Atlantic Canada’s 30 Under 30 Innovators
Posted on November 01, 2021 | PROFILES BY ALEC BRUCE AND LOUIS POWER | 0 Comments
It’s one thing to have a creative idea. Another thing altogether to have the courage to act on it. And something else entirely to push your creativity out into the universe in the hopes of generating revenue. Knowing you could end up watching your bottom-line bottom out? That’s not just an accounting function. That’s personal.
Still, they say with great risk comes great reward and that is definitely the case with our 30 Under 30 Innovators for 2021. From artistic endeavours to advanced technologies to social advances, these intrepid youth are making their mark throughout the region, across the country and even around the world.
Ready to be inspired? Read on.
Eligible nominees for Atlantic Business Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Innovators must:
- be 30 years of age or younger by close of nominations;
- live in one of the four Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador);
- and, be working to transform their creative ideas into a revenue stream
- the nominee can be actively selling their product or in the pre-commercial stage of product development
- nominee can be a student, self-employed and/or working for someone else
Submit a nomination online:
CAT ADALAY (28)
Founder & CEO, Aurea Technologies
Who can catch the wind? Cat Adalay may have done just that. The Shine Turbine is a 40-watt portable wind turbine for charging handheld electronics, including phones, tablets, e-readers, lights, drones, cameras and GPS systems.
It’s the five-year-old company’s first consumer product designed to provide clean energy independence and freedom from the electrical grid, and it’s taking off. After five days into a two-week Kickstarter campaign in June, the first run of 500 turbines sold out, raising over $200,000 for manufacturing scale-up.
Said Cat, who studied mechanical engineering at Queen’s: “When I saw An Inconvenient Truth, I realized that technological innovation in renewables and microgrid systems would play a key role in addressing climate change.”
Shine works by converting wind into energy to charge its lithium-ion battery. The entire system, which can also be pre-charged using a simple wall outlet, weighs three pounds, collapses down to the size of a one litre water bottle, and deploys a USB port for various device connections. Cat and her team are also developing the RISE Turbine for infantry electronics. This seven-pound portable system will help reduce fossil fuel consumption and battery waste in the global defence sector. Adalay is focused on eCommerce as the primary method for selling the Shine Turbine. The product will also be available in physical retail stores next year.
EMILY BEST (29)
Founder, Emspired by Emily Best, Northern communications lead, SmartICE
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.
While her friends were working as cashiers and line cooks in high school, Emily Best designed a different way to earn money. Under the business name Em’s Gems, the Labrador artist started selling nature-inspired crafts that were soon being sold in stores across Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Youth Venture Award and Ulnooweg Cottage Craft Industry Award winner began exploring other interests after high school. After sailing to the Eastern Arctic in 2010 with the Students on Ice Program, she pursued an education in geography and business at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L. Best walked away from school in 2018 with a degree, a post-graduate certificate in quality management, and zero debt thanks to her hard work and high-achievement scholarships.
In 2020, she breathed new life into her art venture by re-launching online as Emspired by Emily Best. Using various mediums from clay to sealskin, her artwork is heavily inspired by her home and her Indigenous culture, often featuring the wild berries of Labrador.
Following the relaunch, Best surpassed her goal of making $10,000 in sales in the first year, all while pursuing a career as a consultant.
Her expertise in ISO quality management and occupational health and safety comes from years of experience working for Nunacor, the Ocean Supercluster’s Indigenous Career Pivot Project, and SmartICE, where she is presently the northern communications lead.
OLUWATOSIN AJIBOLA (26)
BABAJIDE SOSAN (26)
Finding the perfect fit for people who otherwise find themselves in uncomfortable circumstances—like a whole new country—is what drives Fredericton entrepreneurs Oluwatosin Ajibola (Tosin) and Babajide Sosan (Jide). They know what it’s like.
Both men are from Nigeria, and both have had to adjust to life, work and study in a strange land. Now, as co-founders of Welkom-U—an innovative online platform accessible through mobile and web channels that puts newcomers, immigrants and international students in touch with the things they need to survive and thrive—they’re turning their personal commitment into a going concern.
Tosin, a natural story teller with an affinity for finding innovative solutions to problems, holds a M.Eng in Technology Management and Entrepreneurship from the University of New Brunswick. He said Welkom-U is a service whose time has come. “We saw the need to streamline the key needs of newcomers and make the essential and non-essential services of everyday life accessible to everybody,” Tosin said
Jide—who boasts a background in software development and systems integration and holds a master’s degree in Big Data Analytics from Sheffield Hallam University in England—adds: “That means a user-friendly platform that helps immigrants get the things they need, such as accommodations, currency exchange, transportation, and even social connections.”
