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From Drag Queens to Fintech Founders, Meet the 2021 Bay Street Bull 30X30

Bay Street Bull 30X30 Collage

This past year has taught us many valuable lessons about resilience and hope. In a time where society is still navigating the uncertainty of a global pandemic, it’s easy to feel trepidatious about the future when the present feels so fragile. But if it’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Canada is full of leaders who have always been ready to rise up to challenges—to adapt, innovate, and forge ahead. We are a nation full of young pioneers on a quest to redefine the way we work, how we see the world, and the future we want for ourselves. 

Priyanka in green dress

Presented by Xero, the 2021 Bay Street Bull 30X30 guide showcases a group of incredible individuals who are redefining the way we do business and championing their communities. From social media savants and industry-transforming entrepreneurs to game-changing entertainers and healthcare heroes, each of this year’s inductees is challenging Canadians to think (and work) differently for a brighter future.

Meet the class of 2021.

Use @BayStBull #BSB30X30 to follow along on social media.

Priyanka

Priyanka

Drag queen

As any disciple of RuPaul’s Drag Race will tell you, nothing is ever guaranteed. RuPaul, the entertainment scion and drag queen widely credited for ushering drag culture into the mainstream, likes to keep her queens on their toes. The show, which is now in its 13th season and has launched a growing list of international franchises, is the ultimate test of a drag queen’s performance abilities. It is a gauntlet that ultimately crowns an individual each season for having the most—as RuPaul puts it—“Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.” Sometimes, the most experienced queens end up leaving early while others remain longer than anyone would have predicted. But when Priyanka was crowned the winner of the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, it wasn’t really a surprise. Read the full cover story here. 

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Doctor; offensive lineman, Kansas City Chiefs

Proud Canadian (he was born in southeastern Quebec and he grew up in Montréal.)

Gridiron football guard (he made his first career start for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2015 season opener—and has remained a stalwart for them ever since.)

Champion (in 2020, he helped the Chiefs win their first Super Bowl in 50 years.)

Also: healthcare hero. Duvernay-Tardif graduated from McGill in 2018 with a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery, having primarily studied during the off-season prior to mandatory off-season workouts. He is the fourth medical school graduate to play in the NFL, and a member of the NFLPA Health and Safety Committee to protect the health of players.

As the first player to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, he could have sat at home. This is a guy who was originally signed to a four-year, USD $2.34 million contract that included a signing bonus of $100,300. And then to a five-year, $42.36 million contract that included a $20.20 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $10 million. He could have sat at home.

Instead, he returned to the medical field in Canada, preferring to help combat the virus outbreak, while working in Montréal at a long-term care facility in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu

We’re not alone in hailing him. As a result of his efforts on and off the field in 2020, he was named a co-winner of the Lou Marsh Award, given annually to Canada’s top athlete. Sports Illustrated further named Duvernay-Tardif one of their Sportspeople of the Year. – CM

Shamier Anderson, Sheldon James, Stephan James

Shamier Anderson, Sheldon James, Stephan James

Co-founders, Bay Mills Diversity Fund

You’re probably familiar with Shamier Anderson, the actor known for playing US Marshal Xavier Dolls on Wynonna Earp. You most assuredly recognize his younger brother, Stephan James, the Canadian Screen Award winner, best known for his role in Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk.

Now familiarize yourself with their youngest brother, Sheldon, a Canadian military veteran and businessman. Early last year, he approached Stephan and Shamier with a plan: to combat racism and promote BIPOC entrepreneurs, much like his older brothers have been independently doing for Black actors in Canada’s entertainment industry (through their not-for-profit B.L.A.C.K—Building a Legacy in Acting, Cinema, and Knowledge.)

The creation of the Bay Mills Diversity Fund (an initiative out of their firm, Bay Mills Investment Group) soon followed, named after the community housing project that the Toronto-born trio grew up in. So far, the venture fund has closed at least CAD $15 million of a planned $100-million fund to support early-stage startups in emerging markets with at least one full-time BIPOC founder.

