Eight entrepreneurs reveal the tech challenges they are tackling now — and how it will make their business better

Technology can have an impact on an organization’s success — and these eight entrepreneurs know it. As participants in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, they’ve been paired with engineering interns with the goal of using technology to better their businesses. They’re sharing the challenges they’re solving with technology this year — could it help your company, too?




While looking for childcare for their first daughter, Irini Mikhael, an engineer for a global organization, and her husband Halim simply were not satisfied with the options available. So they opened Lullaboo — with the goal of providing top notch education and development to Canadian children, including their own.

Tech Challenge: Managing operations after growth
Since launching in Richmond Hill in 2008, Lullaboo has expanded to nine locations. They’re currently using a FileMaker solution to manage operations — but it’s time to develop their own custom app. Irini is in charge of IT software development (along with process strategy, new buildings, and other operation decisions), and is looking for a solution that can support further expansion.




Rebecca and Mandy Wolfe are the sister-duo behind Mandy’s. With seven branches across Montreal, the salad restaurant is known for their quality food and guest experience — as well as their charitable giving. They’ve found success not only through what they offer, but also by keeping operating costs low, and building out their backend technology and processes to maintain rapid but healthy growth.

Tech Challenge: Consolidating multiple systems
Mandy’s currently employs multiple small systems, and Rebecca and Mandy want to consolidate to better manage and optimize operations. They also recognize that they need support from a fresh, outside point of view to bring more efficiency to their backend.






Located in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Port of Stephenville is a fully operational seaport which works in tandem with Vinking, which includes an industrial estate with over 300 acres of land and 960 acres of sea-bottom currently in the process of development. Owned and managed by Theresa Keeping, she’s focusing the next five years on creating an aggregate mining facility, both shellfish and fin-fish aquaculture facilities, a cutting-edge compost facility, and alternative energy opportunities.

Tech Challenge: Integrating new lines of business
Given the future expansions planned and current port activities — which are anticipated to increase significantly in coming years — Theresa sees the need for an integrated management software platform which can automate, plan, and support on-going operations. Ensuring that all services and business threads are integrated is, and will be, a challenge for the Port.




Colette Cooper is co-owner and VP of Business and Operation of Renteknik, an energy efficiency engineering and consulting firm based in Burlington, Ontario.  The company is at the forefront of the energy industry, providing focused solutions that are cost effective, sustainable, and support North America’s mandate to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy and operational efficiency practices. The company’s current project: developing a real-time energy and operational efficiency monitoring software portal for HVAC, Make Up Air Units and Air Handling Units.

Tech Challenge: Developing a new tech product
The project involves the integration of different analytical platforms into a ‘watch dog’ type system that will allow for the identification of operational and energy issues within the various monitored building systems. By creating a new technology solution, their goal is to give visibility into business operations to achieve greater efficiency and cost savings for their clients.




Donna Enright opened her application development company to make a difference in the world. Based in Haliburton, Ontario, TechnicalitiesPlus has worked with many not-for-profits and innovative businesses to create web-based applications that help them support their clients and customers more efficiently. This year they are launching Assisted Cooking, an easy to use application delivering virtual support in meal preparation to people with cognitive challenges.

Tech Challenge: Making an online solution more accessible
Assisted Cooking is currently set up as a mobile responsive website, which can be problematic for universal functionality. Building a mobile app will provide more control over and consistency in the way the software functions on tablets, making it more accessible to the people who will benefit most from it.





Telelink was launched in 1965 as a traditional answering service in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Present Co-CEO’s Cindy Roma and Sydney Ryan have transformed it into a global leader in safety and emergency response monitoring with over 340 global customers. As their clients become more sophisticated, they are requesting social media monitoring services, a more omni-channel, connected experience, and monitoring of safety devices and platforms — which their current systems can’t handle.

Tech Challenge: Transitioning to a cloud-based client offering
With customers wanting more than just taking a message or relaying information, Cindy and Sydney know they need to evaluate new options in telephony and monitoring platforms. There are cloud-based systems available that offer a host of new services that they can provide to their customers, but it will take research to select the right platform, and transition systems.




Julie Mitchell says she likes to have a lot going on, which explains why she’s both a partner at Parcel Design, an integrated creative firm, and the owner of Torq Ride, an indoor cycling studio that hosts approximately 600 riders per week. While Torq and Parcel are both quite dependant on technology and have access to a lot of related data, they do not currently use it to their best advantage.

Tech Challenge: Making information accessible internally
Their main tech project for the summer is creating an intranet to make processes, policies, templates, and brand standards accessible to the team. As both Parcel and Torq expand, Julie thinks that this platform will have a huge impact on productivity and communications.






Since 2007, Yoga Tree Studios has grown from its first studio in Thornhill to five studios across the GTA, with a sixth opening soon. Yoga Tree offers over 2,000 yoga classes a month and an array of workshops and yoga teacher trainings. Debbie recognizes that the fitness industry is ever evolving and Yoga Tree is responding with innovative solutions — including integrating technology to optimize their digital and mobile presence to increase retention, communication with its clients, and increase brand awareness.  

Tech Challenge: Improving customer experience
Debbie’s focus is on the development and launch of a customized Chatbot, the design of a platform for online streamed classes, and a redesign of their website to be more responsive and intuitive to determine their customers’ fitness goals and align it with their suitable class options. Her goal: to elevate the digital experience of Yoga Tree students to a level that is ahead of industry practice.



The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.



Twelve Entrepreneurs Confess: How will technology be changing their business for the better?

These 12 women entrepreneurs agree: technology has the power to change a business. As participants in the Cisco Circle of Innovation program, they’ve been paired with engineering interns to help build their organization’s digital strategy, scale, and impact in the marketplace. They’re sharing how their business will be getting better through technology this year — could it help your company, too?



