Our Entrepreneurship Team
YSpace is York University’s innovation hub creating positive change by fostering a community of innovators, entrepreneurs, and changemakers. YSpace is home to YSpace Digital, a suite of virtual programs to support entrepreneurs from ideation to scale mode; YSpace Markham, a physical incubator space located in York Region to support market-ready ventures; and ELLA, Ontario's first accelerator focused on supporting women-led product and service-based businesses.
Assistant Vice President, Innovation & Research Partnerships
Sarah is a business development professional with extensive experience fostering innovation and developing strategic business operations. Over the past six years, Sarah has successfully created an innovation office at York University that provides a myriad of services across the university and has grown the team to 17.
She has created and grown a pan-university educational entrepreneurship program, developed and manages two start-up accelerators; and developed and manages an 11,000 square foot innovation centre, YSpace, as a strategic step in the development of a new campus. In addition, Sarah is co-lead for the strategic development of innovation and entrepreneurship across the campus.
Associate Director, Entrepreneurship
David is a driven leader with an extensive background in strategic planning, innovation program creation, and partnership development. Since joining York University in 2017, David has Co-Founded York University’s first physical incubator space call YSpace in York Region and Ontario’s first Food & Beverage Accelerator focused on growth stage CPG ventures.
In addition, he now oversees the ELLA Women Accelerator program focused on supporting 70 women entrepreneurs to scale and grow annually. Prior to joining York University, David led the transformation of DMZ Sandbox into a renown startup and talent creation hub for Ryerson University. He also co-founded ZerotoStartup, an educational venture focused on creating curriculum for maker spaces upon graduation. He also served as an Advisory Board member for Pledges for Change, a community-based nonprofit focused on youth empowerment through volunteerism.
Entrepreneurship Manager, YSpace
Nafis joined York University in 2020 after spending 5 years with the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University - the world's first incubator dedicated to legal tech. Nafis is a driven leader with a strong background in developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, fueling startup growth, and building communities and has supported startups in various stages of their development across the GTA tech community.
Previous to the Legal Innovation Zone, Nafis was part of the operations team at The DMZ, and was also a Co-Founder of NuLens Innovation, using entrepreneurial frameworks to facilitate innovation projects and initiatives. He is deeply involved in startup and social innovation initiatives through his volunteer activities, and is passionate about supporting individuals pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.
Entrepreneurship Manager, ELLA
Nicole has over 10 years’ experience developing startups and working with organizations to design policies and programs to support entrepreneurship. Before joining ELLA, Nicole managed iBoost, an early-stage tech incubator at Ryerson University where she developed programming and partnerships to enhance entrepreneur education.
Prior to that, she served as a Senior Analyst for the University of Waterloo Venture Fund as well as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, where she led a cross-government initiative to improve the regulatory environment and reduce business costs. Nicole holds a Master’s in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the University of Waterloo, a Master’s in Public and International Affairs from York University and a Bachelor of Commerce from Ryerson University.
CPG Program Advisor
Judy Chang has over 20 years of experience in the food industry, with leading multiple businesses with Kraft & Mondelez, and working at the Nielsen Company as a VP in Analytics. She is an intrapreneur, with experience growing two divisions through double digit growth in revenue and fast-growing team to support.
Judy is also the Founder of Pivot Perspectives, a coaching and mentoring company for leaders and entrepreneurs. She is passionate about supporting startup companies to refine their business plans, creating a vision, and developing a high performing and engaged team to lead the charge.
Students & Community Engagement Coordinator
Diana is a creative leader with over 11 years of communications, event management, and marketing experience. She has successfully coordinated and managed over 300 events across Canada, designed and developed strategic marketing and communication campaigns, and has created communication pieces aimed at telling compelling brand stories.
In 2008, Diana graduated with a BA in Communications and Psychology from York University, as well as a Diploma in Creative Advertising from Seneca College. Diana is responsible for coordinating and marketing LaunchYU events and programs, contributing to the overall look of the brand, as well as providing marketing and event support for Innovation York.
Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Keila works with organizations to establish effective brand strategies. Keila spent 3 years as CSR and Secure Desk Operator at TD Canada Trust before accepting a role as Marketing Assistant at Hy-Grade Steel Roofing. She was promoted to the management team as Marketing Manager, where she ran the province-wide company’s portfolio of marketing and communications for 2+ years before joining ELLA.
Keila holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing Management from the University of Guelph. While there, she was Market Research Manager for the College of Business & Economics Students’ Association and joined the inaugural executive team as Director of Marketing for Guelph Women in Leadership. She brings in-depth experience with marketing portfolios, working with entrepreneurs and uplifting women leaders.
Serena joins YSpace after spending several years with the Markham Small Business Centre serving as a Small Business Assistant. She has extensive experience of coordinating programs and supporting entrepreneurs.
York University is a familiar setting to her as she graduated in 2018 from Schulich School of Business. She is excited to combine her experience gained in the innovation ecosystem to support entrepreneurship and innovation at York University and in the wider community.
Maria Lisa Lionti
Maria holds over 5 years of experience in programming, events and logistics management. Her portfolio includes such accolades as coordinating the International Human Trafficking and Awareness Conference for the Toronto Police Service and holding the Lead Facilitator position for the Business Management course; Strategies for Success.
