The now generation

Find out what drives the women behind some of Metro’s Vancouver’s most innovative companies

Shannon Rogers, president and general counsel, Global Relay. Rogers, Andrea Palmer, Cherie Ehlert, Debra Lykkemark and Noel Asmar discuss what motivates them to succeed.

Shannon Rogers

President and General Counsel, Global Relay

Why this? What drives you? • I started my career at a Tier 1 law firm. My friend, Warren Roy, had founded a three-person startup named Global Relay, and I started helping him with legal and business matters on the side. I quickly realized that I was much more passionate about helping build a new business based on innovative technology than I was about my existing career, so I took a leap of faith and left my law firm to join Global Relay full time. To leave the security of my law career for Global Relay was a huge risk, and we did struggle and starve for years, but the journey has been incredible and it’s amazing to work with a great team to create global business from nothing and watch it grow and thrive.

Greatest challenge so far? • When I joined Global Relay in 2003, the company had only $14,000 in annual revenues, no real market, no funding and growing debts. There were no resources for R&D or to hire additional staff, and many companies were reluctant to trust their data to a third party at a time when the cloud was still years from becoming mainstream. We grew Global Relay little by little, building off of each customer win, gradually gaining a reputation for compliance and technological expertise and winning customers’ trust. Today, we have more than 20,000 customers in 90 countries and have been named a leader in the archiving industry by the most influential technology analysts.

Worst moment of doubt? • I’ve had some heavy, difficult days, but I don’t really have a worst moment of doubt because I believe in our company and its direction.

Best advice? • Business can be tough and failures and setbacks are part of the journey. So try to remember that as long as you’re moving two steps forward and only one step back, you’re going in the right direction.

If I weren’t here, I would be: • A full-time activist working to save our salmon, whales and oceans.

Andrea Palmer

CEO and Founder, Awake Labs Inc., autism technology company

Why this? What drives you? • I am motivated to spend my time doing things that matter. As someone with an engineering background, what matters to me is developing the right tools that have the most potential for impact.

Autism affects one in 68 children in North America and there is still so much we don’t know about autism spectrum disorder. However, one of the things we do know is that there is not enough being done to support individuals on the spectrum. It is difficult to hear that a problem is too hard to tackle, or isn’t worth solving because the “market” is too small.

Technology has such a fundamental ability to change the way we interact with the world and with each other. This insight motivates me to apply technology to solve some of the most pressing challenges for people who need it now.

Greatest challenge so far? • Autism is a spectrum; every individual is unique, from their behaviour to their body’s response to emotion. Designing something that can be universally useful while also being personalized to the individual is hard.

Worst moment of doubt? • I’ve had two partners leave since the company began, in both cases at times where it was easy to question whether to throw in the towel or to keep going.

Dream goal? • To build something that supports even one person to live a happier and healthier life. And then find a way to scale it globally.

Best advice? • If you want something, ask for it. No one is just going to walk up and give it to you.

If I weren’t here, I would be: • Finding something else that matters, that has a transformative impact, and building that.

Cherie Ehlert

CEO/delivery driver, Charlie’s Hospitables, hospital survival kits. A percentage of proceeds go to Canuck Place Children’s Hospice

Why this? • I have been an ICU momma for the past seven-plus years spending on average six weeks a year in BC Children’s Hospital with my seven-year-old daughter, Charlie-Anne, who has spinal muscular atrophy Type 1, a life-limiting genetic illness. Spending so much time in the hospital I now consider myself an expert on what a family needs to survive in these tough times. Healing plants, cold-pressed juices, healthy foods, calming teas, fruit, hygiene products, etc. Loved ones feel helpless in these situations and want to help wherever they can, and it’s not always easy to ask for what we really need; these kits answer those questions.

What drives you? • Charlie drives me. She is the inspiration behind everything I do. And I love being a little part of the light in a family’s dark days.

Worst moment of doubt? • I came up with my business plan during a hospital stay with Charlie last year. Lying on a mattress on the floor next to her bed, monitors beeping, my stomach growling, I started to write my ideas down on about 14 days of no real sleep. When we finally got home and I got some rest and reread my notes, I began to approach local businesses. I thought, “Really, Cherie, can you do this? Is this really a good idea?” But I tuned that out and just went for it, and I’m glad I did.

Dream goal? • Employees! Ha! Ultimately I’d like to really get myself out there because as much as this is a Vancouver-based business, my kits are meant to be purchased from Vancouver and beyond. So many families come from all over and may not have had a chance to bring a lot with them or know the city well or have a vehicle or want to leave their loved one’s side to gather supplies. This is something loved ones can do from afar for their family and friends in need.

Best advice? • Just do it. Don’t be afraid of failure, or if someone else is doing something a little similar, do it your way; there’s room for everyone.

Debra Lykkemark

CEO, Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events

Why this? What Drives You? • I fell in love with the restaurant business when I was 13 and got my first job busing tables at a pancake house in Calgary. From there I got a job at a café, then Kentucky Fried Chicken, then as a hostess … and eventually as a bar manager.

My goal was to have my own restaurant by the time I turned 30, so I decided my next step should be to enrol in Dubrulle French Culinary School. [By the time I finished,] my 30th birthday was the following year and I had no money for my restaurant, so I talked a couple of friends into going into business with me and we opened a 20-seat café and started catering. I discovered that I loved catering. … The variety and challenges of catering have kept me engaged and excited about my business for the past 30 years.

Greatest Challenge So Far? • Catering [at the Canada and B.C. pavilions] at the Winter Olympic Games in Turin and the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and don’t have your industry connections and suppliers is very challenging. They were both amazing experiences but definitely not for the faint of heart.

If I weren’t here I would be: • If I had more money when I was turning 30 I would have opened a restaurant. Probably something high-end and West Coast-inspired. In hindsight I’m thankful I didn’t have the money because it steered me into catering, which I am passionate about, and I probably would never have had the opportunity to work in Italy or China.

Noel Asmar

Founder and Creative Director, Noel Asmar Group of Companies

Why this? What drives you? • I have always been driven to create and explore, and I have experienced first-hand the unbelievable power that a garment can have. Through my first career in hospitality, I saw how transformative it can be to be dressed for success. I thrive on the ability to empower those around me through clothing and thoughtful designs. I am constantly inspired and motivated by the people I meet every day and couldn’t imagine my life any other way.

Greatest challenge so far? • A continuous challenge is finding the best people for the best roles. We hire for a culture fit; we have a dedicated team of experts who work together and challenge each other to be their best. Surrounding myself with the best team ensures the growth and success of the company.

Worst moment of doubt? • Balancing my role as a wife, mother and business leader. There can be moments of doubt when finding stability and success in all areas of your life, but I use this as a checks-and-balances system to continue improving and living consciously.

Dream goal? • To establish Noel Asmar as an industry leader and global brand, emphasizing our female CEO and Canadian roots. There are not many Canadian brands on the global scale, and even fewer still that are created and led by a female director. I look forward to empowering female Canadian entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and continue to build our national brand identity as innovative, creative and powerful.

Best advice? • Trust your instincts and be your real and authentic self. Surround yourself with people who believe in your goals and who are equally passionate about pursuing their dreams.

If I weren’t here, I would be: • Running a boutique hotel and a signature Mediterranean restaurant. I may still.