Calgary’s business community is replete with remarkable and inspiring women. In every industry, throughout the ranks, highly-skilled, accomplished and dedicated women work hard daily to build their businesses and communities. The network amongst these entrepreneurs is strong, supported by over 80 different organizations working to advance professional women.
Following are some of this city’s passionate businesswomen, who are excelling in their professions and making an important impact for their peers.
Katie Smith, Executive Director, Young Women in Energy
At just 31 years old, Katie Smith is at the forefront of Calgary’s women in the business community.
She has been involved with Young Women in Energy (YWE) since it was founded in 2013. “They did a call out for volunteers and I had had a fairly similar idea,” she recalls. “So, it was perfect. I got on board and did external relations and communications for a year. Then when the founder, Anna Murray, moved to Toronto, I applied to take over the day-to-day and was selected.”
Under Smith’s leadership, YWE has enjoyed substantial growth, increasing from roughly 1,000 members to just over 4,500 today.
“We believe that young women have the power to change the energy industry for the better,” she says. “We want to increase and provide the voice presence, development and leadership of women working in the energy industry.”
Membership in YWE, she notes, is open to all women in energy. “It’s for any age or discipline. It’s for someone who’s at that pivotal point: no longer a new graduate, but not yet an executive. They’re just looking for that additional support.”
YWE hosts a number of events and programs for its members, offering opportunities to develop and connect. The YWE Acumen Series presents industry experts on a variety of topics aimed at improving attendees’ business acumen. Networking events include a golf league and golf boot camp, a non-fiction book club and the YWE Summit, a yearly conference in Kananaskis. “It’s really impactful content,” Smith says. “Getting women out of their day jobs and trying to advance them as future leaders of energy.”
YWE’s flagship program is its Awards Program, where 10 women are recognized each year for changing the face of energy. “They are a way of recognizing and rewarding women who are doing really incredible things to change the face of energy,” Smith explains.
By day, Smith manages proposals for Calgary-based Spartan Controls, and has always been interested in how to communicate technical information in a more persuasive way. A born-and-raised Calgarian, she graduated from the University of Calgary with a communications degree, then received her certificate in public relations from Mount Royal University. She is currently pursuing her MBA in executive management from Royal Roads University.
Smith is also a founder of Axis Connect Corp., a new non-profit focused on connecting and supporting the various organizations in Calgary working to advance women. On March 5, Axis will co-host the inaugural Calgary Influential Women in Business Awards with the Calgary Chamber, recognizing seven outstanding female business leaders and one male champion for women in Calgary.
Ellen Parker, CEO, PARKER PR and Board Member, Dress for Success Calgary
When Ellen Parker started PARKER PR five years ago, her intent was to do public relations on the side of her full-time job as mom to two young boys. With a background in communications and having just moved back to Calgary from New York City, she started with small contracts for small ensembles with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Growth occurred organically, and today her business has seven full-time employees, between 15 and 25 clients at any time, and a vibrant Kensington office.
“Our team is technically trained and more importantly really passionate about what they’re doing and their purpose,” Parker says. “We also create really strong partnerships for our clients. We become a part of their business in a way, providing them access to our entire suite of communication strategies and relationships. We’re a full-stop shop.”
Parker, a proud Calgarian, knows what she’s doing. “Event planning and community building have been strengths throughout my whole life,” she reflects.
Growing up in Sunnyside, she attended the Calgary Waldorf School from kindergarten through Grade 9. “[Waldorf] is all about community building,” she says fondly. “There’s tons of volunteering and a focus on philanthropy and helping charitable organizations.” She attended the University of Laval and then Mount Royal University’s public relations degree program.
After university, she had various jobs in Calgary and Manhattan including at Wordfest Calgary, the Calgary Food Bank, a New York-based public relations company, the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
Today, Parker balances being a mom (she co-chairs the parent council of Hillhurst School where her boys attend and volunteers every Monday morning in the classroom) with running her business.
PARKER PR clients include the Kensington and Downtown Business Revitalization Zones, the Pioneer Event Corporation, Jubilee Auditorium, Calgary International Film Festival, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Rozsa Foundation and Willow Park Wine & Spirits, among many others. “Our goal is to showcase to the world all of the amazing work that people are doing in Calgary,” she says.
Two years ago, she joined the board of Dress for Success Calgary – which provides a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help women thrive in work and life – as the public relations director.
“Once a client has a job interview they are referred to us and we provide them with about three different outfits for that interview,” Parker explains of the process that occurs at the organization’s Inglewood boutique, where she volunteers. “Slacks and blouse, skirt, footwear, makeup, scarf, jewelry, handbag, overcoat. And once they secure the job, they can come back for a full wardrobe.”
Since joining Dress for Success, Parker has led two new fundraising initiatives which have involved local partners such as Holt Renfrew, the Fairmont Palliser and other businesses, to raise both the organization’s profile and funds.
“We’ve definitely changed the landscape,” Parker says proudly. “It’s an amazing board of women who are really effective – many strategic hands at the table to benefit the cause.”
Judy Fairburn, Shelley Kuipers and Alice Reimer, Founders, The51
Individually, Judy Fairburn, Shelley Kuipers and Alice Reimer boast impressive resumés. Fairburn is a fellow at Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a director on several boards, and a serial founder with C-suite industry, government and venture capital experience. Kuipers is a business activist and pioneer in the field of crowdsourcing, the founder of several companies including IOVIA and Chaordix, and a dedicated community builder. Reimer is a successful technology entrepreneur and community leader, currently the CEO of Fillip and site lead for CDL.
Together, they are The51, a financial platform and collective – launched in Calgary one year ago – that invests in female-led/co-led startups. Their combination is powerful.
“The51 refers to women being 51 per cent of the population,” Fairburn explains. “We felt it was time to harness the unbelievably talented women in this province and beyond to unleash the next economic wave with businesses that are future-relevant.” She notes that Alberta has double the national average of technology startups founded by women. “But the best we can tell, if the ventures are solely female led, they only receive two to four per cent of the venture capital. Which means it’s very hard for these startups to successfully grow.”
The51 connects women with capital with women-led/founded businesses. “We know the world has not largely been designed by women so here is our opportunity,” Kuipers urges. “We are 51 per cent of the population so let’s participate and redesign what can be a better future within the constructs of capitalist, feminism and sustainable business practices.”
The51 quite literally got to work in 2019, and to date has invested just over $5.5 million in female founders in Canada and around the world who are building new, innovative, female-driven business models. From technology applications to clothing brands, at-home fertility test kits to custom waste-water treatment systems, the companies invested in – underpinned by a powerful community of women investors and entrepreneurs – are driving the next female-powered economic wave.
“We’ve experienced first-hand that there are not enough women at the table, as experienced investors and entrepreneurs,” Reimer laments. “The51 is here to change that and the three of us are driven to make this happen – not by talking about what we will do but by doing it.”
“I’m passionate about building an Alberta that our younger generation chooses as a place of opportunity,” Fairburn says. “It’s possible and inevitable for this province to thrive again. Our unique DNA of entrepreneurship and community are the secret. And the key, in particular, is to unlock the potential of our amazing women!”