RELATED: 15+ Organizations Cultivating Black Talent in Canada

Cannabis, edtech, fintech, and real estate are but a few of the sectors that the fund is focusing on for the roughly 50 investments the fund plans to make, especially those rich in strong, underserved BIPOC talent. The cheques themselves? They’ll range in the $500,000 to $5-million neighbourhood.

“If we’re not able to empower individuals economically, how are we supposed to expect that those individuals are going to be able to make opportunities for themselves and for others within the community?” says Sheldon. “If we can meet as many people as possible and affect as much change as possible, that will be our metric of success.” – CM

Adjoa Atuahene

Adjoa Atuahene

Co-founder; Canadian Black Standard

As the dialogue around BIPOC representation in today’s boardrooms and leadership teams continues, there are those in the community who have decided to take matters into their own hands in order to move the needle of progress. Adjoa Atuahene is one such individual. 

A multi-faceted marketer from Toronto with a passion for storytelling, she’s already worked with some of the best across fashion, sports, and entertainment. Global brands like Nike, OVO, and Live Nation have all placed their trust in Atuahene to help them bring their visions to life. In 2020, she started the Canadian Black Standard as an answer to the systemic racial barriers that exist in the business landscape. Founded alongside a co-hort of Canadian women with a diverse set of experiences in the industry, the organization has a mission to advance the inclusion of Canadian Black women in marketing and communications, and foster a platform that emphasizes community and progress.

RELATED: How Serena Williams is Filling the Gap for Black Women Entrepreneurs

Ali Haberstroh

Ali Haberstroh

Founder, Not Amazon

In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic, 27-year-old Ali Haberstroh became a crusader for small businesses across Canada when she created Not Amazon, a platform that empowers and celebrates independent, local businesses. With a desire to help Toronto’s hard-hit business community (particularly those that are BIPOC-, LGBTQA+, and women-owned) the social media and content manager compiled a list of 50 local companies on a Google Doc and shared it on Instagram, encouraging her community to re-evaluate how they shopped. The move came eight months into the pandemic at a time when small businesses were desperate to stay afloat.

Word of Haberstroh’s efforts spread quickly and eventually, a web developer reached out to help her create Not-Amazon.ca, a complete digital directory of small business retailers in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, and Calgary. Comparable to a mall directory for local shops and products, the site allows users to shop by city and browse 30 categories—from sports stuff to vintage items to spirits (and everything in between). 

In the first three months after launching, Not Amazon amassed over half a million page views and has since listed almost 5,000 independent, local businesses. But perhaps the most inspiring part of this story is the feedback that Haberstroh has received from those she has been able to support. Not Amazon has kept businesses from shuttering, and helped owners out of debt. Some, she states, have testified an increase in sales by 500 percent. As the world collectively emerges from the pandemic, it’s entrepreneurs like Haberstroh that will remind us to continue championing local businesses. – ED

The Xero Inside Out Small Business Award is given to a Canadian small business founder or leader who has taken a human-first approach to entrepreneurship, and whose contributions have had a significant, transformative impact on its industry and community. Recipients are awarded a two-month trial of Xero’s Standard Plan and consultation with a top Canadian SMB accountant.

Donté Colley

Donté Colley

@dontecolley

According to the Global Happiness survey conducted by Ipsos, the prevalence of happiness (measured by factors like health, purpose, relationships, and more) across 27 countries remained largely unchanged from 2019 to 2020, dipping by just one percentage point from 64 percent to 63 percent. It is a surprising finding that showcases the resilience of people, despite a year mired by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Finding and harnessing happiness was an effort that many tasked themselves with throughout 2020. At the forefront of this campaign? Influencer and social media’s unofficial Chief Joy Officer, Donté Colley. Known for his infectious videos full of encouragement and signature dance moves, Scarborough-native Colley established his platform (which now boasts over one million followers) to bring more positivity to people’s lives.

“Positivity for me doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a great day all the time. For me, it means that I know there are better days coming, even though I may not be in the best mental or physical situation,” says Colley. “We are all living our own lives and experiencing a time like this in our own way. How we deal with it and move forward is up to us. It’s nobody else’s job to make you feel better.”