Lara Autio, Experience

Lara Autio is the President (and owner) of Experience, an IT staffing solution company specializing in staff augmentation for time and material contracts and IT Project Staffing. Her company services the North American market from their IT Center of Excellence in Montreal a technology hub specializing in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Her website is ready for a refresh, so she plans to focus on digital marketing design and development.




Lise Snelgrove, This Space Works

Lise Snelgrove left her role as a marketing director in the telecommunications sector to pursue her business idea full time: giving innovative brands a simple way to transform their beautiful meeting rooms into powerful marketing tools. As co-founder and CEO of This Space Works, Lise places a strong emphasis on technology and innovation. Her plan is to implement a virtual assistant who will connect business clients who need meeting space with the beautiful offices of synergistic companies, creating a unique way to discover and connect with innovative brands around the world.




Tiffany Clark, Elements Mortgage Team

Tiffany Clark has worked in the finance industry for more than 14 years, entering the mortgage broker network in 2009. She now leads the Elements Mortgage Team under the banner of The Mortgage Group (TMG), helping homeowners in Grande Prairie, Alberta with their finances based on their unique needs. To help continue to grow her business, Tiffanywants to share her brand messaging through social media and search engine optimization.





Chantal Levesque, SHAN

Chantal Levesque founded SHAN in 1985 — a company that specializes in haute couture bathing suits, leisure wear, and accessories for both men and women. As president and designer, Chantal Levesque has been instrumental in transitioning SHAN from a promising company based out of Laval, Quebec, to a renowned luxury brand available in over 30 countries. With such impressive growth, SHAN is investing in a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, integrating an online platform and digital archiving.





Heather Stewart, BBE Expediting Ltd.

BBE Expediting Ltd. has been moving cargo into remote areas of Northern Canada for four decades. Under the leadership of Heather Stewart — president since 2011 — the logistics company has been reorganized and restructured, increasing their skills and knowledge of best practices of supply change management. Providing freight services to the mining, airline, oil & gas and construction industries, Heather understands that she can get a competitive advantage by staying on the leading edge. Her goal is to integrate the GoBox technology platform into BBE’s shipping services.




Rhonda Hewko, Elkan Environmental Engineering 

Rhonda Hewko is the president and owner of Elkan Environmental Engineering, based out of Grande Prairie, Alberta. She has nearly two decades of experiences as an environmental consultant and engineer, and the consulting company she founded has been providing environmental and wastewater engineering services in Western Canada since 2010. Rhonda is looking for new solutions for her company’s network.





Nicole Smith, Flytographer

Nicole Smith’s entrepreneurial inspiration came while she was on vacation with her family. She went on to create Flytographer, the first global marketplace connecting travellers with local photographers for fun, candid vacation shoots. The venture has been successful: as founder and CEO, Nicole has built a community of hundreds of local photographers in 200 destinations around the world. She’s looking to continue the growth with website development, including enhanced features for Flytographer’s booking application.




Allison Christilaw, Reddin Global Inc.

Allison Christilaw has more than 25 years of entrepreneurial experience. After selling the
management consulting company she was a partner in to one of the Big 4 firms, Allison once again took on a leadership role as CEO of Reddin Global Inc., home of The Emerson Suite — a technology platform offering a complete suite of mobile management tools for leader-managers to accelerate the performance of their teams. Integration with Microsoft and other business platforms is the next development focus, with the aim of enabling teams to work seamlessly.




Erifili Morfidis, iRestify

Recognizing that the cleaning industry was trailing behind many other industries in technological advancement, Erifili Morfidis co-founded iRestify, an online platform that provides an easy way to book and manage a trusted and insured cleaning service. By integrating advanced workforce management and logistics tools, the company has modernized the way in which commercial and residential customers hire cleaning experts, and made the market more efficient. Erifili plans to continue web development to improve their platform and their reach.




Debra Van Dyke, Frilly Lilly

In 2005, Debra Van Dyke opened the first Frilly Lilly boutique in Alberta, specializing in waxing, manicure and pedicure services, along with the distribution of signature bath and body care products. With the support of her children, Jeremy and Lisa, Debra has grown her business to include several locations, with products in stores across Canada. Debra’s biggest focus for 2018 is to establish a competitive advantage by leveraging technology. This includes revamping their website and  implementing an SEO strategy, streamlining computer and device management for all locations, and implementing a chat system for customer service — all while ensuring there are strict security and privacy protocols for employees and customers.




Martha van Berkel, Schema App

Martha van Berkel is a co-founder and CEO at Schema App. Schema App is a software as a service that translates content at scale to be understood by search engines and voice search resulting in increases in organic traffic and higher quality leads from their website. Prior to starting the business, Martha worked at Cisco for 14 years as a senior manager responsible for Cisco’s online support strategy. She leverages her experience at Cisco to partner with digital marketers at Enterprise and Global Digital Marketing Agencies to translate their brand at scale for machines. During this co-op,  Martha is looking to introduce more automation to scale and mature her operations and marketing.  




Lisa Will, Stonz Wear

It was Lisa Will’s own experience as an outdoorsy mom that inspired her to create Stonz Wear, a Vancouver company making high quality baby and kids’ footwear and apparel giving parents more time outdoors with their kids. Launching with the Stonz Bootie, the brand now offers a broad range of functional, innovative, and stylish products for all seasons — sold in over 500 stores and in over 16 countries. Stonz is already using technology to create its products, track their progress, market, engage with customers, understand their needs, ship and track product, and better service and surprise customers once they’ve purchased. Lisa’s goal is to continue to embrace technology whenever she can — it’s helping Stonz achieve its goal more quickly of being the go-to outwear for kids and baby.





