30x30 Business

The 2018 Bay Street Bull 30×30 Guide

Contributors: Christian Allaire, Mauricio Calero, Ross Dias, Francisco Garcia, Christina Gonzales, Alex Earl Gray, Ed Hitchins, Iveta Karpathyova Christopher Metler, Arti Patel, Christopher Penrose, Nabil Shash

Our youth are the future.

Things are a bit tense right now. Political leaders are acting out, the environment is wasting away, and protests are now a regular fixture of the cultural landscape (and rightfully so.) But during times of struggle come opportunities for progress and optimism. More than ever, we look to the future with a newfound drive to make a change.

In our second annual 30X30 guide, we’ve assembled a group of inspiring individuals who are paving the road ahead for the rest to follow. They challenge us to be better, think differently, and move society forward. They are trailblazing entrepreneurs, freedom fighters, brilliant minds, thought-provoking artists, and more. And if they are any indication of the future, we’d say it’s looking pretty bright from here.

This is the Bay Street Bull 30X30 Class of 2018.


Rupi Kaur, 25

Poet, best-selling author

Photography: Nabil Shash

You can find Rupi Kaur’s poetry on Instagram alongside celebrity selfies and memes. In a space cluttered with narcissism and false perceptions, her simplistic approach with written words and illustrations sets her apart. But it would be unfair to pass off the 25-year-old as a viral sensation; Kaur has become a poet of the people though her savvy use of both traditional and non-traditional means to share her messages. Her journey showcases the power of words, further evidenced in the impact it’s had on a community that spans across the globe.

Kaur is reflective of a multicultural population and doesn’t fit the conventional look of a literary superstar. She has brown skin, she’s young, and, because of this, has been able to tell the stories of people who look just like her. But with this perspective, and the stratospheric success the young scribe has witnessed in the past few years, also comes immense pressure. For someone whose work mirrors so many of the experiences of minority communities, the stress of trying to represent all facets of it could be crippling. For Kaur, she quickly realized that she couldn’t be a voice for everyone. “I learned early on that I can’t possibly represent an entire community,” she explains. “We’re too multi-dimensional. All I can do is speak truth to my own experience and lived story, and those around me.”

Poetry started out as a passion and turned her into a New York Times bestselling author, with two books under her belt, milk and honey (2014) and the sun and her flowers (2017). But it's not just her words that have secured a world-wide book tour and the grasp of a staggering audience. The Brampton, Ontario-raised Punjabi-Sikh woman is redefining what poetry is and looks like for today’s society. A scroll through her Instagram page offers intimate snapshots of her life, and passages of poetry that range from powerful one-liners to eloquent paragraphs. She satisfies a range of readers: people who are underrepresented, writers who don’t get published, and those who would never consider themselves fans of poetry. But above this, Kaur has arrived at a time where the conversation around the rights of women and people of colour has reached a boiling point. She stands as a pillar in the community for those looking to hold on to something — a shared experience. She’s shown that strength comes in many forms: vulnerability, protest, empowerment, visibility.

Self-publishing her first book
milk and honey on Amazon in 2014, the writer who once wrote poems for crushes, has now sold more than four million copies worldwide. But it wasn’t an easy path to get there. She was initially discouraged to publish poems on abuse, grief, and loss, but stuck with it because it offered her a form of self-therapy. After seeing movements like #MeToo come to life, she says it’s easier to write about these topics in 2018. “When I started performing nine years ago [with] poetry based around sexual violence, I couldn’t find these narratives in the mainstream. But with these movements, I see them and it makes me proud.”

Kaur’s poetry captures some of her community’s most pressing issues, like domestic violence and misogyny, as well as the everyday stresses of finding love and getting over heartbreak. Her art also explores themes of sex, pleasure, and feminism, thoughts she once kept to herself. Using her life as a starting point, she weaves in experiences of those around her and sometimes shrinks those thoughts to fit to Instagram as a way to connect with her legion of followers. Her readers feel empowered, tear up, or simply tag their friends and move on. They are not ashamed to talk about their bodies, their skin colour, or their flaws. It’s a community that encourages Kaur, but they've also become empowered and outspoken, themselves. They are the protesters at the Women’s March who hand-write Kaur’s words on boards, or the people who recite her work out loud.

Kaur’s story is one about human connection and condition. She has toured around the world and reached millions through her gospel of inclusivity and above all else — love. Love for oneself, and love for others. For Kaur, whether through spoken word or poetry, her hope is that she can provide a more accepting space for the generations ahead, so that her “future children can feel seen, visible, and empowered to take on the world.” - AP

The Takeaway: Never underestimate the power of your emotions, and the experiences from which they come from. Acknowledge them, harness them, liberate yourself.


Jonathan Osorio, 25
Jozy Altidore, 28
Alex Bono, 23

Athletes, Toronto Football Club

Photographer: Alex Earl Gray
Stylist: Sharad Mohan
Hair/MU: Kennie Medard

In December of 2017, the Toronto Football Club (TFC) won their first Major League Soccer championship 11 seasons after being founded as a franchise. They won the match defeating the Seattle Sounders 2-0. Winning a title is always a crowning moment for a team, but this one was amplified by the heartbreak suffered by TFC players (and their fans) a year earlier.