For both, poor access to information, especially nowadays, is intolerable—particularly if it impedes personal and professional growth and success. Success just like theirs.
Jide’s career spans seven years—from trainee software developer to functional lead of a system integrations unit. He has guided many businesses’ technological advances, including EDF Energy, which he helped automate with robotics. He loves connecting and meeting new people and is a strong believer in globalisation. He worked with Sheffield Hallam University to create programs that help students improve their employability. Tosin, meanwhile, won the 2020 RBC Student of the Year Leadership Award at UNB for providing innovative settlement solutions to newcomers. He also won, along with his team, the PlanetHatch Start Up VISA Award at the annual APEX Student pitch competition. He’s involved in several sporting activities, including basketball and football, and he loves to play chess and video games.
According to the business partners, the immigration and settlement market in Canada, which plans to welcome 1.2 million newcomers by 2023, is worth $3.1 billion. “In light of this,” Jide said, “Welkom-U envisages a capture of five per cent of total market share by then.”
In fact, Tosin said, “We had our first set of paying customers in March. Our B2B model is running an early adopters’ program, which is giving service providers a proof of concept pilot period free of charge, after which they can subscribe for a negotiated fee.”
Welkom-U’s early adopters include Killam Properties, Human Squad, and several multicultural associations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. On the B2C side, Tosin, Jide and the rest of the team are currently conducting more customer discovery to enhance service offerings and customer acquisition strategies.
ORIANA CORDIDO DE SOLA (24)
Director of Operations, Naveco
As a teenager in Venezuela and a student at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Oriana Cordido De Sola wanted to make a difference “through creativity and empathy”. Now, she’s succeeding and innovating beyond her wildest dreams as the director of operations for Fredericton renewable energy company, Naveco.
Since starting as the firm’s solar development manager a year ago, she has created all of its operating strategies and procedures. That includes a new sales process, a new financial option for clients, and a new program for entering the residential market. “I’ve have been able to take on multiple roles,” she said.
To good effect. The new sales process and no upfront cost financial option makes transactions easier and more affordable. Now, clients can forgo bank loans and pay through their savings. Said Oriana: “It makes solar more accessible to businesses and individuals.”
What’s more, she adds: “The commercial opportunities are huge as 70 per cent of residential buildings here are old stock, which means we’re gaining enormous access to home-owners and future homeowners thinking of remodeling.”
She reports Naveco has 6.6 MW of projects in development, worth about $15 million, and shortly expects to install an additional 217 kW, valued at around $500,000. “This job combines my passions of entrepreneurship and environmental and social impact,” she said. “The power and impact entrepreneurs have in society is greater than people sometimes think.”
HEIDI DIXON (30)
Owner, Heidi Dixon Designs
Mount Pearl, N.L.
If personal passion and pride of culture are avenues to innovation and commercial success, then Heidi Dixon understands the rules of the road better than most.
The member of the Gwich’in First Nation, who grew up in Gander, N.L., owns and operates Heidi Dixon Designs, producing everything from stud earrings and brooches to keychains and dangle earrings hanging 16 inches in length. “There isn’t a style that I won’t at least give a shot,” said the largely self-taught beader, who was first introduced to the craft at a workshop in 2015.
Since then, her stylistic innovations have been gaining traction. Since officially starting her business a little over a year ago, Heidi has generated roughly $10,000 in revenue. She currently sells her beadwork on Etsy and has shipped her work all across North America.
As if that’s not enough, the entrepreneur works as the Operations Coordinator at First Light Friendship Centre in St. John’s, and as a freelance graphic designer, creating branding and marketing materials for several artists and small businesses. She also stages several beading workshops (virtual and in-person), where she teaches participants how to bead.
“I have been practicing and honing my skills and methods,” she said. “I’ve become more passionate with each piece I make. I take a lot of pride in my culture. This is a practical way I can connect commercially through my art.”
IAN DALY (30)
Co-founder/president, Kinap Solutions Inc.
St. Mary’s First Nation, Fredericton, N.B.
Ian Daly co-founded Kinap Solutions in 2018 with the goal of investigating the technology services ecosystem within Indigenous communities. He envisioned a model where communities are included and supported to grow and flourish in the IT space. “It was about creating a sustainable technology ecosystem within First Nation communities,” he said.
