Tag Archives: Entrepreneur

Tech Savvy: Alex Clark ’06

Alumna, Alex Clark talks good policy, giving back—and how she’s bringing opportunity to a new generation of entrepreneurs.

If you spent a good part of the past year seeking small business gems on social, listening for the comforting sound of the delivery truck, or contemplating the items in your virtual cart, you’re in good company. With consumers bereft of their bricks-and-mortar go-tos, online shopping hit an all-time high during the pandemic—and it looks like it’s here to stay.  

For alumna Alex Clark ’06, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Canada’s e-commerce powerhouse Shopify, the ability to support retailers beyond your local mall is exactly the kind of diversification the system needs.

“Consumers over the pandemic embraced online shopping, wanted to support local businesses, and cared about the ‘about us’ stories more than ever before. My hope is that this continues. More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few … we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating.”

“More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few—we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating,” she explains earlier this summer. “If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship, we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”

It seems Alex has always been keen to bring fresh talent to the table—and that means fighting for good policies; finding innovative ways to expand reach; and providing opportunity to those who, historically, were often overlooked.

“If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship—bringing them to the table and addressing the real barriers—we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”

“Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door,” she shares. “It’s an advantage to have one of those, let alone all three, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”

It’s a community mindset she comes by honestly. Her grandfather, Old Ridleian Ian Reid ’44 and grandmother, Margot instilled its importance in their family; both received the Order of Canada in recognition of their community service.

Alex is part of a long line of Ridleians: her grandfather, Ian; uncles, Tim ’78 and Ross Reid ’71; aunt, Sarah Cameron ’84; and sister, Jillian Clark ’03 all attended Ridley. When she was 16, Alex decided to turn her focus from competitive tennis and considered where to spend one final, adventurous year—and, having listened to plenty of Ridley stories around the dinner table, Alex knew the school would check the right boxes. She enrolled for the 2005-06 academic year.

“Some of this [service mindset] comes from self-awareness of opportunities I’ve had that are not available to everyone. Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door. It’s an advantage to have one of those—let alone all three—as you go through life and your early career, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”

And from the moment she arrived on campus, she made the most of it, serving as captain of the First Girls Rugby team, House captain of Gooderham West (she’s held on proudly to her House ring), and assistant captain of the then newly formed JV Girls Hockey team, which she helped create. “It was a bunch of us that had never played hockey—most of us had never learned how to stop on skates. The boards absorbed a lot of our momentum!” she remembers. “But by the end of the season, we were a dream team. I was surrounded by these badass women who just wanted to have fun and compete.”

The arts soon came calling, too. Alex played Béline, Aragon’s fortune-hunting second wife in the Upper School production of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire). “A special dedication to my grandfather,” Alex wrote in her sunny Acta entry later that year, “without him blazing the Ridley trail, I worry I would have missed this influential year … Thank you, Ridley for opening your doors to me and welcoming me into the family.”

Though Alex left after graduation to pursue a degree in Political Science (first at University of British Columbia and then Carleton University), she kept in touch with her peers in the years that followed—and the Ridley family afforded her some new connections along the way.

These days, Alex lives in Ottawa with her husband, Jarett and their eight-year-old dog, Boomer. When we spoke in June, she and Jarett were expecting their first child and predicting life would soon be busier than ever—and that’s certainly saying something. The proud alumna currently sits on the leadership board of the Women’s Training Camp with the Ottawa REDBLACKS and is on the Board of Directors for Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women and helps them to re-enter the workforce. And as Shopify’s VP of Strategic Initiatives, her day job keeps things hopping as well.

Knocking down barriers to success seems to have always been at the core of her career, which from the start has followed an impressive path. Alex started out in politics, working for the Liberals when they were the official Opposition under Michael Ignatieff. Following that, she took what she learned and applied it to helping businesses navigate the system. She spent the next five years working with global clients across all sectors, developing their strategic communications and stakeholder plans, and lobbying on their behalf.