In the 2016 final, TFC lost in the championship match to Seattle after a 0-0 draw went to penalty kicks. To face the same team a year later with a chance at redemption is not just a moment of the stars aligning, it is a testament to the unity and resilience of this remarkable squad.

“You talk to the guys and they have played on other teams, and they will tell you that they’ve never been on a team that is as close as this one is”, explains Jonathan Osorio of this TFC squad, “I think that bond in the locker room translates to the performances on the field.”

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Goalkeeper, Alex Bono, has also learned valuable lessons from carefully observing the field. “I do spend a fair bit of time just watching the game.” Rather than be complacent, he has taken advantage of how strong the squad in front of him is to grow as a player. “It has given me a new way of looking at the game,” he says, “being able to read balls that are coming through and seeing plays develop before they happen and trying to prevent them.” In addition to the huge saves he does make when tested, one of the most important contributions he makes to his team now is communication: “half the battle is before the ball even gets toward the goal.”

One of the keys to their success has been the combination of their consistency and their passion. They have had very little turnover of players in the last few years, and they're disciplined about their system, but that doesn't mean they don’t take risks and seek opportunities to add their individual flare to games. “I think a lot of the guys found a way to incorporate their own ability into each game and that’s what championship teams do,” says Osorio. The key, he says, is recognizing those opportunities: “The more you play, and the more you play in the system, the easier it is to know when it’s your moment to show what you have and add your flare to the game.” - CP

The Takeaway: Being a great teammate is more than just having someone’s back. It’s about establishing clear communication, cultivating rapport, and offering constructive criticism.

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Derrick Fung, 30

Founder, Drop

Photography: Francisco Garcia

This story has a name: A Tale of Two Derrick Fungs. And though the narrative is still being written, it’s one which already begins to unfold as an epic, consisting of chapters that each provide their own sagas — at least where it pertains to triumph in the consumer tech industry.

There is the Derrick Fung who, as a high school student, created the largest online sheet music community of its kind. The one who later interned at large multinational corporations like Merrill Lynch and Microsoft, and spent time working with the Clinton Foundation. The Derrick Fung who traded foreign exchange at CIBC World Markets, and started building a social record label out of his living room in 2011 — a platform he dubbed Tunezy.

As an entrepreneur, the holy grail is to have an exit. As I progress more in my entrepreneurial career, I think an exit isn't everything. Ultimately, our goal [with Drop] is to build an iconic brand that people resonate with. There's really no exit with that.

Then there is the Derrick Fung that emerged after 2012, who negotiated Tunezy’s seven-figure sale to SFX Entertainment and was made their youngest Vice President at 26. The Derrick Fung that went on to launch Drop – a mobile app which surfaces offers and rewards based on what members are spending. The entrepreneurial darling that recently secured Drop a whopping $21 million in Series A funding.

Accordingly, each chapter comes complete with their own indelible morals and memories. All of which, in the opinion of the man himself, culminate with Drop.

Fung looks back on his origins in the financial industry: “It was all about risk-taking," he says. "It was all about investing money, and it was all done in a very fast-paced, transparent environment.”

On the SFX acquisition: “As an entrepreneur, the holy grail is to have an exit. As I progress more in my entrepreneurial career, I think an exit isn't everything. Ultimately, our goal [with Drop] is to build an iconic brand that people resonate with. There's really no exit with that.”

On applying what he learned from his first company to his second: “You need cash to survive and there are three P’s to raising money – product, progress and people. When you start, you generally want one of the three P's. And then, as you evolve, you need more and more of them. With Drop, we had to have the right founding team, a massive market that we could address, and to be able to show progress with as little money as possible."

Fung confides that, along the way, he’s learned several important lessons about consumer loyalty. It’s a matter of initiating trust, a step he maintains is accomplished by humanizing the brand and building relationships, just like you would with your spouse or friends.

While the word ‘entrepreneur’ gets bandied about in this era more than ever, Fung respectfully contends that being one commands more than simply starting your own business. That a true entrepreneur should endeavour to redefine an industry in a very impactful way. “Think big. Go after big, bold markets — don't just go after Canada,” he contends. “Go after Canada, the US, North America, and then the world. And not only think big, but have a big vision.”

If you were looking to identify any line or two which might effectively summarize A Tale of Two Derrick Fungs so far, well, there you have it. - CM

The Takeaway: Think bold, be aggressive, and look for ways to make a meaningful impact.

Vitalik Buterin, 24

Founder, Ethereum

Illustration: Iveta Karpathyova

If cryptocurrency creators were superheroes, Vitalik Buterin would be the boy wonder.

In fact, the frail looking 24-year-old looks more like the gamer next door than a guy who, according to some sources, has a cryptocurrency worth of nearly $500 million.

After accepting a scholarship from the prestigious Thiel Fellowship in 2014, his three-year journey inspired Buterin to write the Ethereum white paper, which proposed an open-source platform for complex financial instruments versus the volatility of a mere cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin.

With developers such as Intel, Microsoft, and JPMorganChase on board, Ethereum is now believed to have more developers building on it than any other blockchain community, with a market cap having reached a peak of $100 billion.

His vision has cons as well: Buterin says he retains ownership of less than one percent of circulating supply of Ether. But he maintains that if crypto succeeds, it will “empower better institutions.” - EH

The Takeaway: If you see a problem, fix it or create a better alternative.


