The list of challenges currently facing Canada is long and formidable: climate change, racial injustice, gender inequity, Indigenous reconciliation, gaps in our education system, outdated infrastructure and sputtering adoption of digital technology. And now, a pandemic. In the midst of this difficult time, we want to celebrate emerging leaders actively working to find pragmatic solutions to these daunting problems. Our search began with a call for nominations, both from the business community and our own staff. Finalists were evaluated based on their ideas, accomplishments and impact. In the end, we selected 50 entrepreneurs, academics and executives who are striving to find a better way of doing things. Together, they show that solutions are possible. But change won’t happen with business as usual.
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President and CEO, FHQ Developments
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Partner, McCarthy Tétrault
As an undergrad at McGill University, a comparatively multicultural school, Atrisha Lewis had instructors who discussed the existence of the so-called “glass ceiling”—while offering assurances her generation would soon smash it. Then she went to Bay Street. “This is probably one of the whitest, malest spaces we have in all of Canada,” says the trial litigator. Moreover, the change she was promised never came.
What did come, however, was opportunity. “I’ve been pushing for inclusion for years,” she says, “but it feels like only recently that people have started to listen.” The Black Lives Matter movement, the death of George Floyd, and protests across America and beyond have helped open many people’s eyes to racial injustice. Even those in law, sometimes. “It depends where you’re working, of course, but in general, this is an old white industry based on precedent and tradition,” Lewis says. Diversity and inclusion initiatives not only lack support but are actually opposed. “A lot of people in this industry still deny systemic racism even exists.”
One of the Law Society of Ontario’s youngest elected benchers—effectively a member of the organization’s board—Lewis recently acted pro bono for the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers to fight systemic racism. She argued in favour of peremptory challenges, a motion in which a defendant or the Crown can exclude a juror without a particular reason. Such challenges are useful tools for defendants who sense bias from a potential juror. “The criminal code was amended to get rid of peremptory challenges because of concern they were being abused,” she explains. “I’m concerned about the perspective of Black Canadians who might feel a juror is looking at them the wrong way. Sometimes it’s hard to describe the feeling that someone’s racist, but it’s there.”
The association lost the battle at the Supreme Court. While Lewis was disappointed, she was happy to be heard and represent the perspective of Black Canadians. She knows it’s an uphill battle, but also change isn’t impossible. “Although the demographics on Bay Street have yet to catch up with the rest of Toronto, and while I’m alive to how much more work there still is to do,” she says. “I’m grateful to be at a firm that is actively trying to move the dial.”
Director of Operations, Flight Test & Propulsion, Opener LLC
The story of Kristina Menton and Opener is one fit for a Hollywood blockbuster: While studying mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto in 2015, she was headhunted by a mysterious company in Silicon Valley. “I wasn’t even allowed to know the product before I signed the offer,” recalls Menton, who couldn’t resist the suspense. “I got the sense this was groundbreaking technology, but I couldn’t have imagined this.” Spoiler alert: Kristina Menton is building flying cars.
“It’s actually an electric personal vertical takeoff and landing aircraft,” she explains. “That’s not really a flying car because it’s not on a road, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a personal flying car.” When she tells people about her work, most think about a faraway future à la The Jetsons or Total Recall, but Menton’s very likely flying in the sky right now somewhere over California—she says she has “extraordinary privilege” to moonlight as a test pilot. The black-and-white-striped BlackFly looks part drone and part submarine, with eight propellers across wide wings. Already approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada, the BlackFly has thus far logged over 48,000 kilometres in the air.
When she’s not behind the wheel—which is actually more of a joystick and totally programmable to run autonomously—Menton is focusing on the design, testing and production of what could be the world’s most energy-efficient electric motor. It currently weighs in at two kilograms and generates 32 kilowatts, enough power to move the 142-kilogram BlackFly (and a single passenger) as much as 50 kilometres. While this distance can’t compare to an airplane’s range, imagine hopping into your flying car and soaring from one end of Toronto to the other with exactly no traffic.