The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle 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.



What are the critical “future skills” for executives?


by Jennifer Reynolds


“Skills of the future” is a topic that is starting to dominate talent discussions today. Technology is rapidly shifting the landscape in all industries, and as a result, continuously changing the skill sets that are in high demand. The question professionals today need to ask themselves is: how do I ensure that I am developing skill sets which have longevity in the workplace? And employers need to consider: how do we attract and retain a talent pool with those skills of the future?

A recent Toronto Financial Services Alliance study done in partnership with PwC looked at how roles and skills will change in the financial services industry across key functional areas, including customer service and sales, product development, technology, operations and controls. In the context of automation, big data, and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain, the study sought to identify the skills people working in the
industry will require to harness the value of these technologies.

The study identified four key skills of the future:


1. Human Experience Skills

Emotional intelligence, empathy, communications, and influencing skills will be critical to allow individuals to meet increasingly high expectations of customers and employees when it comes to the value they demand in their interactions with organizations.


2. Re-imagination Skills

Curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and business acumen will help individuals reimagine the future and develop new solutions to meaningful business problems that have commercial value.


3. Pivoting Skills

The willingness to change, the capacity to learn and adopt new skills quickly, and the ability to lead people through change and build resilience will help people adapt in an environment of volatility and uncertainty.


4. Future Currency Skills

Developing and staying current on key technical skills will be a baseline requirement for people as the digital and information age continues to evolve. Holding key technical skills will be critical for employees; however, those in-demand skills will evolve and shift, so employees and employers will need to proactively build new pools of expertise.


To support this more agile, innovative and skilled workforce, talent management will need to take on a more integral role in the strategic planning process and in the performance evaluations of leaders and managers at all levels in the organization. A greater focus on anticipating the new skill sets that will be required and on developing strategies to attract and retain that talent will be key competitive drivers for organizations. Hiring for core skills which can adapt to new job descriptions and adopt new competencies will provide a stronger talent pool with lower friction costs. Retraining and regular education will need to be a principal element in any successful talent strategy.

Undoubtedly, all this will mean managers and leaders will spend considerably more time managing and developing talent. As the investment in the talent pool increases, attracting and retaining that talent will be increasingly important to organizations.


“Academia and the private sector will need to work together to ensure Canadian post-secondary institutions are equipping students with skills that are relevant and in-demand.”


To facilitate the evolution and development of the skill sets required for the future, academia and the private sector will need to work together to ensure Canadian post-secondary institutions are equipping students with skills that are relevant and in-demand. A critical role that the private sector can play will be to create more work-integrated learning experiences for students. These practical work experiences will allow students to graduate with more sophisticated and well-rounded skill sets and enable them to transition into careers more effectively. The financial services industry is increasingly recognizing the value of these programs for students and is creating a growing number of co-op and internship opportunities, both through independent programs and as part of collective initiatives like ASPIRE, a TFSA-led sector-wide work-integrated learning program. Reaching students earlier ensures organizations can help equip the future workforce with the skills our economy requires, not to mention it allows those organizations to define the value proposition its organization can provide to new graduates.

Organizations will need to prioritize bench strengths like people development and coaching skills much more highly than in the past. Rapid change and continuous re-skilling will challenge both employees and managers, but if successfully navigated, can be a defining element of success. Today, more than ever, strong talent management will be a key competitive advantage for senior executives and their organizations.



Jennifer Reynolds is the President & CEO at Toronto Financial Services Alliance. Her 20 year career in the financial services industry has included senior roles in investment banking, venture capital, and global risk management. Prior to joining TFSA, Jennifer was the President & CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), Canada’s largest industry association and advocacy group for women in the financial sector.




When technology imitates life: The rise of discriminatory artificial intelligence


By Teresa Harris



Early last year, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down after several employees were ousted for their behaviour towards women, and the company was accused of fostering a toxic culture of sexism and harassment. In August 2017, James Damore, an engineer at Google, released a 10-page memo asserting women are biologically less suited to careers in tech, and criticized the company’s gender diversity efforts.

We’re familiar with these headlines, and the many others that have placed the state of gender diversity in North America’s tech industry under intense scrutiny. However, the problem goes deeper than we may realize — from the minds of employees, to the technology they’re producing — specifically in the realm of artificial intelligence. The result? Artificially intelligent technology that mimics the people and environment it was founded by and in: at best, inherently biased, and at worst, explicitly sexist.

Devices using artificial intelligence deeply affect how we live, work, and play. Voice-powered personal assistants are now with us in the car and kitchen, and suggestive search engines, which make use of machine-learning algorithms, seem to know us better than our closest companions. Since 2012, C.B. Insights reports that funding for A.I. start-ups has increased by over 850 per cent. Tech leaders including Google, Apple, and IBM have each purchased at least five companies with A.I. specialization, with Google acquiring a whopping 12 in the last six years.


“The problem goes deeper than we may realize — from the minds of employees, to the technology they’re producing.”


The consequences of the gender and racially homogeneous work environments characteristic of Silicon Valley are already being seen in the A.I. market, which comes as no surprise to many industry experts.

“When you don’t have the diversity of people designing voice-recognition software, you forget to test the technology using those people,” says Dr. Sarah Saska, co-founder and managing partner of Feminuity, a Toronto-based consulting firm that works with innovative companies to help them navigate through the unmapped territory of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. “Still to this day, some A.I. software doesn’t understand particular types of accents, i.e. those that deviate from the Western white male.”

University of Virginia computer science professor Vicente Ordóñez found that research-image collections supported by Microsoft and Facebook have shown “predictable gender bias in their depiction of activities such as cooking and sports,” strongly associating women with the former and men with the latter.

