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Woman of the Week: Eva Wong

 

When I first started giving some thought as to possible profiles of women of excellence to feature in the Woman of the Week section, I decided I wanted to write about women working in the technology space in Canada, namely Eva Wong. This is a very vibrant and growing sector, with the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo corridor nicknamed the “Silicon Valley of the North,” including innovation, AI, and fintech startups.

Eva Wong, is one of the co-founders and COO at Borrowell, a financial technology (fintech) company whose mandate is to help Canadians make great decisions about credit. Their service offering includes free credit scores and credit reports, advice and recommendations to improve customers’ financial well-being and personal loans.

Founded in 2014, Borrowell has grown to a 50-employee firm with 700,000 users to date, making it one of the largest fintech companies in Canada.

Eva’s professional background in business and years spent working for a non-profit prepared her for the creation of her present venture. Being a woman who was told that she did not have the ‘right’ background, she faced the prejudices of those who thought she was not qualified enough. However, thanks to her growth mindset, and memories of how she had faced challenges in the past and overcame them, she kept going to achieve her current success.

One of the things that she acknowledged as being a great help when she first started was not being afraid of asking questions, which in turn allowed her to build confidence over time and considers herself very fortunate to have  had of a strong co-founding team. She has had the opportunity to work in a team of people committed to the project and bringing different experiences and insights to the process. The founding team, embedded in the tech community, were part of an accelerator at Ryerson DMZ as well as the One Eleven scale-up hub. Therefore, “there were many people to connect to and talk to with similar experiences,” Eva said.

A lot of lessons were learned along the way, one of them being that success results from continual testing and trying new things.  “There are a hundred small things you have to do as opposed to one big thing. We were data driven in everything we have done, organizing, collecting data and making decisions.” said Eva.

Although Eva stresses the importance that a great team of people makes a huge difference in the level of productivity, and that great people are great people no matter the gender, she also emphasizes that one of her company’s goals is to reach gender balance. “Currently 40 percent of our team identifies as female.  It’s important to build diversity.”

Many startups have a reputation of being male-centric, Borrowell is an exception, striving to create a more inclusive culture and a more appealing environment for women and other under-represented groups to work in.

Eva acknowledges that it is a great moment to be part of the technology community in Canada. She continues, “We are on the cusp of something that can be really big. The community is still small enough that people want to be helpful and a sense of collaboration pervades the community. It’s very exciting!”

In her youth, Eva used to keep a scrapbook where she collected articles and photos of people who inspired her while growing up. She always wanted to make a difference. She recalls ,“I remember reading an article about some high schoolers belonging to the Junior Achievers group who had started their own business. Years later, I went to university with one of the people featured in the article.”

Being a young industry, technology holds a lot of young talent who are very helpful if you want to stay current and up to date. Eva said, “I am fortunate to work with people who are much younger than I am. Also, there is a news media company I’m subscriber to and found that it’s a really good source of information providing in-depth knowledge .”

As a woman and as a woman of colour, she believes that this is the best time for women to break through in executive roles and in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Not only a co-founder and senior executive, but also a mother and wife, Eva’s hardworking attitude and strong work ethics may have led to spending too many hours at work. However, the pull of the family is strong and drawing a line between professional and private has become an imperative. With so many hours in a day, she wishes she “didn’t need to sleep to have more time to do things” and that is the superpower she wishes she had. In the absence of a real superpower, she is quite content with exercising the daily power of making things: she enjoys cooking and baking. Lately, she has experimented making sourdough bread and pizza.

Eva warns against a misconception that revolves around technology that a career in this sector is impossible without the necessary background. Just like any other sector, there are a lot of jobs within tech companies that are waiting for smart people to do them. She said, “I would encourage people who are interested in a career in tech, whether it’s founding a company or joining a startup. It’s been the most exciting time of my career. There are great opportunities, meaningful work, and a real chance to make a difference.”

Woman of the Week: Janet Mohapi-Banks

Janet Mohapi-Banks is nothing short of a truly inspiring woman.

Hers is a journey of never giving up and of having the faith to continue to push towards your dreams, even when all the chips are down and hope is in very short supply.

In today’s fast pace and seemingly hectic culture, it is never easy to feel as if all of the time, effort and love you put into creating the life you were proud of, all seems to be crashing down around you; and it takes a very special, committed and brave woman to not only weather the destruction, but to also stand up and do it all over again.

Mohapi-Banks is one such woman.

She  went from being at the top of her game as a Luxury Wedding Cake Designer,- even winning a Precious Business Award in 2010 to being burnt out and trying her best to manage a seemingly incurable digestive disorder as well as chronic fatigue  in just under a two year span.

“By 2012 I had burned out so badly I was left literally at death’s door for nearly 5 years with a rare (and according to my specialist at The Royal Free Hospital) incurable digestive disorder and chronic fatigue.

