Atlantic Canada’s 30 Under 30 innovators
Posted on November 09, 2020 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments
Innovation is a funny word—hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
Last year, for our first list of 30 Under 30 innovators in Atlantic Canada, we defined innovation as the commercialization of creativity and stipulated that winners had to be founders of their own companies.
The problem, we realized, is that the youth of our honourees wasn’t always compatible with business ownership. Our criteria eliminated incredible innovators who were still in school, working for someone else or in the process of launching a business.
This year, we tweaked the selection criteria to fix that error of omission. We redefined innovators as people turning their creativity and passion into a revenue stream, a slight but meaningful differentiation that opened the eligibility criteria to people whose ideas hadn’t yet achieved commercial success and/or were employed by someone else. Aside from that, our 30 Under 30 have to live in Atlantic Canada and they had to be 30 years or younger by the close of nominations last July.
The result is a diverse group of marketers, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, artists and advocates. Innovators… they may be hard to define but you know them when you see them.
NIKKI RAWLINES | Social butterfly
MARKETING MANAGER, COLLIER’S INT’L N.B./N.L.
Not long after Nikki Rawlines completed her Legal Administration/Legal Assistant program from Moncton’s Oulton College in 2010, she was hired by one of the largest personal injury law firms in her native New Brunswick. She settled in immediately at Cantini Law Group in her hometown of Moncton, as assistant to the senior partner for eight years.
The sky was the limit. And then she quit, to take a head-first leap into the vast field of “marketing”. Or, more to the point: using social media as the primary marketing tool.
“It definitely caused major anxiety,” she says with a chuckle, “actually leaving a stable job. But it’s worked out well so far.
“I never really saw myself long term doing run-of-the-mill, day-to-day office work,” she says. “I always felt I was somebody who belonged in more of a creative role.”
Rawlines was nonetheless wading into uncharted waters, hoping to earn a full-time income from social media. Her ‘A-Ha!’ moment came courtesy of her life partner, who owned a local restaurant, Skipper Jack’s Maritime Restaurant. “They really weren’t doing anything on social media,” says the soon-to-be-30-year-old. “I started doing it on the side for his business and it kind of blew up exponentially.
“To a point where I had a lot of people reaching out asking me to help their businesses.”
Currently, Rawlines leverages primarily Facebook and Instagram to build awareness for the companies she works with. And there is a method to the madness. It’s not simply about throwing a post online and hoping somebody reads it.
Thinking back to her earliest efforts to promote Skipper Jack’s, she says a lot of new people came into the restaurant who said they hadn’t been aware of it until social media. “You know right there that’s revenue strictly from what you’re posting,” she says.
Though the way she tracks the effectiveness of her campaigns has gotten a lot more sophisticated (thanks to online courses and Google analytics), the stats demonstrate that Rawlines still gets results.
“I have had the pleasure of being able to help showcase some of the great local businesses across the Hub City while also helping them generate sales leads and financial growth.” —By Robin Short
JEREMIE LEBLANC | Pioneer
WEB DEVELOPER, MAGDEV
Four years ago, Jeremie LeBlanc was a recently-graduated 21-year-old web developer with a passion for technology and innovation. And a bit of a problem on his hands.
Working for Platinum Atlantic Realty in his hometown of Moncton, N.B., LeBlanc was asked to help pre-sell condominiums—dubbed the FiveFive in downtown Moncton—in a relatively unproven market.
To receive funding for this project, 50 per cent of the building had to be sold before construction started. This meant enough people had to be convinced to place a five per cent deposit on a condo that did not yet exist.
“The owner was like, ‘We’ve got to sell these people on our buildings. You have to come up with something,’” he recalls.
Traditionally, developers would make one model suite available to view as well as an architectural layout of the rest of the units available. “We looked at the traditional method of getting some renderings, but to do a 3D mockup of the building was like $30,000.”
So Leblanc elected to face the challenge the best way he knew how: with technology. “That’s when I said, ‘I think I can render these units in 3D, and then we could try them on with a virtual reality headset. That’s how that happened.”
He purchased a headset meant for gaming and modeled all 14 styles of condos in a 3D software that allowed potential buyers to visualize the units from the Platinum Realty office. In reality, the condos were nothing but an idea.
He later ordered a 3D camera from a California startup company, making Platinum Atlantic Realty a pioneer in virtual real estate tours in the Atlantic region.
LeBlanc acknowledges he’s, “always been a tech guy. When I was younger,” he says, “I’d make web sites just for fun. It gave me an opportunity to create and invent.”
He graduated from Moncton’s private Oulton College web development program in 2013, and today works at MAGDEV, a Moncton web development company where he continues to innovate every day. “It’s just me and the owner,” he says. “Our goal is to make money online, and we make different products to achieve that.” —By Robin Short
MADDI POND | Dancer
FOUNDER, AMP IT UP!
At Maddi Pond’s dance studio, in her little southeastern New Brunswick hometown of Salisbury, hangs the popular crafty photo that encourages one and all to, ‘Dance like nobody’s watching!’ But it seems like everyone is watching the Amp It Up! studio, however, and for all the right reasons.
Though still only 21, Pond is already breaking down barriers in dance, thanks to an award she won last year. A fourth-year English literature student at nearby Mount Allison University, Pond learned of the Reisman Internship Program, which provides funding and other support for students to start a new business in the summer.
Beginning at the age of 14, Pond took part in dance camps back in Salisbury. It was her wish to open her own summer camps.
Where Pond’s Amp It Up! Studio is unique, and in many ways ground-breaking, is it tackles body image issues. At her studio, there are no height and weight requirements, and no gender specification.
“I was on a dance team growing up, and there were always height requirements,” she recalls.
“There’s a really big stigma around body issues in dance,” she says. “There are height and weight requirements, especially if you want to go to competition.”
Not so at Amp It Up!.
“Dance has been framed as one of those arts that’s very specific, whereas to me, I feel like it’s one of those ways to express yourself no matter if you’re male, female, non-identified, tall or short, big or small.
