Success in the West

It's the individuals and businesses that continue to make a difference in the lives and communities in Western Canada. Here are their success stories.

Karina LeBlanc's Field of Dreams


Karina LeBlanc's Field of Dreams

Sport has always been a passion for Canadian Olympic soccer star Karina Leblanc. Now she has a sports field in her very own town of Maple Ridge, BC. There, she can share this passion with the next generation of Canadian athletes.

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In May 2018, the City of Maple Ridge officially opened Karina Leblanc Field at Merkley Park in honour of Canada's longest standing national soccer player.

With $500,000 in funding from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, the City of Maple Ridge invested $2.5 million in this all-weather field with:

  • improved parking
  • upgraded pathways
  • new play structures
  • fencing and backstops
  • upgraded field lighting
  • a new drainage system

The park also features a new piece of public art called "Field of Dreams". It represents the history of Maple Ridge, including Leblanc's rise to sports excellence.

Karina began her athletic career on the field that carries her name. Now she has 5 FIFA World Cups and 2 Olympic Games under her belt, including a bronze medal in London 2012.

Karina moved to Maple Ridge from Dominica at the age of 8. It was sport that helped a once shy and sometimes bullied young girl gain the self-confidence and passion that drove her to pursue her dreams.

Sport also helped Karina inspire others through her work as a UNICEF ambassador and in her post-athletic career as a motivational speaker through her Karina Leblanc Foundation.

Just before the ribbon cutting to open the field, Karina ran a leadership session for 20 youth mentors at her alma mater Maple Ridge Secondary School. Following the grand opening, these young women helped Karina run a free sports clinic for young soccer players from Maple Ridge.

The Karina LeBlanc Field is more than an economic investment. It is an investment in the quality of life for all residents of Maple Ridge. It serves as a reminder of what people can achieve through hard work and determination.

Karina LeBlanc Field - #WeFundedThat

Reduce, Reuse… Rethink Recycling


Reduce, reuse… rethink recycling

That last glob of yogurt left in the container costs recycling programs millions of dollars each year.


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Many people don't know that misplacing items in the wrong recycling stream can cause several problems. A spoonful of peanut butter left over in the jar could soil a tonne of paper when people put items in the wrong recycling stream. And this could send these "recyclable" goods to the dump.

The amount of plastic being recycled has risen in the past decade. This is due to changing lifestyles, new types of packaging and the sheer convenience of plastic. It has led to higher recycling rates, but with more room for error, leaving municipalities to cope with the challenges.

Telling the public and giving them recycling tips can help reduce the problem. But a more reliable way to improve recycling success rates is through innovation.

If only there were durable materials that were also biodegradable.

A western Canadian company may have the solution. WINN-funded good natured Products Inc. aims to be the North America's leader in plant-based products and packaging. It already has over 120 customers in the United States and Canada.

good natured® makes over 100 types of plant-based packaging. The company's goal is to disrupt the wasteful behemoth of the plastic packaging industry.

The company also makes a range of durable home and business products like desk accessories, waste bins and totes. It uses the highest possible percentage of renewable, plant-based materials with no BPA s, phthalates or other chemicals of concern.

good natured®  uses the ASTM D6400 standard to test how well its plant-based materials can compost. Its food packaging will break down in a commercial compost facility within 180 days. Of 500 billion pounds of plastic produced each year, only 8% gets recycled. That makes compostable plastic exciting.

Plant-based packaging from good natured® has another benefit. It doesn't leach hazardous chemicals into the soil or water! Traditional, petroleum-based plastics cannot make this claim.

good natured® is challenging the status quo.

Coupled with newfound regulatory pressures and policies against single use plastic products and trends that move towards sustainable practices, the innovative products from good natured® will only increase in popularity.

"Our products are sustainable, green, good for your health and the earth," says Sadaf Sabet, Product Development Manager, "We're very proud of it!"

Biodegradable packaging - #WeFundedThat

Women Building Futures - You got this!

Photo Credit: Women Building Futures [2018-09-04]

Women Building Futures - You got this!

The pursuit of inclusive participation in the economy requires a change in perspectives and a change in traditional ways of thinking. This belief prompted a small group of women to set up Women Building Futures (WBF) in 1998.

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WBF's goal is to prepare women for careers in industries in which, historically, they have been under-represented. Through skilled trades training and mentorship, WBF works with industry to create programs and career opportunities to help women achieve financial security that can transform their futures.

WD has been a proud supporter of WBF since 2005. During that time, WD has funded 6 projects for a total investment of approximately $5.5 million. WD funding has helped WBF:

  • expand programs
  • develop curriculum
  • retrofit warehouse space for its facility
  • deliver programs in new ways, such as online and with virtual reality tools

With support from WD and others, WBF gives women a new path to economic freedom. But taking that path requires courage, determination, hard work and a leap of faith.

