IEF Profile Piece to Pitch
An interview with our Executive Director, Sally J M Douglas.
Purpose: To introduce the Innovators & Entrepreneurs Foundations (IEF) and showcase their small but growing team and the work they are committed to.
Framing: To help Canadians understand the mission of IEF which is to support and celebrate SMEs in marginalized communities throughout the country so that we can reach further, engage more entrepreneurs and increase our impact. With over 98% of businesses in Canada employing less than 100 people, this work is a critical element in Canada’s economic recovery.
- Tell us a little about your background and what drew you to this new opportunity
While I have not always been a business owner (currently co-founder of GSD&Co) I have spent the majority of my career committed to business development, chasing new ideas and realizing possibilities. As an immigrant arriving in Canada over 15 years ago I have first hand experience of what it feels like to start all over again in a place with no network, no family and no friends. There were people who gave me chances along the way and I simply wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Working with IEF (The Foundation) gives me the exciting opportunity to pass that forward.
- What is the IEF and what is its mission?
The Innovators & Entrepreneurs Foundation is a national charity dedicated to support and celebrate the innovation and entrepreneurship of SME’s in marginalized communities across Canada. The business community, like so many others, have faced unprecedented challenges in the last couple of years. While they have done so with resilience and ingenuity we at IEF are committed to providing a network of support, bridges to the most useful resources, and programs and to celebrate the incredible businesses who are thriving despite everything going on in the world. We know the more marginalized an individual, business or community, the less likely they are to be aware of such opportunities so we are working with representatives of those we serve to reach as many people as we can to make connections and create change for the better.
- Tell us a little about your team. How does everyone fit into realizing the IEF vision?
The foundation has a committed team who understand the importance of our work and the impact we need to make. And when I think of “team” I mean our staff, the board, our partners and sponsors, stakeholders and volunteers all of whom make the work possible. In the long run, we need to hire and engage those from the communities we serve. It takes a village!
- How would Canada (and the world) benefit from more and better-resourced entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs are a critical element of economic and sustained recovery. Creating more space and resources for entrepreneurs to succeed has so many positive impacts on Canada and communities everywhere. For example, creating more companies means more jobs which support with economic recovery. It allows innovation to be realized, the economy to strengthen and local, provincial, national and international communities to contribute and thrive.
- Why is it important to fund innovation and entrepreneurship among business owners in marginalized communities and beyond?
All entrepreneurs battle their way over hurdles every day but for people from marginalized communities there are additional barrier. s. Awareness of these barriers is growing but there is still so much more we can do. We need to create and execute ways to reduce these barriers and that requires funding.
- What kind of groups does IEF fund and amplify? Will this scope be expanding in future?
While we aspire to encompass all underrepresented entrepreneurs in Canada we need to ensure we partner with key ecosystem support organizations in order to increase our impact. As we build toward that, we focus on reaching as many people as our resources allow within groups that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Currently this includes women, indigenous peoples, racialized groups, youth, seniorpreneurs, new immigrants and military veterans but we know there are many more who need support and resources.
- What are your plans for 2022?
We know there are so many more people who would benefit from support, whether that be funding, mentorship, or access to resources and tools, and as we continue to consult and engage with underrepresented entrepreneurs from across Canada we strive to develop programs that help to fill the gap for entrepreneurs. We are working hard to build plans to reach further and deepen our impact in 2022 and beyond through a robust strategic partnership exercise. We also fully acknowledge we are not experts in every aspect of this work and to be successful we need to build partnerships and reach out to representatives and stakeholders across Canada to co-create solutions together with both the private, public and industry leaders. This remains a significant commitment of IEF.
- What can people expect and look forward to from the upcoming November CANIE Awards?
We have such incredible innovation to celebrate from coast to coast to coast. Our winners, the semi-finalists and the hundreds of entrepreneurs who applied to The CANIE Awards all tell innovative and resilient stories. It seems more important than ever given the challenges during the pandemic to take the time to celebrate these businesses and what they are contributing both here in Canada and internationally.
- As the newly appointed Executive Director, where do you see you and your team taking IEF? What does the next chapter/level look like? What is your dream for the Foundation?
The Innovators and Entrepreneurs Foundation has already made a difference in the lives of many businesses across Canada. It is that legacy that fuels my belief that we can do more. I can literally see the future in my mind’s eye. We will become a larger support organization that makes a a positive difference to entrepreneurs and innovators through education, research, improved access to resources and funding, advocacy and of course, by celebrating of their achievements through the annual CANIE Awards.
- What is your absolute favorite thing about this work? What is the most challenging?
My father was an entrepreneur. And I am fortunate enough to be the co-founder of GSD&Co with my brilliant business partner Elizabeth Gray-Smith. I know first hand about the highs and the lows of being a business owner and understand it can be lonely and overwhelming at times. We have the opportunity to create a kind of scaffolding for entrepreneurs in marginalized groups to give them support when they need it to expedite their success. Just like scaffolding on a construction site we don’t need to be there all the time but there are stages where we can play a critical role in their growth and success. And for me it is an honor to have the opportunity to drive and participate in this mission.
It is inspiring and rewarding to be part of a charity that encourages, celebrates and motivates ALL entrepreneurs to follow their entrepreneurial dream/calling.