“I feel like everybody should be able to use it as a form of expression. That’s our role as a studio.”
Pond opened her studio in May 2019. COVID-19 hit two months shy of her one-year anniversary, forcing her to go to online instruction which attracted 98 per cent of her students. “We reopened summer classes in July with limited numbers. We actually have increased our numbers by 56 per cent, which is huge for a dance studio. We have a waiting list.” —By Robin Short
MATHIEU COLLIN | Consultant
FOUNDER, MC GROWTH SPACE
Meet Mathieu Collin, a 30-year-old innovator who describes himself as an entrepreneur with 11-plus years of combined experience in banking and finance, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, business development and the public sector. His first business was a landscaping company that he started when he was just 14.
In addition to launching his latest company last year, the young man from Charters Settlement, N.B., just outside Fredericton, volunteers on a few boards, provides business mentorship and runs 20 kilometres per week. Did we mention he also has two small boys, ages six and four?
“Yes,” he says with a chuckle, “I’m pretty busy. Time management is one of my strong points. I’ve learned to block off time and focus.”
Holder of an MBA degree with Innovation leadership as a specialization from the University of Fredericton in New Brunswick, Collin is the founder and CEO of MC Growth Space in Fredericton, a business consulting firm which aims to help businesses, “innovate, grow, reduce risks and expand successfully.
“I audit manufacturing companies mainly and identify gaps where I could add value to their company in such a way that is really understandable and not too complex,” he says. “In short, helping them achieve their growth plans.”
His resume includes work with the New Brunswick government as an economist under then-minister of finance and current premier Blaine Higgs. This while completing his MBA. He also worked in commercial banking for three years and it was there he found his niche.
“At that time,” he says, “I tried to change the game from a banking perspective, taking the extra time to provide advice beyond financing.
“I took that opportunity to really learn about my clients. I was limited, however, because I couldn’t help them execute. I could help them by providing advice, but I couldn’t go in and physically work with them.
“It’s where I saw that big gap of technology and innovation within manufacturing companies.”
Hence the startup of MC Growth Space and his work on a proprietary system to automate the process of helping manufacturing companies be more cost competitive. “My goal,” he says, “is to help Atlantic businesses through innovation, to find growth opportunities, savings and resolve challenges.” —By Robin Short
MATTHEW NOSEWORTHY, LIAM CADIGAN, NICK WARREN, DARRYL DAY | Imagineers
Letting the ideas flow. Building new things. Scheming. Obsessing. The team of student engineers (now graduates) who founded inspectAR grew up testing the limits of their vivid imaginations.
“As a kid I was determined to invent something,” Darryl Day, inspectAR CTO, says. “My mom told me stories of how I would constantly bug her for ideas on what I should create. I remember one time I was convinced I was going to make a hoverboard for an elementary school project. To no great surprise that did not pan out, but that same passion I had then, I still hold today. This time with a much larger skillset to make those ideas a reality.”
InspectAR, founded in 2019 as a senior engineering project, builds Augmented Reality (AR) tools to help electronics designers and technicians quickly access and improve the state of printed circuit boards (PCBs). AR refers to any technology that enhances visual and, in some cases, auditory perception of the user’s environment. InspectAR’s software can inspect, debug, and rework a PCB while assisting with assembly and collaboration.
In less than two years, the company amassed thousands of users worldwide and teamed up with some of the biggest names in the tech industry. In August 2020, InspectAR was acquired by Cadence Design Systems. Based in California’s Silicon Valley, Cadence leads the market in electronic design automation software and services—it employs more than 8,000 people and recorded sales of more than US$2.3 billion in 2019. InspectAR will continue to grow and operate independently in St. John’s.
“We will all continue working with inspectAR, building the workbench of the future as part of Cadence,” says Matthew Noseworthy, inspectAR CIO.
The technology and innovation industry is a major player in Newfoundland and Labrador. Local companies are contributing more than $1 billion annually to the economy, employing thousands of people, and amassing clients worldwide.
“I’ve always been full of ideas and wanted to make an impact by finding a way to do things better,” Liam Cadigan, inspectAR CPO, says of his innovative origins. “I consume a lot of non-fiction and informational content, books, podcasts, videos, and online courses. I find it turns into an idea later down the road, whether it’s in weeks, months, or years.”
“Darryl and Liam’s specialized obsession with electronics gave our team unique advantages in this industry,” company COO Nick Warren explains. “We were excited by a variety of new technologies, including AR, and wanted to build something exciting. One evening we were together in Liam’s room, thinking about the massive inefficiencies of working on circuit boards due to their complex nature, and the abundant tools and information needed to complete the task at hand. We concluded AR could help build a better viewport for the lab and we went to work.”
“I’ve always been scheming, coming up with random ideas, and putting them to the test,” adds Noseworthy. “When I was 12 years old, I stumbled on a way to turn code into money and that’s when everything clicked. The transfer of code running on a computer into money was a rush that I’ve never been able to let go of.”
Noseworthy says he and his co-founders have more than natural curiosity in common. “Maybe there’s something a little wrong with us that lets us take larger risks than the average person,” he says. “There was little hesitation from anyone in the group to pass up full-time job offers, and the possibility of stability, for this high-risk, high-potential career path.”
Day, of Mount Pearl, N.L. and Noseworthy, a native of Chamberlains, N.L. completed entrepreneurial work terms with Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) in fall 2018. Their start-up venture, InspectAR, subsequently won the $2,000 Ignite Fund competition. The fund invests in Memorial students interested in growing an innovative business idea.
Warren was one of the first students to work with MCE, as part of the initial student ambassador cohort. His passion for innovation may have been fueled by events that occasionally landed the native of Stellarton, Nova Scotia, in trouble at home. “I’ve always built things,” he says. “From long-range Wi-Fi antenna out the window to pick up public Internet when I would get grounded, to sketchy fabricated parts and my falling apart cars, I created solutions to problems.
“I was always scheming a new business venture or a side hustle to make a few dollars,” Warren adds. “Combined with growing up on the Internet and being obsessed with things like Pirates of Silicon Valley, it just seemed inevitable to combine all those loves.”