While Colley may count celebrities like Ariana Grande and Beyonce as fans, his true power is his ability to put his audience at ease while tackling topics like mental health and self-love. It is this journey of affirmation that he invites his followers on daily that has made Colley a beacon of joy for those in need of a positive boost. 

“To me, joy means that you are living 100 percent authentically and unapologetically yourself. It’s how I show up and want to move forward, and just [about] the things that make me feel good.”

(Photography by Wade Hudson; styling by Marc Andrew Smith; makeup by Sherlyn Torres)

Boman Martinez-Reid

Boman Martinez-Reid

@bomanizer

Toronto-based content creator Boman Martinez-Reid has been cultivating a growing TikTok audience since December 2019—and it’s grown at a rocket ship pace! As of this writing, he’s got 1.4 million followers and 32.2 million likes on the short-form, video-sharing app. Not bad for a just over a year’s work.

But there’s more to the consistently quippy, objectively hilarious, and extremely relatable @bomanizer [his social media stage name) than just absurd TikTok parodies. 

The most important thing you can learn from him? The increasingly critical nature of content agility. Which is to say that Martinez-Reid has figured out how to deliver (and update) online experiences fast. Forget branded hashtags, promo codes, and ineffective Instagram grids. These are the real skills that pay the bills for next-gen social media entrepreneurs. Just ask CAA, one of the world’s most dominant and influential talent agencies. They signed him almost immediately. Since then, it’s been non-stop. Videos for MTV one week, live streams with celebrities the next.

Did he come around at the right time? Sure did. But his reality TV-inspired efforts—and demonstrable social media savvy—may have been a cinch to make him a household name in non-pandemic eras, too. – CM

Michelle Chubb

Michelle Chubb

@indigenous_baddie

Indigenous activist and social media star Michelle Chubb takes to TikTok to raise awareness for ever-important issues facing members of the Indigenous community, inspiring a digestible and progressive digital dialogue in the process. The 23-year-old Cree Winnipeg woman uses the creative platform to shine the spotlight on issues like Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), pipelines, and residential schools.

Chubb also celebrates Indigenous traditions via TikTok, captivating followers with her ability to fuse her Cree culture with modern pop culture. In her videos, Chubb is seen showcasing her Indigenous regalia, leading beading tutorials, creating stunning jingle dresses, and dancing in such dresses to both today’s hits and traditional powwow music. 

But Chubb’s videos also convey a deeper hurt and vulnerability, as she reflects upon racism that still exists toward Indigenous communities. Don’t mistake her vulnerability for weakness, though. Chubb voices her opinions loud and clear in her short but impactful videos, educating followers on the history, mistreatment, stereotypes, and challenges associated with Indigenous people. Not only does she inspire change with respect to the treatment and understanding of Indigenous people, Chubb is also an advocate for inclusive beauty, proudly opening conversations about her (beautiful) cleft lip and palate. – ED

RELATED: How James Jones (Notorious Cree) Harnessed Social Media to Reclaim and Share His Culture

Shina Novalinga

Shina Novalinga

@shinanova

Millions of young people know a lot more about Indigenous culture thanks to 22-year-old Inuk creator Shina Novalinga and her popular TikTok account. The Montreal-based business management student and content creator takes to the Gen Z app of choice to celebrate her culture. In videos that have amassed millions of views, Novalinga shares everything from Inuit design and fashion (including custom parkas and earrings), to rituals like traditional hair braiding, and—most notably—throat singing. 

In many videos, Novalinga’s mother Caroline joins her to share the screen and showcase their joint talent for throat singing. Unique to Inuit culture, the style of music involves two people, typically women, who sing in rhythmic patterns. Standing face-to-face, the pair draws from their throats and deep breaths to create the unique sound. Modernizing the tradition to speak to her younger demographic of followers, Novalinga often performs crowd-pleasing twists on covers to popular songs. 