In 2017, news website Quartz studied how voice-powered assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana responded to different types of verbal harassment, including lewd comments about their sex, sexuality, sexual characteristics, or sexual behavior. They found that “the bots most frequently evaded harassment, occasionally responded positively with either graciousness or flirtation, and rarely responded negatively,” meaning these virtual women almost never asked the harasser to stop, or told them that what they were saying was inappropriate.

These bots haven’t been around long enough to absorb the patriarchal biases entrenched throughout our society. However, the people — or should we say, the men — programming them have. And while bias and behaviour like this can be corrected, it requires a researcher to be looking for that bias in the first place, and to specify what he or she wants to correct. If recent headlines are any indicator, many within the tech industry don’t see the issue, or the value in correcting it.


“There are a lot of women who aren’t comfortable in environments where they don’t know everything. So encouraging them to take the leap is very important.”


Angelique Mohring is the founder and CEO of GainX, a company that uses A.I. and machine learning to aid global corporations in their transformation across people and projects. While she won’t deny the current state of gender inequality in the tech workplace, she remains hopeful that women not only belong there, but can add significant value to the field.

“Because of A.I., we’re going to need a skill set that goes beyond digital talent. The broader perspective women have will be worth its weight in gold in the future economy.” Mohring describes the ‘future economy’ as one wherein companies do much more with less — something she believes women are particularly well suited for. “Throughout history, women have always done more with less. We have been continually figuring out how to survive and take care of families and communities with very little.”

So how do we derail the speeding train that is biased artificial intelligence?

The obvious answer: get more women into tech so that more women, and a more diverse set of women, are designing and programming the tech we use. But Anne Martel, co-founder and SVP of Operations at Montreal startup Element AI, doesn’t think it’s as simple as getting more women in the door.

“It’s the company’s responsibility to be a safe place to learn, fail and learn from that failure,” she says. “There are a lot of women who aren’t comfortable in environments where they don’t know everything. So encouraging them to take the leap is very important.”

Even still, Martel thinks the consequences of non-diverse tech go beyond sexist and discriminatory software — she believes biased A.I. is destined to fail in the marketplace. “To allow for the adoption of A.I. systems, they have to be relatable. And a lack of diversity will prevent us from truly benefiting from these systems, because they’re not going to represent the reality we know.”


The One-sided State of Tech

According to data from the National Science Foundation, the number of women holding computer science degrees has declined from 25 per cent in 2004, to 18 per cent in 2014. And research from Morgan Stanley revealed that just 29 per cent of employees in tech are women, and only 13 per cent are executives.

The cause of a female shortage in tech comes down to what, in 2008, the Harvard Business Review called “The Athena Factor.” At the time, a reported 63 per cent of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experienced sexual harassment at work, the result of cultures that celebrated “hostile machismo.” The review found other antigens that deter women from workplaces, including isolating them on teams of predominantly men and using systems of risk and reward that tend to disadvantage risk-averse women. The result? A 52 per cent drop off between women who graduate with degrees in STEM fields, and those who remain in those industries.

A more recent survey conducted in 2015 by a group of female tech investors and executives, titled “The Elephant in the Valley,” revealed that “84 per cent of the participants had been told they were too aggressive in the office, 66 per cent said that they had been excluded from important events because of their gender, and 60 per cent reported unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.”





Solutions for All: How one Canadian bank is developing technology to drive accessibility



As Vice President of Design, Digital Banking, at Scotiabank, Pamela Hilborn is tasked with developing unique technology solutions that can meet the needs of the Bank’s diverse customer base including those with disabilities.


By Shelley White



Pamela Hilborn has always been fascinated by what makes people tick.

It’s a passion that was sparked 25 years ago when she was a student of physical anthropology at the University of Toronto, and carries into her work today as Vice President of Design, Digital Banking, at Scotiabank.

“I’ve always had a deep interest in human culture and human behaviour,” says Pamela. “So it’s been a natural evolution from having this desire as a young woman to understand what it is that makes us human to a position where I’m trying to create better experiences for humans using technology.”

Pamela leads a team of fellow innovators at Scotiabank’s cutting-edge Digital Factory in Toronto, which launched in January 2017. The idea behind the Digital Factory is to build, improve and reinvent digital banking experiences — to rethink the “end-to-end customer journey” with fresh ideas and next-wave technology.

“The role of design is two-fold at the Digital Factory,” explains Pamela. “We’re responsible for executing on the software design, but our role is also to dig deep and understand what our customers’ needs are and help bring the customer to the centre of whatever we are doing here.”

One of Scotiabank’s top priorities is ensuring that everyone has access to their products and services, says Pamela. When it comes to improving accessibility for people with disabilities, it’s important to understand that they are looking for the same service that everyone wants in an interface or a piece of software.

“You need to make sure that performance is amazing — is it loading properly, is it responsive? Is it useable?” says Pamela. “Security is a huge piece of what customers and consumers are thinking about as well. And once you meet those basic needs, consumers are expecting a high degree of personalization and understanding.”


“It’s been a natural evolution from having this desire as a young woman to understand what it is that makes us human to a position where I’m trying to create better experiences for humans using technology.”


And these days, customer expectations aren’t set by their interactions with one company, says Pamela. They are set by the multiple applications that people use every day.

“Whether you’re interacting with a media site like the New York Times or a social networking site like Facebook or Instagram, you’re getting trained on responsiveness, on speed, on security — and these interactions set expectations for the user’s experience on all apps.”

The biggest challenge when creating solutions for people with disabilities is first understanding what those issues actually are, says Pamela.

