What Went Down at CB Evolution

Entrepreneurship, innovation and technology converge to take centre stage at CB’s first-ever mini-summit
Left to right: The evolution of mRNA technology speakers and moderator, Leslie Madden head of regulatory science & QA, Canada at Moderna; Vallijah (Valli) Subasri, AI scientist at UHN’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, Charlotte Herrold editor-in-chief, Canadian Business; and Dr Shehzad Iqbal PhD MBA, country medical director, Moderna Canada. (Photography by George Pimentel)

CB Evolution convened rising entrepreneurs and senior business leaders for a week of thought-provoking programming focused on Canada’s innovation landscape, inspired by CB’s award-winning The Evolution newsletter and powered by the pages of their Fall issue.

From October 16-24, CB Evolution—in partnership with American Express Canada, Moderna Canada, and Steam Whistle Brewing—hosted a series of online and in-person events featuring entrepreneurs, thought leaders and seasoned practitioners from a range of sectors, from precision medicine to Indigenous-owned retail.

Guests enjoying a sneak peek at The Well, Toronto’s latest architectural attraction.

The summit kicked off on October 16 with a virtual fireside chat between founder, angel investor and former Shopify VP of Product Satish Kanwar, and Chantal Roy, Director of Brand Experience at SJC Media, on the evolution of innovation in Canada.

“There’s no better place to build than in Canada—as Canadians, we don’t work to live, rather we seek a harmony in what we find to be creative, impactful and inherently personal to each of us,” said Kanwar. “That’s why you find entrepreneurship and innovation in Canada so intertwined with individual stories of personal sacrifice.”

The next day, participants got a sneak peek of The Well, Toronto’s latest architectural attraction opening in mid-November, while attending CB Evolution’s thought leadership panel hosted in partnership with Moderna Canada. Moderated by Charlotte Herrold, CB’s editor-in-chief, the panel discussed the mRNA revolution, Moderna’s role in pioneering the technology, and the role of AI in the future of healthcare.

Dr. Shehzad Iqbal, Moderna Canada’s country medical director, emphasized the transformational importance of mRNA technology, with the COVID-19 vaccine providing a platform for new medicines and therapies.

Guests at The Evolution of mRNA Technology panel discussion.

“We’re trying to make medicine for everyone,” said Iqbal. “We need to flip Canada’s healthcare narrative from a consumption model to an open source production model that creates knowledge and data.”

“Moderna’s baseline is to generate safe and effective medicine that can be equitably accessed,” said Leslie Madden, head of regulatory science & quality assurance at Moderna Canada. “The next step is achieving geographic equity by expanding our R&D and distribution networks while also enhancing public awareness and understanding about what mRNA is and isn’t.”

Left to right at Entrepreneurship: What I Wish I Knew, powered by American Express Canada: Phanikar Yenamandra, vice president, cardmember and client engagement, international card services, American Express Canada; Chelsee Pettit, founder, ᐋᓃᓐ aaniin; Fatima Zaidi, co-founder and CEO, Quill; Morley Ivers, co-founder and CEO, Cookin; and Jason Maghanoy, publisher, Canadian Business.

“When we integrate mRNA and AI technologies, we’re able to improve diagnostics, identify high and low risk groups and determine the most effective treatments at an incredibly accelerated rate,” said Vallijah (Valli) Subasri, AI scientist at UHN’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. “The medical community must ensure these new models are fair and that the guardrails for ethical distribution are firmly in place.”

On October 18, Réjean Bourgault, country leader & managing director for AWS Canada’s public sector, joined Roy for a virtual fireside chat about building resilience amid the forces disrupting corporate leadership in Canada.

Inspired by CB’s annual “How I Made It” feature, CB Evolution’s centerpiece event in partnership with American Express Canada closed the summit with a panel discussion on the evolution of entrepreneurship in Canada—Entrepreneurship: What I Wish I Knew—moderated by Jason Maghanoy, publisher at CB, Maclean’s, and Toronto Life.

More than 100 guests gathered at Luma on October 24 to hear from some of Canada’s newest small business owners about their entrepreneurial life cycles: What’s their vision? What did they learn from the challenges and failures along the way? How did they make it?

Guests at Entrepreneurship: What I Wish I Knew, powered by American Express Canada, on the closing night of CB Evolution.

Chelsee Pettit, founder of Indigenous retailer ᐋᓃᓐ aaniin, related her experiences with some of the unique barriers facing Indigenous entrepreneurs, like being asked if she would donate her profits to charity or whether non-Indigenous people could wear her clothing. Pettit emphasized the importance of being decisive yet flexible as the business inevitably has to pivot, especially in the early days.

“Nobody wants to work in retail forever—it’s usually a stepping stone to something bigger or with greater purpose,” said Pettit. “Success won’t be realized until we fulfill our mission to establish a headquarters so I can provide my team – and the people on my reserve—with more opportunities.”

Morley Ivers, co-founder & CEO of Cookin, a food delivery marketplace app that sources ready-to-eat meals directly from local chefs, discussed the supply-side challenges of serving a two-sided marketplace of customers and chefs. Initially chefs were signing up to the Cookin’ platform faster than the team could accommodate. By slowing the onboarding process to match consumer demand, Ivers found they could better serve chefs and stay true to company values while gradually achieving scale.

American Express Canada representative at the closing night of CB Evolution Summit.

“Articulating a clear vision that aligns with your team’s diverse yet like-minded values and that galvanizes them with a common mission is the key to successful recruiting and retention,” said Ivers. “Cookin’s vision is to unite people with food in an increasingly divided world, and our mission—to provide more inclusive and fair options for folks working in the food service and delivery industry—truly represents my life’s work.”

Fatima Zaidi, co-founder & CEO of podcast production agency Quill, described how early failures, like losing a funding round in the pandemic, were essential in building a more resilient business.

“You don’t have to have a perfect idea to launch a business—the challenges will multiply and keep changing, and your goals will keep evolving,” said Zaidi. “Don’t spend too much time trying to solve a single problem and be sure to celebrate your team’s wins even as you continue on to the next milestone.”

Phanikar Yenamandra, VP of Cardmember and Client Engagement, International Card Services at American Express Canada, outlined how Amex supports small businesses access capital and partnerships through initiatives like Blueprint: Backing Businesses™ and small business awards programs.

“We’re passionate about solving problems for small businesses, and we have the track record to prove it,” said Yenamandra.

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Alex Derry
Alex Derry