Since activating her now-famous TikTok account last March, Novalinga continues to provide much-needed visibility to BIPOC creators through the popular platform. A strong Indigenous voice (quite literally) that reaches so many eyes and ears is a long-overdue necessity—one that will set the stage for others to come.  – ED

RELATED: SheNative Founder Devon Fiddler on Being a Social Entrepreneur

Valeria Lipovetsky

Valeria Lipovetsky

Founder, Leia

Social media influencers seem to run abound nowadays in a space that is already oversaturated and full of noise. It begs the question: What’s to differentiate one from the other? While influencers have certainly excelled in their ability to grow a community of engaged followers, it’s those that are able to leverage their audience and apply their marketing skills to other entrepreneurial endeavours that sets them apart from the rest. Valeria Lipovetsky is a content creator that has amassed an audience of over 1.5 million who check in regularly for inspiration and advice. A former model and now a mother of three, Lipovetsky mastered the transition into entrepreneurship with the launch of her e-commerce business, Leia, which features a collection of items that are tested and trusted by her. It only makes sense that a social media star as big as Lipovetsky would progress into entrepreneurship by leveraging her personal brand and a built-in, loyal audience as the next step to building her eventual empire.

Cole Hock, Cody Hock

Cole Hock, Cody Hock

Co-founders, Up North Management

With most projections putting the esports ecosystem on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time this year, even the most stringent sports traditionalists have been forced to admit that the industry is here to stay. To some, the culture shift is jarring but to brothers Cole and Cody Hock, the vision of esports has always made perfect sense.

In 2018, the brothers embarked on their journey to build Up North Management Group, a gaming management agency that bridges the gap between mainstream culture, entertainment, sports, and video games. They decided to take a chance on a rapidly growing market, partially because of a life-long appreciation for the gaming community but also inspired by their prior management success.

Cole kickstarted a music industry career through the Bandier Program in Recording and Entertainment Industries at Syracuse University and founded his own management company Ninety4MGMT out of his dorm room. On his graduation day, one of Cole’s artists signed a record deal with Drake’s OVO Sound label. His brother, Cody, went to law school in California and took the bar exam but couldn’t shake the urge to capitalize on the growing esports market. So, the brothers united to create Up North Management.

The company offers a complete range of services for their clients, including talent management, brand strategy, marketing oversight, social media strategy, production, consumer products, and venture opportunities that have led to several landmark brand partnerships with Samsung, Oculus, Gatorade, and others. But despite their early successes, the Toronto-natives are anything but complacent. To Cole and Cody, Up North Management isn’t simply about hopping aboard a growing industry but helping it realize its full potential.

Up North played an integral role in developing their client Nasher’s partnership with Bauer Hockey, making him the first-ever gamer to sign an endorsement deal with a major sports brand. Since their launch, the duo also signed the now-viral One Percent Fortnite team, a gaming collective that features some of Fortnite’s most popular streamers.

In the esports world, everything continues to trend upwards. Celebrities are co-signing the movement, viewership continues to skyrocket (from 454 million viewers in 2019 to a projected 646 million in 2023), and revenue streams have never been higher. Now, Up North Management is set to maintain the industry’s steady growth while ensuring its talent base remains protected. – DS

Joe Gagliese, Mathew Micheli

Joe Gagliese, Mathew Micheli

Co-founders, Viral Nation

When Joe Gagliese and Mathew Micheli started their company in 2014, the influencer business was still relatively new and rapidly evolving. Identifying a unique opportunity to help social media influencers navigate complex business conversations as interest from corporate brands grew, the two founders set out to create a talent agency that bridged the two worlds together. Today, they’ve grown their company Viral Nation into one of the leading agencies in an industry worth over $1 billion in Canada alone. They’ve also diversified their offering to include a full suite of modern marketing services, ranging from content strategy and experiential to performance marketing. The results speak for themselves: Viral Nation has already worked with top-tier brands like Disney+, Facebook Oculus, and Aston Martin, and continue to grow in tandem with the social media industry.