But it’s one thing to make a single flying aircraft that works and another to mass-produce a product that reaches actual consumers. “Once we move into production, we’re going to have to learn to create aircraft that are accessible to regular people,” says Menton. So far, the BlackFly weighs half as much as its nearest competitor and doesn’t require a fancy pilot’s licence or any intense training. With any luck, the BlackFly could be yours for the price of a swanky SUV.
The real-world applications of the BlackFly are endlessly mind-blowing: among them, surveying, navigation, transportation, fire prevention, law enforcement and emergency response. Until then, the aircraft is being tested and retested daily. “We need to make sure everything is perfect, safe and reliable. There’s no margin of error here,” says Menton. Opener now hopes for a 2021 launch to the public, but until then, the thrill will be mostly hers. “To be an engineer and have this wild dream and then get in the air is just—just wow.”
Founder and CEO, the Virtual Gurus and askBetty
When Bobbie Racette was laid off from her job in Alberta’s oil and gas sector, she was reminded of her mother’s own struggle to find work. “I saw her coming home at the end of the day, after getting turned down and pounding the pavement,” she says. “She’s a successful woman now, but it was very difficult to see that.” Racette, who is of Cree-Métis descent and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, decided to break the cycle herself. “I struggled to be taken seriously for what I knew I could do, so I said, ‘I’m going to hire marginalized folks across Canada.’”
Racette’s cycle-breaking inclusivity-first business is the Virtual Gurus, a Calgary-based talent marketplace that matches small and medium-sized enterprises with North American virtual assistants and freelancers using matchmaking algorithms. It’s an ideal setup for workers who may have difficulty in accessing nine-to-five work: stay-at-home or single parents, Indigenous peoples living in remote communities and differently abled individuals. (Currently, the Virtual Gurus’ virtual assistant pool is 95% female, which is, sadly, not common in the overall workforce.)
“There are a ton of people who might have the most experience, but they don’t ‘fit the part,’” Racette says. “For example, a person of colour or who is transitioning genders—clients who, if they come to us, will be accepted.” On tap this year for Virtual Gurus is an American expansion and the relaunch of Virtual Gurus Academy—a training platform focused on administrative expertise—as well as the pilot of askBetty, a Slack app that acts as a live virtual assistant for on-demand administrative tasks. Racette, whose career now includes co-founding Alberta’s LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce in 2017 and closing her first round of funding last February with $1.25 million, is a master class in overcoming prejudices.
“I am a BIPOC Indigenous woman with a full sleeve of tattoos,” she says. “Investors were thinking I wouldn’t be able to scale this company, and we’re now moving into the U.S. Would it be too clichéd for me to say, ‘Don’t underestimate the underdog?’”
Founder & CEO, Noblegen
Imagine if the food chain wasn’t linear but circular. Food tech company Noblegen uses Euglena, a single-cell organism, to replicate animal-based foods—without the livestock. “If we start with the cellular ingredients, we don’t need the animal anymore,” explains founder Adam Noble. Here’s just one example: the Egg, a powder that when mixed with water can be used in everything from scrambles to baking. It scooped up a 2020 World Food Innovation award, and the agricultural, environmental and societal applications are massive.
Senior Engineer, Cenovus Energy
Calgary-based Cenovus has made a big promise to the world: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s a big goal for the oil and gas company, and Erin Madro is leading the environmental innovation group set to make it happen. Stakeholders, scientists, academics, innovators and entrepreneurs are all firmly on board.
CEO, Clir Renewables
Renewable energy is proving to be both low-cost and cost-effective, and yet big corporations are still slow to adopt wind and solar power. For anyone who thinks renewables are risky or precarious, Gareth Brown uses analytics driven by artificial intelligence to measure input and output, while optimizing the performance of the power source. The goal is to make emerging power sources irresistible to skeptics. “We show these numbers to big clients all over the world to make them feel confident in investing in renewable energies,” he says.