That means going for your goal even in the face of fear. Take, for example, Cora-Lee. She's the voice behind WBF's award-winning "You Got This" marketing campaign, which encourages women to consider a career in the trades. Cora-Lee says becoming a pipefitter is a major source of pride because it means she didn't back down from challenges. Her red seal ticket gave Cora-Lee independence, a sense of self-worth, and the ability to create a bright future for herself and her 2 daughters.

That sense of accomplishment can be heard in many WBF stories. Helena is proud to be called tough and courageous when she tells people she is a professional Class 1 truck driver.

Karlayne, a second-year apprentice millwright,can't wait to see an eager apprentice look up to her one day.

Kristen, a graduate of WBF's Journeywoman Start Class, is now a first-year electrician. She loves building things and working with her hands.

These stories are a small sample from the thousands of women who have participated in WBF programs. Their stories are part of why WD is so proud to work with WBF in our mutual goal of inclusive participation in Western Canada's economy. WBF continues to place women in the workforce at a rate of 90%. That suggests WBF hit the nail on the head when it set out to empower women to build their futures through careers in the trades. The rest, as they say, is "herstory".

Skills training for women - #WeFundedThat

Serious things happening at Serious Labs

Photo Credit: Serious Labs [2018-09-04]

Serious things happening at Serious Labs

Mention mandatory training to your staff and you can expect groans and eye rolling. But an Alberta company has found a way to make this unpopular task both effective and enjoyable.


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Serious Labs makes training fun, while still taking worker and worksite safety seriously. The company makes interactive and engaging courses using simulation and virtual reality. Serious Labs began by working with United Rentals (UR), the world's largest equipment rental company. Together, they created many award winning courses for UR's United Academy.

In 2014, Serious Labs' creative approach sparked the interest of Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD). The company received approximately $1 million in Western Innovation (WINN) Initiative funding to develop 7 interactive courses on:

  • worker safety
  • worksite safety
  • safe use of equipment

The funds also helped create a cutting-edge digital platform to manage courses. Employers and employees can both use it to store, track and share their training.

The approach Serious Labs took is getting noticed. In August 2017, it announced an investment of $5 million USD in Series A equity funding from UR and Brick and Mortar Ventures. These funds will help it create more heavy industry courses. These will boost worker skills, and make them safer and more productive.

Serious Labs is also now leveraging the power of virtual reality.

Digital safety training - #WeFundedThat

Saskatoon Trades and Skills Centre – creating inclusive and responsive opportunities


Saskatoon Trades and Skills Centre – creating inclusive and responsive opportunities

Vulnerable, inner city youth lack the training, experience and, in a lot of cases, confidence to secure good jobs that can lead to careers in the skilled trades. At the same time, employers in many industries find it difficult to hire young tradespeople.

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Established in 2007, the Saskatoon Trades and Skills Centre (STSC) is an innovative solution to this problem. The STSC equips vulnerable youth and adults with the skills they need to enter the workforce, while responding to the needs of local industry. It is an initiative of the Saskatoon Public School Division, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Government of Saskatchewan and other partners.

The STSC works with local businesses to offer courses they identify as being in greatest demand. Courses aim to give learners the initial experience that can lead to an entry-level position and on to apprenticeship or other skilled training. The STSC offers a range of programs, such as:

  • retail
  • carpentry and bricklaying
  • heavy equipment operation
  • hospitality and food services

Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) provided over $3.6 million to the STSC to:

  • build the centre's learning lab
  • build another building
  • buy equipment for the centre's heavy equipment operator program

The learning lab has classrooms and work areas big enough for construction projects up to the size of small houses.

Students train in their chosen field, as well as for any other qualifications they need to work on a job site, such as health and safety courses. After the formal courses, learners work with a local employer for hands-on training and potentially employment at the end of the work term.

The STSC pays students throughout their program and work placement. They get support and mentoring from career coaches and Elders. The STSC works with learners to help them overcome any other barriers to employment, from providing daycare to helping obtain a driver's license.

In its first decade, the STSC has served over 2500 students with employment rates for graduates over 85%. They include a high proportion of people from backgrounds where getting into trades has been a challenge. Last year, close to half of the STSC's students identified as Indigenous, with another quarter being new Canadians.

STSC has made great impacts for both its students and the local economy. Here's to many more years of success.

Skills training - #WeFundedThat

Solido Design Automation bought by German conglomerate

Photo Credit: Solido Design Automation Inc. [2018-09-04]

Solido Design Automation bought by German conglomerate

Saskatchewan based Western Innovation (WINN) Initiative recipient, Solido Design Automation Inc, is a world leader in microchip design and characterization software powered by proprietary machine learning technology – a form of artificial intelligence.