Their passion for innovation aside, the techpreneurs drew on other innate strengths and characteristics to develop and grow their business. Cadigan, for example, completed six internships at six different companies over four years. “I can explain the things I think about to other people, which is the most important part of it all,” the Mount Pearl native says. “I think the reason I became an innovator is because of the internships and work terms I completed through my degree. As an unintended consequence I left university with a holistic view of how circuit boards are engineered throughout many different industries.”
Warren completed an entrepreneurial work term at MCE with a different startup idea. Working with two other students, he built BlueBrick, an educational router that helps teachers bring technology to the classroom.
The innovators availed of resources outside MCE. Evolution, an eight-week early-stage startup program offered by Genesis (Memorial’s innovation incubator), helped the team identify markets and validate their business idea. It also provided access to a network of mentors. Y Combinator Startup School, in California, offers a free, 10-week, online course to help founders through the earliest, most difficult challenges of starting a company. InspectAR received a $10,000 equity free grant and feedback validating they were on the right track.
On the inspectAR blog, the team publicly acknowledges the people who helped them take an idea conceived in university to a worldwide audience. “We’ve only gotten this far with the support of our families, friends, service providers, employees, and investors. We couldn’t be more excited for this new chapter of growth and vision,” the co-founders state.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” —By Connie Boland
TAYLOR YOUNG | Socialpreneur
HEAD OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, COLAB SOFTWARE INC.
Taylor Young is a world champion.
The former president of Enactus Memorial led a team of 80 students to the 2016 Enactus World Cup with Project Suc-Seed, developed to fight food insecurity and provide locally grown hydroponic fruits and vegetables to residents of isolated, northern communities. During Young’s tenure, her team also launched Project Bottlepreneur (to help bottle collectors market themselves as an alternative curbside recycling service) and Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, providing entrepreneurial opportunities for Canadian Forces members.
“I’ve worked closely with a number of social enterprises and charities, supporting them to meet their mandates,” Young says. “Ultimately, I’m passionate about using social enterprise and entrepreneurship as a force for good in our communities, and around the world.”
Young is an active participant with various initiatives to improve the standard of living and quality of life for Atlantic Canadians. She has volunteered with the Memorial University Centre for Entrepreneurship and Enactus Memorial advisory boards and is a director at YMCA of Newfoundland and Labrador. She is also involved with Home Again Furniture Bank, developing innovative funding opportunities as a social enterprise, and participated in a local project teaching young people to code.
The St. John’s native brought her passion for creating solutions to global challenges to CoLab Software Inc. where she currently leads the business development team in marketing, sales and customer success. CoLab is transforming the way engineering teams work together, communicate and execute projects. Its founders, Jeremy Andrews and Adam Keating, say they are setting the new industry standard for how projects are delivered.
“I couldn’t ask for a better job,” Young says. “We’ve got a really good team, and we get to build something together every day. It’s an amazing thing to watch.”
“Every company should be a social enterprise,” the 2018 Memorial University commerce graduate adds. “We want to create something that is a good company by its very nature. We took on a fundamentally different philosophy that must be integrated into everything we do. —By Connie Boland
HARIS BARKI | Change Agent
CO-FOUNDER AND CTO, MENTIC
Haris Barki is a serial techpreneur anticipating a future in philanthropy.
The Pakistan-born computer scientist is fascinated with tweaking, dismantling, designing and recreating software systems and products to increase functionality and efficiency. “I am passionate about my work as an innovator,” Barki says. “I believe Canada has an exceptional ecosystem for innovative ideas, products and services.”
Event Ryno, an event engagement company founded in 2016, was Barki’s initial involvement in the startup community. “It was a pivotal point in my life,” he says. Audome, promoting smart home automation products, was created one year later. Drawing on his experiences, the Memorial University graduate became a consultant at Bounce Innovation lab in 2018. He continues as a volunteer, providing advice to technology startups.
Negotiations to onboard Mentic, a wellness technology platform recording autism and speech therapy data, are ongoing with Eastern Health, Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest integrated health organization. “With autism becoming more prevalent and acknowledged in our society, we are seeing a rise in demand and use of these types of technologies to support therapists and educators,” Barki says.
CityOS, a platform for streamlining municipality communication processes, was founded in 2019, and is being tested by N.L.’s second largest city. “Considering the benefits the City of Mount Pearl has gained from using and implementing this software, and the similar issues other municipalities face, CityOS has strong commercial potential,” Barki says. “We are working on our sales strategies to onboard more municipalities.”
A former president of Lahore Grammar School Social Work Society, Barki next plans to use his fascination for software to help non-profit organizations. “Having the financial freedom to do whatever I want drives me to be innovative,” Barki says. “To make a global change, you need to have someone in your pocket, and that’s my goal.”
—By Connie Boland
DUNCAN WHITCOMB | Realtor
CO-FOUNDER/BROKER OF RECORD, RESILIENT PROPERTY SOLUTIONS INC.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot,” Duncan Whitcomb says. “I’m always excited to see things that can be done creatively and find ways to bring the best parts of the world back home to Atlantic Canada.”
Whitcomb moved to St. John’s six years ago to work with one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s leading property developers. Six months ago, the Halifax native celebrated the incorporation of Resilient Property Solutions Inc., a full-service commercial brokerage firm focused on innovation, technology and sustainability.
“Resilient is a term in sustainable urban development that comes up time and time again,” Whitcomb says. “It embodies everything we want the firm to be, able to adapt to any circumstance, and deliver the right product at the end of the day. And what better word represents Newfoundland and Labrador?”
Resilient uses Geographic Information Systems to provide clients with evidenced-based tracking of demographic networks and spatial trends. In addition to this data-oriented approach, it facilitated strategic partnerships with national and international brokerage houses and built relationships with academic institutions, including the University of Oxford where Whitcomb is pursuing a Master in Sustainable Urban Development.