Founder, Accelerate Her Future
Seventy percent of women of colour in Canada have credentials from a higher education institution; fewer than 7% hold a management position. Golnaz Golnaraghi is determined to close this gap. After 15 years in academia, the Royal Roads University business prof decided it was time for action. “My vision was a sustainable social enterprise to help early-career racialized women,” she says. Accelerate Her Future began as a pilot project, grew into a one-day conference, evolved into a 10-week mentorship program and continues to expand without an end in sight.
Executive producer and founder, Kejic Productions
Erica Daniels found her way to film and television production through a multimedia program for at-risk youth in Winnipeg. In 2017, Daniels—who is Cree and Ojibwa—started Kejic Productions on the Peguis First Nation in Winnipeg. Two years later, she won the first-ever film prize at the Indigenous Music Awards. Now, she mentors other Indigenous youth so they can tell their own stories.
“A passionate storyteller, Erica is dedicated to sharing the stories of her community, and hopes to pave a way for other Indigenous women and young Indigenous storytellers to do the same. She passes on her expertise by mentoring in the community and offers video production training programs for Indigenous youth and women to learn and grow in the media industry.” - Tabatha Bull President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
Co-founder & CEO, Vieren
Everything old can be new again, even time—at least in the form of watches, which are actually making a surprising comeback. Jessica Chow travelled to Switzerland to learn the meticulous art of making an automatic watch. It seems cutting edge, sure, but it’s actually a centuries-old heritage art that harnesses the movement of the wearer to wind itself. “We joke it’s the original FitBit,” says Chow. Designed by Project Runway Canada’s Sunny Fong, the sleek Vieren watch proves no product can’t benefit from a modern makeover.
Founder and CEO, Flashfood
A bad thought: Every day, $5,000 to $10,000 worth of food from every grocery store goes to waste. A better one: Flashfood is a new app that sells food approaching its best-before date at deep discounts. It’s the creation of Josh Domingues. A shopper inside a store will always reach for the carton of milk with the latest possible expiry date, but a little clever marketing can rescue potential leftovers from the garbage. “We make it look sexy, slash the price by half and send [the deal] right to your cellphone,” says Domingues. Last year, Flashfood kept some 12 million pounds of perfectly good food from getting tossed.
Canada Research Chair in Identity, Diversity & Inclusion, University of Toronto
Though systemic oppression is wide and ubiquitous, Sonia Kang looks for tangible, doable, simple solutions. One example: Studies show women are less competitive than men. “We could try to train the women to ‘lean in,’” she says, “or we can just tweak the question.” Kang proved that by merely tweaking a competition for an internal promotion at a company from opt-in to opt-out, and women’s so-called non-competitive nature disappeared. “Suddenly there was no gender gap,” she notes. “We completely eliminated it.”
Executive Director, Creative Destruction Lab
Since 2012, Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) has been a space connecting tech startups with leading brains. “Imagine you’re trying to build a space company, and you get to run your idea by Chris Hadfield,” says Sonia Sennik. Since the beginning of the pandemic, CDL’s “vision council” of innovators—including Mark Carney, Lisa Cook and Margaret Atwood—have collaborated to launch a rapid-screening system for Canadian workplaces.
CEO, Specialisterne USA/Canada
In homage to the model in Denmark on which it’s based, Specialisterne means “the specialists” in Danish. “Our mission is to enable a million careers for individuals on the autism spectrum,” says Alan Kriss, who consults with companies like IBM, RBC and KPMG to change the outdated ways they recruit, on-board and manage people with autism. “We help companies understand where they are on the inclusivity ladder—and then help them move up.”
Chief Strategy Officer, Ionomr Innovations
For the world to ever reach net zero for carbon dioxide emissions, energy systems—the bulk of them installed before the Second World War—will need massive upgrading. “But if you can retrofit a natural gas system, and you can, you can make the whole system economic,” says Ben Britton, CSO of Ionomr Innovations, which develops ion-exchange membranes (for chemistry dropouts, that’s selectively permeable barriers that conduct electricity) for clean energy generation. The company’s newest product, the ionomer Pemion, took top prize at the European F-Cell Conference this past September.
