6 leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators in our ecosystem and their hopes for an equal future.
entrepreneurship@UBC has an incredible community spanning entrepreneurs and innovators, to our pool of over 200 mentors and bench of Entrepreneurs and Executives in Residence. Time and time again, they have shown they are dedicated to creating phenomenal impacts for our region and have invested their time, expertise and knowledge to bolstering our ecosystem through venture creation.
Coming from academia and industry, these leaders have done a phenomenal job in moving the needle, showcasing the definition of entrepreneurialism and drive throughout their journeys. In honour of International Women’s Day this year, we wanted to shine the spotlight on them, and gather their thoughts on the ecosystem and how we can move forward to advance positive change, together.
Aria Hahn and Brianna Blaney
Co-founders of Pocketed
Aria Hahn and Brianna Blaney didn’t start out as Co-founders when they met at entrepreneurship@UBC as part of the HATCH Accelerator Network: at the time, both were Founders of individual ventures, pursuing vastly different solutions. Aria was at the helm of Koonkie Cloud Services, focused on data-driven discovery and Brianna, deepND, an AI solution for hourly employees. Yet through the program, the founders realized they had an amazing synergy that overlapped and flowed into how they built companies. Soon, the pair came together to formally Co-found deepND and now, are Co-Founders of their newest venture, Pocketed.
Despite different origin stories, both founders share the feeling of being “accidental entrepreneurs'' when starting out, with Aria stating: “I always feel like I fell into it – but my brother points out that my parents ran a business, my grandparents did, my husband did – so maybe it was less of an accident”. Similarly, Brianna’s start came from frustration with her industry, and problems she couldn’t find solid answers to, eventually leading her to launch her own business to build meaningful solutions.
No entrepreneurial pursuit comes without (many) challenges, with both Founders detailing that “keeping at it” is a challenge in itself, never knowing for sure what the right move is, and alternatively, when to stop. The pandemic forced a major pivot for the founders, with much of their deepND clientele being restaurants and retail, both sectors drastically impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.
Out of this challenge, however, Pocketed was born: a grant platform that leverages the power of AI to help time-strapped entrepreneurs get easily matched with grants they qualify for in minutes. Unlike their experience with deepND, Pocketed was fast-moving from concept to launch in 100 days with under $10k in investment (and an oversubscribed alpha in under 1 day!).
On their vision for the future of our ecosystem and women’s advancement, both unanimously agreed that an “equal” future looks like less “themed days/months” and increased recognition of accomplishments as leaders, CEOs, Founders instead of “female leaders”, “female CEOs” and “female Founders”. Brianna details: “Female founders are often lumped into these categories, and lists… you don’t see this with men. Being responsible and having a diverse board and team, that’s just leadership”.
Co-Founder and CEO, Viridis Research
It was after meeting a family without running water in her hometown of Valparaiso, Chile, that Viridis Co-founder and CEO, Macarena Cataldo-Hernandez, decided to dedicate her life to developing technologies to change this situation and improve other people’s lives. Her company, Viridis Research, was founded with the mission of providing practical, resilient, and sustainable solutions for both consumers and communities facing the most difficult water treatment challenges. Viridis ensures communities around the world can get safe, clean and sufficient water, through electrochemical water treatment technologies, empowering those communities by providing the tools and knowledge required to solve their own water issues.
After being a dream for 14 years, Viridis came to fruition in 2020, representing Macarena’s biggest success: “the fear of being uncomfortable as a woman of colour running a business was keeping me hidden. However, if you’re invisible, you can’t change the world. Overcoming my fear as a woman of colour, means a lot to me and I’m doing this every day at Viridis Research.” The lack of representation is still one of her biggest challenges: “I still cannot find a Latinx-woman running a Cleatech company in Canada. In fact, very often I’m the only woman of colour in business meetings, and I have to constantly prove my qualifications, worth, and drive.”
Through entrepreneurship@UBC’s Lab2Launch program, Macarena and Viridis partner Dr. Ricardo Rivera work with the program’s fleet of mentors and Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiRs), specifically Climate Venture Studio Co-lead Dr. Shannon Bard, to transform their vision to reality.
On her hopes for the future of the ecosystem, Macarena aims to help build a diverse and inclusive innovation landscape, sharing the first step is “being aware of our own conscious and unconscious biases and re-educated ourselves to counteract stereotypes”, noting the importance of understanding our social identities, race, gender, class, sexuality, disabilities and how they affect or interfere in our lives and roles in this society.