Mark Ang

Mark Ang

CEO, Second Closet

Like many who grew up in a household with a family business, Mark Ang had an early introduction to entrepreneurship. By the time he reached the age of 22, he had already successfully run five businesses, from selling trendy watches to importing and exporting auto parts. It was the summary of these experiences that would provide Ang with the necessary skills to eventually found his current startup, Second Closet—Canada’s largest full-service valet storage company. While a storage company may not seem novel, Ang started Second Closet with his brother as a solution to a problem that most city-dwellers looking for extra space grapple with: convenience. The startup focuses on offering a seamless experience by offering pickup, storage, and dropoff services, where customers only have to pay for the space that they use at the company’s secure, temperature-controlled warehouse facilities. With a firm hold on the B2C market, Ang’s setting his sights next on disrupting the logistics tech sector with the announcement of a $20 million equity round of financing that will help position Second Closet for a significant operational and team expansion and launch their B2B offering.

Lulu Liang

Lulu Liang

CEO, Girlboss

Lulu Liang is a force to be reckoned with. After taking a leap of faith and leaving her job at Accenture to join beauty startup Luxy Hair, she quickly climbed her way up the ranks until eventually becoming the direct-to-consumer brand’s CEO. Thanks to her acute business acumen and focus on production innovation, Liang was quickly able to transform Luxy by launching over 400 SKUs, cementing them as the highest-rated extension brand in the world. The result? Revenue growth from $5 million to $25 million over the course of her five-year tenure.

Now, Liang is taking the next step in her professional journey as the incoming CEO of Girlboss, the community-minded platform made popular by author Sophia Amoruso that celebrates women who are redefining success on their own terms. In the new role, she’ll be responsible for charting the vision, mission, and strategy of the brand, as well as exploring new channels and building out the team and culture.

“There are so many opportunities with the brand,” says Liang. “I am most excited to lead a huge platform with the ability to influence and amplify underrepresented voices. I’m passionate about the mission of Girlboss and excited to provide ambitious women the tools they need for success.”

Liang’s experience leading the efforts at Luxy have primed her well for her new role. “My superpower at Luxy really comes down to three things. The first is a people-focused approach and building a great values-driven team and an incredible company culture,” she says. “The second is having high standards and great processes set up so we can be proactive, not reactive. The third is being financially savvy and keeping a close eye on KPIs so that we can continue making the right investments in the business.”

Laura Burget, Connie Lo

Laura Burget, Connie Lo

Co-founders, Three Ships Beauty

Toronto-based duo Connie Lo and Laura Burget are quickly carving out a space for themselves as next-gen beauty entrepreneurs. With affordability and clean vegan ingredients taking centre stage, their skincare brand Three Ships has become a staple at some of North America’s largest retailers. From a modest 2017 start with just $4,000 in the bank to a rebrand in the grips of a pandemic, and a successful stint on Dragons’ Den (where they received four offers), Lo and Burget have come a long way and reported an annual revenue of $1.3M in 2020. Three Ships has secured distribution deals in Canada and south of the border, including Hudson’s Bay Company, Whole Foods, and Target. – ED

Nicholas Chepesiuk

Nicholas Chepesiuk

CEO, OnCall Health

Innovation in the healthtech sphere requires a strong vision, steady leadership, and generally, substantial capital. But due to the regulation involved, it often also requires timing and urgent demand. Fortunately, Nicholas Chepesiuk and his company OnCall Health emerged from this intersection to help facilitate safe, remote healthcare through virtual adoption.

What began in 2014 as an offhand thought from Chepesiuk about the potential convenience of being able to text his doctor or FaceTime a therapist has transformed into one of the biggest accelerants in virtual care adoption. Chepesiuk’s company enables large healthcare organizations and provider networks to quickly deploy their own virtual care solution on all devices, with no setup cost. Over the past four years, the company has helped more than 600 healthcare organizations effectively coordinate and monetize their virtual care programs. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety and convenience of the service have allowed OnCall Health’s success to skyrocket to new heights.

Partnered with Canada’s largest health insurance provider, Sun Life, Chepesiuk has created a platform that offers real-time virtual care analytics dashboard, scheduling, automated patient triage, payment processing, insurance billing, and online prescriptions for healthcare enterprises launching their own virtual care services.