“The outcomes placed us at the leading edge of modern research and global trends,” Whitcomb says. “These integrated networks enabled us to represent some of the world’s leading companies while simultaneously extending the reach of our own in-house services to clients in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Resilient provides clients with insight previously unattainable to users in the Newfoundland and Labrador marketplace. “As a result of this niche offering and amplified entrepreneurial spirit, our firm remained profitable despite a market-wide slowdown due to the novel coronavirus,” Whitcomb says.
“Our commitment to integrity, innovation, service quality, and reputation laid the foundation for continued success regardless of recent economic turbulence and shifting landscapes.” —By Connie Boland
JOHN DYALL | Green Machine
FOUNDER AND CEO, DYA
John Dyall believes green living should be convenient, easy, and accessible.
The Memorial University commerce student is channeling a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, collaboration and the environment into a business with a multi-year plan. “A year and a half ago I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur, but I needed an idea,” Dyall says. A Google search led to information on how to sell online, and instinct took over.
“From there it was a simple economics equation,” Dyall says. “All I had to do was find a product or niche where demand outstripped supply.”
North American consumers spend billions annually on sustainable goods. “Going green can be time consuming and difficult,” Dyall says. “Green products are often tailored toward individuals who are willing to make the effort. Companies miss out on the public who want to use green products but don’t want the inconvenience. The solution is simple; offer green products that are also convenient.”
Dyall launched DYA’s initial product, biodegradable wooden cutlery, through Amazon in May 2019, and saw initial month-over-month sales growth of 46 per cent. The second product, reusable cotton produce bags, followed in November. “They were a huge hit on the retail front,” Dyall says.
Encouraged, he moved beyond Amazon, collaborating with a local grocery chain to introduce DYA to the local market. To mid-September 2020, DYA had sold over 2,650 units of cutlery, and more than 1,250 units of reusable bags. The company has more than 90 five-star ratings on Amazon. “That indicates we are heading in the right direction,” Dyall says. “Most importantly, we are able to establish a business model that is lean and scalable.”
DYA landed Dyall a nod as one of 12 student entrepreneur finalists for Enactus Canada’s 2020 Entrepreneurship competition. “There is no one-stop, go-to green company for your everyday green products,” he says. “That’s the void DYA is trying to fill.” —By Connie Boland
JEREMY SCHWARTZ | Developer
MARKETING AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OFFICER, CITY OF MOUNT PEARL
Jeremy Schwartz has a message for innovators and visionaries. Think outside the box. Be bold. Use creativity to achieve goals. “Business owners and entrepreneurs want to operate where they receive support, where there’s opportunities not obstacles, less red tape and more green lights,” he says. “They want to be treated like partners, not numbers.”
Memorial University’s commerce graduate faced an uphill battle when he signed on with Newfoundland and Labrador’s second largest city in 2018. Aging population, stagnant residential growth, economic dependence on industry sectors, and the departure of young graduates and families, negatively impacted long-term growth and sustainability. Schwartz concentrated on Mount Pearl’s strengths. Fueled by ingenuity and a people-first attitude, the city’s economic development team implemented their ambitious 24-month action plan to become a national hub of creative and innovative activity.
“I approach my role as if I were an owner growing and marketing a business,” says Schwartz. “Mount Pearl is the product. Residents and businesses are my customers.”
He and his team met with more than 350 businesses. They launched the province’s first Hackathon to solve municipal challenges through technology and innovation. Business attraction and retention campaigns, renewal plans, and incentive opportunities were promoted. Residents came out for festivals, craft markets and other events. The approach paid off. In 2019, Mount Pearl welcomed 60 new businesses. It received over 118 new permit applications. The vacancy rate decreased; business tax revenue increased. The Economic Developer’s Association of Canada presented the city with three marketing awards, and the prestigious EDAC Cup, for its Consider It Done Campaign.
“Owners and entrepreneurs want to live, work, and do business in a city that’s looking forward,” Schwartz says. “That’s the culture I brought to Mount Pearl.” —By Connie Boland
JAN MERTLÍK | Teacher
CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, GET CODING
Jan Mertlik is increasing Newfoundland and Labrador’s technology talent pool one student at a time.
Get Coding’s web development workshops usually attract participants with a business background, and between ages 25 to 35. Before COVID-19, Mertlik chatted with a retired, older-than average-student. “She built her first website in two hours,” Mertlik says. “It was amazing.”
Born in the Czech Republic, Mertlik moved to China at age 16. He came to Canada in 2013 to study computer science at Memorial University and co-founded DashAll, an innovative food delivery system, two years later. The business delivered more than 2,000 meals before shutting down. “I realized having a cool idea is not enough to start a business,” Mertlik admits.
He launched Get Coding in 2017, to teach individuals the skills required to work in the province’s growing tech sector. “I realized there’s a gap in technical education,” Mertlik says. “I set out to create an organization that would allow more people to enter the tech talent pool.” It took just one training session to realize the timing wasn’t right.
Those real-life lesson proved invaluable. In 2019, Mertlik worked with a business partner to re-launch Get Coding. He also won Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship’s Fail Tale Cup, awarded to a student entrepreneur who learned from a business failure and started something new.
Get Coding training programs and web development workshops are based on industry demand. “Our coaching program is one of our most innovative,” Mertlik explains. “We get to know each student before creating a custom outline to help them reach their goals.”
Mertlik believes innovators build on lived experiences. “I want to understand what defines a place,” he says. “When starting a company, I do the technical work, but I also explore other aspects to gain an understanding of the different disciplines.” —By Connie Boland
ELSIE MORDEN | Activist
FOUNDER, NO TIME FOR THAT ANTI-BULLYING SOCIETY
Elsie Morden didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. Her family moved around frequently, she was bullied, battled depression and felt like an outsider. Her house even burned down in a forest fire. “I’m so passionate about people not feeling how I felt because I know how awful I felt when I was going through what I was going through and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way,” says Morden, 25. She’s now using those experiences to help other kids.