But in helping these companies, it never did feel quite like her win, and she wanted to have more of a direct impact. Alex transitioned in-house at Microsoft as their Director of Corporate Affairs, dividing her time between Vancouver and the company’s headquarters in Seattle—and ultimately working with the B.C. government to build the Centre of Excellence.

“Failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”

That’s when Shopify came calling. “It was a no brainer for me,” she laughs good-naturedly. “A Canadian company supporting small businesses and they have a slide in the office?!”

Though an admittedly excellent selling feature, the company sure boasts more than a slide. If you’re still unfamiliar with the popular online platform, Shopify provides independent business owners with ecommerce and point of sale features to help them start, run and grow their business. More than two million merchants from over 175 countries use it—and they’ve created 3.6 million jobs and contributed $307+ billion in global economy impact.

In 2016, Alex joined Shopify’s team as Director of Policy and Government Affairs, creating the company’s first Global Affairs team and advocating for policy ensuring governments around the world remove barriers for entrepreneurs to be successful.

“It was a unique time for tech and government,” she recalls. “Government is accustomed to a dynamic with the private sector that’s based around value exchange. But if you were like Shopify five years ago, you historically had never needed government—but quickly they were showing up in your backyard making crucial policy decisions, while not always fully understanding the unintended consequences of those decisions.”

As ‘innovation’ became the new buzz word across the country, with solutions being drawn up around everything from attracting talent to supporting young businesses, it became clear that Shopify needed a seat at the table. “That’s what I came to solve,” Alex explains. “It was less about lobbying and more about education.”

From that role, Alex was asked to become Chief of Staff to CEO, Tobias Lütke. She moved deeper into the business, working alongside the Executive team as Shopify went through an exciting period of hypergrowth. Their workforce doubled each year, global expansion took off and their merchant base now sits at over two million. This past year, Alex took on her current VP role, which covers Shopify’s Corporate Development and the SHOP app; she’s also advisor to the Executive team and CEO.

But her passion for small business doesn’t end at their office door. In recent months, Alex co-launched Backbone Angels, a collective of ten active angel investors who invest in women and non-binary founders. These angels—all women who bring years of experience in everything from legal to UX to marketing—prioritize investments in Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour led companies who deserve the capital and support to build the companies of the future. Alex is a founding partner.

“We realized our collective experience was incredibly powerful and by launching ‘Backbone’ we’ll be able to support more companies. We’ve spent most of our careers on the front line of entrepreneurship,” Alex says. “We know the story of the journey and the individual matters just as much as the final product.”

“The future is for the makers.”

More people are choosing entrepreneurship, she posits—and it’s paying off. In the past months they’ve reviewed hundreds of decks, met with founders and have invested in some exciting companies. But though there’s plenty of hope for a new generation of entrepreneurs, there’s work to be done; the pandemic shone a spotlight on the vulnerabilities we have as an economy.

“Canada can sometimes be referred to as ‘laggards’ when it comes to technological adoption,” explains Alex, “and some of that became painfully obvious when we didn’t have the right systems in place to address the needs of individuals and businesses through this pandemic. Businesses that survived were those that quickly shifted to online because now you could no longer depend on your brick-and-mortar store for foot traffic, and you needed to expand to a larger or global market.”

“The silver lining of this is that we’re seeing small businesses doing really well because they removed the dependency of in-person,” she adds.

Now, it’s all about using that momentum to bring those entrepreneurs to the table to address what are some very real barriers. It’s only through inclusive conversations and good policies that the country will move forward and live up to its potential—and Alex is hopeful. One way to bring about change? People need to get involved.

“Getting involved in politics was once seen as this honourable way to serve your country, and now I think it’s seen as this thankless, dirty job that no one wants. We really need to change that narrative,” she says. “We need people shaping this country that embrace the potential of the future and understand where we’re heading—and we need women.”

