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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: 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: 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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