This unique and transformational initiative proposes an indigenous-owned and operated internet services program that drives true inclusion within the IT space. The creation of sustainable jobs while enabling work-from-home and learn-from-home opportunities are core deliverables. “This will improve opportunities for companies to work with Indigenous workforces given the development of the virtual world during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Ian created partnerships and developed an inclusion strategy with his proposal to pilot the development of this initiative in New Brunswick—in the long term, proposing a national inclusion strategy to support Indigenous communities in owning connectivity infrastructure, while becoming self-servicing on their path to sovereignty. With the development of the Internet Cooperative of Elsipogtog in 2020, Elsipogtog First Nation is a first mover with the Kinap Solutions initiative. Consultations with community leaders from across the province led to development of a strategy that is grounded in localization, sovereignty, technology security and the inherent rights that true self management of technology brings with it.
“Kinap Solutions believes in a community first development approach,” Ian said. “We are focused from the community outward.”
KYLE DONCASTER (29)
Owner, Anchor Security Services Inc.
Kyle Doncaster had been working on his own schedule long before he became his own boss.
When his three older brothers were getting jobs, he didn’t let the fact that he was only 14 stop him from doing the same; it was only after he started working that the company that hired him asked his age.
He went on to graduate high school six months early with a 98 per cent average, despite his number of missed classes being higher than his marks. His education continued at Nova Scotia Community College, where he earned a diploma in electronic engineering technology. By the time Doncaster was 19, he was a college graduate and a father.
The Sydney, N.S. resident reflects fondly on the eight years he spent working for a local security company before striking out on his own and starting Anchor Security Services. The experience gave him more than a healthy knowledge of the security industry; through the relationships he developed, he learned to take pride in himself and was given the encouragement he needed to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
“Being yourself, being kind, and always treating everyone as equals were traits I carried moving forward,” he said.
Anchor Security Services does a variety of security and home automation jobs for both residential and commercial customers. Doncaster said he’s enjoying the journey as the young company grows and rolls with the punches in an ever-changing industry.
KEELEN GAGNON (29)
Co-founder & COO, SimpTek Technologies
Baxters Corner, N.B.
For Keelen Gagnon, entrepreneurship has always been a part of life. With a real estate entrepreneur as a father, hard work and helping customers came naturally to the Baxters Corner, N.B., resident.
His own first brush with business happened in grade nine. While the landscaping business he started didn’t turn out to be his calling, he learned a lot from it that helped him in future endeavours.
As a University of New Brunswick student, Gagnon collaborated with long-time friend Asif Hasan and software developer Lionel Fernandes on an idea that evolved into an award-winning company. The three co-founded SimpTek Technologies upon graduation in 2014. The business provides analytics and information to utilities and their customers using the GridEdge 360 platform, highlighting energy issues and making recommendations in the interest of energy efficiency.
The idea was pitched on Season 10 of Dragon’s Den in 2015. By 2017, it was named Opportunity New Brunswick’s Emerging Exporter of the Year.
Gagnon takes pride in the fact that his work not only benefits customers and shareholders, but also has a positive effect on the environment.
Another source of pride is the company’s work culture, where there is emphasis on striving for excellence rather than perfection. “This creates an environment that fosters innovation and risk-taking while learning and improving ourselves every day,” he said.
SimpTek is on track to close $1.3 million in sales this year, and that number is expected to more than double in 2022.
JESSICA GHANEY (27)
Founder, president & CEO, Funding Talent
In the span of a few years, Jessica Ghaney went from casually trading to becoming the founder, president and chief executive officer of a trading startup.
As a nursing student at Memorial University, Ghaney launched ForexTips101, an educational blog for retail currency traders. As her online following increased to more than 200,000 people, her involvement in trading also grew.
The success was enough to pull her away from her original career path. After graduating from nursing in 2017, she left her job to blog full-time, immersing herself in the trading community.
“Eventually, it became clear to me that the two things lacking in our industry were a solution that offered both transparency and accessibility,” she said.
So, in 2019, Ghaney went in a new direction, using her initial success with ForexTips101 to support the creation of Funding Talent. The Fintech startup is a simulated trading program that rewards users for demonstrating market knowledge and risk-management skills.
Launched in 2020, the platform gives traders from around the world—whether they’re skilled traders or beginners—access to an online community, education and software that can track their performance.
“Creating the Funding Talent platform was a tremendous undertaking that tested my understanding of technology and executive leadership,” Ghaney said. “Further, it required hiring my first employees in customer service, tech development, marketing and operations.”
Funding Talent’s growing staff includes dozens locally and dozens more internationally. It is projected to have more than 20,000 members by the end of the year.
MAGGIE HOYLES (30)
Founder & CEO, downtown
St. John’s, N.L.
BETH IVANY (24)
Founder & COO, downtown
When the isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Beth Ivany and Maggie Hoyles were among the millions of Canadians who turned to virtual meeting platforms to connect with family and friends. But the sisters, who live in Moncton, N.B., and St. John’s, N.L., respectively, felt the existing tools weren’t cutting it.