In years prior, virtual care lacked the regulation needed to go mainstream but OnCall Health’s years of experience in the space allowed Chepesiuk’s team to make the platform available to thousands of healthcare providers within mere days of Canada’s initial lockdown. Now, his team is focused on the future, hoping to continue its trend of increasing the annual number of appointments scheduled on its platform by fivefold while innovating healthcare accessibility across North America. – DS

Esther Vlessing

Esther Vlessing

President, Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers 

When COVID-19 first began its spread across the country, it was Canada’s frontline workers who were asked to pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the virus not only left healthcare workers physically and emotionally exhausted but also frighteningly unequipped as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) forced the government to scramble.

As shortages grew more debilitating, Esther Vlessing emerged to connect with the federal government to plan and execute a nation-wide emergency manufacturing response unit. This became the inception of her company, Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM), a network of domestic emergency medical manufacturers created to combat “low-probability, high-impact” catastrophes.

Recognizing the stagnation gripping the country’s PPE resupply, Vlessing quickly retooled two -dozen domestic factories, streamlined the supply chain, and delivered over one million reusable isolation gowns to Ontario Health, University Health Network, and various Canadian municipalities.

For Vlessing, the initiative wasn’t a life-long vision, but rather an inspiringly immediate response to those in desperate need of assistance. It began with watching Doug Ford urge domestic manufacturers to prioritize producing PPE on a livestream. Soon after, she took on the challenge by sending countless cold-emails to government officials, presenting an emergency manufacturing plan that would effectively mobilize and retool domestic furniture, apparel, and automotive factories across the country. A few months and over a million units later, Vlessing and CEMM are continuing on their mission to provide Canada’s frontline workers with the necessary protective equipment to combat the virus, producing more than $30 million in purchase orders and creating 1,000 factory jobs in the process. – DS

Sage Franch

Sage Franch

CEO, founder; Crescendo

Over the past year, it’s become abundantly clear that “business as usual” is a mantra that simply isn’t sustainable in today’s dynamic—and oftentimes turbulent—business landscape. Fortunately, such sweeping changes tend to usher in much-needed progression, which is exactly what Crescendo founder Sage Franch was hoping to instil when she launched her microlearning software aimed at helping companies execute diversity and inclusion initiatives.

It’s an issue close to Franch’s heart as a woman who once worked as a technical evangelist at Microsoft, the pinnacle of a tech industry often criticized for its lack of diversity. It was an environment that Franch herself describes as “bullying” and one that ultimately became Crescendo’s chief inspiration.

When it comes to progression in the workplace, most would agree that education is the best place to start, but Franch realized that asking, “How do we best educate ourselves?” is a question that often yields even more questions and few viable solutions. So, she spearheaded Crescendo, a diversity education tool that trains employees worldwide using machine learning and bite-size content bits embedded into the flow of work. The program steers companies away from assigning diversity campaigns to a simple checklist and instead integrates lessons of empathy and inclusion into the company’s identity.

Crescendo not only appeals to a company’s morality but also its bottom line. According to a 2019 SHRM report on workplace culture, toxic culture costs companies $223 billion a year in turnover. By delivering weekly bite-sized content with unique learning paths for each individual through workplace communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, Crescendo exposes employees to new ideas and the experiences of others, creating real commitments to equity, inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism. Since the pandemic, Franch and her company have employed people in 13 countries, contributed $45,000 to non-profit organizations, and delivered over 300,000 inclusion teachings to professionals around the world. – DS

RELATED: 6 Startups Hardcoding Diversity into Today’s Leading Companies

Marc-Antoine Caya

Marc-Antoine Caya

CEO, co-founder; goPeer

Despite launching as recently as September 2020, Marc-Antoine Caya’s peer-to-peer lending service goPeer is already revolutionizing Canada’s financial space. Caya’s start-up disrupts the traditional financial lending model by connecting creditworthy Canadians seeking a loan with those looking to invest. The Toronto-based company allows investors to lend as little as $10 per loan and earn monthly repayments of capital and interest. In that sense, its model has a similar structure to that of a traditional bank, just in a far more streamlined, affordable form.