As we wrap up our conversation, it seems like the perfect opportunity to ask Alex if she has any advice for Ridley’s young entrepreneurs. “It’s really hard,” she replies. “Expect to fail…a lot. But recognize that failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”

So, good reader, following a year filled with uncertainty but lined with the silvery promise of something new, go forth and find your passion—whatever that may be—and go for it. And while you’re deciding, hit ‘buy’ on that shopping cart.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.

TransfORming Our Globe – Krystal Chong ’02

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” –Joseph Campbell

For this month’s installment of the TransfORming Our Globe blog series, we’re sharing the story of alumna, Krystal Chong ’02, who has used her own experiences to propel her into success as a mental wellness entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker. Read how she risked everything in search of her calling and found it in New York City.

Krystal calls her time at Ridley “priceless,” and says that her Ridley education was the best gift her parents ever gave her. From 2000–2002, Krystal embraced all that Ridley had to offer; filling her days with swim practice, competing on the tennis courts, volunteering with Alzheimer’s patients and learning valuable skills that would accompany her on her career path. Like many Ridleians before her, one of the most important lessons Krystal learned while at Ridley was time management. “[Ridley] really taught me the value of maximizing a day and it made me realize how much you can accomplish if you manage your time well and push yourself,” shared Krystal. Above all of these timeless life lessons, Krystal is thankful to the faculty of Ridley for instilling in her a love of learning.

 “The teachers at Ridley were just so spectacular, I had never experienced anything like that until and since then. They single handedly taught me to enjoy learning, and that I was actually good at it, as long as I put the effort into it. They made me enjoy the process of becoming better and better and seeing myself progress as a result of what I put in, gave me the confidence that there was no limit for myself but myself.” – Krystal Chong ’02

After graduating Ridley, Krystal studied Psychology and Business at McGill University in Montreal, before returning to Jamaica. She strongly believed that in order to be happy in life, she needed to love her career and have a meaningful connection to the work she was doing. She decided to become a part of the family business and work alongside her loved ones. She spent many years working for Honey Bun Ltd. – the fastest growing wholesale bakery in Jamaica – eventually working her way up to the Chief Marketing Officer position. Krystal recalls, “one of my proudest contributions to date is to have played an integral part in building the company’s brand and taking the company public.” However, after eight years with the company, she felt a deep desire to find her true purpose in life. The realization that she needed to move in a different direction, but didn’t know what direction that was, intensified her pre-existing struggles with anxiety and depression. Desperate for a change yet tasked with a difficult decision to take a risk or stay within her comfort zone, Krystal found herself at a pivotal moment.

“In the end there was one thing I knew for sure. I could live with trying and failing, but I could not live with never knowing what could have been.” – Krystal Chong ’02

Krystal resigned from her position at Honey Bun Ltd. and made the leap in moving to New York City on a journey to discover what her life’s purpose was and what would truly make her happy. Luckily for Krystal, this story has a happy ending. The lessons she learned on that journey helped Krystal conquer her anxiety and depression, leading her to a moment of clarity. Krystal is now an author, speaker and entrepreneur, dedicated to helping others live a flourishing life.

Krystal wrote the highly-acclaimed book, “What The Hell Am I Supposed To Do With My Life?! – A fun and friendly guide to finding your magic, your purpose and yo’ self”. This book sets out to help others discover meaning and connection in their lives, regardless of what hurdles may stand in their way.

“To hear from readers all over the world with wonderful stories about how the book is changing their lives, to hear about them becoming empowered to overcome their challenges and live the lives they want for themselves, to hear that for the first time in a long time they feel ‘hope’ and that has moved them to change, has been my ABSOLUTE GREATEST joy in life.” – Krystal Chong ’02

Krystal’s profession is her passion, so she is constantly working towards her next big goals and continuing to better herself. With another book on the horizon and a new company, Anxiety Schmanxiety, which provides a comprehensive, organic, and enjoyable approach to conquering anxiety and improving mental wellness, Krystal is truly thriving.