She’s the founder of the No Time for That Anti-Bullying Society, a registered Canadian charity since 2015 that develops presentations to school-age children and youth about bullying prevention, mental health awareness and youth empowerment. Through funding sources that include grants and donations, she’s given presentations to more than 600 Canadian schools at no charge to the institutions themselves.
Morden relays her message not just through stories and a Q&A at each session, but music. The country musician is working on her second album and is backed by a band during her presentations. Morden, who is bisexual, aims to be the inspiration she never had growing up. “I think it’s so important to let them know it’s OK to be who they are and that there is hope and that it does get better,” she says.
Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, school closures and physical distancing rules, Morden is working on transforming her presentations into virtual ones.
Originally from Manitoba, Morden also lived in British Columbia for some time, but moved to Nova Scotia in 2016 after visiting the province when the Canadian Country Music Awards were held here. “I’m very proud to say that I’m a young person who moved to the province, I see the potential and I’m so excited to be here,” she says. —By Richard Woodbury
SHEAMUS MACDONALD | Net Caster
CO-FOUNDER, SEDNA TECHNOLOGIES
As a snow crab fisherman and the co-founder of a seafood technology firm, Sheamus MacDonald is in a unique position. “I’m fortunate that I’m essentially my own customer,” he says.
MacDonald, who edged under the wire on our 30 Under 30 criteria (now 31, he was 30 at the close of nominations), is originally from Judique, Cape Breton, and is the son of a snow crab fisherman. He too became a snow crab fisherman in 2016.
With fishing being a seasonal industry, MacDonald had time on his hands during the offseason and it got him thinking about how to optimize the supply chain. With the help of his undergraduate studies roommate who had expertise in technology, the result became Sedna Technologies, a Dartmouth, N.S.-based company that launched in 2017. The firm’s products mitigate waste and identify inefficiencies within seafood operations.
MacDonald uses the example of a live lobster buyer who stores large quantities of product in a lobster pound, essentially an Olympic-size pool. Traditionally, the process of testing water quality was done by using manual test strips. “A lot of the time, that will leave vulnerabilities, so even if you were doing it every eight hours, if something changed two hours after you did your test, the product is vulnerable for six hours in a sub-optimal condition,” says MacDonald. Sedna’s sensors will monitor the water quality in real time and send the user updates about changing conditions, which gives them time to address the problem before it turns into a huge financial loss.
Earlier this year, Sheamus was named a national Mitacs award winner in the Global Impact category for “disrupting the fishing industry with the world’s first high-tech mobile system that decreases seafood waste, increases revenue, and brings transparency to the seafood supply chain from sea-to-plate.” —By Richard Woodbury
MRUGAKSHEE PALWE AND KEEGAN FRANCIS | Money Masters
CO-FOUNDERS, ATLANTIC BLOCKCHAIN COMPANY
It was on a 12-hour car ride to Montreal in 2018 that the seed for Atlantic Blockchain Company was founded. Mrugakshee Palwe (pictured left) was a recent computer science graduate from Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., while Keegan Francis—also a computer science graduate from Acadia—had long been fascinated by money and problems with the financial system, dating back to the economic crash of 2008 when he was a high school student.
“He was funny, he always had these markers in his pocket, so on our drive, he used these markers on the window and was explaining blockchain to me,” says Palwe, 25. Using red, green and black markers, Francis provided an in-depth explanation.
In a nutshell, cryptocurrency is a form of internet money, while blockchain is the technology that supports cryptocurrency. “As internet is to Facebook, blockchain is to cryptocurrency,” says Palwe.
Francis, 27, readily admits that cryptocurrency has a bad reputation and is perceived to be mainly for use on the dark web, for scams and to purchase drugs. “That’s basically the entire conversation happening in the mainstream media,” he says. “We are the other side of that conversation.”
The pair—who were married on April 1, 2020—recently launched Go Full Crypto, a podcast dedicated to educating people about safe and responsible cryptocurrency use. “It’s an incredible opportunity to reach the entire world with the message of that and we’re really excited to spread our message,” says Palwe.
Francis says much like the internet was difficult for the average individual in the early 1990s, cryptocurrency is the same. “It’s a pretty new technology, so it requires a new understanding and it requires people to learn new terms and new skills, and so those are the fundamental things we need to teach people,” he says.
Two years after that infamous car ride, Atlantic Blockchain Company has two planks to its business: the podcast and a cryptocurrency service under development that the pair are tight-lipped about.
Francis says for centuries, money has become more efficient. Cryptocurrency is just the next evolution of it, which has huge potential. “Right now, there’s more people who have more access to the internet than they do financial services,” says Palwe. She says that while people in developed countries have imperfect financial institutions, the problem is much worse in developing countries, where people may not have ready access to financial institutions.
For the day-to-day operations of the company, Palwe assumes more of a CEO-type role, charting short- and medium-term strategy, while Francis carries out many of the immediate tasks at hand. “I’m the thinker, he’s the doer,” she says.
There’s a philosophy Francis subscribes to that says: Fix the money, fix the world. He sees cryptocurrency as the way to do that.
Choosing to be entrepreneurs was a no-brainer for the couple. “We wanted to do something meaningful with our lives and building the next generation of money and helping people adopt it seems like a meaningful thing to do,” says Francis. —By Richard Woodbury
MUBDU ALALI | Fitness Guru
FOUNDER, BLOXO INC.
When Mubdu Alali first arrived in Halifax from Saudi Arabia to study English in 2011, he hoped to use sports as a way of connecting with people, but that proved harder than he imagined. Unsure of where he could play soccer, he asked an instructor for a recommendation, who referred him to a website. The site was confusing, wordy and unhelpful.
“I used to go to the park to see if anybody would allow me to play, but it wasn’t easy for someone who lacked confidence, lacked language, lacked social [skills] and all that,” he says.
Little did Alali, 29, know at the time, those experiences would help propel him to where he is today. Now an entrepreneurship student nearing the end of his studies at Saint Mary’s University, Alali is also the founder of Bloxo Inc., an app launched in 2019 that connects people so they can play sports or do fitness together.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bloxo added another element to the app. “One of the industries most negatively impacted by COVID is the fitness sector, especially independent fitness instructors … because they couldn’t do their business anymore,” says Alali. This addition allows independent fitness instructors to advertise their services and connect with clients.