Chief Strategy Officer, Women in Capital Markets
In her seven years at Women in Capital Markets, Katie Squires-Thompson has shot up from event co-ordinator to strategy officer to CEO. Her rise coincided with a growing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion that has evolved from women to BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ people in the financial sector. Currently focused on closing the education gap and increasing equity literacy, Squires-Thompson is responsible for cohesion. “There are so many different programs and mentorships, but they need to all come together and unite,” she says.
Executive Director, Juripop
Sophie Gagnon spent three years as a civil and commercial litigator at Norton Rose Fulbright before making an abrupt left turn: She joined Juripop, whose army of volunteer lawyers and notaries offer low-cost legal services across Quebec on topics ranging from family law to workplace harassment to sexual violence. She arrived in 2017, just in time for the #MeToo movement to spur hundreds of women to seek help.
“Sophie embodies the kind of social engagement that can make the world a better place. At Juripop, she and her team help change lives. They make a real difference. Sophie is also involved in a number of other organizations and causes in which she puts her talent, passion and energy to the service of others.” - Sophie Brochu President and CEO, Hydro-Québec
Manager of Global Culture & Engagement,
As the Mayor of the G-Force, a.k.a. a manager at G Adventures, Kristopher Martinez might be the only travel professional grateful for COVID-19. “This is a phenomenal opportunity to change the way we do business,” he says of the too-white, ultra-exclusive, big-business luxury travel industry. After years of biting his tongue, he says, the killing of George Floyd inspired him to “not be afraid to place the race card and actually double down.” Just like we shop local, travellers should “travel local,” and the industry needs to show it in action. Instead of another ad featuring a white lady in a bikini on a cruise ship, for example, he says, “I want to see a Black trans woman on vacation.”
Co-founder & CEO, ReelData AI
“The future of aquatic farming is on land,” says Mathew Zimola of ReelData AI. With a big enough tank, it’s not as strange or as difficult as it seems: “Land-based sustainable seafood doesn’t pollute the ocean and actually solves a lot of environmental concerns like escaped fish and food waste.” Experts predict a 40-times growth in production by 2028, thanks largely to the Halifax-based CEO’s sophisticated artificial intelligence tech that optimizes fish feeding, accurately measures biomass and detects early signs of disease.
Co-founder & COO, FLIK
Of the 36 attendees at a coveted summer entrepreneurship program in Toronto, just six were women. “And I was the only woman of colour,” says Ravina Anand. She noticed the program similarly lacked female founders, investors and role models, so alongside her roommate at the program, Anand emailed leaders like Polly Rodriguez and Arianna Huffington to close the gap. The content led to FLIK, the Female Laboratory of Innovation Knowledge, a website that turned into a social enterprise when young entrepreneurs began reaching out to seek mentorship. “We had one group of women wanting experience and another of female founders who wanted to share their knowledge,” says Anand. “All we had to do was leverage the technology to connect them.”
CEO & Co-founder, Potential Motors
Electric cars get lots of fanfare, but what happens to the old ones? “You never hear about that part, but there’s clearly a big disruption and we need solutions,” says Sam Poirier. Inspired by a summer spent in Germany when millions of diesel vehicles were suddenly banned from city streets, Poirer spent $700 on an old clunker and set about converting it to run on electricity. While the experiment was a success, he will need to move from lab-based technology to real-world applications to have a larger impact. For that, Poirier set up Potential Motors in the Maritimes, where he’s leading Canada into the electric vehicle revolution.
Associate Director, Women Entrepreneurship Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University
Sara Bingham’s first passion was a baby sign language business called WeeHands, which had 87 instructors across North America. All of those individuals, she realized, had the potential for entrepreneurial success of their own. So that became her next passion, mentoring aspiring women at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Women Entrepreneurship Centre. She takes them through the business-building process, from personal finance to credit scores to applying for mortgages. “A lot of women have a passion for something, but not necessarily the skills to develop a business,” says Bingham.