“We were getting tired of the typical Zoom group calls, which were often a little awkward and forced,” said Ivany. “From there, we began launching online events such as dance parties, trivia, and concerts featuring local artists, which would feature ‘speed networking’ sessions during the events to connect with others.”
The events led them to the creation of downtown, a soon-to-be launched app that aims to replicate a night out on the town. The app will offer a fun, interactive environment to help people connect, no matter how much distance is between them in the physical world.
Users will be able to attend virtual clubs and bars from home, whether they’re stuck inside or they just don’t feel like leaving the comfort of their living rooms. People who pay a cover fee will be able to access others in the room, as well as their avatars. Revenue will also be generated by things such as avatar add-ons and gestures (for example, buying someone a drink).
The sociable sisters are natural business partners. Hoyles, 30, is considered “the brains behind the operation.” The Memorial University graduate has stayed connected to the local startup scene and shares her drive for entrepreneurship with her two children. Becoming the chief executive officer of downtown has allowed her to create something new by blending two of her passions: startups and bringing people together.
At 24, the younger sister is a strong leader who Hoyles describes as “the glue that keeps this team together.” While they’re preparing to launch downtown, Ivany is also working toward her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in psychology, through Athabasca University.
Along with their shared passion for business, they both make time for music, fitness and recreation. They’re currently working with a developer toward launching a basic online version of downtown this fall. “Things are going great in preparation for our launch. Our main focus right now is gathering content to push our social media and grow our following,” said Ivany.
As individuals continue signing up on the landing page for downtown, local businesses are also getting onboard to collaborate. The fully developed app is expected to open its virtual doors in the first half of 2022.
ZACHARY LABERGE (16)
CEO & founder, frenter
Frenter founder Zachary Laberge of Halifax, N.S., started several businesses before his sixteenth birthday, which happened to be just one month before this magazine was released.
He said he always had a passion for business, and realized it was possible for him to succeed on that path when he saw a video about Ben Pasternak, a 16-year-old who dropped out of school to concentrate on his company, Flogg.
Laberge cut his own teeth as an entrepreneur before entering his teen years. After exploring e-commerce through Alibaba, he started a dog food business inspired by his popular pooch, Bernie, who had about 5,000 Instagram followers at the time.
While the biscuit business shuttered at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Laberge has been busy with other ventures. He said he recently gave everything he learned from his cryptocurrency startup, Coin Sprout, to Shock Network, where he will stay on as an adviser and share-owner. This gives him more time to focus on his startup frenter, an online rental platform that has already attracted thousands of users (and a significant amount of financial support from angel investors).
With guidance from Propel ICT and many others, he said frenter has evolved to become like a “Shopify for rentals.” Frenter allows people to list a variety of items for rental, from camping gear to musical instruments. By September, users had listed 3,200 items for rent across eight Canadian cities.
Laberge continues working his way through Propel ICT programming and has been accepted into the Newchip Accelerator Program in Texas.
TAYLOR MUNDY (30)
Communications & development officer, Nova Scotia SPCA
Hammonds Plains, N.S.
Taylor Mundy inherited the gift of gab from her parents, a Glaswegian and a Newfoundlander. Her way with words has served her well in her communications career, but she wouldn’t have had the same success without the gift of listening.
“At a young age, my great-nan pulled me aside and taught me a valuable lesson. She explained, ‘You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you speak.’ This shaped my relationships and ability to connect people to causes in our community,” she said.
These days, Mundy puts her mouth and ears to good use as the communications and development officer for the Nova Scotia SPCA. Storytelling is a big part of how she supports fundraising. Direct mail has been successful in raising an average of $25,000 per appeal, and she consistently achieves goals for online emergency fundraising.
Recognizing that many animal surrenders are the result of health problems or domestic violence, Mundy drove the creation of a free foster program for families in crisis called Paws & Support.
She continues finding creative ways to raise money and support for the SPCA, like the time she raised more than $20,000 by staying in a kennel with radio hosts.
“I hope to inspire others to tap into their creative side. Every person, charity and organization has powerful stories to share. You just must find your voice, stay curious, and always, always, always remember to listen.”
DANIEL LIRETTE (30)
CEO and co-founder, GrowDoc
Daniel Lirette is helping cannabis growers find the root cause of unhealthy plants. Inspired by the successful agricultural farming app Plantix, the budding New Brunswick entrepreneur recognized fertile ground for business when he realized there was no such app that focused on cannabis plants.
The Riverview resident had been working for a local startup when he became inspired. While digging into the idea, he came across a post about research into nutritional deficiencies in cannabis plants.
“Right there and then I knew I could find a research college and universities to partner with, and we could gather images/data to populate an AI algorithm that could diagnose unhealthy cannabis plants,” said the New Brunswick Community College graduate in computer programming.