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Solido's software helps engineers optimize chip designs in ways that are faster than working on designs using other manual or automated approaches.

Solido has hired, either directly or indirectly, 46 engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians in Saskatoon. This is thanks in part to 2 loans worth over $3 million through the WINN Initiative. The loans, in 2014 and 2017, helped it bring to market machine-learning software used to design electronic chips.

In November 2017, Deloitte's Technology Fast 500TM ranked Solido 425th among the 500 fastest growing technology companies in North America. From 2013 to 2016, Solido grew 185%. Since 2009, Solido has been growing by between 50% and 70% per year.

Siemens AG, Europe's largest industrial manufacturing company, announced in November 2017 that it had bought Solido. Speculated as one of the largest technology deals in Saskatchewan history, this transaction will enable Solido to continue to draw on the talent of the University of Saskatchewan's engineering and computer scienceprograms at Innovation Place.

Exciting times are ahead at Solido with further research and development in other areas of automating electronic chip design.

Machine-learning software - #WeFundedThat

SHEday 2018

Photo Credit: Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba [2018-09-04]

SHEday 2018

On January 26, 2018, over 1,500 people – mostly women – shared stories of leadership, business and career development. They gathered in the heart of Winnipeg at the SHEday conference, presented by the Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba (WEC). The previous year, over 1,100 people took part.

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SHEday stands for Share, Hear, Empower. The one-day, annual conference sprouted from a desire to provide services to female business professionals and a venue for them to network. Marina R. James, current CEO of Winnipeg REALTORS, and Mary Jane Loustel,former National Aboriginal Program Executive at IBM, founded the event.

From this initiative, the women created SHEACCELERATOR Inc. This incubator of programs, events and services is designed to accelerate the success and inclusion of women in business. SHEday inspired the accelerator to advance policy frameworks in:

  • gender equality
  • poverty reduction
  • affordable housing
  • healthy neighbourhoods
  • social and financial inclusion
  • Indigenous economic development

This helps others learn from the event.

Some of the speakers were:

  • Maralee Caruso, anchor of CTV News Winnipeg
  • Adriana de Luca and Michelle Lalonde, founders of Tiber River Naturals
  • Norva Riddell, Vice President, Sales, of True North Sports and Entertainment

SHEday is gaining momentum and shows no signs of stopping, all thanks to Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD)'s contributions to the WEC.

WD launched the WEC in 1994 to help women entrepreneurs start or expand their businesses. It providesthem with mentorship and easier access to capital. It also helps them develop experience, expertise and credit histories for their new ventures. Ultimately, the goal was to increase the number and strength of women entrepreneurs – and it was successful. WD provides the WEC with $975,000 yearly to promote and assist women entrepreneurs.

Since the WEC's opening in 1994, it has:

  • loaned over $25M
  • reviewed 3,000 business plans
  • delivered over 2,000 workshops
  • trained over 25,000 participants
  • leveraged over $26M with other financial sources
  • helped create over 2,000 full-time job equivalents

SHEday - #WeFundedThat

Vision Quest

Photo Credit: Vision Quest Conferences Inc. [2018-09-04]

Vision Quest

The 2018 Vision Quest Conference benefitted from $20,000 of Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) funding. WD granted the funds through its Western Diversification Program.


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Vision Quest events are formed through partnerships with 5 primarily Indigenous-based Community Futures Development Corporations:

  • Kitayan CFDC
  • Southeast CFDC
  • Cedar Lake CFDC
  • North Central CFDC
  • Dakota Ojibway CFDC

These gatherings promote Indigenous business, community and economic development.

In 2018, Vision Quest marked its 22nd annual conference and trade show: "From Vision to Reality". The event took place from May 15 to 17 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It hosted about 1,000 people and showed 90 exhibits at its trade show.

The conference features the Dragon's Quest Business Plan Competition. Finalists make a live pitch to a panel of business professionals. Participants can compete in 2 categories -Rural and Urban (City of Winnipeg). This year, the Urban winner was Matt Nobess for Indigenous Vitality Sports Camp. The Rural winner was Dakota Sipie for Sipie Mobile Wash. The winners are announced at the Gala Banquet.

Video credit: Vision Quest Conferences Inc.

One of the keynote speakers of this year's conference was Earl Lambert, a Cree/Métis motivational speaker, life coach and storyteller. He is also CEO and President of PROUD TO BE Apparel. The clothing line inspires people to stand strong and be proud of who they are. The other keynote speaker was Andrea Menard, a Métis actress and singer/songwriter. She has appeared in the Netflix series Blackstone and has had roles on shows such as Supernatural.

WD has funded 10 of the past 22 Vision Quest conferences. The 2018 event was a resounding success, and proudly displayed the strength of Manitoba's Indigenous business community.

Vision Quest: Dare to Dream Conference - #WeFundedThat

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