Learn more about Viridis here
Entrepreneur, Writer and Mentor with entrepreneurship@UBC
An alumnus of UBC, Lena Sesardic didn’t start out as an entrepreneur. She came into it byway of her new job in 2019 as a Product Manager, which transitioned into running a newly formed innovation lab: “It was the first time I’d learned about the innovation and ideation side of product development, basically entrepreneurship.” Within six months, Lena left to pursue her own entrepreneurial endeavours and in 2020, worked on five different projects, testing hypotheses and ramping up her venture building experience.
Some of her biggest successes so far? Expanding her network by sharing her thoughts and growing her digital presence, getting feedback on her ideas and connecting with other like minded innovators in the space. Through this she’s been able to work on interesting things and ideas, while getting expert opinions and resources for her projects sharing, “I’ve found a way to generate many opportunities for myself due to the benefits of compounding.”
As someone who's been on both the venture and mentor side of the equation at entrepreneurship@UBC, Lena has a unique lens on the experience, sharing: “Going through the [CORE] program as a venture team taught me a lot about customer discovery and connected me to a network of entrepreneurial individuals. As a mentor, it had a direct impact on increasing my confidence as a qualified professional as well as an entrepreneur. It’s also allowed me to give back to my alma mater through mentorship.”
On her hopes for advancing women leadership in a post COVID-19 world, Lena shares that everyone should be encouraged to explore their entrepreneurial dreams - regardless of what it is and that “diversification is key… you don’t know what something can end up becoming”.
Founder, Vancouver in the Box and Mentor with entrepreneurship@UBC
An immigrant to Canada, Limor Friedman knew that upon her arrival she would have to reinvent herself. Trained as a journalist and live show editor, she came to terms that continuing in this field wouldn’t work in Canada, as English isn’t her first language. This, and that “she had too many ideas to work for another company or person”. After a year in Vancouver, Limor founded Vancouver in the Box, a packing service for domestic, long distance and overseas moving - currently the only packing company approved by the Canadian Association of Movers (CAM).
Vancouver in the Box is unique in the moving industry, working with movers all over the province, and country more widely, who leverage the quality and service standards of her company, something Limor is very proud of. In the early days, Limor shares it was the talent side of building her business that was the biggest challenge: “knowing how to recruit employees, and understanding how to deliver a good service [was difficult]” especially while learning about Canadian, and Vancouver’s, culture.
After 12 years of business, and founding another business this year, Limor devotes her time with entrepreneruship@UBC to give back to other entrepreneurs, like what others did for her: “many people along the way gave me a chance, it wasn’t a big deal for them, but it was a huge deal for me and I can give now and continue to support the business community.”
When asked about advancing women entrepreneurship and leadership in our community, Limor noted the influence of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize winner and her tremendous efforts in building up her country. Limor noted how many of Canada’s new immigrants know little of democracy and human rights, and how here, they have a chance to learn, and become those leaders themselves. For other female entrepreneurs in the space, Limor encourages them to write their own stories, sharing “take your chance, don’t wait for someone to give it to you.”
Startup Mentor/Advisor & Business Consultant with a focus on team, traction and Go-to-Market. XIR at entrepreneurship@UBC
Michele is a global sales and business development executive working as an Executive in Residence at entrepreneurship@UBC. She started her entrepreneurial journey at the age of 26 after starting her own consulting business, “All Systems Go”, working full time and tirelessly running the business on the weekends and evenings. With over 20 years experience now working in both startup and Fortune 500 environments, Michele shares that it was the “extensive travel - often spending 3 weeks of every month on the road away from family and friends” as one of the biggest challenges of her career, balancing this with her successes of being a mom, wife, good friend, business owner and trusted advisor alongside her own passions of running and hiking.
As part of entrepreneurship@UBC, Michele spends her time working with founders developing their sales and business development strategies, leveraging her vast experience and aptitude for relationship building and establishing motivated, high performing sales and marketing teams. She shares that it’s the environment and founders a part of entrepreneurship@UBC that have played a role in her own career and startup evolution, citing “the continued learning from the creative, energetic and intelligent entrepreneurs and founders at entrepreneurship@UBC” as the most rewarding part of her journey here.
Having spent years a part of the ecosystem, Michele has a unique insight on what's already happened to bridge the gap between women founders and leaders, and how we need to continue to create equal opportunities. Noting that diversity is crucial for every team, she says: “[We need to] build equality and diversity into the backbone of all businesses. Work together to listen, learn and respect other points of views, to speak up and be heard, and do not give up.”