CEO, Women on the Move/ The Artemis Project
Less than 1% of women-owned businesses reach $1 million in revenue, largely because corporate supply chains rarely procure from them (when they do, revenues increase by 250%). It’s a big problem, but Heather Gamble of Women on the Move knows to find a niche and start there. “Our project is a collective of women-owned businesses that serve mid- and large-tier mining companies,” she says. Gamble consolidated the collective and presented it to mining executives, who could then have their pick from the wide talent pool they didn’t know existed.
CEO, Juno College of Technology
The Juno College of Technology is not like any other college. The bootstrapped company helps keen up-and-comers find tech jobs with no prerequisites, skills or pricey degrees required. “Higher education can be quite classist and racist,” says founder Heather Payne, “and nobody seems to be working to fix it.” She’s wrong there: Payne herself is building a fast, affordable, accessible program that turns non-technical people into web developers at lightning speed. By 2030, Juno plans to help 10,000 students annually join between 10 and 20 vocations of the future—whatever they may be.
Dahabo Ahmed Omer
Executive Director, BlackNorth Initiative
It’s no wonder Wes Hall, founder of the BlackNorth Initiative, was so excited to announced Dahabo Ahmed Omer as its inaugural Executive Director. The long-time activist and public policy adviser is chair of the board for the Federation of Black Canadians and was part of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s task force combatting anti-Black racism. Now Ahmed Omer is turning to the corporate realm: More than 200 companies have signed BlackNorth’s pledge to end anti-Black racism, including ensuring at least 5% of their student workforces and 3.5% of their executive ranks are filled by Black people by 2025.
“As an accomplished human rights advocate, Dahabo is driving the BlackNorth Initiative toward ending systemic anti-Black racism. A highly respected visionary, she was named one of the 100 most influential people of African descent under age 40 in 2019.” - Wes Hall, Founder and Executive Chair, Kingsdale Advisors
CEO, Responsible Investment Association
When we talk about sustainable and inclusive businesses, few of us think first of the finance industry. Dustyn Lanz does: “My mission is to drive the adoption of responsible investing and a sustainable financial system.” Last October, for example, Lanz led more than 40 institutional signatories managing more than $4 trillion to make a joint pledge to promote diversity. “Finance doesn’t necessarily change the world,” he says, “but what gets money gets done, and the financial system moves money.”
Founder and CEO, Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise
Small fish, big wave: With a three-inch electrolytic iron fish-shaped ingot—which activates when dropped into boiling water—Gavin Armstrong and his team have taken aim at iron deficiency, the world’s largest nutritional challenge and one that disproportionately impacts women and children. A Fulbright Scholar who has appeared on Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list and won both a Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award and an Innovation Award from the Edison Foundation, Armstrong hasn’t let the accolades for his certified B Corp distract from his ultimate focus: having a social impact. (A portion of all sales is donated places like clinics in Indonesia, refugee camps globally, and food banks on home soil.) “Private-sector businesses have an obligation to solve the world’s greatest challenges,” he says. “You can do well and do good at the same time.”
Owner and President, Growing Greener Innovations
Inspired as she rolled her sleeping twins past a too-loud diesel generator, Edmonton-based entrepreneur Connie Stacey set out to build a better one: portable, scalable, sustainable, affordable. Two years later, Growing Greener Innovations launched the Grengine UltraLite. “You don’t need an electrician or engineer—it only connects one way. You don’t even have to be able to read,” says Stacey, whose invention can be charged via an outlet, a solar panel and even a stationary bike. The generator even impressed the U.S. Department of Defense, winning top prize at its innovation contest last year.