“We don’t necessarily think about a distinct group of people that are separate, we think about human beings and how our services need to respond to different contexts and abilities,” she explains.

Scotiabank currently offers a range of communications options for people with disabilities. For example, customers who are deaf or hard of hearing can use online live chat or relay services to communicate with a contact centre. Alternate formats of documents are available to customers, including audio, large text, accessible PDF and Braille. At some branches, Scotiabank offers ABMs with customer pin pads that have colour contrast, a larger screen and a tactile keypad. Customers who are visually impaired can access audio navigation.

At the Digital Factory, the goal is to create digital banking solutions that solve the problems of people across a whole spectrum of capabilities, says Pamela. That’s why when they do in-house user testing, they engage with people of all abilities.

One interesting area of technology is haptic communication, she says. Haptic feedback uses the sense of touch in an interface design to provide information to the end user. (It’s something you may have experienced when your phone is on mute — the vibration you feel when your phone rings is haptic feedback). Haptic feedback could be leveraged to help people with attention span impairments, says Pamela, giving them cues through touch in distracting environments.

“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is how to take advantage of all the wonderful senses that we have, and how can we use them in different contexts.” she says.

Regardless of how customers are interacting with their bank — by phone, through apps, at an ATM, in person — they all have one thing in common, says Pamela. People want the ability to control their own finances, and any new user experience being developed needs to be in support of that.

“I see my role as solving problems,” says Pamela. “At the Digital Factory, we really try to understand the different contexts that correspond to different types of accessibility needs. We want to solve for the greatest number of people, more often.”


Five significant (and possibly surprising) ways that technology can help your business



Technology is already the heart of your business — and of all businesses. Its infrastructure houses your data and provides access to email, the Internet, and applications. Are you taking advantage of all that it can do for your company?


By Marie Moore



In a BDC study of Canadian entrepreneurs’ investment intentions, technology — including computer hardware, software, and e‑commerce — was cited as the number one area for planned investment in 2017. So, if you are like the majority of business owners in this country, you already recognize technology’s importance. The question is, are you taking full advantage of the ways it can help your business succeed?

Consider the following five areas where technology can make an impact:


1. Attracting and retaining talent

If retaining high-performing employees is a priority for your business, it’s time to recognize how much technology can play into employee satisfaction. Consider the frustration caused by using slow, outdated devices, or the gratification and success that comes from having the right equipment to perform their job — in the way they want to perform it. Technology is key to employee morale.  

Especially as the labour force includes more millennials — who value flexibility even more than compensation — the way your employees prefer to work and communicate is shifting, as is their use of and attitudes toward technology. The expectation is that the tech they use for their job will be as intuitive and always-available as their personal devices, enabling simple and seamless access from anywhere. And if you have a multi-generational staff, your business needs to cater to these different work styles and cultures, or risk losing talent to competitors.

TIP: Security and secure access are the most important elements to consider when employees work off-site, and if you haven’t invested in products like Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs), an enterprise mobility management solution, or cybersecurity software, you could be putting your data — and your customer’s data — at risk.


2. Taking advantage of sales opportunities

There are inevitably times when your employees come into the office and printer X or server Y isn’t working. If it happens often, it means you’ve purchased an inferior product, or you’ve exceeded the capabilities of your current solution. How can your employees serve customers if they don’t know whether they will be able to use their phone that day or access email?

Even if your organization isn’t missing out on sales through lost productivity caused by aging or inferior technology, there may still be opportunities for upgrades or additions that can lead to actual, quantifiable sales. Consider the benefits of providing instant and intimate connectivity to customers, regardless of their location, using video conferencing, or the advantage of a timely response, enabled by giving your employees access to email and important documents wherever, whenever.

TIP: There’s no reason for your business to miss these opportunities when reliable, secure collaboration and networking products are available at a reasonable cost — and made more so with financing options.


3. Tapping into valuable customer data

Have you ever connected your phone to a store’s free Wi-Fi before? Every time you log in — or simply walk by another location — there is a connection made with their server that allows each location to understand internal traffic, street traffic, demographics, popular times, and more. This allows management to proactively staff for the busiest periods, push deals and samples when there is high foot traffic, and decipher what amount of goods they need at each location.  

As more and more devices connect, companies have the potential to collect tons of data that can transform their current business practices and create new opportunities. However, as the name suggests, “big data” can be daunting — and the struggle lies not only in how to best access it, but also in how to use it.

The best place to start is to consider how your business operates, and how you interact with your customers. Are you a retail company with inventory? Do you have a physical location or are you using e-commerce? You could be collecting data on in-store or online orders (or both). You could also be tracking a product’s popularity by region, for example, to understand purchasing trends and enable proper inventory management. Offering Wi-Fi to your own customers enables marketing push notifications for promotions and insight, plus data collection on volume, popular times, and popular locations. The better you can predict, the better and more profitable your business can be.

TIP: It’s technically possible to collect data from every connected device, piece of equipment, and asset — but you don’t have to jump in all at once.


4. Managing and making the most of growth

As your business starts growing, you’ll find a host of new opportunities become available — as well as a new set of challenges. Technology, when employed smartly, can help turn more of these nice-to-have problems into major wins.

Expansion could require outfitting a larger office, or balancing an increasingly remote workforce. The key is to evaluate your current space and the ways people interact and work within it, so you can make informed changes for the future. Business growth can also lead to supply chain and sales complexity. You may have started out dealing with a handful of suppliers or a predictable group of customers, only to enter a logistics nightmare as orders increase. When you can no longer rely on eyeballing inventory, it’s time to employ a technology solution.

TIP: As you are making plans for your company’s growth, consider how technology will play a role in that vision. That way, when upgrading your technology products, you can make sure you are addressing the needs that exist today — and the changing needs of tomorrow.