Fred VanVleet, 24

Athlete, Toronto Raptors

Photography: Mauricio Calero
Styling: Sharad Mohan

From the very base of it, Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet doesn’t look much like your typical NBA star. But perhaps that’s what the diminutive 24-year-old native of Rockford, Illinois wants you to think.As we sit around during a photo shoot at the Air Canada Centre practice court, VanVleet cracks a smile as somebody suggests this seems to be more like a day of playing dress up rather than an interview. After all, VanVleet is a scrappy character with incredible grit — an essential player in the Raptors leading their division and fighting it out for the first seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference.

“I was excited to come to Toronto,” VanVleet says. “I was lucky to have two of my friends from college be from here. I already kind of had an idea of the culture.” VanVleet headed to the Raptors as an undrafted free agent following a stellar career at Wichita State, where among the accolades he received, included twice being named the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year in 2014 and 2016.

Still, he had to fight to get here. Being overlooked and unheralded, he says, just gave him more determination to get to the top. 

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“When adversity hits, you have to make it through. That and perseverance go hand in hand, in life, and in basketball. If you want to be successful, those should be some of your core values,” VanVleet says. But his hard work got him noticed. So noticed in fact, that when his old high school, Auburn High in Rockford, was looking for a keynote speaker for their 2014 commencement ceremony, they asked for VanVleet to step up like he has for the Raptors so many times this season. 

“Going back to do the commencement speech, where I grew up — a lot of those kids never see anything outside of that city. Toronto is an underlooked, unheralded city. I’ve loved my time here.”

Having recently become a father, he wants his two-month old daughter to learn the art of perseverance. “My daughter is going to have different challenges. She’s going to grow up in a world completely different from mine. I just want to be honest and truthful with her. Whether you're rich or poor, you have to work hard.” 

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"My daughter is going to have different challenges. She's going to grow up in a world completely different from mine. I just want to be honest and truthful with her. Whether you're rich or poor, you have to work hard." - EH

The Takeaway:
Consider adversity and underestimation as opportunities to prove your doubters wrong.

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Huda Idrees, 27

CEO and Founder, Dot Health

Photography: Francisco Garcia

“At the end of the day, running a company is all about the people,” says Huda Idrees, one of Toronto’s startup veterans. At 27, Idrees has carved her path at some of the country’s most successful companies, including Wattpad, Wave, and Wealthsimple. This year, Idrees launched Dot Health, a digital platform, which gives Canadians access to all of their health data. More importantly, the data also allows users to spot trends in their health, a revolutionary approach to Canada’s archaic health-record system, giving patients ownership over their wellbeing.

Idrees credits Charlie O’Donnell, founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, for spelling out an axiom that she’d use time and time again in her rise to CEO. “Ask for what you want,” O’Donnell said, when she heard him speak at a community startup event. Something clicked. She’d already begun exercising the muscle of asking for what you want when she was offered a quality assurance analyst role with Wattpad back in 2011. “[It was] a job description that really bored me but I liked what Wattpad was building. And so I crafted my own job description, and [Allen Lau, Wattpad’s CEO], agreed to hire me as their first user experience designer.”

Women must learn to ask for what they want, Idrees says, or they’ll miss out on the rewards it will bring in their personal lives, careers, and finances. “I think a lot of what women get burdened with in our society is not expressing our feelings, and not saying what is in our minds,” Idrees explains. “And so we’re put in difficult situations where employers are saying, ‘Well I know you’re paid $20,000 less a year than your male counterpart [who does] the same thing, but you never asked, and he did.’ In that context, if we adopt this ability to go after things that we want, and be explicit about it, than it can really help us move all of womankind forward.” - CG

The Takeaway: Know your worth; ask for what you want.

Daniel Caesar, 23


Illustration: Iveta Karpathyova

Odds are that most current profiles you read about Daniel Caesar – the Canadian soul singer-songwriter who experienced a breakout in 2017 — will lead with the usual eye-catching tidbits. You know, like the ringing endorsement he received from none other than Barack Obama, himself. With “Blessed” and “First World Problems,” Caesar impressively notched two spots on the former US president’s list of favourite songs last year. Or how his acclaimed debut studio album, Freudian, snagged two Grammy nominations, while breakout single "Get You" raked in more than 10 million streams on Apple Music. No big deal.

We guess our account is in the same ballpark, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least also touch upon how before Caesar became arguably Canada’s next biggest musical export, he’d overcome both being kicked out of high school and occasional homelessness, literally starting from the bottom and working his way to the top.

In other words, while it may be Caesar’s unquestionable talent and budding résumé that first got our attention — and probably yours, too — it’s his humble beginnings that help keep it. - CM

The Takeaway: Talent is not enough. It takes grit, determination, and blind faith to fight your way to the top.

Alyssa Bertram, 27

Founder, Easy Period

Photography: Francisco Garcia

When Alyssa Bertram founded Easy Period, a subscription service for organic-cotton tampons, she was surprised to learn about the lack of transparency in the $3-billion tampon industry, which is largely controlled by consumer-packaged goods conglomerates like Procter & Gamble.

Since tampons are considered “medical devices,” its makers aren’t required to disclose ingredients, some of which include chlorine bleach, odour neutralizers, and polyethylene (the chemical compound for plastic). The ingredients just listed — along with the ones we didn’t even get to name — cause everything from hormonal and endocrine system disruption to abnormal tissue growth in the reproductive organs

“Tampons sit in a super permeable part of the body, so [women] deserve to know exactly what’s inside them,” Bertram states.

