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Recognizing and celebrating impactful women founders #IWD2018

Started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900’s, the first International Women’s Day took place in 1911. To celebrate the day 107 years later, we decided to interview three female founders that #PressforProgress, and have made a significant social, economic, and environmental impact with their startups.

Rachel Thompson, Founder of Marlena Books

Named after Rachel’s grandmothers Marilyn and Helena, Marlena Books was created as a tribute to those who love to read but face barriers doing so because of dementia or cognitive deficits. So far, 15 books have been developed specifically to help people remember their love of reading and improve their social interactions.

The 40-page books are each designed using dementia eye-tracking studies and many considerations are made for a better reading experience including extra space between words, prompts to turn the page, and wider margins. Before Marlena Books, children’s books were often substituted as reading material, and these could leave the reader feeling undignified and disappointed. Rachel listened to her customers and developed stories on mature topics like birdwatching, gardening, romance, and baseball. The books are made to be read in one sitting, and give prompts for socialization which eases the communication barrier that often arises between family members and caregivers.

Currently, 564,000 Canadians live with dementia, and that number is expected to grow to 937,000 in 15 years. Rachel wants to continue offering innovative products for people with dementia and aims to do so through a mobile app, and adding accessibility features, and options for different languages and reading levels.

Who is a woman that inspires you?

“My Grandma. She’s at a place in her life where’s she’s not cognitively there and can’t communicate, but her personality still shines through and she is still the sweetest person. I admire the way she lived her life – she was a very caring and non-judgemental person. She puts everything into focus for me.”

How are you celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day?

 “I’m celebrating by recognizing the important women in my life and am sending out emails to my female mentors thanking them for their help. As a female founder, having mentors like Crista Renner (Velocity Business Advisor) has been a huge plus.”

Daniela Roeper, Founder of Borealis Wind

There are over 340,000 wind turbines in the world, and 60% are affected by ice buildup. Daniela Roeper, Founder of Borealis Wind is passionate about improving renewable energy and has developed with her team a patent-pending retrofit system to de-ice the blades of wind turbines. The de-icing system works by heating the interior of the blade, thereby heating the exterior and shedding the ice. A blower, heater and duct system target heat to the tip of the blade.

Not only does ice buildup result in millions of dollars in annual revenue loss, but it also impacts wind turbine efficiency, and where they can be installed (as flat, windy, environments often have a lot of ice). The extra weight of ice also causes increased wear on the drive train and blade surface, as well as additional load on the wind turbine structure.

While their competitor’s systems cost $500,000 per retrofitted turbine and requires a crane to drop the blades and complete shut down for a few weeks, Borealis Wind’s system is easy to install without a crane and goes inside the rotor blades for a cost of $50,000 per turbine. With significantly less downtime using their system, wind farms are able to reclaim 50% of the revenue they would lose from a shutdown, and Daniela aims to get this up to 80%. The Borealis Wind team are currently completing several pilot tests with North American wind farms.

Who is a woman that inspires you?

 “Carol Leaman (President & CEO of Axonify) inspires me because she’s not afraid to take a risk and is confident in herself.”

How are you celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day?

“Celebrating by installing our pilot systems at a wind farm in Ontario.”

Erin Laidley, Co-founder of Innovative Protein Technologies (IPT)

In 2012, a spring frost destroyed 80% of the apple crop in Ontario resulting in a $60 million loss. Crops are ruined each year due to frost and Erin Laidley, Co-founder of Innovative Protein Technologies and her team are developing environmentally-friendly crop protection products for farmers and home gardeners. Their first product, Frost Armour spray, provides protection against frost damage during the spring growing season.

Their spray is a lot better for human and environmental health than alternatives. Typically to prevent frost, farmers will spray water on crops and that is very wasteful, or use competitor sprays that are copper based and toxic at high levels. In contrast, Frost Armour is non-toxic, biodegradable, and turns into fertilizer. The startup is big on sustainability and has three pilots to conduct in May of this year: one at a ginseng grower, one at a winery and one at a local farm with strawberries and sweet corn.

Who is a woman that inspires you?

“Michelle Obama, I love everything she stands for and how during the presidency she was such a prominent figure too, and how much of an impact they both had together. I like how strong of a figure she is, and everything she’s doing in terms of education and women’s rights.”

How are you celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day?

“Last year I attended a women in science dinner and will probably do something similar.”