Manager, Control Centre—DD-1 & Operational Analytics, Bell Canada
After rocketing his way up the Bell ranks from new grad to management in just two years, Axel Ntakaburimvo-Ndayiragije has somehow found time to channel his passion for inclusion into a smorgasbord of extracurricular initiatives. On the clock, the industrial engineering grad leads a team of 10 workers, who oversee the telecom giant’s customer appointments for all of Quebec; on the side, he’s the project management lead for Bell’s Black Professionals Network, with a member count of 700. “We’re making sure [people of colour] are supported the whole time at Bell,” he says, “and not just during Black History Month.” Out of the office, Ntakaburimvo-Ndayiragije is a board member of Les offices jeunesse internationaux du Québec, which spotlights youth entrepreneurship, and is a mentor with Technovation, a mobile-app competition that fosters budding tech and entrepreneurial abilities among girls ages 10 to 18. Next up: an MBA.
Director of Innovation & Sustainability,
During last October’s Waste Reduction Week, Tim Hortons announced the country’s favourite coffee to go would be making big eco-friendly changes: Napkins will be 100% recycled, double-cupping will be vetoed and, after years of scrutiny of single-use plastics, reusable and returnable cups will launch through a pilot project. At the initiative’s helm is Paul Yang, director of innovation and sustainability: “Whether it’s through product design or innovative materials or just completely changing the way we do things, we’re about to pioneer how we can do things differently.”
Founder and CEO, I&D 101
Jamile Cruz was used to being the “one-off” in the room: the woman. The Brazilian woman. The Black Brazilian woman. A combination of these singular personal and professional experiences in the communications and mining engineering sectors spurred her to found I&D 101, an organizational consultancy aimed at dusting the old, white cobwebs from established businesses and replacing them with clear data-driven diversity and inclusion mandates. Now a sought-after speaker and board member of Women in Mining Canada, Cruz says, “There are no easy conversations.” Still, she continues to lead them.
Manager, Business Development, Newfoundland Power
By her own description, Krista Langthorne is a “results person,” a “how can we do it?” person. Her challenge? Kick-starting the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in Newfoundland and Labrador, the province with the current lowest number of EVs and charging stations. Since refocusing her role at the investor-owned utility on EV adoption in 2018, Langthorne has become an industry powerhouse (pun intended) in the areas of electrification and smart technologies. She works with businesses and policy-makers to address gaps in EV funding while building customer awareness and, happily, lowering their expenses. Can she hit the utility’s target of converting a third of the province’s vehicles to electric by 2034? We’ll let you guess her answer.
Founder and Executive Director, SPARK Foundation
Frustrated by the lack of “soft” life and leadership skills afforded to today’s kids, this Surrey, B.C., native co-founded Camp We Empower in 2014, which was later rebranded as the SPARK Foundation, a non-profit geared toward supporting Canadian students and youth with “life education” in the form of interactive workshops, entrepreneurship toolkits and mentorship opportunities. Rochelle Prasad—a past recipient of the Diana Award and Canada 150 Community Award in Leadership—has also used the COVID-19 shutdown as an opportunity to leverage her under-26 team, putting together care packages, school supply–filled backpacks and meals for front-line workers.
Co-founder, Moment Energy
Ever wonder what happens to batteries after they die? Gurmesh Sidhu did, too. Now, in partnership with Simon Fraser University, the alumnus’s West Coast startup, Moment Energy, is revolutionizing energy storage, helping remote communities reduce their reliance on polluting diesel generators by upcycling used batteries from electric vehicles. “By allowing energy storage alternatives to enter the market,” he says, “we’re making renewable energy accessible—especially for businesses that don’t have the budget to do so.”
Associate Professor, Finance, Smith School of Business at Queen’s University
It could be easy being green, but how much will it cost? Ryan Riordan—a lifelong environmentalist at heart and recently appointed research director for the Institute for Sustainable Finance—is quite literally crunching the numbers in his industry-leading research, despite initial skepticism from the business community about its usefulness. “They said nobody really cared about anything but the bottom line,” says Riordan, “so I was sort of working in a vacuum.” That is, until the publication of his widely referenced recent report, “Capital Mobilization Plan for a Canadian Low-Carbon Economy,” which is the first to tally the costs of meeting Canada’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. Once perhaps considered a niche in academia, Riordan’s output is now influencing government policy while also acting as a signpost for private-sector firms keen to make more climate-conscious investments.