“At that point, I had the thought, ‘What if this app and research could change the world?’ Then I decided to go all in with it.”
GrowDoc has already been downloaded by thousands of home growers through the App Store and Google Play. “Users are enjoying the ease and quickness of being able to diagnose their plants,” Lirette said. “They also love the ability to see for themselves what nutritional deficiencies look like from a research standpoint.”
He chose to start with a “freemium” model that generates revenue through advertising and commission. People also have the option to sign up for a premium version, and work is underway with research partners to make the app more relevant to larger producers and farmers.
AL MORRIS (28)
Founder & architect, Koii
Al Morris got into robotics because he wanted to build something that could make the world better. But in his work in the U.S. as a robotics engineer, he discovered another way to make a difference.
While travelling in the Midwest in the leadup to the 2015 presidential election, he was struck by the misconceptions people had based on misinformation.
The experience inspired him to put his energy into improving people’s access to information online. After four years of teaching blockchain and internet decentralization in Chicago, Ill., he returned to Nova Scotia and got to work on a product.
Broadly, Koii is a decentralized network built with the aim of replacing traditional internet platforms—such as social media and advertising—and allowing users to own their content and communicate more openly.
It’s a massive project, but the founder and architect draws confidence from the fact that Koii has what seems like bottomless support, both financially and professionally. He said the endeavor is backed by about 50 large funds from around the world, and there’s no shortage of angel investors who made their money through other internet projects.
In the leadup to the launch of the fully developed product this fall, the global team has been releasing new products every week, such as the Finnie wallet. Morris aims to own less than one per cent of Koii. He has already given up 92 per cent because he believes giving everyone buy-in keeps the team passionate about what they’re doing.
DYLAN MOSS (28)
Owner, Moss Development Corp.
St. John’s, N.L.
Whoever said there are no durable commercial opportunities in Atlantic Canada’s rural areas never met Dylan Moss.
In 2018, he started a construction management and general contracting firm with fewer than five employees. Since then, Moss Development Corp has grown to annual revenues topping $10 million a year, employing anywhere from 20-25 full time workers depending on the project. And the projects are increasingly numerous. Said Moss: “Our innovation, I think, is our focus on rural Newfoundland and Labrador building construction. In our first year, we did about $2 million completing smaller renovation projects. We’re now a leader on large-scale commercial construction projects for federal and provincial governments in small communities.”
The secret he said is hiring quality people. The company recruits full-time professional engineers, junior engineers, job site managers, and skilled tradesmen, and matches their talents to the needs of the particular projects it undertakes. Recent contracts include the construction of a new mental health and addictions facility in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, valued at $6 million, for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Our greatest assets are our employees,” Moss said. “Without our loyal and hard-working employees, the company would not have the success it’s had, nor would any growth be possible for us. Team is everything and without a good team, I truly believe not much success is achievable.”
GRANT RUFFINENGO (25)
Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships, ONSIDE
As the Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships Lead at ONSIDE, Grant Ruffinengo’s job is to connect the innovation ecosystem by bringing people to projects, and projects to people. “I develop new initiatives and find the right partners to grow the startup ecosystem,” he said.
While attending Dalhousie University, Grant joined the board of the North End Business Association. Representing his family business, he works with local business owners on community improvements. After graduating, he was selected by Venture for Canada for their 2019 Fellowship cohort and started to learn about startups and innovation.
“I would get coffee with anyone in the startup ecosystem who would agree to meet with me,” he said. “I wanted to learn what they did, about their organizations, and what was happening around Halifax.”
These experiences tailor-fit him to think about innovation at a macro level.
His organization, ONSIDE, is a not-for-profit that works collaboratively to advance Nova Scotia through inclusive innovation. ONSIDE deploys a focused Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP) to facilitate innovation through local support and action.
Ruffinengo was a finalist for “Individual Positive Impact” at the Volta Ecosystem Awards for his lead in the creation of a mural outside the Volta coworking incubator in downtown Halifax. “It celebrates innovation and entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia, with ideas from those who should be celebrated,” he said, “The fruits of innovation shouldn’t just be felt by those who are innovating, but by everyone.”
TAYLOR OLSON (29)
Co-founder, Afro Viking Pictures
Taylor Olson had just started his acting career when he decided to branch out into writing and directing. During his first acting gigs after graduating from Dalhousie University’s classical theatre program, he couldn’t help but watch the directors at work.
Olson has gone on to write, direct, produce and act in television and film productions, racking up awards and creating work for himself and others in the local film scene.