As a result, I was forced to close my cake business which was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  I moved out of the London area, got my affairs in order and prepared for the inevitable.” She said.

For any entrepreneur, being forced to say good bye to your ‘business baby’ is a very hard and painful process which can fill you with feelings of guilt, frustration, resentment and a lot of fear.

It was unbelievable to her that in only a span of 18 short months she had gone from delivering cakes to some of the most prestigious venues in the UK, including the Ritz Hotel Mayfair and winning awards for her fabulous designs, to being so exhausted and in pain that she was not able to even get out of bed to care for her children- a boy aged 12 years, and a girl 15.

A second chance on life came for Janet in the form of a chiropractor who by cracking her spine released her vagus nerve, thereby curing her and allowing her to grow back to optimal health.

With this new lease on life, Janet launched her coaching business in an effort to help other women to grow their ideal business without the stress that had nearly crippled her.

“Before I was critically ill, I used to overwork, which lead me to burnout.  I now realise that my overworking was due to a lack of self-belief that I truly deserved my amazing successes,” the Transformational Life Coach for Entrepreneurs revealed.

Mohaphi-Banks, who is a proud and happy mother of two explained that women almost always tried to do everything by themselves and her biggest take away from her own experiences was to know when you needed help and to outsource reliable people for the job.

When I asked what got her through the day, she said it was her refusal to waste a minute of her second chance and her amazing children. She noted that while she had gone through some ‘incredibly challenging times in my life’ she continued to get back up with a smile on her face and a determination to face her challenges.

 

Woman of the Week: Katrina Turnbull

There are some women I’m quickly drawn to and I easily become friends with. Usually this has to do with their willingness to be real and open about who they are and about their own failures and successes. I immediately connected with Katrina Turnbull.

Katrina was named one of Ottawa’s “Top 25 Influencers” by Ottawa Life Magazine for good reason. Thousands of readers view her mommy blog Oui C’est Chic , for honest, clever advice from this mother-of-two. Katrina also joins the morning crew at CTV Ottawa often for live segments, where she unveils the latest trends for kids and busy women on the go. She also hosts Bell Fibe’s Capital Style Files, which showcases the fashion sense of influential figures in the nation’s capital and contributes to the Huffington Post.

Katrina gives off the sense that she has it all together – in part because of her fashionable clothing and perfectly applied makeup. Yet, Katrina is the first to admit that her busy schedule- parenting, blogging, and preparing T.V. segments- can get overwhelming. She explains how she tries through her work to assist women with their own daily struggles by offering advice.

“Working women and mothers are always taking care of other people’s needs before their own. It’s an unsustainable model, which is why so many women feel burnout and are unable to devote time to their own self-care. I want women to know that not only is it okay for them to put themselves first once in a while, but it is necessary in order to fuel their minds and soul, so that they can be more productive and nurture others.”

It’s obvious that Katrina is someone who wants to support and empower women. While grabbing a coffee, she was attentive, respectful,  and offered helpful advice to me about starting and maintaining a successful website. She demonstrated how she is doing her best to build other women up. Katrina said this is a critical goal set in her work and in her personal life, adding that she was “fortunate enough to have met strong, confident women” who wanted to help her succeed, while imparting lessons from their own lives. She is set on “paying it forward.”

 Katrina  admires a number of high profile business women who have inspired her. Designer,  Diane Von Furstenberg is at the top of her list of women she most wants to meet, because “she is a champion of women and believing that women are allowed to shape themselves into the type of person they want to be.” Katrina admires her because the designer came from humble beginnings and “hustled her way into a dream career by” carving out her own spot in an industry that was  male-dominated.

Despite her success, Katrina admits that roadblocks and challenges are a part of her journey. She is all too aware about how some women can be more focused on competing than supporting and empowering one another.  She also shared how the MeToo movement couldn’t come at a better time. Despite not feeling there is a clear answer to fixing the issue of harassment in the workplace, Katrina spoke about feeling undervalued simply based on the fact that she is a woman and not a man.

Katrina was the victim of harassment  as a young server in Ottawa and she shared her #MeToo story with me:

“We were forced to wear skimpy uniforms, flirt with customers to get bigger tabs and tips, etc. Complaining about a customer grabbing or propositioning you led to the bar managers taking away our best tables and punishing us by giving  bad shifts for the next few weeks.”

The overall mentality passed down from the head honcho at the nightspot was that women working at the establishment, were mainly there to look good- Katrina added that when such sexist rules come from the top, it’s very difficult to stand up for yourself and change the setting. She eventually had enough and quit.

Her belief now is that Canadians will continue to make a societal change because of the nation’s progressive nature.

Katrina has her sights set on continuing to be a positive influence on women by way of her entrepreneurial projects. For more about Katrina, visit her site.