Co-founder and principal economist, Vivic Research
Robin Shaban—who is currently pursuing her PhD at Carleton University in Ottawa—describes her research sweet spot as the intersection of policy, economics and social justice. And her newly created consulting firm, Vivic Research, is dedicated to helping non-profits, civil-society organizations and policy makers figure out how they converge to affect the lives of regular Canadians—using the kind of quantitative analysis wonks understand.
“Robin packs a huge double punch: She is a quantitative analyst with piercing sightlines into the questions that need asking today. Her PhD thesis is around antitrust and competition, but she has also been involved in research around pay equity, income security, and the intersection of technology and society.” - Armine Yalnizyan Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers
Co-founder and Head of Business, Kiipo
Not content to use his tech savvy to whip out yet another dime-a-dozen ad sales platform, Jordan Masys wants to create a quintessentially Canadian “tech-for-good” sector. Hence his drive to produce solutions to aid society through his health technology company, Kiipo. Having co-founded Ethiopia’s first comprehensive emergency medical services system—as well as the non-profit PhysioQ, a data collection and management platform for health researchers—Masys is keen to leverage innovations in wearable tech, AI and machine learning to mitigate global disparities in health care. “We always wanted to be a social enterprise; it’s sort of in our DNA,” says Masys. During the pandemic, Masys and associates launched NEO, a platform that empowers families to detect COVID-19 symptoms early using affordable consumer wearable devices, creating one of the largest anonymized data banks to accelerate research into COVID-19. “There are so many problems tech needs to be solving,” he says, “ones that impact lives meaningfully on a daily basis.”
The future of business is vertical, as Alexandra McCalla knows well. In her executive role with AirMatrix, McCalla has taken to the skies, working to accelerate the commercialization of drone use in Canada. Her work is aimed at protecting municipal interests—by plotting “drone roads” and creating software ready-made for dense urban environments—and offsetting potential airspace monopolization by larger U.S. companies (cough, Amazon). At ground level, McCalla is a staunch advocate for Black founders in tech.
President, Agri-Neo Inc.
In a climate of seemingly endless lettuce recalls, Robert Wong is determined to build a world where “food safety is just table stakes.” At Agri-Neo, Wong’s team has doubled down on “organic pasteurization,” eliminating pathogens with naturally occurring processes rather than the typical harsh heat and chemical processing that has become more or less industry standard. (For example, the company’s Neo-Pure liquid solution uses oxygen to combat salmonella outbreaks in dry foods, like nuts and grains.) “One of the fundamental shifts we’re trying to create is moving from reactive to preventive,” says Wong. “The majority of dollars are still being spent on sampling or telling you after the fact that you had an issue. We’re handling the bacteria, the fungus—the things you can’t see.”
Executive Director and Co-founder, Employ to Empower
Never underestimate the power of a kid who just can’t stop asking “why?” in response to all the world’s ills. Harnessing her lifelong passion for public outreach, Christina Wong left her corporate job in 2018 to found Employ to Empower, an organization that provides business-development mentorship and resources (like microloans) to residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who are facing social barriers to employment. “I’ve learned the importance of dignity and working with people,” says Wong, “rather than assuming what they need. That’s how real change happens.”
Director, Sustainability, New Gold
Bringing fresh eyes to the hardscrabble male-dominated world of mining, 33-year-old Beth Borody is the youngest-ever director of New Gold. During the pandemic, Borody led the firm’s efforts to bring rapid testing to its Rainy River site, and she regularly forges partnerships with NGOs, governments and local Indigenous groups to develop an understanding of the resource industry’s undeniable relationship with surrounding communities. “Issues like poverty, racism and health all play into business continuity, and our sector hasn’t really grasped that yet,” she says. “We need people to come in and shake that up a bit.”