Through Afro Viking Pictures, Olson and his partner Koumbie have worked on everything from commercials for a law firm to short films. Whatever the format, he said the studio strives “to create a Canadian culture of kindness, courage and inclusion” through the stories they tell.
His feature film directorial debut Bone Cage picked up 16 awards and many more nominations as it toured film festivals around the world this summer. The film has since been released countrywide on video on demand and will be available on streaming services this fall.
Production is ongoing for Olson’s second feature film, Look at Me, which draws on his experience with bulimia, and a short-format TV series, King & Pawn, which is expected to air on Bell Fibe TV this winter.
While he’s spending lots of time on the other side of the camera, his love of acting is alive and well. Along with the roles he creates for himself—including in Look at Me—he has appeared in multiple TV shows and continues to perform onstage with That’s Us! Theatre.
JORDAN PARKER (30)
Founder, Parker PR
From his work in journalism to his move into public relations, Jordan Parker has always kept his eyes on the big picture. After more than a decade of writing about the players in Nova Scotia’s film industry, the Wolfville, N.S., entrepreneur embraced a different approach to supporting local productions by starting his own firm in 2019.
His goal with Parker PR is to gain media exposure for Atlantic Canadian television and film productions and to advocate for people who work in the local film industry. “I believe that in order to become stronger here in the Maritimes, we must build each other up,” Parker said.
The firm’s first client was Chase Tang, who appeared in Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy. Parker has since worked on a number of award-winning productions and represented nine films at the 2020 FIN Stream festival. He also signed a contract to provide representation for the National Film Board there.
Two years in, Parker’s growing firm already has a steady client base made up of actors, directors and producers. As the business picks up speed, he’s working on strengthening his online presence through social media and a website overhaul.
Along with his public relations work, Parker continues freelance writing and running a film review site, Parker & The Picture Shows.
SHITANGSHU ROY (29)
Shitangshu Roy makes no bones about the fact that he’s a true community development nerd. In fact, he said, “I’ve been fundamentally obsessed with finding new ways to bring people together to do good things for years.”
But the Halifax entrepreneur, who holds Master degrees from Queens University and the University of New Brunswick, also has razor-sharp instincts. Consider KAYR, an online engagement platform he developed for university student unions, including Mount Saint Vincent University’s, which is currently piloting it with their whole student body.
Said Roy: “From finding events and joining societies to getting peer help and more, it’s a hub with a mission to create an active, vibrant and supported student body. Plus, participants earn points for getting involved, giving them opportunities to win prizes, gift cards, and discounts from their student union.”
Launched in March, KAYR has already won Virtual Hacks 2021 (one of world’s largest hackathons), which came with a $35,000 cash prize. “We’ve been working on securing additional student unions as there’s immediate potential to scale to $176 million in annual recurring income just from North American universities, jumping to $1.1 billion internationally.”
Roy, who has an extensive background launching non-profits designed to engage and involve people (Halifax PLAYS; the OATHE Project is a case in point), thinks KAYR’s commercial applications are broad: “If we expand to other niches of internal community building—such as high schools, co-working spaces and apartment complexes—there is great potential beyond our current focus.”
KATIE STONE (23)
St. John’s, N.L.
Katie Stone’s humanitarian instinct to help people breathe more easily is laying the foundation for a commercial innovation that could become standard clinical equipment in developing countries around the world.
Through her company Aeolus (named after the Greek God of wind), the recent graduate in electrical engineering from Memorial University is developing a low-cost, portable and self-contained pneumatic system designed to provide safe, hands-free patient ventilation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the stark difference between healthcare equipment and infrastructure in developed and developing countries,” said the St. John’s native. “There are fewer than 2,000 functional ventilators in 41 African countries, according to the World Health Organization.”
At Memorial, Katie became involved with Engineers Without Borders Canada, completing two engineering co-op placements. “I always had a passion for using engineering to create positive change,” she said.
The Aeolus system—which she completed with “two incredible teammates” Desiree van Heerden and Rachel Tobin during their Capstone Design project in their final year at Memorial—is far less expensive than a traditional ventilator and, so, a more cost-effective way to deliver quality care.
Armed with a prototype, Katie is partnering with a MedTech company in Newfoundland and Labrador to refine the design and get the product ready for commercialization and, eventually, monetization. “We’re looking at international NGOs and government health care providers,” she said. “But right now, I’m focused on ensuring that I am creating the best solution possible.”
DYLAN SANDERSON (27)
Owner, PEI Inflatables
Clyde River, P.E.I.
Dylan Sanderson’s goal is to take parties on Prince Edward Island to the next level, and his party-rental business is levelling up alongside the celebrations. The inspiration for PEI Inflatables came to him when the Clyde River, P.E.I., entrepreneur bought an inflatable for his 2012 graduation party. That idea quickly turned into a business that has been ballooning ever since.