Photography provided by Valerie Keeler

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Turliuk

Jennifer Turliuk is the CEO and founder of Makerkids, the first and largest facilitator of programs, camps, and parties focused on the idea of creation rather than consumption. Topics like coding, minecraft, and robotics are explored through fun and games, in hopes of encouraging more young people to take interest in STEM-related careers. She began coding at the age of 12 and has dedicated her life to opening up possibilities for young people interested in being creators or makers.

Women’s Post spoke with Turliuk about entrepreneurship, Makerkids, and being a DJ for Redbull:

Question: When did you learn you had a passion for business and entrepreneurship?

Answer: I realized I had this passion early on. I started my first business at age five. It was called Jenn’s Card Company and I made greeting cards

When you finished school, it looks like marketing was your path. What drew you to that part of business?

I love marketing because I believe it can make a huge impact on society. Everything from what products and services we buy, to who we select as leadership, to what we believe – comes down to marketing

Why change and found Koru Labs?

I found myself dissatisfied in the corporate job I took and I wanted to do something meaningful. Marketing has continued to be part of all of my roles though.

As an entrepreneur, have you ever experienced challenges as a woman? If so, how did you push through them?

Yes! I’ve been hit on by men who I thought I was meeting as potential mentors or investors. I’ve been told by organizers, after being selected for a prestigious speaking opportunity or award, “And it’s great that you’re a woman.” I hated that they insinuated that a major reason for selecting me for the opportunity was my gender. Even though it probably wasn’t, them saying “And it’s great that you’re a woman” made me feel as though it was and made the accomplishment feel false or hollow. I pushed through it by realizing that if an award or speaking gig is a great opportunity for my business, I should take it regardless of what the organizers happen to mention about my gender. Why bother to bring up gender? I want to be selected for things because of my accomplishments, not the body type I was born with.

How did Makerkids come about?

When I was 12 years old, I was being bullied and was disengaged at school. Then my teacher said that for my book report project, I should make a website, so I taught myself how to code, and made a website about Harry Potter. A few months later I found out my website had hundreds of thousands of views and was featured in a magazine. This was a very empowering moment for me. Suddenly the bullying didn’t impact me as much, and I became more engaged at school. Later on, I was selected for a program based at NASA called Singularity University, where I learned how to apply technology to education. It was afterwards that I got started with MakerKids, with the goal of helping more kids have transformative experiences like I had as a kid. We’re excited that thousands of kids have gone through the programs and some have started businesses, been featured on TV, and had positive mental health outcomes.

Why is it so important for young kids, young girls especially, to be exposed to the “maker” philosophy?

Studies show that kids decide between ages 7-12 whether or not they’ll consider STEM as a future career option. A positive exposure to STEM experiences is the key.

 How has Makerkids evolved over the last four years? What’s next?

MakerKids has grown from teaching five kids per week in 2013 to 500+ kids per week in 2018. We won the NextGen in Franchising competition at the International Franchise Association as the next top concept in franchising. We learned about the IFA competition and many other opportunities through the Canadian Franchise Association (shout-out to CFA) who have supported us and helped us grow. What’s next? More locations!

 Bria mentioned you DJd for Red Bull? When, why, and how!

Haha, I DJ’d for them for a mini-sticks tournament in Kingston once. I was on top of their Red Bull truck. Very fun! I used to be a DJ in university, DJing up to four times a week.

How have you helped other women?

I mentor other female entrepreneurs, and also many girls go through our programs and benefit from them.

What are you reading right now?

Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave & Creative Life

Woman of the Week: Kathryn Hayashi

By Katherine DeClerq

Kathryn Hayashi  is the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations, a commercial arm of TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre, dedicated to linking science and technology to business opportunities. The company provides physics-based projects with connections in industry partnerships, licensing, and business development.

Hayashi has a background in accounting and finance. Prior to joining TRIUMF she served as founding Chief Financial Officer for the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD). She holds the position of Director and Audit Committee Chair of the Center for Commercialization and Cancer Immunotherapy at the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont and serves on a number of CDRD spinoff companies.  and has served on the boards of several CDRD spinoff companies.

Hayashi spoke with Women’s Post about her role at TRIUMF Innovations and her vision for the future.

Where did you develop your love of numbers from?

Answer: I think numbers are logical and they solve problems; that’s what I love the most about them. As a child, I quite enjoyed the satisfaction or the sense of accomplishment I felt after solving mathematical problems.

Your resume includes a number of non-profits and private companies within the health, science, and technology field? Why not become a traditional accountant with your degree?

In the early days of my career, I did work as an accountant in an auditing firm. With time, I became more inclined towards innovative projects that can help make the world a better place. That’s when I decided to venture into the world of innovation.

Working as the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations and formerly as the CFO , I have had the opportunity to work with the brightest talents who are continuously working towards building new technologies and drugs that help people in need. The feeling of being part of a group that is bringing real and positive changes in peoples’ lives, is very satisfying.