Bloxo is user-friendly and only takes a few clicks to setup. It’s currently available in English, Arabic and Mandarin, but plans are in the works to expand that to other languages, such as French and Spanish. Alali says this is especially important as Nova Scotia’s population becomes increasingly multicultural.
The app combines Alali’s passion for entrepreneurship, his love of sports and his desire for people to be physically and socially active. “If we have more people doing fitness and sports, the change that can impact society is unbelievable,” he says. —By Richard Woodbury
BRYDEN BONE | Ocean Envoy
MARINE CONSERVATION BIOLOGIST, DEPT. OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS CANADA
Bryden Bone is a marine conservation biologist in Halifax but comes from “as far away as the ocean as you can get on this continent,” he says. This Prairie boy is originally from Winnipeg, but it was a trip to Mexico in his teens where he discovered and became fascinated by the ocean.
“Everything comes back to the ocean,” he says. “People in Winnipeg eat seafood, every river is eventually going to lead to the ocean. If there’s a contaminant that’s being put into the watershed, it will eventually find its way to the ocean. It’s the same thing with marine plastics or debris of some sort.”
Beyond his position with Fisheries and Oceans Canada where he works to protect the world that inspires him, Bone, 28, acts as an Ocean Bridge ambassador, a national program that supports a select number of youth to develop and deliver service projects in their communities.
For Bone, this has led him to create a video explaining why octopuses should be your favourite animal (Spoiler: for something viewed as being incredibly simple, they’re extraordinarily complex), demonstrated climate change to five-year-olds and he’s also working on a fundraiser for the Back to the Sea Society, a Nova Scotia charity working to build a small-scale seasonal aquarium in the Halifax area.
For the fundraiser, Bone will run the 53-kilometre Cape Chignecto coastal trail in under 12 hours, a much longer distance than he used to run on the football field when he was a five-year Academic All-Canadian wide receiver for the University of Manitoba during his undergrad.
Bone would like people to learn more about how their actions impact the marine environment. “The only way that the status quo is going to change is as a collective and everyone has a part to play in that,” he says. —By Richard Woodbury
ROSS ARSENAULT | Inventor
CO-FOUNDER AND COO, ASHORED INNOVATIONS
Every year, more than eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans, with a good chunk of that being “ghost gear,” commercial fishing gear that is “lost, abandoned and derelict,” says Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The department says that recent studies indicate ghost gear may account for 46 to 70 per cent of the plastic in the ocean.
“It’s become a big issue lately with the amount of gear lost and wasted, but also entanglements with the North Atlantic right whale, so there’s a lot of regulatory change occurring in the trap fishery,” says Ross Arsenault, the co-founder and COO of Ashored Innovations, a Halifax ocean technology company.
His company has two products that address these problems: stainless steel lobster traps and a rope on command (ROC) fishing system.
Arsenault says the stainless steel lobster traps are more durable than a traditional lobster trap, have a longer life and are thus better for the environment. Ashored’s ROC fishing system allows fishermen to set traps on the ocean floor, but without the rope traditionally housed in the water column. Instead, rope is coiled up on the ocean floor within a containment drum and released to the surface after receiving a proprietary acoustic signal once the fishing vessel is in range. From there, the crew can retrieve their traps.
“This is that unique opportunity to allow the fishermen to increase their capabilities, their efficiencies and provide them with new resources, while at the same time, addressing those environmental problems that are creating so many other economic problems,” says Arsenault, 26.
Originally from Halifax, Arsenault has no direct ties to the fishing industry, but saw it as a Nova Scotia industry ripe for innovation. “We have some resources that allow us to excel and not just get by, and the oceans are one of them,” he says. —By Richard Woodbury
SEBASTIAN GREEN | Community Builder
NORTHERN REGIONAL MANAGER, IGNITE LABS INC.
Sebastian Green is bullish about the future of rural Canadian communities. As the northern regional manager for Ignite Labs Inc., a rural innovation hub located in New Glasgow, N.S., he has a vision.
“Would you rather a huge employer with 200 to 300 people and you’re always reliant on them … or would you rather 200 to 300 awesome entrepreneurs and small businesses who all employ one and two people?” says Green. “And if one of those goes down or has to pivot or change or move, you don’t feel it within the community so much.”
Ignite has two locations in Nova Scotia—the other is in Yarmouth—and works with youth, communities, startups and industry to come up with solutions to the challenges they face. “We’ve built so many community connections or facilitated community connections between different communities that traditionally wouldn’t have talked and now they’re working together to make real change possible,” says Green, 25. “That’s empowering to see and that’s innovation in a nutshell, bringing those ideas to impact.”
Prior to working with Ignite, Green worked in architecture, construction and technology. While involved in numerous projects at different stages of development with Ignite, such as e-port, a platform that helps businesses digitize their businesses, the one that’s attracted the most press is the Ignite PPE Portal. The platform connects Atlantic Canadian business owners who need PPE with those who can supply it. The initiative caught the eye of the federal government and is now one of three organizations the feds list on a PPE supply hub that matches supply with demand.
“During COVID, everything was broken,” says Green. “Supply chains were broken, communication chains were broken. Nothing was working the way it should have been working, so we created this portal as a solution to that.” —By Richard Woodbury
MIKE CYR | Problem solver
CO-FOUNDER AND COO, NANUK TECHNOLOGIES
“I always liked to hustle and to negotiate.”
Those words sum up Mike Cyr well. As a high school student, the Halifax entrepreneur would buy used BlackBerries, fix them up and resell them to fellow students for a tidy profit—ones with chrome gold cases were especially popular. His high school years also included selling yachts. Suffice to say, it was inevitable Cyr would embark on a career in business.
Now 25, Cyr is the co-founder and COO of Nanuk Technologies, which develops virtual and augmented-reality software options, largely in the real estate industry. “The main thing people get confused with us is they think we use 360 photography and go into homes already on the market—that we do not—we focus on the markets that do not exist yet,” he says.
