many STEM fields. The socio-cultural implications of tech being designated as predominantly male continues to deter many women. As less women participate in tech, there are less role models for younger women and the cycle perpetuates.

Technology means you can accomplish functions outside of your physical human limits. The significance of technology stretches from exciting new hardware meant solely for the purpose of entertainment or as the competitive advantage for a country at war. Whether it is highly significant or mundane, it is all technology and it stretches the potential for what humans are capable of.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that I’ve been to 35 countries and counting! I love to travel and I just booked my next trip (to Puerto Rico).

The future excites me because I believe in the power of entrepreneurship to solve some of the world’s worst problems and I’m excited to see how the things will change when more women are involved in tech startups.

From international cosmetic brands to entrepreneurship, meet Linda Stephenson

Linda Stephenson is the ultimate beauty guru, and has the education to back it up. With an honours degree in chemistry and biology, with a minor in botany, Linda put her degree to use and oversaw product development for world-class cosmetic brands. However, after becoming a mom, she realized her skincare regime was too time consuming. Putting her knowledge to good use, Linda sat down and rewrote the beauty formula. Mèreadesso was born: a single-step solution that rendered her own regime obsolete. It is now carried online at, at select Nordstrom locations, and at We asked Linda about her journey into entrepreneurship.


My first student job ever was…

Tutoring high school kids at my school. I offered a guarantee—if the kid didn’t score two grade levels higher than they did before I started working with them, I’d give their parents their money back! Word spread like wildfire. I had to turn kids away.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…

I love the autonomy with decision making and the flexibility with work hours, especially when I became a Mom. You can’t find that in corporate culture. Someone once said that the only way a woman could have it all is if she is in charge of her own schedule.

My proudest accomplishment was…

Hmmmm…. I’m still working on it—not done yet! But I’ve had a lot of proud moments along the way.

My boldest move to date was…

Starting my own line of skincare (Mèreadesso) and now competing with all the majors in the marketplace.

I surprise people when I tell them…

I am a graduate of Second City Improv and I was on a national television comedy show.

My best advice to people starting out in business is…

That the first cheque you write should be to your Patent and Trademark Lawyer. It’s not fun or sexy but it will save you a lot of grief in the long run to make sure that there are no challenges to your brand’s identity.

Related: Meet the woman that designs celebrity baby nurseries, entrepreneur Tori Swaim

My best advice from a mentor was…

This is from my Dad: when making personal choices for business; always choose the path that leads to the most learning – not the most money or recognition. He always said that would come later.

Linda_400x400My biggest setback was…

When a supplier let me down by discontinuing my packaging without any prior notice.

I overcame it by…

Scrambling to find a plan B and being honest with the consumer and moving forward.

I balance work and life by…

Surrounding myself by amazing people—both family and colleagues that support me in the tough times. Somehow by the grace of God, it all gets done.

Being a woman in international business is…

Exciting but sometimes challenging. Exciting because you’re learning about new consumer preferences, yet challenging because you’re dealing with a variety of cultural expectations from women in different parts of the world.

Working with larger brands before starting my own line helped me…

Tremendously in order to understand the big picture. It helped me see the path from where I am now to where I want to be in the future.

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

Laughter is like air to me, I love to cook and I’m a little obsessed by cooking reality shows involving adults and kids.

I stay inspired by…

Creating new products and having people love them and want to buy them.

The future excites me because…

Mèreadesso will be opening with Nordstrom in my hometown (Toronto) which should be a lot of fun!



Interested in getting access to more role models like Tori? Check out our upcoming event speakers to gain insights and inspiration from powerful women.



A Day in the Life with Cheryl Hickey

As the host of Entertainment Tonight Canada, Cheryl Hickey is not only a successful reporter and celebrity; she is also a mother of two, a budding entrepreneur, and a wife. But all of those roles didn’t grow overnight. Cheryl worked diligently and strategically to bring her career to where it is today, and that drive and determination has followed her into her role as mother and entrepreneur. So how does one elegantly juggle so many roles?

Continue reading

Fives Minutes With the Newest Dragon on CBC’s Dragons Den

Currently Head of Marketing at Snap by Groupon, Michele is a serial entrepreneur with four successful businesses under her belt—and she just turned 29. She is the co-founder of and Snapsaves (recently acquired by America’s couponing giant, Groupon). You can see her in action as the newest (and youngest) dragon in CBC’s hit TV show, Dragon’s Den.

Continue reading