In another time, Charles Milton was floating between menial jobs, unable to foot the bill to send himself back to school. After accessing a government subsidy that covered his post-secondary tuition, Milton is now paying that experience forward by founding Bursity, a scholarship consolidator aimed at helping students from marginalized communities across North America access funding opportunities for higher education. Not content to smash only one systemic barrier, he’s also an advocate for founders of colour in Atlantic Canada’s startup community, hoping to make the country’s innovation ecosystem more hospitable “to others coming after us.”
CEO and Founder, Lunaria
Cassie Myers’s passion for accessibility has taken many forms: first as a peace and conflict studies student at the University of Waterloo, and then working with young girls at hackathons and now as the CEO of Lunaria, whose proprietary software creates customized diversity, equity and inclusion audits, program evaluations and management plans for North American companies. True to form, Lunaria is a social-purpose business, with small to medium-sized clients spanning the continent. Myers’s work is perhaps the perfect answer to her own riddle: “How do we give all people economic empowerment and ensure that, for future generations, access to opportunity isn’t even a question?”
Katherine Homuth founded three successful businesses in less than a decade. After founding (and selling) companies focused on e-commerce and online education for women investors, she launched Sheertex in 2017, making tights from some of the same materials contained in bulletproof vests.
“Katherine is of a rare breed of entrepreneurs who can identify a problem, visualize the opportunity for market disruption and execute it from concept to global expansion. She solved the decades-old problem of pantyhose rips and tears with Sheertex’s ‘unbreakable’ hosiery and turned it into one of Canada’s fastest growing startups. In 10 years, the idea of disposable pantyhose will be a distant memory.” - Murray McCaig Managing Partner, ArcTern Ventures
CEO, Fable Tech Labs
After moving to Canada in 2015 and completing her master of inclusive design degree, Alwar Pillai led accessibility initiatives with the Ontario government and Rogers. Nowadays, she’s the CEO of Fable Tech Labs, a platform that helps businesses test whether their products are workable for individuals with disabilities—by working directly with users. “Right now, more than a billion people can’t use the full potential of the digital world,” says Pillai. “The goal is that anyone, regardless of their age and disability, should be able to access services, products—everything—online.” With big-name clients like Walmart and Slack, and $2 million in seed funding raised last summer, Pillai’s platform is ensuring the future is user-friendly for all.
Director of Programs, Centre for Social Innovation
Barnabe Geis’s mission in his role at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) is focused, broadly speaking, on building the “next” economy—”one that is regenerative, equitable and prosperous for all.” In a practical sense, this can be seen in Geis’s dedication to offering support, creating a host of programs for entrepreneurs at all stages. Since Geis joined CSI nine years ago, he has spearheaded the Social Entrepreneurship 101 course, which has trained more than 150 members, and CSI’s Climate Ventures incubator, which has accelerated the ideas of 121 early-stage entrepreneurs. And because CSI knows the children truly are our future, Geis’s team piloted the Agents of Change program, teaching the foundations of social entrepreneurship to ambitious youth as a means of achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
President, Shine the Light On
After struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse while on a tennis scholarship at the University of Michigan, Eli Brown turned to treatment, which yielded the business idea that would eventually aid in his (and others’) recovery journey. With Shine the Light On, Brown’s focus is destigmatizing mental health through biweekly and monthly clothing collaborations with influencers willing to share their own struggles. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is let people know they’re not alone,” says Brown, whose profits partially fund global mental health awareness initiatives. “We’re starting to see that many people are becoming comfortable with reaching out for help, and Canada is really taking a turn.”
Founder and President, CarePros
After witnessing one of his wife’s relatives undergo a disastrous experience, Charles Wong went to work himself on filling service gaps in Edmonton’s home-care sector. In late 2016, he founded CarePros, which provides comprehensive group home care for young Albertans who are living with disabilities. Now CarePros offers a whole suite of medical and behavioural services—respite, child care, community and transitional support—and is also planning a cross-Canadian expansion.
Editor’s Note: After publication, we learned an honouree did not meet our criteria for inclusion on this list. We have removed their name.
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