At just 28 years old, Caya has already managed to leverage technological innovation into financial democratization, offering better rates to borrowers while giving everyday investors admission to an asset class previously only available to those who Caya describes as “the big guys.” Essentially, the peer-to-peer structure allows users to grow high-yield investments with low-interest rates, simply by cutting out the middle-man.

In less than a year, Caya has managed to serve thousands of Canadian lenders and borrowers alike, leading to goPeer being named Emerging Lending Platform of the Year by the Canadian Lenders Associate & BMO. The platform also received the Aird & Berlis StartupSource Market Entry Award as part of York University’s LaunchYU Accelerator program. With over $1 million in loans already facilitated on the platform, there’s no doubt that both Caya and goPeer will continue disrupting the Canadian financial realm and assisting everyday Canadians for years to come. – DS

Angelique Ahlstrom

Angelique Ahlstrom

Co-founder, Flash Forest

Over centuries of industrialization, humans have carelessly taken our trees for granted, clearing more than half of our planet’s life-giving forests. Fortunately, forests have an extraordinary ability to recover, if given the chance. Now, Angelique Ahlstrom and her company Flash Forest are hoping to accelerate this rehabilitation, pledging to plant one billion trees by 2028 with the help of drones.

Projected to become the most scalable and cost-efficient method of reforestation, Flash Forest uses autonomous drones and mapping software to help regenerate ecosystems by facilitating diverse seed germination. Operating at 10 times the speed of human planters, the drones fire nutrient-packed pods to the earth autonomously, reaching areas that are normally unsafe to venture into.

Ahlstrom’s vision is that of a green pioneer, helping humans correct our mistakes and drawing a viable blueprint for recovery. Her dream and Flash Forest’s mission as the first Canadian drone reforestation company is to heal our planet’s lungs by stemming biodiversity loss and fighting climate change. But the 29-year-old founder understands that such environment restoration requires a sense of urgency and rapid technological innovation. Ahlstrom asserts that for humans to eventually replant around a trillion trees—a mark that researchers estimate could store more than 200 gigatons of carbon and help regulate the planet’s temperature—innovators such Flash Forest aren’t only useful, but necessary. – DS

Phil De Luna

Phil De Luna

Director, National Research Council of Canada

As the youngest Director at the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC), Phil De Luna is currently leading a seven-year, $57 million intensive research program aimed at developing Canadian-made clean energy technology. De Luna and his team are currently in search of what is referred to as “artificial photosynthesis,” using the electrocatalytic conversion of CO₂ and other chemicals into clean fuels. Essentially, De Luna’s work strives to create a cleaner, more sustainable Canadian energy, thereby transforming the country’s chemical industry and helping Canada achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

De Luna’s path to the NRCC is one that was as diversified as it was decorated. Awarded the Governor General Gold Medal and named one of 10 global finalists for the $20 million Carbon XPrize—a prize given to breakthrough technologies converting CO₂ into usable products—De Luna has firmly established himself as one of Canada’s leading innovators. As an Action Canada Fellow with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the OECD, he also works to develop impactful policy recommendations surrounding leadership diversity and collaborative research platforms.

But part of being a leader in the field means using that platform to help support the next generation of innovators. De Luna knows that as revolutionary as his team’s work has been at the NRCC, it also relies on continued scientific innovation in the private sector, so he began serving as a mentor at Creative Destruction Lab, an accelerator focused on bringing science-based start-ups to life. As a scientist, leader, and entrepreneur, De Luna tends to wear a lot of hats, but even with his breadth of responsibilities, his primary vision remains clear: creating a more sustainable future for Canadians. – DS

Madison Guy

Madison Guy

CEO, co-founder; GrantMe

After experiencing the arduous process of finding scholarships and grants to pay her way through university, Madison Guy decided to take matters into her own hands. She had received an athletic scholarship as captain of the UBC women’s soccer team, but scoured the internet for additional awards to cover the rest of her expenses, ultimately earning an additional $50,000 in scholarships. She began helping fellow student-athletes find similar opportunities before realizing she had found an untapped market. In 2018, Guy launched her company GrantMe to help fellow students avoid the same confusing pitfalls she had wrestled with.