5. Keeping you in business

Businesses are rapidly becoming more digital — think about how you hail a ride, book a trip, and the bank account you carry in your pocket — and customer demands for seamless, immediate service are increasing. This is why you should be thinking about digital transformation — applying technology within your organization to deliver more profitable revenue, greater competitive advantage, and higher efficiency – even if you aren’t in the tech industry.

According to Gartner, 75 per cent of businesses will be digital businesses, or will prepare to become digital businesses, by 2020 — but digital transformation will not look the same for each one. What is most important is that you identify the areas within your organization that will most benefit from new technologies, and begin there. These projects will reap you the most success, and provide valuable learnings for subsequent initiatives.

TIP: The best place to begin your digital transformation is with your IT network. Digital transformation is all about using technologies that rely on connectivity — sensors, software, devices, and equipment — to make your business operate faster, simpler, and better than before. Those technologies cannot do what they are meant to do if your IT network can’t handle the data traveling across it.


The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles female-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 the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.



Welcome to the Valley: How Joanne Fedeyko built a company around making connections to help others succeed


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.”



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

Confidence gap: survey shows young women don’t believe in their tech skills



The concept of “The Confidence Gap” is by no means a new conversation — there are many studies showing that, across all cultures, women are less self-assured than men. And success is as much based on confidence as it is competence. 

Adding to that body of evidence is a recent survey of more than 1,000 university students in the United Kingdom, focused specifically on their tech ability. Conducted by KPMG UK and independent market research company High Fliers, it identified a worrying crisis in confidence among young women with regards to their digital skills.

The poll found that only 37 percent of young women are confident they have the tech skills needed by today’s employers, compared with 57 percent of young men. This is despite scoring on a par with their male counterparts when assessed on digital skills such as data manipulation and use of social media.

There is further evidence that this lack of confidence could be putting many young women off applying for jobs: 73 per cent of female respondents said they have not considered a graduate job in technology. 

 Aidan Brennan, KPMG’s head of digital transformation, believes businesses need to adapt their recruitment processes to reflect this issue, ensuring the selection process isn’t biased towards “those who shout about their capability loudest.”

“The issue here isn’t around competency – far from it – but rather how businesses understand the underlying capability of an individual and how to unlock it,” says Brennan. “I think this research highlights the work that needs to be done to show the next generation that when it comes to a career in tech, gender isn’t part of the equation.”



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!

Meet Lesley Lawrence, the BDC senior executive helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams

Lesley Lawrence

Recently appointed to the role of Senior Vice President, Financing and Consulting, Ontario, Lesley Lawrence oversees Business Development Bank of Canada’s lending and consulting services in the province. She hadn’t planned on going into finance — Lesley holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto — but after more than 25 years in the financial services sector, she considers herself lucky to have found a career where she can help people realize their dreams.

Actively involved in the community, Lesley personally focuses on advancing entrepreneurship. In her role at BDC, she acts as national champion for the Bank’s Women Entrepreneur initiative. This includes work with Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, an internship program in cooperation with Cisco and Communitech. 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.


My first job ever was…Working as a cashier at Miracle Food Mart grocery store. I did that job all through high school and university to pay for my education. I took summers off to work full time and came back and worked during the school year for 8 years.


My proudest accomplishment was…Being a strong role model for my daughter. Showing her you could be successful in your career and be a wife and mom at the same time.


My boldest move to date was…Moving my family from Toronto to Vancouver to take on a new role with increased responsibility and building a new team and a new region.


I surprise people when I tell them…I have an abundance of disco music on my phone.


I balance work and life by…Taking my dog for a walk, running, and experiencing new adventure as often as I can. I work hard, but ensure I make the time to enjoy my life.


My best advice from a mentor was…Be true to yourself. Always remember who you are is what got you to where you are.


Female entrepreneurs and funding is…My passion. I am proud of the work the team at Business Development Bank (BDC) has done in supporting women entrepreneurs as they represent one of the fastest growing market segments in Canada.


Engaging women in entrepreneurship is…Not only necessary, but key to the future success of the Canadian economy.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I thrive on pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I enjoy a challenge and get enormous satisfaction when i inspire others around me to the same and realize success.


I stay inspired by…Surrounding myself with people of different backgrounds who bring new and interesting ideas to the table. I enjoy learning from others, especially millennials.


The future excites me because…Of the unknown. It challenges us to grow, expand our thinking, and evolve to succeed.


You helped find female entrepreneurs to match with interns at the University of Waterloo for the Cisco Women Entrepreneur program. How would you describe that experience?
It was a enjoyable and very rewarding experience. Partnering with Cisco gave us the opportunity to help women entrepreneurs leverage technology and obtain critical expertise to accelerate the growth of their business.


Are you an entrepreneur interested in leveraging technology to grow your company? Sign up for the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Academy, with over 90 hours of free training on the technology basics that can help you understand the opportunities available to you and your business. Simply fill in this quick survey for access.


Embracing mobility: the key to success in the digital age

woman holding phone

Mobile devices have brought advancements to virtually all aspects of modern life, from our personal time to how we work. And yet not all businesses — especially those that are small to medium sized — have embraced mobility to achieve positive results.

Of the 1400 companies included in the 2015 Cisco Mobility Landscape Survey, a full 63 per cent still didn’t have a mobility strategy, even though the majority (56 per cent) were using mobility to win over customers. So if the payoff is clear, what’s keeping businesses from “going digital”?

In the SMB space, the issue is one of resources, and security is strongly tied into that. According to Nolan Greene, a network infrastructure research analyst with IDC, “Many SMBs do not go beyond installing basic wireless connectivity, often through consumer-grade infrastructure. A lack of full-blown enterprise-grade security can result in SMBs being the target of network predators.”