What drew you to TRIUMF Innovations specifically?

TRIUMF Innovations is the commercial arm of TRIUMF, Canada’s national particle accelerator centre. TRIUMF truly enables and puts Canada on the world map. It symbolizes a scientific excellence that is admirable.

Innovative technological solutions that have the potential to help people, but are only available as research are no good. Commercialization of those technologies is vital and that’s exactly what we do at TRIUMF Innovations. Today, there are many research projects in Canada that fail to progress beyond the planning stage due to lack of funding. Being part of TRIUMF Innovations gives me the opportunity to help these researchers who are working on possible future cures for hard-to-treat diseases or clean technology that can revolutionize the mining industry advance towards commercialization.

You have been CEO of TRIUMF Innovations for about a year now, what have you learned?

It’s been a very exciting year for me. I have learned more in this past year than in my entire career. I met many talented people, especially researchers and scientists from around the world. It is fascinating to hear their stories, their research and potential future technologies. The world is changing for the better; technologies and cures that didn’t exist earlier are available today and there is something new being created every day in the world of science.

Being part of TRIUMF Innovations gives me the opportunity to be a part of that amazing journey, work with these fascinating people and look into the possibilities of the future. It also makes one realize how little we have done and there is so much more that can be done.

I heard TRUMF has helped five spin off companies get off the market – any our readers may recognize?

A few years ago, as part of a plan to reduce its reliance on nuclear power, Canada announced it was decommissioning the nuclear power reactor in Chalk River, which used to produce 30 percent of the world’s medical diagnostic isotopes. This created a new problem: Where would Canada get its annual doses of technetium-99m, the most commonly used medical isotope for cardiac patient scans that was a by-product of the nuclear reactor operations?

That’s when TRIUMF collaborated with its partners, the British Columbia Cancer Agency (BCCA), The Centre for Probe Development, and the Lawson Health Research Institute to develop a new cleaner, greener technology to produce technetium-99. As a result of this collaboration, ARTMS Products was created, to fund and develop this technology. ARTMS has been providing cleaner, greener isotopes to hospitals and patients around the world.

Where would you like to see the company in another year – or even five?

As the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations, my goal is to continue connecting science and innovation with society by identifying research that can offer new and innovative treatment to patients around the world with diseases that are currently deemed incurable, help secure funding for these technologies and ultimately launch them as commercial products. I would like to continue building new partnerships with research institutes, universities and investors around the world. So far, we have launched five spin-off companies and would like to launch many more.

What do you do to help other women?

I spend a lot of time mentoring on formal and informal platforms. In association with the UBC Sauder School of Business, I mentor female students and help them make better-informed career choices.

I also like helping women who are trying to build their career in STEM through career advice, networking and helping them identify their skills to build a solid future in the industry.

What advice would you give to women in finance looking to branch out?

Networking is the key. Once you have identified where you want to be, it’s important to develop an extensive and strong network to find the right opportunities in any sector. 

What are you reading right now?

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis.

 

Woman of the Week: Sharon Vinderine

Sharon Vinderine wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, makes herself a cup of coffee, and reads a minimum two chapters of a business book.

“It’s a struggle to constantly try to build up your information base,” she said. “But, if there is some tiny tidbit you can learn, you’ve gained a whole lot.”

Vinderine is the founder and CEO of Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA), a seal-of-approval award for products that were reviewed by real families. She has worked with a number of iconic brands like Johnson’s Baby, Gerber, and Harlem Globetrotters among others, to help promote and market their merchandise based on the experiences of parents who actually tried their products.

The idea behind peer-endorsed products was the result of Vinderine’s experience with her first child. She spent a ton of money on products she saw on television or in magazines she thought would work the best. Turns out, the products were less than perfect. “I then called friends and asked what products you can’t live without,” she said. “They were the best products!”

With that idea in mind, Vinderine started working on the PTPA Seal of Approval. An entrepreneur herself — she invented the Kangaroo Towel, a bath towel that acts as a pouch to hold your wet baby, as well as helped found MIPPS, one of the first wireless Internet providers in the 90s —she understood the challenges of promoting a product. She actually submitted the Kangaroo Towel to a U.S. company for review and certification; yet, the only feedback she received was “it was a pretty colour and very soft.” The certification did not include marketing or inclusion in press releases.

“I remember sitting at my kids Gymboree classes and starting a plan of action: I was going to develop a program that was going to actually accomplish all of the things that a new entrepreneur needs — a better way to market, differentiate your product, a better way to get your product on magazines or TV. I wanted to change the way moms were shopping, which was not based on what advertisers say.”

According to the PTPA website, 54 per cent of consumers say the Seal of Approval has a positive impact on their purchasing decision. Over 80 per cent say the seal made them feel more confident about both their purchase and the brands associated with it.

