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On November 21, 2018, the 26th annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, presented by Women of Influence, shone a spotlight on Canada's women entrepreneurs, whose successful businesses and achievements contribute so much – to the Canadian and global economies, and to their own communities.

The RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards (CWEA) is the principal program of Women of Influence, whose mission is to help Canadian businesswomen connect and thrive. Since the inception of the awards 26 years ago, more than 25,000 women — from every sector of the economy and region of the country — have been nominated, and 164 of these awards have been presented since 1992.

Proudly championed by title sponsor RBC for the last 12 years, the awards have come to be a highly anticipated event to celebrate and support the courageous and compelling journeys of Canada’s most driven and successful women entrepreneurs.

This year, following a record-breaking 7,400 nominations, 21 inspiring finalists were honoured at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Families, sponsors and past winners came together to demonstrate their commitment to advancing the success of Canadian women entrepreneurs.

The impact of women entrepreneurs in Canada

CTV news anchor Marcia MacMillan hosted the Awards and began by introducing keynote speaker Helena Gottschling, chief human resources officer at RBC.

Gottschling highlighted the incredible impact women entrepreneurs have made so far. Canada is home to 1.4 million women entrepreneurs,1 and 47 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women in Canada2 — businesses that generate over $117 billion in economic activity per year.3 While the numbers tell a promising story, the reality is that many women still face barriers to capital, and women entrepreneurs earn 58 per cent less revenue than men.4

Helena encouraged everyone in the room to keep doing their part to ensure every Canadian woman who aspires to be an entrepreneur has a fair shot at realizing her dreams. “Canadian women are a dynamic and powerful economic force,” she said. “When they succeed, we all succeed.”

Words of wisdom from an iconic entrepreneur

The crowd was then treated to a lively talk by guest speaker Debbie Travis — celebrity entrepreneur, design icon and best-selling author.

“You can often spot the entrepreneur in the room,” Ms. Travis began. “They are often exhausted. It’s OK to put your head on the table and have a nap if you need to,” she encouraged, to knowing laughs and nods around the room.

She went on to recognize the incredible hard work and almost super-human drive entrepreneurs possess. “They are a unique breed. They walk the extra mile, send emails at 3 a.m. because they have an amazing idea. They have endless drive, passion, mission and vocation.” She also addressed the “confidence crisis” she sees as an epidemic in young people today. A lack of confidence can hold entrepreneurs back and make them fearful of the world. “There is only one way to gain confidence,” she said. “That is to work together.”

A celebration of this year’s top women entrepreneurs

Seven award categories were presented this year, honouring women at the earliest stages of their businesses, as well as true empire-builders who have made a significant impact.

Ones to Watch: New for 2018, the Ones to Watch category shines a spotlight on a deserving group of women entrepreneurs who are doing amazing things while still in the start-up phase.

2018 Winners: Kate Latos, Ecofence and Decking Ltd.; Jessica Ching, Eve Medical; Humera Malik, Canvass Analytics; Thao Nguyen, Bonbon Collections Inc.; Sonja Mills & Alicia MacDonald, Port Rexton Brewing Company Ltd.

Micro-Business Award: This award honours an entrepreneur who owns and operates a small business in any industry, at any stage and in any region, that generates annual revenue under $1M and has demonstrated successful growth.

2018 Winner: Glain Roberts-McCabe, Founder and President of The Roundtable

Staples Start-Up Award: Celebrating the early success of Canadian business women and the important contribution start-ups have on our economy, this award recognizes the achievements of an entrepreneur who, within three to five years, has developed her business into one that’s ready for the next level of growth.

2018 Winner: Joanna Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Knix Wear

RBC Momentum Award: This award recognizes an entrepreneur who has delivered 10 per cent or more growth, year over year, for three or more years, and has built a flexible and responsible business able to adapt to changing market environments and leverage opportunities for continued growth.

2018 Winner: Dr. Marjorie Dixon, CEO & Medical Director of Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health

“I had a desire to upend the industry,” Dr. Dixon said. “I was told the system wouldn’t allow for change, but here I am. The challenge was laid and I was bound and determined — I wanted to offer a superior option for women who wanted to grow their families. Offering patient care with a social conscience.”

Dr. Dixon founded Anova after many years in practice in order to execute her vision of balancing reproductive medicine where evidence-based medical care with compassion for all patients.

“In spite of what I do daily, I am consistently faced with a clear and unarguable fact that every human is born to a woman — and I believe this gives women a very different perspective when it comes to problem solving in business. We must focus on thinking unconventionally and out of the box because that’s how we are hard-wired.”

Social Change Award: Awards a leader of a registered charity or not-for-profit that is dedicated to social change — someone who has garnered extraordinary from the community by being champions for philanthropy and volunteerism in Canada.

2018 Winner: Latha Sukumar, Executive Director of MCIS Language Solutions

TELUS Trailblazer Award: Celebrates a women who has recognized a new market, product, service or technological advancement and led the way via originality, quality and successful management.

2018 Winner: Toni Desrosier, Founder and Inventor of Abeego

Desrosier recognized that society wasted a large amount of food because it is stored improperly. In order to reduce the amount of waste, she created a way to store food that was unique. Her company’s beeswax food wraps offer a breathable alternative to plastic wraps for consumers looking for more environmentally friendly way to save food.

Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship: Awarded to the entrepreneur who, through timely innovation, strategic thinking and smart execution, has built and managed one or more successful businesses over a period of 10 years.

2018 Winner: Victoria Nashmi & Jennifer Sopik, Co-Founders of Kids & Company

Kids & Company is a North American childcare provider with a mandate to provide complete flexibility to families and help them with their work-life balance. Under Nashmi and Sopik’s leadership, Kids & company has grown more than 15-20 per cent year over year, and has over 100 locations in Canada and the U.S., with 3,000+ employees.

The finalists and winners of the 26th annual Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Awards are all shining examples of what women can achieve in the entrepreneurial space. Alicia Skalin and Stephania Varalli, co-CEOs of Women of Influence thanked all the finalists as she closed the evening:

“Thank you for getting up far too early or staying up past anybody’s bedtime to empty your inbox or send that email at 3 in the morning … Thank you for juggling work and husbands and kids and pets and everything else that life throws at you … Thank you for almost failing, or actually failing, but not giving up. Thank you for everything you have come through that has brought you into the room this evening. For entrepreneurs who hear your story, we believe we can follow our dream because you did. If you can do it, we can do it.”

1. Women Entrepreneurship Study, Paypal 2018

2. The Balance

3. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2015/2016

4. CNN Newswire