What’s even more frustrating is society’s relationship with periods, Bertram says. “This idea that [periods] should be kept quiet or relegated to the private sphere is systemic,” she explains, caused largely by lack of education and conversation surrounding a topic that affects everyone — whether you’re born a man or a woman. That’s why Bertram gives five percent of Easy’s profits to ZanaAfrica, an organization that provides menstrual education to girls in Kenya. It’s an area of the world where menstruation is so hush-hush that girls sometimes think they’re dying when they get their period for the first time, Bertram says.

On top of running Easy, Bertram spends her time leading events for men and women, a safe space, which opens up discussions about self-love and menstrual health. What’s clear is that Easy has evolved into something beyond a tampon. “If you speak to anyone who has built a really successful business, which resonates with a lot of people, they’d tell you that beyond what they’re actually selling, there was a mission,” Bertram says. “My mission was to inspire women, and I try to keep that front and centre.” - CG

The Takeaway: Engaging in uncomfortable topics is an opportunity for growth.

Vejas Kruszewski, 21

Fashion designer

Photography: LVMH Prize

Montreal-native, Vejas Kruszewski, is a rarity by today’s fashion standards — he’s a completely self-taught designer. Kruszewski moved to Toronto after high school, and kick-started his label by teaching himself to sew from, yes, YouTube videos and Japanese patterning magazines.

Debuting his namesake label back in 2015, Kruszewski has since garnered major industry attention — his big break coming in as the winner of the 2016 Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (LVMH) Prize, a global competition for young designers judged by fashion heavyweights like Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel) and Raf Simons (formerly of Christian Dior). Not bad for a debut. He’s also been recently tapped as the creative director for Pihakapi, a label focused on elevated leather pieces.

Much of Kruszewski’s appeal is indeed found in his distinctive collections, where the inspirations and executions are not easily pinpointed. The designer’s clothes are not meant to be particularly for men or women — a telling symbol reflective of a new generation’s attitude towards traditional gender norms. - CA

The Takeaway: Don’t wait for opportunity to knock. Forge your own path by arming yourself with the necessary skills and tools required.

Philip Barrar, 28

Founder, Mylo

Photography: Francisco Garcia

Philip Barrar has always had a flair for empowering people. In fact, one of the pillars of his fintech app, Mylo, was to give financial agency back to people in order to help them reach their fiscal goals.

Noticing a gap in the market for a tech-based financial service that would help individuals manage their money, Barrar has launched Mylo from idea to innovation on the raising of nearly $2.5 million in seed funding from big names in the financial sector.

“We built Mylo with this idea of financial inclusion being extremely important. For the longest time, [financial] products have not been accessible or affordable, which meant people were being left out of the conversation,” says Barrar. “What we’re trying to do is make it frictionless, easy and accessible.”

The app works on a concept of investing spare change into a conservative exchange traded fund (ETF) on purchases made by debit or credit card. For example, if one buys a meal for $5.65, the app invests the remaining 35 cents, rounding up to the nearest dollar.

Financial situations make most young people uncomfortable, and that’s partially due to the evolution of society as we depend more on technology. Barrar’s view is that young people should not be afraid to face these conversations head-on.

“Starting the conversation, and starting it early, is extremely important. It’s not bad to talk about these things with your friends or family. The taboo around money has made that difficult,” says Barrar.

Being an entrepreneur hasn’t been easy, but he says that staying focused is something that can help in building your business.

“Understand exactly why it is that you’re building what you’re building. A lot of people will have this idea, stick their heads in the sand and build it for 12 months, 24 months, 36 months, and three years later, realize that no one wants it. You should consistently talk to your customers and let them guide you,” says Barrar. - EH

The Takeaway: Listen to the market and find the gaps before you start building your company’s foundation.

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Petra Collins, 25

Photographer, Artist

Illustration: Iveta Karpathyova

For five years, photographer Petra Collins’ candy-coloured imagery has pushed society’s boundaries on how women are portrayed. In 2013, a photo Collins had posted on Instagram of her ungroomed bikini line was taken down because of the company’s community guidelines. The irony and criticism was palpable as thousands of similar, but overtly sexualized, photos remained accessible on the photo-sharing app. It was yet another example of the double standards that exist around the portrayal of women that she unabashedly challenged.

Her signature imagery is unequivocally feminist, and her perspective shines an ethereal light on the conversation about how diverse women’s bodies are critiqued. Internet outrage from her Instagram account being shut down morphed into a viral essay on Huffington Post that inadvertently changed the course of Collins’ career.

The Toronto-born artist’s career has since skyrocketed, shooting pop culture heavyweights like Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, and Frank Ocean, as well as campaigns for Stella McCartney, Levi’s, Adidas and more.

Through her work, Collins has made the case for the female gaze in an industry dominated by men in positions of power. - RD

The Takeaway: Be unapologetic in your craft, especially if it encourages meaningful dialogue.

Denis Shapovalov, 18

Athlete, tennis

Photography: Tag Heuer

The feeling around Denis Shapovalov is that he is the future of Canadian tennis. Last year, he made the jump to the pros with an explosive brand that seemed to be beyond his teenage frame.