How does it work? Parents are given products for free in exchange for detailed feedback that is shared with manufacturers. PTPA will also provide help in magazine and television advertisements, as well as other forms of creative marketing techniques that are affordable and effective. Vinderine and her PTPA seal-approved products, was featured in over 150 shows, including The Rachel Ray Show, Extra!, The Steve Harvey Show, as well as ABC and Fox.

“From a business perspective, I feel like we are really impacting the way consumers are shopping,” Vinderine said. “When a mom sees our seal of approval on a package, it is almost the equivalent of her calling 20 of her best friends and asking what they think. That seal of approval says it all.”

PTPA now has a database of about 85,000 parents to pull from. Vinderine said that helping families, especially those with a low income, is one of the biggest benefits of the business. Based on one of her favourite quotes from her dad — “I don’t care what you do in life, but whatever you do, make sure it has an impact on the lives of others” — she would try to find low-income families to test cribs and dressers. All products are delivered and assembled, and families can keep them for free after the review.

Vinderine said that launching her own business was a challenging experience. How do you convince people this new seal is important? How do you convince television shows to feature your products? Vinderine encourages entrepreneurship through mentoring, but urges young businessmen and businesswomen to consider the reason behind their idea.

“If you are doing it to launch a second source of revenue, that is not a good enough reason. If you are passionate about what you are launching, it will get you through the rollercoaster of launching a business.”

Vinderine was recognized as one of RBCs Canadian Women Entrepreneurs and one of Canada’s Rising Stars according to Profit Magazine. The PTPA Seal of Approval is one of the three most recognized awards in the U.S., leading to seven new certifications such as “Santa Tested.”

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Woman of the Week: Alexa Samuels

Alexa Samuels is the founder of Mercartto.com, a Toronto-based, female-led e-commerce startup that helps connect people with handpicked artwork based on their personality type. With a background in Latin American art and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Samuels knows what it takes to run a business. Her idea — to offer original art to those who may not know what to look for — sprang from her own personal experience and desire to fuse technology with culture.

Samuels responded to some questions from Women’s Post about how she founded Mercartto.com and what advice she has for young entrepreneurs looking to run a startup:

Question: Your background is in Latin American studies and art – when did you decide to make the jump into business – and what was your interest in Latin America specifically?

Answer: I went to McGill University not having a clue what I wanted to do. When we had to declare a major, the cross-disciplinary nature of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program intrigued me. I’ve had a long-term inexplicable interest in Latin America since I was young, perhaps stemming from the region’s history/archaeology, art, music, food and languages. As for jumping into business, it just seemed like the thing to do. My grandfather built a successful toy manufacturing business, so perhaps entrepreneurialism is in the blood.

Your career is a bit all over the place – marketing, social media, non-profits – what drove you towards entrepreneurship?

Initially, my career began after completing my Master of Arts degree when I joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. I stayed there for over a decade until taking a Global Executive MBA that stoked my interest in going independent. In 2009 I felt the time was right to make the change.

How did the idea for Mercartto come about?

The idea for Mercartto literally sprouted from an “aha moment” when out with a friend for lunch.

Years ago, shortly after I moved from a tiny home with no wall space to a house with a two-storey front entrance, I knew I wanted a significant piece of art to make a great first impression. But, I didn’t want to spend extensive time searching for art, especially wading through art that was out of my price range or art that just didn’t resonate with me. I had also spent a lot of time (and continue to do so) contemplating my own art decisions: Why am I drawn to certain types of art? What are the common elements? Finally, I wanted to create an experience which surprises and delights the user, but within a selection of art that she is more likely to enjoy. Mercartto’s been evolving ever since that lunchtime epiphany.

In terms of your personality quiz – is there a kind of art that is most popular?

Our data set is still small, so it’s hard to make generalizations this early, but if I had to narrow it down I would say that landscapes have the edge. What’s more interesting to observe is how diverse our users’ tastes are. I can tell you that at current, out of the 31 different personality types, the most popular are the Sensory Collector, the Social Collector, the Visionary Collector and the Closet Daredevil. I’m also happy to observe that so far we have one Nonconformist.

How has the company evolved in the last three years? 

The last three years have seen the evolution from idea to a product. The most significant milestones have been:

  1. Narrowing down the Mercartto differentiator and refining the art personality quiz;
  2. Launching the beta as an iOS app in 2016; and
  3. Integrating tester feedback into an updated web version launched end of 2017.
Frida Kahlo her Wished For Child Arsema by Jane Murdoch Adams

Tell me about the scholarship aspect of Mercartto?