Plus, employees want to use personal devices for work, and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) remains a challenge for smaller organizations. As Nolan explains, “Devices can be infected off-premises and carry potentially harmful malware onto the business network. Also, personal devices can be used for non-business applications that may divert valuable bandwidth away from mission-critical applications.”

For these reasons, it’s not surprising that many SMBs are lacking in a mobility strategy — but it is unfortunate.

Here are the top five reasons why mobility is a key to success in the digital age, regardless of your company size:

1) Improved customer satisfaction and service with location-based applications and analytics, and connected mobile experiences that offer real value through customer engagement.

2) Improved employee productivity, collaboration and satisfaction with the ability to take advantage of a mobile workspace, greater efficiencies in day-to-day operations with cloud applications, and BYOD capabilities that satisfy “the mobile generation.”

3) Protected data, business and employees with an enterprise-level mobility management program that makes BYOD safer, offering malware and web protection.

4) Cost savings and scalability through moving to cloud-based platforms, which offer simplicity without giving up performance.

5) Increased ability to compete effectively with companies who lack a mobile strategy — and for SMBs, that can include larger organizations — due to the ability to quickly scale, improve operational efficiencies, and better engage employees and customers.

Want to learn how to embrace mobility for your company? Try the free Mobility Fundamentals course featured in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Academy! Simply fill in this quick survey for access.

Meet an Entrepreneur That’s Dedicated to Teaching Kids to Read

When your CTO lives in Denver, Colorado, your team lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and you live in Waterloo, Ontario—it’s safe to say technology plays a big part in your day-to-day. Leah Skerry, co-founder and CEO of Eyeread, an education technology startup helping children learn to read, certainly credits technology for the ability to communicate with her team via video conferencing and other platforms.

Not only does technology help with communication—it’s the foundation of her company. Eyeread helps personalize reading lessons for teachers, uses analytics to help determine what is holding children back, and creates lesson plans to adapt to different skill sets. And this isn’t Leah’s first venture. She launched a crowdfunding site for amateur athletes called Pursu.it, was selected as one of the 21 Emerging Leaders of Nova Scotia, and is an active member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community.

Leah has partnered with Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, an internship program managed by Cisco, Communitech, and Business Development Bank of Canada with interns from the University of Waterloo, to help grow Eyeread’s digital presence. We asked Leah and her new intern, Joyce Yu, about their new partnership and how they’ll be using technology to collaborate and drive future growth and success.


Why did you decide to be an entrepreneur?

It was not a conscious decision. In the early days of university, at the Sobey School of Business, I discovered a way to major in business but take all my electives at NSCAD studying design and fine art. I wanted to be an architect. Then mid-way through university, I was assigned a class project to grow a business using only ten dollars. I combined my interest in business and love of design to create a successful initiative developing ads using Facebook and Twitter, which were still novel at the time.  I snagged the Atlantic Canadian Student Entrepreneur of The Year in 2009 and since then I’ve been captivated with solving challenges through new approaches and innovations.


My boldest move to date was reaching out to successful, and notable people like David Ferrucci (who was the principal investigator at IBM, leading a team to develop the Watson computer system that won Jeopardy) and IDEO leaders when Eyeread was just an idea. Our mission was to improve literacy globally and based on that we were able to secure amazing people in a one-hour online think tank.

What is your best advice to those starting their own business?

I was once told the difference between an entrepreneur and an employee is the ability to work through the psychological ups and downs. My advice is not to give up if you choose to start a company. Developing something new takes time. You will most likely pivot from your original idea while establishing your company in the early days. To get through the ‘ups and downs,’ be passionate about the problem you are addressing. If you are consumed with solving a problem and starting a company is the only way to solve it, you are in a good spot; You will be able to work through the tough times because there will always be tough times.

I surprise people when I tell them I love aerial silks. Like Cirque du Soleil style. I practice as often as I can. It’s an amazing way to bring creativity and exercise into my life.

Technology has helped my business because my CTO is in Denver, the rest of my team is in Halifax, and I am currently based in Waterloo. Video conferencing has helped my team produce meaningful, thoughtful, and valuable work without needing to be in the same space. Products like Google Hangouts, WebEx, and Slack (team messaging) allow us to communicate effectively while working remotely.

I plan to use technology in the future to teach every child in the world to learn and love how to read.

We use machine learning to create games that teach children basic reading skills that adapt to a child’s unique skill level and interest. Our technology solves a big problem for teachers: Teaching to a class makes it difficult to personalize instruction and engage children in subjects they are interested in. Our technology helps teachers personalize lessons and keeps children engaged.

Joyce_400x400Meet Leah’s intern, Joyce Yu

School: University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University

Program: Honours Business Administration (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Computer Science (University of Waterloo) Double Degree

Year of Study: 1 (Starting 2A term in September)

What are you looking forward to at your new internship?

I am looking forward to using Cisco’s various products, especially their collaboration endpoint products like TP. Such tools that make long-distance communication effortless interest me; perhaps it is because I have been apart from my family who lives overseas while I was growing up. More importantly, I’m excited to see how I can integrate the use of such products into other companies’ projects. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with two entrepreneurs, TrustPoint Technologies and Eyeread, on very interesting projects. I’m hoping to learn more about IoT security solutions through my work with TrustPoint, as well as contribute to Eyeread’s amazing product that helps improve literacy skills of young children today.

How will you use technology to engage with your new employers?