As someone whose job is to instill confidence in those around her and motivate individuals to chase their dreams, Krystal shares some words of wisdom with Ridleians who are on their own journey to self-discovery:

“You are on a wonderful, wonderful journey and sometimes that journey may not feel so wonderful, but that’s the universe speaking to you. Try to understand what it’s telling you and learn and grow from any adversity. Always remember, you have the power, at all times, to determine how your life will end up. Move away from the things that bring your down and towards the things that make you light up, the things that feel right deep down inside. You have a divine compass within you which is the most powerful thing you possess. Learn to listen to that compass and let it guide you, and you’ll find everything you seek, and so much more.

And I’ll leave with this: close your eyes and imagine the best possible version of yourself. That is who you really are. Let go of any part of you that doesn’t believe that.” – Krystal Chong ’02


 TransfORming Our Globe is a blog series where we share the exciting stories of alumni who are leading flourishing lives and changing the world. It is important to Ridley College to support our alumni and share the stories of Old Ridleians, who discovered their passion and found success and happiness down the path of their choosing. 

Do you know of any classmates that are living flourishing lives or transforming our globe? Email any suggestions for the TransfORming Our Globe blog series to kory_lippert@ridleycollege.com.

 

TransfORming Our Globe – Marina Radovanovic ’14

For this month’s installment of the TransfORming Our Globe blog series, we’re sharing the story of alumna, Marina Radovanovic ’14, who is embarking on an entrepreneurial endeavour to facilitate philanthropic efforts of others. Her company, HeroHub – which will change the way we connect with charities – was one of three finalists given the chance to pitch to Bruce Croxon ’79 and other successful entrepreneurs during Brock University’s Monster Pitch.

During her illustrious time at Ridley, which spanned from 2011 to 2014, Marina perfected the balance between her academic career and her co-curricular one. While maintaining academic proficiency, she simultaneously became a driving force behind the First Girls hockey team, was heavily involved in Mandeville House and was Captain of the First Girls soccer team. While she bounced from one passion to another, she could often be found living out our school’s motto, Terar Dum Prosim, which she continues to embody today. “Ridley is what made me fall in love with giving back and committing my free time to community service work,” shares Marina.

Marina was introduced to the world of business during her first year at Ridley and soon discovered that the industry held limitless possibilities.  She was enthralled in her classes, and thanks to experiential assignments, took a keen interest in the area of entrepreneurship.

“Mr. [Andrew] McNiven gave me the drive to do my best. His implementation of ‘real-life’ business projects in class formed my dream of being an entrepreneur in the future.”                           – Marina Radovanovic ’14

Marina’s entrepreneurial spirit and innate desire to give back persisted throughout her Ridley years. After graduating in 2014 and settling into life at Brock University, she chose to spend her free time improving the lives of others. She and her future business partner began scouring the web in search of charitable events in the area but had a difficult time turning up results. That is when HeroHub was born.

HeroHub will allow individuals to search for events, explore volunteer opportunities and discover what types of donations an organization will accept. On the other side, charities will be able to create a profile and in turn, gain support. Although they are still in the midst of development, Marina and her partner have taken every opportunity to research, explore and promote their new-found business.

Most recently, Marina participated in Monster Pitch; a competition at Brock University that allows young entrepreneurs to pitch their business idea to successful professionals. HeroHub was one of only three finalists to present on stage. Among the judges was Bruce Croxon ’79, Ridley alumnus well-known for his role on Dragon’s Den. Marina reflects, “to see an Old Ridleian and three other renowned judges fighting for the microphone to provide feedback for your business, there are no words to explain the jolt of adrenaline shivering through your body.” The competition offered Marina and her partner the opportunity to effectively promote their new venture while gaining valuable insight into what makes a business successful.

 

If her drive to change the world wasn’t enough, Marina has made it her goal to empower women in the field of business. She hopes her story will inspire young women to pursue their goals, regardless of what obstacles may stand in their way.

As a recent graduate and a young entrepreneur, Marina leaves her fellow Ridleians with this advice:

“Great ideas come from great passion. When you do what you love, you will never look back. The positive light from doing what you love will unknowingly motivate others to do the same!” – Marina Radovanovic ’14


TransfORming Our Globe is a blog series where we share the exciting stories of alumni who are leading flourishing lives and changing the world. It is important to Ridley College to support our alumni and share the stories of Old Ridleians, who discovered their passion and found success and happiness down the path of their choosing. 

Do you know of any classmates that are living flourishing lives or transforming our globe? Email any suggestions for the TransfORming Our Globe blog series to development@ridleycollege.com.

TransfORming Our Globe – Marc Seitz ‘08

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For this month’s installment of the TransfORming Our Globe series, we’re sharing the story of alumnus, Marc Seitz ’08, who discovered the world of computer programming and then made his mark in the industry by founding two software development companies that would change how corporations and programmers connect – Hackevents and Hackerbay.

In 2006, Marc made the trip from Germany to Canada, where he began his Ridley career. Marc made the most of his two years at Ridley; forming strong relationships with friends from around the globe, bonding with his teammates on the soccer field and the golf course, and ensuring his housemates were well taken care of. A Strongman from Merritt South (MSo), Marc was a House Captain and ran the MSo Tuck Shop with a friend. He also excelled in academics, and earned the Academic Tie (awarded to students who’ve earned an average of 85% upon graduating). Although he was only at Ridley for a short while, Marc’s shares that his time at Ridley had a big impact on his life.

“At Ridley, I made some of the most long-lasting relationships of my life. The strong community at Ridley really made it all worth it. I made friends that I now see once or twice a year but we are closer than ever.” – Marc Seitz ‘08

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Upon graduating in 2008, Marc made the decision to travel to Hong Kong to study Economics and Finance at the University of Hong Kong. The challenging and competitive nature of finance and economics during the recession fueled Marc’s passion. After a short time working with exchange-traded funds, he decided he still had more to learn and explore. Marc returned to Germany, where he studied physics at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München – the University of Munich. It was the study of physics that led him to where he is now. Marc says “physics opened my eyes to a new world and convinced me to learn how to program on the side.” Marc then began to take online courses on computer programming.

Since his studies, Marc has successfully founded two computer programming companies; both of which have heavily impacted the computer programming world. Hackevents was founded in 2014 and evolved into the leading search engine for Hackathons – which are collaborative and competitive events for computer programmers. Hackathons allow programmers to network with individuals and companies and demonstrate their programming skills. Hackevents does not only offer a database of hackathons occurring around the world, but also is the largest organizer of hackathons in Germany.

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Marc pictured on the right.

Marc’s second company, Hackerbay was inspired by the success of Hackevents. It was founded in January 2016 to enable computer programmers to connect with large organizations that lack a software development department. Through Hackerbay, programmers can provide their services – such as application, software and prototype design – to top companies. To date, Hackerbay has connected over 1,600 programmers and developers with companies like Twitter and Google.

“Being a founder, you have the unique ability to influence the success of your company… This source of power encourages me to be better and make a difference.”

Both Hackevents and Hackerbay are becoming increasingly popular, and Marc hopes to grow latter into the largest software solutions company. He also desires to return to the study of physics, as space exploration and technology continue to evolve.

Marc’s thirst for knowledge led him to a rewarding career, that continues to grow and evolve.

To past, present and future students of Ridley, Marc says this:

“Challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Test out different subjects and hold on to what does not let your mind rest.”

TransfORming Our Globe is a blog series where we share the exciting stories of alumni who are leading flourishing lives and changing the world. It is important to Ridley College to support our alumni and share the stories of Old Ridleians, who discovered their passion and found success and happiness down the path of their choosing. 

Do you know of any classmates that are living flourishing lives or transforming our globe? Email any suggestions for the TransfORming Our Globe blog series to development@ridleycollege.com.