Emerging Women Leaders Inspired Following Lovell’s Inaugural BridgingTheGap To Her Forum

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On October 10, the day before the International Day of the Girl…

Lovell Corporation hosted its inaugural BridgingTheGap to Her Forum at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario, bringing together 150 emerging women entrepreneurs and innovators age 18-35 with high-profile decision makers—CEOs and business executives, government representatives and community organizations—for a jam-packed day focused on fostering inclusive innovation, advancing career goals and bridging opportunity gaps for the next generation of women leaders.

“Today was absolutely amazing. Seriously—brain overload. So, so, so much value. It was amazing to hear so many powerful and inspirational women speak. The panels provided so much value and hearing the pitches of passionate, amazing women with such powerful visions—thank you for making this event happen!”

-Nichole Howson, emerging female founder

Partnering with Toyota Tsusho, BridgingTheGap to Her Forum consisted of a series of interactive panel discussions, interactive programming, mentorship talks and keynote presentations lead by 20 of today’s thought leaders, business innovators and public sector trailblazers including the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Dowdeswell stressed the importance of advocating for women and supporting next generation events like BridgingTheGap Forums: “How can we solve the most vexing problems without engaging 50% of the population?

Forum Highlights

The biggest STEM shift we should watch: Julie Smithson, COO of MetaVRse, identified “the speed of technology” as one of the tech trends disrupting business, and underscored the challenges we will face as we continue to operate faster—often meaning more work, rather than free time.

How to start #BridgingTheGap: “More collaboration is needed between disciplines to foster STEM innovation.” Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo, admitted to attendees.

“We need to focus more on STEAM–including ‘A’ for arts/humanities,” Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University added. “And ideally if we can find a way to add a ‘B’ for business in there..so we have entrepreneurial thinking.”

Lovell's CEO with Lt-Gov of Ontario and staff at the BridgingTheGap Forum

Building a brand that lasts: When developing a brand, start by asking yourself “What do you want to be known for?” Nancy Vonk, Marketing Hall of Legends winner and co-founder of SWIM recommended, drawing from her experience as one of the creative visionaries behind the ground-breaking Dove Real Beauty and ‘Diamond Shreddies’ campaigns.

Why we need to start #BridgingTheGap for young women under 35: “Over half of young women today are in careers that are not contributing to their professional development,” explained Kelly Lovell, CEO of Lovell Corporation and founder of BridgingTheGap Forums. “And 90% want better education and career support from employers.”

“Thank you, BTG to Her organizers for creating an empowering event for young women leaders. You did an amazing job for putting this together. It was great to be part of it and share my perspectives on branding and business strategy.”

-Sarry Zheng, innovation and engagement consultant, Canada’s Free Agents
Candid Career Advice

The high point of the day for attendees was a lively discussion with a group of women at the top of their careers sharing their insights and advice on leadership, building a successful career and pursuing opportunities… 

The Honourable Bardish Chagger, Government House Leader of Canada, explained that it is so important for the next generation of women leaders to see women in prominent and powerful positions, so they know the same is possible for them: “If you see her, you can be her.”

“When new opportunities in your career come along…you need to be okay to go out of your comfort zone and just be confident in yourself,” Millie Marshall explained as she shared her journey to becoming the first female president of Toyota Manufacturing in North America.

Brenda Halloran, board chair of Startup Canada and former mayor of Waterloo, encouraged all attendees to make the most of the day and leave with a mentor to guide them throughout their career journey. “Mentoring is so critical to your business success and in your personal lives as well,” Halloran revealed as she personally shared how mentors have aided in her leadership success.

“Be confident in your choices. Instead of asking yourself ‘why?’, ask yourself ‘why not?’” Stephanie Varalli, co-CEO and head of media for Women Of Influence, reframed this commonly asked question for attendees.

Female Founder Pitch Competition

To end the forum with some added excitement, BridgingTheGap hosted a pitch competition for women entrepreneurs 18-35 years-old, sponsored by Toyota Tsusho.

Nearly three-quarters of emerging leaders in attendance at BridgingTheGap to Her currently have a business or would like to start one.

Ten finalists were selected from those who applied, and each founder was given two minutes to pitch their venture and three minutes to answer questions from a panel of Toyota Tsusho executives. Ventures ranged from social enterprises that reduce restaurant food waste and support fair trade artisans, tech platforms to fulfill niche needs and companies that provide accessible water and create books for adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Alwar Pillai, founder of Fable Tech Labs—an accessibility platform that companies can use to engage people with disabilities in user-testing and direct consultations—won $3,500 to scale up her venture.

“Events like the BridgingTheGap to Her Forum are important because it builds a community, a support system and a safe place for female founders,” Pillai admitted. “Finding advisory groups and mentors can be challenging. Such events help in reaching the right people.”

However, Pillai wasn’t the only one to go home a winner. After the forum, Stephania Stefanakou, co-founder of design-technology startup House of Anesi Inc.—whose first product, the Anesi Bra, can adapt to women’s body and breast changes and reduces back pain—won the wildcard audience pick online, with a prize of $1,000.

“BridgingTheGap Forums allow women to dream more but also take action upon those dreams—networking with other women and realizing that everything is possible and helping one another’s business ventures,” said Stefanakou.

The remaining finalists also had the potential to be considered by Toyota Tsusho for future partnership and investment opportunities.

Be a part of BridgingTheGap

This BridgingTheGap to Her programming is part of Lovell’s larger inclusive innovation track of BridgingTheGap™ Forums—invite-only events that connect emerging young talent with influential executives and impact investors. Forums designed on three pillars: recruiting young talent, fostering inclusive innovation and investing in sustainable solutions. Learn where BTG Forums is going next or how to host a forum in your community.
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About the Author

Kelly Lovell is the founder and CEO of Lovell Corporation. She is globally recognized for her expertise, particularly on engaging Millennials and Generation Z More