Nanuk takes a company’s building plans and models them in a 3D environment and makes them look like a real unit, which allows developers to pre-sell units much sooner, in some cases before they even break ground. For builders, this can help make it easier to obtain financing.
Cyr says people can do online tours of the units or even put on a headset and go through the unit as if they were there. “It immerses the buyer like never before,” he says.
But there’s another project that could be even bigger for Nanuk. It’s working with a hardware retailer on a piece of software used for inventory, control and planning, and product visualization on shelves, which has applicability for other retailers as a white-label software.
Nanuk has three employees (and taps into a pool of contractors depending on the staffing needs at any given time), but Cyr says this project will allow the company to hire more people and “leverage that into bigger and better opportunities.” —By Richard Woodbury
RYAN MacLELLAN | Entrepreneur
CO-OWNER AND HEAD BREWER, COVE KOMBUCHA
Ryan MacLellan was months away from getting his teaching degree at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., when a conversation with his brother, John MacLellan, led him to turn his focus to making kombucha, a fermented tea drink.
Ryan, now 28, had long been interested in cooking and fermentation and was brewing kombucha for fun while living at his mom’s place. One day in 2016, Ryan served some of it to John, a chartered accountant who had recently spent time in California where the drink was hugely popular. John suggested that Ryan sell the product at a farmers market. “I thought to myself, ‘Do you know what? That sounds like an awesome idea.’ I’ve always dreamt of doing something like that,” says Ryan.
The pair decided to start selling the product at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market and sold out by noon on their first day at the market. They started making more product, hype grew on social media, it was soon available in restaurants and Cove Kombucha continued to expand.
By next year, the company will have their product for sale in cans at retailers such as Sobeys, Loblaw and Costco.
Drinking kombucha is good for one’s gut health because of the probiotics it contains, and the bubbly drink is a healthier alternative to sodas because it contains about one-quarter the sugar, with its sugar being derived naturally from the fruits the drink contains.
Cove is also working on a plant-based energy drink that will be a “jitter-free, no-crash drink,” says Ryan, unlike the products that dominate the market, which are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients.
Ryan is the co-owner and head brewer for the company, while his brother works as the co-owner and CEO. “Without him, the company wouldn’t be where it is at all,” says Ryan. —By Richard Woodbury
BRETT EVANS | Manufacturer
When the federal government announced recreational cannabis would be legalized, it sparked a huge interest in the need for massive quantities of the soon-to-be-legal drug. While most entrepreneurs were focused on cultivating cannabis, Brett Evans saw an opportunity in the accessories side of the industry.
He’s the CEO of Doobtool, a Halifax company that produces a discreet, smell-proof and rugged case for active cannabis users who like to enjoy their product in the outdoors, perhaps during a day at the beach or on a hike in the woods. The kit includes 10 tools that offer 20 different uses to maximize a user’s consumption experience, and not just for your traditional flowered cannabis. “There are many different ways people are consuming now, whether that be through vapes, oils and extracts … and edibles,” says Evans, 28. He likens the product to a Swiss Army knife, but for cannabis.
Doobtool is available across Canada and working on moving into the U.S. market next year. Doobtool is also working on mini and deluxe versions of the product.
Evans started the company in late 2016, around two years ahead of when cannabis became legalized. “There’s not many times in history an entrepreneur has a start date to a new industry,” he says.
Those first two years were challenging. Because recreational cannabis was still illegal, Evans says he couldn’t get loans, lines of credit or even a bank account for his company, which is something most other startups wouldn’t face.
There’s also the ongoing stigma surrounding cannabis, which Doobtool is working to break down. “We wanted to have our consumer look at our product and go, ‘Wow! This product represents me. I am a cannabis consumer, but I live an active lifestyle. I’m not somebody that falls under the stereotypical stoner type of person.’” —By Richard Woodbury
CHELSEY LAKE | Web master
Chesley Lake is a team player. “Being an innovator means showing up as a leader, and boundary-pusher in all aspects of life,” she says. “I know I am nothing without my team, and the people I surround myself with. For me, it’s about creating a safe environment where people feel free to take risks, make mistakes, grow, and try big and small ideas.”
Lake, 30, is co-founder of GetBooking, an online health and wellness platform helping small and medium-size businesses increase sales, control appointments, and decrease no shows. She is also founder of Lake Design and Strategies, a website design and development company.
“I’m driven to challenge norms, and provide the resources and technology needed to help grow my team and business,” she adds. “My role as an innovator is to have a clear vision, value communication above everything, and be fearless and optimistic in the pursuit of my goals for the company, the staff, and myself.”
In 2019, Lake received a $25,000 Ignition Fund grant for entrepreneurs seeking startup capital for a new business venture. She benefited from the expertise available through Startup Zone, Prince Edward Island’s business incubator. Lake worked with clients to beta test the first version of GetBooking, then underwent a re-development stage to improve the platform for scalability.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Lake advises. “Believe in yourself and rely on your community. We see the person out in front of a business and sometimes we don’t realize there’s a team of people working behind the scenes.
“Family, friends, mentors, and other business owners have been incredibly supportive,” she says. “Being a woman in tech can be daunting. For any woman afraid to jump in, please know the support is out there, just go for it!” —By Connie Boland
IKECHUKWU DANIEL OHAEGBU | Bridge Builder
FOUNDER, ATLANTIC STUDENT DEVELOPMENT ALLIANCE (ASDA)
Ikechukwu Daniel Ohaegbu (24) has a great laugh. Baritone. From deep in his chest. Honest. Infectious.
Defining yourself as an innovator is difficult, he laughs. “I never really planned to start any of the ventures we’ve started. Service, and serving the community, defines my work. I call it purpose, or grace to serve.”