PEI Inflatables has become a go-to party rental business for celebrations of all sizes, from backyard birthday parties to municipal events such as Canada Day. Along with inflatables such as bouncy castles, Sanderson’s business offers rentals such as obstacle courses, slip and slides and concessions.
Sanderson credits his upbringing on a family farm in York Point, P.E.I., for giving him what it takes to succeed in business. “Growing up, I was instilled with the value of hard work and not making excuses,” he said. “I always believed in working hard to support yourself and your family, and that is why I started a small business in the party rental industry when the opportunity arose.”
The consistently growing business has become Sanderson’s main source of income, and now provides employment for four or five others every year.
Even the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t spoil the party for PEI Inflatables; sales increased about 20 per cent from 2020, and 2021 is expected to be another record year.
TEMPLETON SAWYER (25)
Creator, Tweet the Leader in You
Templeton Sawyer started his podcast “Tweet the Leader in You” in 2020 because he wanted to give people who feel abandoned and disregarded a place to feel welcome and accepted.
“Growing up as a kid in Nassau, Bahamas, in high school I was both bullied and ignored,” he said. “But I didn’t let that stop me. I had a vision to believe in myself.”
In 2016, he received a scholarship to attend P.E.I.’s Holland College. In 2018, he began a bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing at Mount Saint Vincent University. Today, he sits on the executive of the student association, and is a board member of three organizations
“Tweet the Leader” features “amazing leaders” from Nova Scotia, Bahamas, United States, United Kingdom and Australia, who share their stories and inspire young listeners looking for inspiration in their own lives. And that audience is growing.
“The podcast has been moving fast,” Templeton said. “We are moving it to two radio stations, and gearing it to become a network offering educational courses to help students with their skills and career paths.” He and his five-member team plan to launch the Tweet the Leader website as they build out the brand for growth. “I’m creating a list of ways to innovate for sales gains,” he said. “But right now, my focus is on leadership development for young people and making lives better.”
HARRISON SMITH (21)
Co-founder and president, Dear Life
Harrison Smith believes every moment matters—not just the ones that make it into a traditional obituary. This core belief put him on the path to entrepreneurship, and eventually to launch his current business, Dear Life. After graduating from Dalhousie University, Smith created Oneposte, a tool to help maximize online earning that ultimately failed. But Oneposte did have its successes: it attracted more than 500 customers, secured a venture capital partnership in Los Angeles, and led to Smith being named as a finalist for Startup Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
It also led him to his mentor and Dear Life’s co-founder, Paul LeBlanc. When LeBlanc lost his father, the pair were inspired to find a better way to celebrate his life.
“Obituaries, tombstones, and Ancestry provide a summary of your life with a few dates. Facebook and your camera roll capture everything from what you had for breakfast to your thoughts on Trump. LinkedIn highlights your professional journey. There is nothing that consolidates the defining aspects of your life and everything that makes you, you,” Smith said.
Dear Life is an online platform created with the intent of turning a departed loved one’s life story into a cinematic experience using photos, videos and stories. Early users have also expressed interest in using it to document the lives of living people.
The public launch is planned for February, but Smith—always maximizing his time—said at the speed things are moving, it could happen as soon as November.
NIC STANA (30)
Owner, Grandway Marketing
In 2017, Nic Stana wanted his new web design and digital marketing studio to stand apart: personal, yet professional service; freelancer prices with agency results. “The first couple of years were mostly part-time and a learning experience,” he said. “In 2019, I decided to quit my sales job and commit full time.”
Good thing. Grandway Marketing focuses on web design, search-engine optimization, logo design, and email marketing, and works with small and large businesses on its own and with advertising agencies. “I’m up over six figures, doubling year over year,” he said.
Born and raised in Arad, Romania, Nic emigrated at 16 with his parents to Halifax in 2006. After graduating Saint Mary’s University in 2015, he cast around for a business opportunity. “I actually started two that didn’t really gain any traction,” he said.
Still, he notes, “This is where I learned about marketing and, specifically, web and graphic design as I couldn’t afford hiring an agency for these services.”
He said what differentiates his operation begins with client care and ends with focussing on innovative capabilities. “I don’t just build a website,” he said. “I build a company asset to generate sales.”
Nic said the future looks bright. Having just leased office space in Dartmouth, he’s looking to grow a team and continue expanding: “With an unlimited pool of businesses and the importance of the online world for business, the sky’s the limit for commercial opportunities.”
MICHAEL WILLIAMS (26)
Co-founder & president, Fifty&Two Sports Management Inc.
St. John’s, N.L.