When considering who is going to be drawn to Mercartto, we think of someone who is interested in introducing original art into their space, whether for the first time or to build upon a small collection, but might be unsure about “the whole art thing”. Our mandate is to help people learn more about art, both from general concepts and from things related specifically to Toronto. We want Canadians to learn about themselves, and others to learn about us. Our blog serves as an ongoing repository of this information, and once a month we send our subscribers a curated newsletter summarizing the best content of the month.

What advice would you have for budding entrepreneurs? Did you experience any drawbacks or challenges in the creation of Mercartto? 

Ha! There are days (weeks!) when you’re an entrepreneur and everything you do feels like a drawback, challenge or learning experience. It’s especially difficult taking on a technology project when you don’t have the technical skills to build the platform yourself. If I had to narrow down my advice to a few points, I would say:

  1. There will be rough patches. Lots of them. You will make mistakes. Expensive, painful mistakes. If you want stability and predictability, work for someone else. But if you love the challenge of creating something the world has never seen before, you believe in what you’re doing and you accept that the buck stops with you and you alone, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding.
  2. It’s okay to change. Don’t be so rigid with your idea that you’re not willing to change. Really listen to others and not just hear what you want to hear.
  3. Listen to your gut. If something is gnawing at the back of your brain, there’s probably some truth to it. Honour your misgivings.
  4. Be very, very careful with whom you do business. As much as possible, set expectations up front. Deal directly with issues.

Tell me about #artistsneededhere.

#artisneededhere is our inaugural promotion to help build awareness. We’re on a mission to make your walls happy! Until Feb. 28, we’re giving people a chance to enter to win one of two prints by Toronto artist Jane Murdoch Adams’ wonderful Frida Kahlo series. Entry is done by sharing a photo of your sad, bare wall on a public Instagram account with the hashtag #artisneededhere, posting a comment to our #artisneededhere thread in Facebook, or signing up to receive our monthly curated newsletter. More details at http://ArtIsNeededHere.com.

Frida with Diego in Love by Jane Murdoch Adams

How do you help women?

I knew I wanted to build my business if not directly targeted at women, at least in a way that women would feel like it was made for them, but not at the expense of excluding men. It’s a true “feminist” approach: one that believes in equality for everyone. I am particularly interested in ensuring we have female artists represented on the site – again, not to the exclusion of men, but by at least making an effort to be consciously aware that female artists are being approached on an equal basis to males.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I don’t understand the question (just kidding.)

If I’m not working, my time is generally spent with my husband, daughter, and extended family. Now that my daughter is getting increasingly independent, I’ve realized that I need to invest in spending time with myself, particularly doing creative pursuits like painting, writing, piano playing. And on Sunday nights you can find me playing hockey at my local rink.

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Why I’m working for myself during my “year off” travelling

The phone call that determined my present lifestyle happened nearly two years ago in the midst of a bout of post-travel blues and a too-short adventure in Colombia. I had just come back from two weeks in Medellin and returning to the grind brought on a feeling not dissimilar to the familiar nag one gets upon putting off a major project. I knew I wanted to travel more extensively, but didn’t know when. When I expressed this to my nomad of an older brother, he gave it to me straight: “Before you look for your next job, just take a year or six months off.”

I have just taken that plunge.

If each job is a stepping stone, my latest move is the first block on a detour that’s taking me South, back to The City of Eternal Spring to travel and freelance from a new place. I‘ve left my job and rid my apartment of the possessions that made it more than just a configuration of walls and halls. My plan: say adios to Toronto and travel South America for a year – tops. This is not, however, a stunt to escape my line of work. I’m part of the group of people who love their work. I’m ambitious. I always was. Since journalism is well-equipped to be transient, I’m taking my assignments – and new ones – with me to Colombia.

During this chapter I’m my own boss, and that is equal parts thrilling as it is uncomfortable. This is week number one of a lifestyle I’ve decided to sample for 12 months. I’m leaving my comfort zone approximately 4,000 kilometres away because I’m curious to know what happens when you hit pause and realize the person you most have to answer to is yourself. Contrary to my routine up until this point, I’m the one who sets my pace and the expectations. I’m the one responsible for the re-evaluations that come with that too. I’m the one who creates the assignment, even if it’s daunting.

This is a decision that comes during an era where articles geared towards career-minded women like me reflect the cultural climate, using words like ”entrepreneur” and “side hustle,” but also terms like “burnout” and “imposter syndrome.” I’m still early in my career and yet I relate to all four of those terms. The first two empower and motivate. As for the latter two… not so much, and I’m not willing to be confined by them.

I’m part of the large group of women who love their work, but I’m also part of the large group of women who spread themselves too thin, self criticize, and go about their work giving more without receiving more, and then judging the final product too harshly. Call me a millennial, but I think that cycle begs for a revamp – and I don’t feel bad for saying that. There is so much I’m appreciative of (my physical being is healthy and intact, I finally have a degree and years of hard work to my name, I’m financially stable, I have a solid support network) that I now want to build upon that, pen stories that have an impact, and not let it go to waste.