I am excited to get involved with the online platform Cisco has created for employees, such as the various social media campaigns like #LoveWhereYouWork and #NeverBetter that allow me to share my intern experience with others. I also plan to make good use of Cisco Jabber to connect with my mentors and colleagues, and have WebEx meetings to see them face-to-face, regardless of where they physically are. Aside from Cisco’s tools, I use Google Hangouts to meet with the two entrepreneurs I am collaborating with, who are in Waterloo, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia, respectively. With the use of technology, I can close the distance between my employers and I.


Are you a new business looking to build a team remotely? The Cisco Entrepreneur Xperience solution features everything you need to get your business communicating, collaborating, and connected. Customized for your business size and needs, the product bundle is simple to deploy and cost-effective. Fill in this quick form to receive more information on this “Office in a Box” offer.


The basics of cybersecurity for your small business

Does your business use the Internet? Do you have a cybersecurity plan in place? If you answered ‘yes’ to the first question but not the second, it’s time to give your network security some more thought.

The days of grammar-challenged emails from fake foreign princes are in the past. Cybercrime is on the rise, hackers are becoming more creative, and regardless of the type of business you run, you have information that they’re looking for—from customer records to banking information.

As a business owner, you should be considering these risks in the same way you would take any threat to your bottom line seriously. You don’t need to be an expert (though talking to one is a good idea), but basic knowledge can help guide you towards an effective strategy. These questions are a good place to start:

Related: Ask a tech expert: How do I set up a virtual office? 

Are your cybersecurity policies clear for employees?  Write them down, specifying what types of network activities are allowed and which ones are prohibited. Include guidance on how to handle everyday communications, like email and attachments, how to create strong passwords and protect them, and how to safely access the network remotely.

What are your most important digital assets, and who uses them? It could be customer records, or intellectual property. Anything of value should be evaluated to determine what they are worth, where they reside, who has access to them, and how that access is controlled. Think about what a security breach involving these assets could do to your business—from disruptions to service, to hard financial costs. Also consider how you would survive a cyber attack. Do you have backup and recovery capabilities to restore information if necessary?

What security do you have in place right now? Take an inventory of your current security measures. Do you have antivirus software, to help protect the network against common threats like viruses, worms, and Trojan horses? Do you have a firewall, to keep unauthorized users off your network? How about a virtual private network (VPN), to give employees, customers, and partners secure access to your network? The most effective solution is a comprehensive security device that lets you control access to network resources, which helps protect business data and maximize network uptime. Your security solution should integrate firewall, virtual private network (VPN), antivirus, and other security technologies. Look for a solution that’s designed for small and medium-sized businesses, is easy to use, and can grow with you as your business and security needs evolve.


Looking to learn more about cybersecurity? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and sign up for Introduction to Cybersecurity. This informative online course covers trends and insightful material on computer network security.



Ask a tech expert: How do I set up a virtual office?

: I’m the owner of a small marketing agency. We’ve been renting an office, but I’d like to offer flexibility to my staff (and have it for myself), and save on rent. I know it’s possible to “go virtual,” but I don’t really know what is required. How do I set up a virtual office?


A: Going virtual is an excellent option! You’ll soon see it can serve your business needs now, and can even help you expand your recruitment reach in the future. With this kind of flexibility, you can attract and retain employees from any geographic region, including professionals with special skills. According to several human resources studies, work/life benefits, such as teleworking and flex-time, are among the most valued benefits a company can offer.


Here are some things to consider when you are looking to enable you and your colleagues to work from anywhere:

Adding a VPN and firewall enables the security you need. The technology behind remote access is called a “virtual private network,” or “VPN,” and it establishes a private, secure network connection over a public network, such as the Internet.

VPNs use secure firewalls and well-tested security measures at every network point of entry, to help stop worms, spyware, or hackers from attempting to disrupt your business network or steal sensitive information.

Here’s the beauty of a VPN: Once it’s installed, you can add as many employees in as many places as you need. You don’t have to worry about expensive provisioning in each branch, office, store or site; a PC and an Internet connection will do the trick. The VPN software handles all security and user authentication.

There are several types of VPNs from which to choose. Talk to an expert—like a Cisco Certified Partner—who can evaluate your business requirements, and present the most appropriate solution for your business needs today, as well as provide a growth path that will meet your business needs tomorrow.

You’ll also need a phone and conferencing system that can work with remote and mobile employees, and that means using a data network.  Look for a phone solution that:

  • Can be set up so phone numbers can ring simultaneously on multiple devices (such as an office, home office, and wireless phone), to end “phone tag”
  • Enables customer calls to be routed automatically to available employees, regardless of where they might be.
  • As an added bonus (and this is available with Cisco SMB solutions), make it possible for employees to check all their messages—voice, e-mail, and fax—in one simple-to-use browser-based window.

You may also want to consider additional collaboration technology to keep your employees connected anytime, anywhere. A unified communications solution that is cloud-based (like Cisco Jabber) can bring together remote workers with instant messaging, desktop sharing, and conferencing—across any device, and from any location. With conferencing solutions (such as Cisco WebEx) you can add voice and video conferencing as well as application sharing into each meeting. It really gives a new meaning to the word “meeting.”
With today’s solutions to stay connected, you can bring the right people together, even without an office.

Are you setting up an office? If you’re ready for a business-class network using a simplified approach, the Cisco Entrepreneur Xperience solution features everything you need to get your business communicating, collaborating, and connected. Customized for your business size and needs, the product bundle is simple to deploy and cost-effective. Fill in this quick form to receive more information on this “Office in a Box” offer.


A Look Back At 20 Years of Women’s Advancement For Women Of Influence, Canada And The World

For 20 years, Women of Influence has celebrated female entrepreneurs, senior executives and innovative leaders. In honour of this milestone year, we’re looking back at two decades of events and women who kicked cracks in the glass ceiling.

Continue reading