It may be an understatement to say Michael Williams is passionate about sports. The president of Fifty&Two Sports Management Inc. has spent much of his life so far involved in everything from soccer to tennis, and not only as a player.
Williams has acted as coach for the St. John’s Special Olympics golf and floor hockey teams, and as an executive board member for Canadian Sport for Life at Memorial University. He has also worked with the St. John’s Ice Caps and with ESPN, where he interned on the show Pardon the Interruption.
While Williams still enjoys participating in sport, he’s also making use of his knowledge and experience to act as an agent for other athletes—all while working full-time as an articling student at a St. John’s law office and part-time toward his Master degree in Business Administration.
Working from Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t limit Fifty&Two to working only with athletes in the province; they’re currently working with several hockey players from across Atlantic Canada and a professional golfer from Nashville, Tennessee.
Wherever the work takes them, Williams and co-founder Brian Kennedy will remain proud of their roots. The company name is even derived from the coordinates of Cape Spear, N.L., the 52nd meridian west.
“It is important for us to recognize our company’s roots in Newfoundland because the main inspiration to start our business was to address the lack of opportunities that Newfoundland athletes have,” he said.
HAILEY ZHU (26)
Business Development Manager, McInnes Cooper
Fluent in both Chinese and English, Hailey Zhu connects Asian clients across Atlantic Canada with the legal services they need.
“It was a gap that made it difficult for members of this community to develop connections with lawyers,” said the Chinese expat who has traveled to over 30 different countries. “I am a central navigator that bridges immigrant clients to business opportunities that matter to them through McInnes Cooper’s legal services.”
The commercial opportunities for her services are exciting. As the only business manager of this type in the region’s legal profession, she’s not only able to attract Asian immigrant clients interested in investing in the region, but local ones keen to pursue export opportunities.
What’s more, this year the firm launched MC Advisory to provided business strategy advice packaged with the legal services. “This brings further commercial opportunities to McInnes Cooper, plus my clients are able to achieve their future business goals with these services,” she said. “It’s a win-win.”
Prior to joining McInnis Cooper in 2020, the University of Prince Edward Island graduate (Master of Education, 2018) provided client relations support as a business consultant. She also volunteers as the Atlantic representative for the Canada-China Business Council.
“I have a passion for new experiences, and as a young professional newcomer, I am passionate about helping immigrant entrepreneurs achieve business growth.”
OMAR SOLIMAN (29)
Co-founder & COO, Couryah
MOHAMED SOLIMAN (30)
Co-founder & CEO, Couryah
When brothers Mohamed and Omar Soliman designed their Halifax-based online, on-demand delivery platform to include grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and other specialty food outlets in 2019, they started on the ground floor. Actually, lower.
“We used our parents’ basement as a home office,” chief operating officer Omar said. “We were bootstrapping everything, doing everything between the two of us: business development, accounting, deliveries, customer support, and our third partner, Basel Halaseh, handled marketing and HR.”
From that unprepossessing start—six orders and about $128 in revenue—Couryah has now surpassed $1 million in revenue, and more than 5,000 Haligonians served. Their secret?
“We have been listening to our customers closely with thousands of deliveries completed to date,” chief executive officer Mohamed said. “Our mission is to redefine convenience in the on-demand delivery experience through sustainable development of local communities. That means doubling down on efficiencies and economies of scale to continue to offer value to our customers without sacrificing the sustainability and profitability of our business model. With digital adoption in the grocery sector on the rise, we saw consumer behaviour start to change towards convenient online shopping. At Couryah, we understood that clearly ahead of COVID-19.”
According to Omar, they currently offer the largest delivery coverage in the Halifax Regional Municipality in as little as one hour. “Customers can go on our user-friendly website and add anything to their cart that they can find in a grocery store and pair it up with a hot meal from a local restaurant.
“Personal shoppers get assigned the online orders and shop for them from local major grocers to ensure the freshest products are delivered from grocery store shelves directly to the customer’s doorstep. Our process includes providing continuous customer notifications and real time delivery tracking. Our shoppers also interact with customers at the grocery store for missing items or replacements.”
He adds: “We completely revamped our website and added on multiple releases that helped improve our customer’s experience drastically. We’ve been working to better define the shopping process, from giving customers the opportunity to request a refund or add to their order if a specific item isn’t available in store, to providing complete transparency throughout the whole process. Our team is also building a complete app interface: a customer app, partner app and a shopper app and we have a release date this fall.”
Mohamed said: “We continue to operate lean and very efficiently, utilizing grants and wage subsidy programs. We have been self-funded over the past two years and have just raised around $300,000 in non-equity capital and we cannot wait to unveil our new software.”
That’s the great thing about basements: There’s no place to go, but up.
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