Ohaegbu moved to Atlantic Canada in 2014 and studied psychology at University of Prince Edward Island. ASDA grew out of his honours thesis examining How Black African Men Thrive as International Students despite racialization, with a primary focus on international students in Canadian post-secondary. Founded in 2019, ASDA is a non-profit organization providing international students with soft skill/industry-based training, resources, and networks to help them transition into, and become active participants in, the labour market.
“International students face a lot of challenges,” Ohaegbu says. “There are labour market shortages, especially in Atlantic Canada, and employers are looking for graduates. We see skilled international students leaving programs, and cities, and working odd jobs even after they have a degree.”
ASDA aims to bridge the disconnection gap between employers and international students by providing employers with skilled and well-qualified candidates. Ohaegbu envisions expanding the alliance into Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s proven that diversity increases organizational development,” Ohaegbu adds. “We want to complement services that already exist and bridge the existing gap.”
Ohaegbu co-founded Overtime Entertainment in 2015 to create a diverse and inclusive space and connect newcomers and businesses through unique social events. He is director of marketing and community relations with Money Innovation Connecting Communities (MICC), a peer-to-peer lending platform, and an active community volunteer.
Innovators don’t solve problems on their own, he says. “A lot of work is done behind the scenes. I am grateful for my team, and for God giving me the grace and capacity to be in this position. This is my way of giving back.” —By Connie Boland
SARAH DONALD | Inclusive Fashionista
OWNER/OPERATOR, ISKO INTIMATES
Intimate wear should be as empowering as the person wearing it. “There’s a definite lack of inclusivity in this industry,” says Sarah Donald, 25. “It’s geared toward one societal ideal, and most of us don’t fit that.”
The inclusivity and self-love activist pours her passion for revolutionizing the self-love movement into Isko Intimates, which offers clients custom sizing. “The company is a bit of an outcast in the fashion industry,” Donald says. “I’m passionate about helping others realize their beauty. Isko was created to celebrate and empower all bodies. Our unlined bralettes are made to honour and love every natural curve.”
Donald is building an online community that supports her brand, and her message. Through the Body Love Club, subscribers are invited to read blog posts, and respond to challenges. They are the first to learn of new products. Donald’s bralettes sell out quickly, and she’s expanding her line of intimate wear to include bodysuits and underwear. She recently signed local wholesale contracts.
“I was told there’s a reason other companies don’t make inclusive sizing, but I stuck to my guns, and it’s been amazing,” Donald says. “Women are thrilled to find lingerie that’s comfortable, and actually fits.”
“My background is neuroscience. It’s not related to business, or design,” she laughs. “I always said when I grew up, I was going to be a fashion designer.”
Innovators find a way to turn their passion to potential. “I’ve always been creative, but I felt pursuing my dream wasn’t realistic. I finally went for it this year. Believe in yourself, trust your intuition, practice self-love, and be inclusive,” Donald advises. “You have your entire life to try new things. Go for it.” —By Connie Boland
SAM MacPHAIL | Serialpreneur
DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, CONFEDERATION GROUP
Sam MacPhail (23) watched his parents struggle financially and made a promise to himself. “I realized I need to make my own success, which ignited my motivation and drive to innovate,” he says. “I did anything to make money throughout my adolescence, juggling several after-school jobs, selling T-shirts, cutting lawns, working at a golf club, and pumping gas at a service station.”
Recognizing the importance of networking and community involvement, fascinated by local politics, MacPhail joined the Liberal Party of Canada, becoming the youngest president of the Young Liberals of P.E.I. He worked as executive assistant to former Premier Wade MacLauchlan while studying business administration at University of Prince Edward Island. “I was able to enhance my knowledge of governance mechanisms and how they directly impact the business community,” he says.
Searching for employment in 2019, MacPhail cold-called local businesses. “One firm allowed me to be interviewed, but to my dismay it wasn’t hiring,” he says. “I was so impressed with the owner’s business ethic, drive, and character, I developed a strategy and proposal, and delivered it to him.” MacPhail landed himself a job.
“I believe my real innovation lies in what I do after work hours,” he says. While he believes job security is essential, he also has “an entrepreneurial mindset and looks for new revenue streams every day.”
MacPhail has invested time and money in several ventures. Kingdom Made Barbershop opened in 2019, has four employees, and plans to expand. The social enterprise barbershop provides free haircuts to people living in poverty. The Exchange, an online weekly podcast focused on journalism and public affairs, has over 5,000 downloads, and averages 300 streams per episode.
“I believe innovators can be found all over the world, but in Atlantic Canada there’s a certain something that makes us unique,” MacPhail says. “This is only the beginning for me.” —By Connie Boland
JONAH CHININGA | Socialpreneur
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, MICC FINANCIAL
Socialpreneurs recognize a need and find ways to address it. They turn a profit while giving back to their community.
Jonah Chininga (26) arrived at UPEI from Zimbabwe eager to study business management, experience the island’s multicultural environment and enjoy its quality of life. What happened next paved the way for a business model that’s helping people become financially sound and start building wealth.
“Coming from a different economy, I lacked clarity over how finances work, the cost of items, and gaining employment,” Chininga says. “When I did gain employment, I quickly understood I had no access to affordable credit. I needed help with financial planning.”
In 2019, Chininga attended Youth Assembly, a leadership conference that cultivates a global network of young leaders. Inspired by the dialogue, Chininga and three business partners investigated digital finance, including rotational savings. Popular in developing regions, such as Africa and the Middle East, the concept encourages group participation, people pooling their savings into a common fund and taking turns borrowing the money without paying interest. “We determined rotational savings would solve a common problem,” Chininga says.
Money and Innovation Connecting Communities (MICC) was founded in January 2020 to improve access to credit in underserved communities. An IOS, Android, and web App were lunched this fall. Users create an account, link their bank, and invite friends and family to pool their money.
Chininga used rotational savings to pay off credit card debt. And he drew on shared living experiences, determination and passion to make MICC a reality for others. “Our mission is to improve the financial well-being of our peers through collaboration and accountability, because we are all better off when we’re collaborating together,” he says. “Money affects everything in our lives. If money is not taken care of, nothing is taken care of.” —By Connie Boland
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