Game Changers: Interview with Meredith Powell, Founder of Powell & Company

By Zafira Rajan  /  

#GirlBoss, #Inspirational, #Interviews

It’s one thing to be a successful entrepreneur – but to empower women in startups AND youth with their eyes on The Next Big Thing? That’s a whole different ball game. Enter Meredith Powell: one of the exceptional women pushing boundaries in the Canadian tech scene. Before you meet her at Game Changers: Women Using Their Careers To Inspire Social Change, read on to find out how she started two impactful initiatives, and learn about her dabbles in everything from machine learning to eCommerce.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?

Just get started. Stop saying “if” and “maybe” – it’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen. Set one goal each day that will move your venture forward. This could be doing discovery interviews with potential customers. Or reading a chapter of entrepreneur bibles like The Lean Startup or 4 Hour Work Week. Signing up for a course at Brainstation or RED Academy. Or going to a pitch contest or meet-up (most are free and ideal opportunities to meet like-minded people and to learn).

Techstars, one of North America’s top startup incubators, requires you speak with 150 new people about your idea the first month of their program and to track each learning. This is a brilliant way to get out of your comfort zone, put yourself out there, and get the ball rolling.

As a mentor to many, how do you encourage people to give back?

I try to lead by example. Early in my career, I met leaders who empowered and encouraged me to grow my companies and myself beyond what I ever could have dreamed. I am deeply grateful for the light they shined on my path.

Mentorship doesn’t necessarily have to be a daunting task or a formal commitment like sitting on an Advisory Board or Board of Directors.

Giving back can be as simple as making one high impact introduction between two parties, having a 15 minute call with a new founder, or recommending a friend for a speaking opportunity.

Focus on opening doors for others – they’ll handle the ‘walking through’ part.

What inspired you to launch a charity and create The Next Big Thing?

Four years ago, I looked at Canada’s innovation ecosystem and saw a lack of support for entrepreneurs who didn’t fit the Mark Zuckerberg “mold” (aka hoodie wearing, caucasian, privileged, Ivy League, high IQ / low EQ). I’d been working primarily in the US markets on my own companies as well as on game changing projects like Amanda deCadenet’s “The Conversation TV” and saw a new wave of collaboration, creativity, compassion, and opportunity in business that was not yet hitting the shores of my hometown, Vancouver.

In response, I launched two Canadian initiatives – a nonprofit called The Collective to support women in startups & leadership and The Next Big Thing. April 2013 I kicked off The Collective by producing a sold out full day women’s’ conference featuring 35 female speakers. In June 2013, a conversation with a good friend turned into building a national charity for young entrepreneurs called The Next Big Thing.

What’s changed since then and what’s next for you?

Fast forward to today and the needs of the market have evolved significantly from where they were. There are many fantastic organizations and support programs now for young entrepreneurs, and TNBT’s work has had huge impact – including 50 Fellows graduating the program, and raising over $6m in early stage funds.

However, there is an even greater need for women in tech, and in leadership in general, given the current Trump administration’s efforts to turn back time on diversity and equality for all. Much of my current time is spent working in artificial intelligence and machine learning, finance, and eComm / marketplaces. I rarely see women at the top in these spaces. And studies show we’re barely moving the needle on pay parity, still 200 years away from equality.

I participated in the Women’s March and continue to advocate passionately for causes such as diversity in the boardroom (especially C-Suite and Boards), equal rights, and pay parity. If I was a US citizen, I’d be in DC full time right now advocating on behalf of equal rights.

That, or reporting for Vice. Perhaps producing for Gimlet Media. Hey, you never know 😉

 

Meet Meredith and four more GAME CHANGERS at our upcoming Signature Speaker Series at Hootsuite on May 1st, 2017! Learn more about the event and get your tickets here.