In overhauling the day-to-day routine, you decide what you toss out and you move forward with what can make you better. Sometimes, that’s a tough call to make and yes, it’s often daunting, but rarely has succumbing to intimidation led to the best path.

On dark, quiet nights, I often sat alone at my desk after a long work day in commitment to the side hustles that padded the bank account and afforded me the chance to do this. My current exercise: making sure I don’t tear down what I built for myself in confidence.

Woman of the Week: Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini is the CEO and owner of Gusto 54, a global restaurant group that encompasses a number of Toronto’s top restaurants, including Trattoria Nervosa, Gusto 101, PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, and Gusto 54’s Catering and Commissary Kitchen, among many others. She describes her role in the company as “the visionary”, responsible for finding locations, managing real estate, determining the concept, and assembling teams for each restaurant.

Zuccarini has an intense passion for international cuisine, with a specialization in Italian foods. She is the first Canadian woman to become an AVPN-certified Pizzaiola and was featured as a resident judge in Top Chef Canada’s fifth and sixth season. While her responsibilities now are more business-related, she started in this industry because of her love of food — both cooking and eating it.

Zuccarini has received the RBC Woman of Influence Award in Entrepreneurship and the 2017 Pinnacle Award for Independent Restaurateur of the Year. One of her restaurants is currently under review for consideration as one of Canada’s 100 Best New Restaurants of 2018. Here is what she had to say to Women’s Post in an email conversation during her travels.

Question: You are from Toronto, but you moved away for schooling, why?

Answer: I have a passion for traveling, which began at age 19 when I traveled to Europe on a one-year trip. I spent a few months in Italy on that trip and decided at that time that I needed to find a way to stay in Italy and experience living in that culture, so I found an American University in Rome and completed my undergrad there. When my four years was up and I completed my degree, I felt strongly that I needed to spend more time there, so I searched for another post-grad opportunity. I then found an MBA program at Boston University, which had a campus for a few years in Rome, and stayed in the city for another four years.

Did you always want to be a restauranteur? 

It all started with my father, who loved Italian food and was an incredible cook. We ate very well at home; always whole foods cooked from scratch. Living in Italy for eight years and being a student, I had to learn to really stretch a dollar (or back then it was the Italian lira), so I began cooking for myself and my friends. During that time, my friends would suggest that I open up my own restaurant, but I never thought that would become a reality. After I finished all of my university work, I traveled back home to Toronto for a friend’s wedding and went to Yorkville to get my hair done at Salon Daniel. I was chatting with a stylist there who told me that the corner of Yorkville and Belair was under construction and was set to become an Italian restaurant. I was intrigued, so I walked over and introduced myself to the guys who were opening it. Shortly afterwards they asked me to be a partner and literally overnight I was in the restaurant business. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was marrying my two passions: business and food.

What was the first restaurant you opened? 

I opened Trattoria Nervosa (back then it was known as Cafe Nervosa) in 1996 with two partners, which very quickly turned into only one partner. During that period of transition, I had to thoroughly immerse myself in the business to learn its ins and outs. In the early days, I worked every position; six days a week, 17 hours a day. I learned every aspect of the business, which is incredibly important to creating procedures so that you can step away from being a “technician” and put yourself at the top of your company where you can more efficiently and effectively run it. After the four-year mark, I bought out my partner (thankfully, as it was a soul-destroying partnership) and that’s when my life took this extraordinary turn. The business was stable. I had learned every aspect of it. I successfully bought out a toxic partner, and I really started to run my business instead of letting it run me.

How did Gusto 54 come about?

Three years ago when we decided to consciously transition the company from owning three restaurants in Toronto to becoming a global restaurant group. Gusto 54 was created in honour of my father, who opened up the Sidewalk Caffè at the corner of Yonge and College Street in 1954, which at the time featured the very first espresso machine in Canada, as well as the first wood-burning pizza oven and heated patio. My father was a pioneer and I owe any entrepreneurial spirit that I possess to him.

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen is your latest restaurant to open – how is it doing?

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen opened to Toronto’s King West area in early December and we are busy, which is great considering that we opened our doors during that time of year.

What does it take to run a successful restaurant?

To be successful in the restaurant business you need to deliver on all fronts of the experience, including service, food, location, design and music. You also have to consider what exactly you aim to deliver with your restaurant, as every concept will have different requirements. A destination restaurant will not have the same formula as a restaurant that services a neighbourhood. The restaurant business is arguably the toughest business at which to succeed due in large part to the fact that the margins are so slim. To help mitigate this risk we analyze sales and our numbers every day. All in all, you need to possess a certain level of business acumen, as well as consistently keep your finger on the pulse to deliver what people are looking for in order to truly succeed in this business.

What is the biggest challenge?

This can be a challenging business where you need to keep a very close eye on food and labour costs and keep the operations very tight. Systems, procedures and technology become integral in operating a profitable business that consistently delivers against our mission. Consistency in both food and soulful hospitality can also be a challenge given the number of people we rely on every day to serve over 3,500 customers. This is where training becomes essential in ensuring everyone is set up for success.

How do you make sure the food served is following the newest trends – or even leading the trends?

My job as the visionary is to make sure that my finger is always on the pulse of what’s happening in the world as far as food and industry trends go. I have a passion for dining out and checking out all kinds of restaurants wherever I go in the world.

What advice would you give to a young female business professional with dreams of starting their own empire?

You can do anything if you have grit and don’t let anything stop you.

What’s next for you?

I feel like I’m just getting warmed up in the restaurant business. We’re opening Gusto 501 to Toronto’s Corktown area this year, we are looking to open in New York, and we’re currently working on rolling out two additional concepts.

What do you do to help women?

As a woman operating in a primarily male-dominated industry, supporting and helping to empower women is extremely important to me. Many of the key leadership positions within our company are held by women including chefs, GMs, and our President, Juanita Dickson. In addition to contributing to various local organizations such as Women in Capital Markets, Dr. Roz’s Healing Place, and Dress for Success, I always strive to make time to personally meet with women to provide mentorship or advice.

What do you do when you are not working?

I live in Los Angeles half of the year, so I love taking advantage of the weather there and doing a lot of activities like tennis, hiking and biking. I’m also super passionate about yoga and, whenever possible, I love checking out new restaurants and hosting friends and family at my house for dinner.

I’m currently reading “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” by Timothy Gallwey, as well as “Becoming Supernatural” by Joe Dispenza.

 

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Woman of the Week: Michele Romanow

Michele Romanow is best known for her role as a “Dragon” on CBC’s hit television show Dragon’s Den. Her passion, tenacity, and knack for numbers has made her a driving force on the show — and an investor everyone wants to have backing their team.

What sets Romanow apart from her co-stars is her focus on the individual. If she is going to invest in a business or a company, she wants to get to know the people behind the project.

“I think as tempting as it is to look at the exact business on hand, I inspect the entrepreneurs themselves,” she said in an interview with Women’s Post. “You are looking for someone with a chip on their shoulder. Someone who needs to win. There are so many pivots and turns when you start a business, you want someone who is going to make it work.”

Beyond the “Den”, Romanow is a tech titan and serial entrepreneur who knows how to spot an opportunity. By her 28th birthday, she had already started three different companies across different industries.

She began her career as a civil engineering student at Queen’s University, a tough program that taught her how to problem solve. Romanow had an interest in math and science, but it wasn’t until she helped launch a sustainable, zero consumer waste café on campus that she realized she had a passion for business. Her goal was to convince the administration that her pitch wasn’t about a food service, but rather a sustainability project important to the development of the school. She raised most of the capital herself and the café — called The Tea Room — remains a fixture on campus to this day.

Since then, Romanow has jumped from project to project, solving problems and building new ventures.

“The power that you have [as an entrepreneur] is enormous,” she said. “I think the fun is in solving problems you don’t want to see in your world.”

Her second business was Evandale Caviar, a fishery based in New Brunswick that distributed high-end, Canadian sturgeon caviar to luxury hotels. Unfortunately, the business fell apart in the 2008 recession.

Since then, Romanow has launched a number of incredibly successful businesses. She is the co-founder of Buytopia.ca, Snap by Groupon, and Clearbanc. Clearbanc is Romanow’s most recent venture — an online financial service that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to get capital to grow their own company.

Romanow also helps craft digital solutions for international brands like P&G, Netflix, Starbucks, and Cirque du Soleil. She was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award; the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards; and was a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award global finalist. Romanow is listed as one of the top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and was named as one of the Forbes Top 20 Most Disruptive “Millennials on a Mission”.

You would think she is a person who loves to be busy and have numerous things on the go, but Romanow is passionate about her work and doesn’t like to “be busy for the sake of busy”. She would rather get things done and spend her time on something that matters.

In July of 2017, Romanow partnered with Ruma Bose and Richard Branson to launch the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative. The goal is to showcase Canadian entrepreneurs and offer assistance to those starting out.

“How do we create more Canadian success stories, especially women,” Romanow asked. “Almost half of Canadians can’t name an entrepreneur they look up to.”

Clearbanc is committing $1 million to finance small businesses and help create those success stories.

In addition to all of these projects, Romanow makes time to mentor women and offer advice to young entrepreneurs. Her biggest piece of advice? Just do it!

“Overplanning can be a detriment,” she said. “My first piece of advice to people is that you have to get started now. Most people think about and analyze businesses for a long time, but it’s important to start to move it. The first idea never ends up being the business that works, but the process allows you to get there.”

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