The rumblings about Shapovalov first began when he won the Wimbledon junior singles in 2016. The rest of the tennis world started to believe in 2017 when he defeated the legendary Rafael Nadal in Montreal to make it to the semi-finals of the ATP Rogers Cup.

His appeal goes beyond being a tennis player with great potential — his approach to the game makes him an exciting player to watch even if you’re not into tennis. His serve is powerful, and comes from his left hand, giving him a slight edge. He sends powerful returns across the court from the baseline, and drops shots full of cunning at the net.

Shapovalov started playing tennis at the age of five under the guidance of his mother, who was a professional tennis player. In addition to his incredible focus and determination on the court to be among the best, Shapovalov is also a student of the players that have come before him: namely, Rafael Nadal, the king of the clay court. Shapovalov’s recognition that his own style of play is best suited for the quick pace on clay courts means we have the exciting subplot of his performance on this surface to watch as the career of this rising star in the tennis world unfolds before our eyes. - CP

The Takeaway: Success does not come overnight. It takes years of discipline and sacrifice. Do it right, and your idols could become your rivals.


Matthew Bailey, 28
Stephen Lake, 28
Aaron Grant, 28

Co-founders, Thalmic Labs

Photography: Thalmic Labs

Advances in technology promise us new abilities and superpowers, yet, in a lot of cases they have us unable to be present and more disconnected than ever with the people around us. Thalmic Labs founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant are attempting to solve this problem through wearable technology.

“Wearable technology is a means to an end for us to bring back some of the human element and let people get that value from technology, develop new abilities from that technology, while becoming (and remaining) more and more present in the real world”, explains Grant.

Their first product is called the Myo Armband. The technical description says that it “measures electrical activity in muscles to wirelessly control computers, phones and other digital technologies,” which means you will be able to use and control your technology without actually touching it.

Based out of Waterloo, the company started within an incubator for tech start-ups run by the University of Waterloo. Thalmic Labs is now being seen by many as one of Canada’s best chances at another tech giant (post Blackberry). They have a team of more than a hundred of the world’s best engineers, designers and researchers, and have secured $140 million USD in funding from some of the global leaders in investment.

Growing at the rate they have, they concede, has required a shift away from what they call a more typical Canadian mindset: “You have to be so focused and so good at executing on your strategy to be at the level that we want to be at when your competitors are the Facebook’s and Google’s of the world”, says Lake, “they just move so incredibly quickly, and are so ruthless in winning their markets.”

As we sit on the verge of another global wave in the digital revolution in the form of wearable technology, Thalmic Labs is poised to play a significant role in that from their base in Canada. Passionate about seeing the tech ecosystem grow in this country, Bailey wants people to look at Thalmic Labs as an example that, “you don’t have to leave to build something meaningful.” - CP

The Takeaway: You can rewrite the future if you stick to your vision, use logic to set your strategy, and execute relentlessly.


WondaGurl, 21

Music producer

Illustration: Iveta Karpathyova

If you’re going to go by the somewhat grandiose pseudonym of WondaGurl — as record producer Ebony Oshunrinde has since first emerging on the scene — then, frankly, you better have the CV to back it up.

Oshunrinde delivers in spades.

At 15 years of age, the Brampton, Ontario native became a protege of Boi-1da (a producer for industry juggernauts, Drake and Kendrick Lamar), who mentored the young talent, teaching her how to hone her skills and navigate an incredibly complex and competitive industry. In the years since, Oshunrinde’s found herself behind some of the industry’s biggest tracks, leading music luminaries such as JAY-Z, Travis Scott, and Rihanna. Not bad for someone who (at the time) was barely out of high school.

And now at just 21 — with her industrial and psychedelic style continuing to move her to the top of the speed dial for the game’s biggest tastemakers — there’s little doubt we’ll one day be regarding this ascendant WondaGurl as hip-hop’s new wonder woman. - CM

The Takeaway: Too often we rely on ourselves to achieve our goals. Don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor to guide you along your journey.

Mackenzie Yeates, 28
Benjamin Sehl, 29
Rami Helali, 29

Co-founders, Kotn

V.S.O.P Privilège Award
Hennessy's V.S.O.P Privilège Awards have recognized individuals that have achieved unparalleled accomplishments and used their success to give back to others in their communities; people who express the attributes that define Hennessy's V.S.O.P Privilège: mastery, strength, and sophistication. 

Photography: Francisco Garcia

It’s an age old saying that the shortest path between two points is a straight line. Toronto brand Kotn has applied that concept to their assortment of classic sartorial essentials, with an incredible mandate attached to it.

Like the finest bubbly from Champagne in France or a refined dram of Scotch from Scotland, the only place for the most perfect eminence with respect to cotton is Egypt. An understated luxury, founders Mackenzie Yeates, Rami Helali, and Benjamin Sehl took the initiative in revitalizing a local industry.

Due to the end of government subsidies in the mid 1990s and manufacturers finding less expensive alternatives to clothing staples, dependence on Egyptian cotton has taken a nosedive — nearly 100 percent since 2001. The three owners created Kotn out of a need to provide high-quality essentials, made ethically, and provided at honest prices. Combined with this, Helali travelled to the Nile Delta in Northern Egypt, which is also his home country, and discovered the plight of cotton farmers and their struggle as a result of the market shortage, which spurred the founding of the business in 2015. While their assortment of clothes provide the foundation of a well-curated wardrobe, the real gem behind Kotn’s story is the initiative they took to manufacture their entire product — from picking to weaving to final product — while supporting a community close to their hearts. Working with spinners, weavers, and factories all within a 150-kilometre radius of the cotton farms — along with a rigorous social auditing system — has allowed them to provide fair wages to their entire supply chain system.

Last year saw even further humanitarian development from the Toronto-based brand. In an effort to combat the nearly half-a-million population in Egypt without access to a formal education, they partnered with local non-government organizations in the region to build their first school in the Nile Delta. Part of a larger scale project to combat child labour and the one in four people in Egypt who are illiterate, they aim to build 50 schools within the next decade, even donating their 2017 Black Friday proceeds (topping over $50,000) towards the cost of their second school.

It is noteworthy as to how Kotn has shown valuable leadership qualities without sacrificing their capitalist ideals, as they were able to make a profound impact in the Egyptian economy and brought the love of “white gold” back. Their incredible and diligent efforts to bring light to global issues (such as sustainability and transparency in the textile industry) have brought them a coveted seal of approval by the B Corporation, a British outfit that only accredits companies who take the environmental, social, and humanitarian step in giving back. - EH

The Takeaway: Embracing corporate social responsibility pays out in dividends.

Maria Yancheva, 27

Co-founder, Winterlight Labs

Photography: Francisco Garcia

Maria Yancheva, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Winterlight Labs, (an artificial intelligence startup that quantifies speech and language patterns to detect cognitive and mental illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s), hopes that her future is filled with taking cutting-edge research that she can turn into “scalable, reliable, and elegant code.” Currently, Winterlight Labs has an accuracy rate of 82-to-100 percent — let that sink in. Yancheva may be holding the future of healthcare in the palm of her hand.

Yancheva is a success story: an engineering whiz kid in an industry riddled with men. We ask her about the barriers to entry for women in sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and she reflects carefully: “I think that even in the most progressive countries, children are still subjected to gender-specific experiences from the earliest ages (when they receive specific toys, play specific games, or are subject to unspoken conventions about how they should behave based on their gender),” she explains. “And that continues throughout childhood when they view the way women are portrayed in media and advertising, and have few examples of successful women in STEM.”

Her mother is a computer engineer, of course, so being a female engineer was never a thing until Yancheva and her friends began entering programming competitions in high school. The schools let all-girl teams qualify at lower scores compared to the boys, to encourage female participation. This does more harm than good, Yancheva says. “The ‘lowered bar’ for me has always represented the societal expectation for lower performance, which is discouraging at best. I strongly feel that girls and women are capable of excelling in STEM on an equal footing.” - CG

The Takeaway: Championing the success of women starts with an even playing field.

Mark McMorris, 24

Athlete, snowboarder

Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee

By the age of 17, Mark McMorris established himself as the guy to beat in the world of competitive snowboarding. Considering that McMorris grew up an eight-hour drive to the nearest mountain (or hill), his journey has all the beginnings of an Olympic story of commitment and dedication.

Then comes a series of injuries he overcame that defy logic. Six weeks before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he broke a rib after hitting a rail. Despite that injury, he won bronze. In 2016, the tip of his board got caught in the snow after landing a jump that had such force it broke his femur. Returning from that injury to elite form, he was hurt again. This time it was almost fatal.

After being dropped by a helicopter in the backcountry of Whistler, Mark crashed full force through the air into a tree. The rescue was a harrowing mountainside airlift to the hospital where he was rushed into surgery. Confined to a full body cast, unable to eat and speak, among the first words he wrote to his visiting family expressed his desire to keep his spot on the Canadian Olympic Team.

He had less than a year for that recovery.

On how he made it through each of those injuries, McMorris remarks, “It’s been pretty tough, but every injury makes you a bit stronger, and a bit more appreciative.” Competing and winning a medal with a broken rib gave him the confidence to come back from a broken femur. The road to recovery from the broken femur was one of the sources of motivation he drew on in going from being unable to walk, to landing the most extreme jumps in professional snowboarding again, and winning bronze at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

“Try to find the small victories”, he says of how you get through something like that. “That’s what I had to do.”

Injury or not, the feat of standing on a board going 40 mph and launching you 60+ feet into the air, where you complete four to five rotations, and then land unscathed is somewhere between absurd and horrifying for most of us.

McMorris recognizes how crazy it all seems, but sees the sport in smaller parts: technique and time. “To the naked eye, these things look absolutely ridiculous, but they are pretty calculated”, he explains, “it just comes with experience and time. Time on your board makes you feel comfortable.”

As snowboarding continues to push the limits further and further, with athletes spending more time on trampolines then they do in the back-country that gave him (and continues to feed) his love for the support, he is adamant: “Don’t skip the fundamentals. Don’t skip steps.”

Inspiration outside of snowboarding has been as important to him as his idols within the sport.

He refers to Jake Burton (founder of Burton snowboards) for, “His drive for life and what he has been able to accomplish in his short time on this earth” as being an example he’s motivated by.

From X Games dominance and multiple Olympic medals, to having a hand in designing the Burton gear he competes in, McMorris is becoming a name that transcends his sport. Yet, finding and keeping perspective seems to be among his most notable accomplishments: “I cross paths with so many people that are in such higher demand than me, it makes you feel small, and that’s pretty cool.”  - CP

The Takeaway: Focus on the small wins to help you get to your larger goal.

Jason Field, 29

CEO and Founder, BrainStation

Photography: Francisco Garcia

After graduating university, the only thing Jason Field knew for sure is that he didn’t know what he wanted to do. So, rather than blindly climb the proverbial corporate ladder, he chose to backpack across the Far East. And when Field landed a job back in Canada, which convinced him he needed to learn the digital space to advance, he was just as quick in acknowledging that he didn’t possess the know-how. Nor was he all that interested in taking post-secondary courses.

Field preferred mentorship and feedback. This subsequently meant launching a series of collaborative workshops, each inviting instructors who wanted to come out and teach. Within a month, said workshops tripled in size, later evolving into BrainStation — a global leader in digital skills training.

Today, BrainStation empowers individuals and organizations to achieve digital success through courses, workshops, events, and corporate coaching. It has trained over 50,000 people throughout campuses located in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, and San Jose. Together, with his team, Field has recognized the need for adaptability — an individual’s ability to pivot and adjust according to the changing business landscape.

“Learning, overall, has evolved in a drastic way, especially with digital skills. The skills that you gained through university are not going to carry you through your entire career. If you are a working professional in the 21st century, intelligence is in your ability to adapt by upgrading your skills to fit with the market.”

All things considered, Field’s career to date definitely speaks to a number of key themes. Some may indicate the importance of being nimble — an oft-undervalued capacity amongst today’s young professionals. They’d be correct. Us? We further believe Field’s achievements contribute to an increasing shift in global white-collar culture. Precisely, the ability to unshackle yourself from established norms by going outside of the big post-secondary institutions and improving your skill set. - CM

The Takeaway: The traditional path isn’t the only road you have to take to get to your destination.

Gigi Gorgeous, 25

Social media entrepreneur

Illustration: Iveta Karpathyova

Gigi Gorgeous (Giselle Loren Lazzarato) has parlayed a YouTube channel that she started as a teenager into a star-power brand, business, and platform advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2008, the vlog began with make-up tips, but it was her coming out as transgender on the platform that brought a new level of relevance to her videos. She publicly documented her transition on the channel, deepening the personal connection people had to the platform and growing the size of her audience.

Through a combination of revenues from Google Ads and product placements, Gigi Gorgeous turned creating content into her career, pulling in an estimated seven figures annually. She now has 2.7 million subscribers on YouTube, over 2 million followers on Instagram, and more than 2 million followers on Facebook. In 2017, a documentary about her transition This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous (2017) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Her brand now includes high profile partnerships (Revlon, AT&T and Crest), as well as rumours of television and book deals in the making.

Gigi’s impact on the relationship of brands to social media stars is undeniable, being among a league of savvy entrepreneurs who have utilized social media to build an empire. What has fueled the commitment of her audience and the growth of her platform as a business has been her continuous message of taking control of your identity, surrounding yourself with positive people, and having fun while you do it all on your own terms. - CP

The Takeaway: Your authentic voice is your power.

Jamie Shea, 29

Co-founder, Chefs Plate

Photography: Francisco Garcia

A home-cooked meal with fresh ingredients, without having to leave home.

That was the concept that inspired Chefs Plate, a meal kit company aimed at today’s busy professional. Jamie Shea met co-founder, Patrick Meyer, while studying at Queen’s University. Together, they wanted to give business types the power to wield untapped culinary skills without stressing about the hassle of finding great recipes and sourcing the ingredients that went along with them. The challenge of building not only a company, but an entire new consumer category, was daunting.

Their solution was to stick to their vision and maintain the integrity of what they offered. “Putting our stake in the sand around sourcing locally, and placing quality and customer service first has always been our number one priority. That has really helped us to align properly with our partners, and make sure that we are winning in the marketplace with our consumers,” Shea says.

Founded in 2014, the company now employs over 350 staff across Canada and has raised more than $20 million in growth equity from institutional investors. Its food-tech platform emphasizes connecting customers to local farms, thus strengthening the local economy.

Shea has learned that it comes down to hiring the right people, and giving them agency within their roles, to manage meteoric growth. “There are a lot of people out there that can functionally do roles, but it’s important that they also buy into the vision. They ultimately become the stewards of the brand, which is what has allowed us to fuel the rocket ship that we’ve been on,” Shea says. He continues, “At the end of the day, everyone’s looking to make an impact. For us, as leaders, it’s about identifying what those opportunities are, and make sure that people have the chance to take part in that.” - EH

The Takeaway: Create a powerful internal culture by providing autonomy and communicating the impact of your staff’s contributions.

Mary Young, 27

Designer, Mary Young

Photography: Francisco Garcia

With Instagram flooding our psyches with every influencer-turned-lingerie model flaunting their #bodgoals, Mary Young, the CEO and designer of her eponymous lingerie line Mary Young, is a breath of fresh air.

“I’ve always felt alienated when buying lingerie,” she explains. “I never felt like I could see myself in the ads, [and] I never felt empowered by what I was wearing.” And so, during her last year of studies at Ryerson University, where she studied fashion communications, her thesis included the launch of a five-piece lingerie line, designed with one objective: to embrace the female body in its natural form. That meant, no illusions — no flattening, no padding, no underwire, no nothing.

It stuck, and today, Mary Young has a Canada-wide stock list with a growing presence in the United States. All this, amid a growing self-love movement, which Young has coined the “Self Love Club.” It comes at an important time when society’s collective consciousness has embraced a more diverse view of the female form. Young takes it further by donating three dollars of every purchase to Raw Beauty Talks, an organization devoted to cultivating positive body image for girls and young women.

Scroll through the Mary Young Instagram and you’ll see her magic at work: it’s one part product, one part real women (all shapes, colours and sizes), and a behind-the-scenes look at the life of Young. “It really is a recipe,” she says of her brand’s digital presence. “It’s a window into me as a person.” - CG

The Takeaway: Harness your true potential by embracing every facet of yourself.  

Ashley Callingbull, 28

Activist, model

Photography: RAINA+WILSON

For First Nations actress and model Ashley Callingbull, her career in the spotlight is just a glitzy side gig. Her main focus? Advocating for and promoting her Indigenous heritage, while using her influential platform to affect change within underserved communities. 

The 28-year-old, who is a Cree from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, first burst onto the scene back in 2015, where she was the first First Nations woman to win the Mrs. Universe title. Since then, her career has skyrocketed. She’s made appearances on TV programs such as Blackstone and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) 8th Fire documentary series, as well as the fourth season of Amazing Race Canada, where she and her father were the first Indigenous team to ever compete.

Callingbull’s rise to the top wasn’t an easy journey. She grew up in difficult, poor surroundings, where Callingbull and her family often flip-flopped between Indigenous reservations in Alberta. When she was young, Callingbull also faced sexual and physical abuse from her stepfather — a harrowing experience that, despite the trauma, eventually gave her further strength and resilience to fight for her goals.  

In her 20s, she decided to turn her dreams into a reality. Callingbull started competing professionally in pageants — a path that eventually led to her dominating the global Mrs. Universe competition, where, among other things, she honoured her culture by singing a traditional round dance song and dancing in a custom jingle dress. After winning, she immediately began using her title for activism. In a wildly-shared interview with the CBC just days after the competition, Callingbull spoke out about the government’s inaction surrounding environmental issues on Indigenous territories. “With the bills that have been passed, we are being treated like terrorists if we're fighting for our land and our water,” she said.

Today, Callingbull continues to use her fame to draw attention to larger cultural issues. She has been particularly vocal about the injustice and stereotypes her Indigenous culture continues to face, where she has toured schools and hosted workshops in hopes of inspiring First Nations youth. She has also been a keynote speaker at respected institutions like Harvard University, as well as given inspirational talks at both TED Talks and We Day.

In addition to her motivational talks, Callingbull has also been particularly vocal about the case of missing and murdered Indigenous women, a North American epidemic that continues to be unacknowledged by the Canadian government. She hopes to speak out in order to make their names — and the voices of their families — heard.  - CA

The Takeaway: If you have a platform, use it to create engaging conversations around issues that affect your community.  

Herieth Paul, 22


Photography: Malina Corpadean

When Herieth Paul started modelling, she was touted as an upcoming replacement to supermodels Naomi Campbell or Alek Wek. Sure, it’s a compliment. But Paul is her own person, and there’s certainly room at the top for more than a handful of models of colour, too.

To be fair, at the time (around 2010) women of visible minority communities were scarcely represented in fashion. It was reported that only 17 percent of runway models were racially diverse at New York Fashion Week in 2015. A similarly weak percentage of mainstream magazine covers featured models of colour.  

Sporting a short, natural afro, Paul managed to make a name for herself in the industry during this era of change — she landed covers at various industry magazine titles, walked the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, and was brought on as the face of Maybelline in 2016. Securing the campaign was a major milestone for the Tanzania-born, Ottawa-raised model, as it offered an opportunity to showcase a more diverse “face of beauty” in an industry that often lacks representation of ethnically diverse women.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done because out of 100 percent of models, there are only two percent black, and three percent Asian; so we need to change the numbers,” she stated after joining Maybelline.

The model is a beacon of inclusivity as one of the only working models who features her natural hair. That’s a big deal for a community where successful darker-skinned models are pressured to adhere to more Eurocentric beauty standards, or rejected on the basis of discriminatory stereotypes for simply embracing their natural beauty. - RD

The Takeaway: Visibility and diversity matter. Find ways to acknowledge them within your social and professional networks.

Jeremie Saunders, 30

Host, Sickboy Podcast

Photography: Scott Munn

Embracing your expiry date has ironically become a way of life for Jeremie Saunders — the award-winning Canadian actor and producer diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), and whose work explores what it means to live fully in the face of dying.

Just download a single episode of Sickboy, the acclaimed podcast he debuted in 2015. Through humour and unfiltered discussions, the program — once listed by iTunes as being amongst its very best — welcomes a wide range of guests in an effort to probe the experiences of those living with terminal or chronic illness. Or go check out his powerful TEDxToronto talk from 2017, a frank public discussion on disease, demise, and the people they’ve affected.

In leveraging his celebrity and making use of the platforms afforded him, Saunders has not only helped raised awareness around CF, but admirably staked his position in challenging certain stigmas around death. And perhaps most impressively, he’s done it primarily through comedy. - CM

The Takeaway: Live your life to its utmost potential. Take time to practice gratitude.