While receiving her Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management from Ryerson University, Maria held consecutive positions with the Ted Rogers Student’s Society at the Ted Rogers School of Management and was responsible for the planning and execution of several events on campus. She served as Event Associate, Vice President of Events, Business Management Director, and finally as President in her final term. She is excited to contribute her variety of event and programming skills in creating unforgettable experiences for ELLA women.
Business Bounce Back Coordinator
Cristina is a creative mover and shaker with over 10 years of marketing, entrepreneurial and project management experience. After 5 years of working in the Economic Development and Tourism office at the Town of Georgina, Cristina has created and been the lead on a number of new tourism and economic development projects, including signature events such as the Field to Table, Taste of Georgina and Georgina Made. Cristina is passionate about supporting local businesses in their journey to succeed through this rapidly changing economy.
Before joining the team, you have seen her scrambling around the York University Bookstore, working hard to make sure that the students had access to everything they needed for the beginning of the school year. She was also an administrative assistant for the payroll & Records department of York University. Currently, Youngmi supports our work-integrated learning programs as a Program Assistant where she will assist in the organization of workshops and events, processing of financial records, and overall administrative work.
Youngmi has previously enjoyed helping people in need, working in other administrative capacities, and working with children in teaching the Korean language and culture. In her spare time, you will likely find Youngmi playing badminton or travelling the world and encountering new experiences.
Our Entrepreneurs in Residence
Our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiR) will host office hours and provide continuous mentorship and support to your startup journey. Please know that all our EiR(s) have had experiences building and growing their companies. As an EiR(s), they are mentors and a resource to provide advice and guidance but are by no means meant to complete work on your behalf.
Our Technology EiRs
Ali de Bold
Co-Founder & CEO, ChickAdvisor Inc.
Ali is the CEO & Co-founder of ChickAdvisor Inc. and is a third generation entrepreneur and launched Chickadvisor in 2006, which was Canada’s first product review community and was the brain-child of Ali and her husband, Alex de Bold. The couple launched the company from their living room, without any external funding, having since turned it into a community-based institution.
Today, ChickAdvisor is thriving with hundreds of thousands of members across Canada USA and UK, working with top tier global CPG brands. The company has also gone on to launch Butterly, a community building software for brands; XYStuff.com (men’s point of view); and FamilyRated.com -- niche product review sites with active and loyal followings.
From scrappy indie studio to the beating heart of agency-world Ben has been pushing the boundaries of business-minded design for just over a decade. Couple that with 4 years volunteer work and close examination of over 1200 pitches with the world’s premier idea-stage accelerator and you've got one hell of a presentation designer.
With insights drawn from the music industry, startup ecosystems and Fortune 500 presentations, Ben provides invaluable lessons on the art of visual and verbal communication.
Currently, Ben operates Pitchverk, a presentation studio, helping founders communicate their message, close deals and raise capital. Additionally, Ben serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Ryerson DMZ and continues to volunteer with Founder Institute Toronto.
Areas of expertise and interest include:
• Pitch Coaching
• Pitch Deck Design
• Visual & Verbal Communication
Laura van Wyngaarden
Co-Founder & COO, Diligen
Laura is an entrepreneur and expert in artificial intelligence and legal technology. She’s the COO of Diligen, a leading artificial intelligence (AI) company transforming the way lawyers review contracts and a pioneer in the Legal Tech space. Laura is passionate about the connection between technology and human work, seeking to identify and explore innovative ways to reduce time and improve the accuracy of human tasks.
Prior to founding Diligen, Laura was the Managing Director of Distility. Laura holds undergraduate and honors degrees from the University of Cape Town and a Masters from Oxford University. She tweets as @lauravanwyn about legal technology, artificial intelligence and the future of work.
Co-Founder & CEO, Buy with Impact
Rishabh was previously the CEO of Buy with Impact (acq.), a credit card which let members measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprint from their spending. Prior to BWI, Rishabh was the CEO of Lake Finance, working on bringing multi-asset wealth management to retail audiences. He also worked within the Facebook Messenger monetization team to scale revenue, and was the Chief Product Officer at Bunz.com, a bartering community which scaled to 500,000+ members in 250+ cities globally. Rishabh has been building and scaling teams across financial services, marketplaces and community-driven applications since 2010.
Chief Evangelist & Co-Founder, ODAIA Intelligence
Helen co-founded ODAIA.ai in 2018, an AI-powered customer segmentation SaaS platform for Pharma companies to make better decisions about their customers. As Chief Evangelist, Helen brings her understanding of artificial intelligence, customer analytics and digital transformation to help sales and marketing teams adopt AI in their work; she's also developing new approaches for how these organizations can leverage data science and AI to achieve competitive advantage.
Helen has been advising artificial intelligence and emerging technology startups since 2014, including within in her own incubator, which she co-founded in 2015: The UofT's Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL). Where she supported students and faculty to commercialize their innovations.
Co-Founder & COO, indus.ai
Navin Kaminoulu is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer for indus.ai Inc. He leads the strategic direction and operations for the construction industry’s first artificial intelligence powered start up. The company is headquartered in San Francisco with R & D in Toronto. Prior to this, he held the position Head of delivery and partnerships at GreenOwl Mobile where he was responsible for scaling the firm 2 – 25 employees, 50+ enterprise clients, and 300% revenue growth within 2 years.
VP Service & Technology, Digital Identity Lab of Canada
Bonnie is a Product leader who has been innovating at the intersection of business and technology for over 15 years. She is a passionate team builder and a firm believer that fully integrated cross-functional teams are what it takes to win in today’s ever-changing competitive landscape. