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Woman of the Week: Eva Wong

 

When I first started giving some thought as to possible profiles of women of excellence to feature in the Woman of the Week section, I decided I wanted to write about women working in the technology space in Canada, namely Eva Wong. This is a very vibrant and growing sector, with the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo corridor nicknamed the “Silicon Valley of the North,” including innovation, AI, and fintech startups.

Eva Wong, is one of the co-founders and COO at Borrowell, a financial technology (fintech) company whose mandate is to help Canadians make great decisions about credit. Their service offering includes free credit scores and credit reports, advice and recommendations to improve customers’ financial well-being and personal loans.

Founded in 2014, Borrowell has grown to a 50-employee firm with 700,000 users to date, making it one of the largest fintech companies in Canada.

Eva’s professional background in business and years spent working for a non-profit prepared her for the creation of her present venture. Being a woman who was told that she did not have the ‘right’ background, she faced the prejudices of those who thought she was not qualified enough. However, thanks to her growth mindset, and memories of how she had faced challenges in the past and overcame them, she kept going to achieve her current success.

One of the things that she acknowledged as being a great help when she first started was not being afraid of asking questions, which in turn allowed her to build confidence over time and considers herself very fortunate to have  had of a strong co-founding team. She has had the opportunity to work in a team of people committed to the project and bringing different experiences and insights to the process. The founding team, embedded in the tech community, were part of an accelerator at Ryerson DMZ as well as the One Eleven scale-up hub. Therefore, “there were many people to connect to and talk to with similar experiences,” Eva said.

A lot of lessons were learned along the way, one of them being that success results from continual testing and trying new things.  “There are a hundred small things you have to do as opposed to one big thing. We were data driven in everything we have done, organizing, collecting data and making decisions.” said Eva.

Although Eva stresses the importance that a great team of people makes a huge difference in the level of productivity, and that great people are great people no matter the gender, she also emphasizes that one of her company’s goals is to reach gender balance. “Currently 40 percent of our team identifies as female.  It’s important to build diversity.”

Many startups have a reputation of being male-centric, Borrowell is an exception, striving to create a more inclusive culture and a more appealing environment for women and other under-represented groups to work in.

Eva acknowledges that it is a great moment to be part of the technology community in Canada. She continues, “We are on the cusp of something that can be really big. The community is still small enough that people want to be helpful and a sense of collaboration pervades the community. It’s very exciting!”

In her youth, Eva used to keep a scrapbook where she collected articles and photos of people who inspired her while growing up. She always wanted to make a difference. She recalls ,“I remember reading an article about some high schoolers belonging to the Junior Achievers group who had started their own business. Years later, I went to university with one of the people featured in the article.”

Being a young industry, technology holds a lot of young talent who are very helpful if you want to stay current and up to date. Eva said, “I am fortunate to work with people who are much younger than I am. Also, there is a news media company I’m subscriber to and found that it’s a really good source of information providing in-depth knowledge .”

As a woman and as a woman of colour, she believes that this is the best time for women to break through in executive roles and in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Not only a co-founder and senior executive, but also a mother and wife, Eva’s hardworking attitude and strong work ethics may have led to spending too many hours at work. However, the pull of the family is strong and drawing a line between professional and private has become an imperative. With so many hours in a day, she wishes she “didn’t need to sleep to have more time to do things” and that is the superpower she wishes she had. In the absence of a real superpower, she is quite content with exercising the daily power of making things: she enjoys cooking and baking. Lately, she has experimented making sourdough bread and pizza.

Eva warns against a misconception that revolves around technology that a career in this sector is impossible without the necessary background. Just like any other sector, there are a lot of jobs within tech companies that are waiting for smart people to do them. She said, “I would encourage people who are interested in a career in tech, whether it’s founding a company or joining a startup. It’s been the most exciting time of my career. There are great opportunities, meaningful work, and a real chance to make a difference.”

Woman of the Week: Janet Mohapi-Banks

Janet Mohapi-Banks is nothing short of a truly inspiring woman.

Hers is a journey of never giving up and of having the faith to continue to push towards your dreams, even when all the chips are down and hope is in very short supply.

In today’s fast pace and seemingly hectic culture, it is never easy to feel as if all of the time, effort and love you put into creating the life you were proud of, all seems to be crashing down around you; and it takes a very special, committed and brave woman to not only weather the destruction, but to also stand up and do it all over again.

Mohapi-Banks is one such woman.

She  went from being at the top of her game as a Luxury Wedding Cake Designer,- even winning a Precious Business Award in 2010 to being burnt out and trying her best to manage a seemingly incurable digestive disorder as well as chronic fatigue  in just under a two year span.

“By 2012 I had burned out so badly I was left literally at death’s door for nearly 5 years with a rare (and according to my specialist at The Royal Free Hospital) incurable digestive disorder and chronic fatigue.

As a result, I was forced to close my cake business which was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  I moved out of the London area, got my affairs in order and prepared for the inevitable.” She said.

For any entrepreneur, being forced to say good bye to your ‘business baby’ is a very hard and painful process which can fill you with feelings of guilt, frustration, resentment and a lot of fear.

It was unbelievable to her that in only a span of 18 short months she had gone from delivering cakes to some of the most prestigious venues in the UK, including the Ritz Hotel Mayfair and winning awards for her fabulous designs, to being so exhausted and in pain that she was not able to even get out of bed to care for her children- a boy aged 12 years, and a girl 15.

A second chance on life came for Janet in the form of a chiropractor who by cracking her spine released her vagus nerve, thereby curing her and allowing her to grow back to optimal health.

With this new lease on life, Janet launched her coaching business in an effort to help other women to grow their ideal business without the stress that had nearly crippled her.

“Before I was critically ill, I used to overwork, which lead me to burnout.  I now realise that my overworking was due to a lack of self-belief that I truly deserved my amazing successes,” the Transformational Life Coach for Entrepreneurs revealed.

Mohaphi-Banks, who is a proud and happy mother of two explained that women almost always tried to do everything by themselves and her biggest take away from her own experiences was to know when you needed help and to outsource reliable people for the job.

When I asked what got her through the day, she said it was her refusal to waste a minute of her second chance and her amazing children. She noted that while she had gone through some ‘incredibly challenging times in my life’ she continued to get back up with a smile on her face and a determination to face her challenges.