The technology company works with a diverse group of Canadian students, assisting anyone from grade nines to undergraduates to earn scholarships and make higher education more accessible across the country. So far, GrantMe has worked with over 500 students and helped them earn over $4 million in funding. By streamlining the application process, Guy and her team are democratizing private education and empowering young Canadians so they can be well-equipped to enter the workforce without being burdened by overwhelming student debt. – DS

Roy Woods

Roy Woods

Musician; co-founder, LOOP/POOL

It seems like everywhere you go nowadays, there’s a Canadian musician that’s dominating the charts, racking up awards, or flooding your social media feeds. From R&B crooners to pop music mainstays, Canadian artists are on fire right now.

But artists thrive on live experiences in order to market themselves and connect with their fans. So what happens when a global pandemic eliminates that from the equation? An abrupt loss of revenue. 

Denzel Spencer (better known by his stage name Roy Woods) is a rapper, singer, and songwriter signed to Drake’s record label, OVO Sound. Known for his signature R&B and hip-hop sound, the Brampton-native has already accomplished what many dream of at the young age of 25. But despite his success and having the support of the biggest names in the industry today, Woods understands what it’s like to struggle as an artist, which is why he’s giving back as co-founder of LOOP/POOL. 

The Canadian cannabis brand offers a unique proposition in that it is owned by artists like Woods, Our Lady Peace, dvsn, and Kiesza (alongside CEO Ian Kwechansky), and gives five percent of its proceeds into a music fund, earmarked for emerging artists in desperate need of support, especially due to the pandemic. 

“I’m very excited to be a part of it,” says Woods. “I love the fact that I can do something like this with [LOOP/POOL], especially for other artists.”

For Woods, this is not only a way to give back to his community but also his first step onto the path of entrepreneurship. Today’s biggest artists aren’t just artists, they’re also investors, CEOs, and brand builders that are effectively able to harness their clout and leverage their audience towards their other endeavours. 

“I just want to learn as much as possible. There are so many different things that I can do with my money, and I’m interested in so many different things like stocks and real estate,” says Woods. “I’m just trying to take my time to learn and make sure that I’ve got a game plan.”

LISTEN: Roy Woods on How to Better Support Emerging Artists

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Actor, Never Have I Ever

What catapulted Maitreyi Ramakrishnan to significant media attention, especially here in Canada? Landing the lead in Netflix’s acclaimed Never Have I Ever (less than one year after she decided to pursue a career in acting) helped put her on the map. The proud Tamil Canadian actress was actually chosen by executive producer Mindy Kaling out of 15,000 candidates that applied for an open casting call.

But what’s kept her Q Score so high ever since?

More than just her unique identity and record-breaking performance, Ramakrishnan is actively breaking down barriers and changing the world through the power of representation in media. So much so that she was recently named as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2021. – CM

RELATED: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan on How to Fight for Better Representation in Hollywood

Iman Vellani

Iman Vellani

Actor, Ms. Marvel

Even with a melting pot of cultures and a high-tech hub, the City of Markham (in Southern Ontario) hasn’t produced a ton of marquee stars, let alone one lucky enough to play a Marvel superhero. 

But that all changed with Iman Vellani. Selected as a member of the TIFF Next Wave Committee at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Vellani’s life changed when she got the call to headline not only her own Marvel franchise, but the first series centered around a Muslim superhero. She was cast as the titular character in the upcoming Disney+ series Ms. Marvel, then quickly signed to reprise the role in Captain Marvel 2

An actor, seemingly plucked out of nowhere, giving visibility and representation to female, BIPOC characters? And in what is undoubtedly the biggest franchise in all of entertainment? At not even 20 years old, this Canadian is about to have her life changed—and change the lives of many others yearning to see someone like themselves on the big screen. We love to see it. – CM

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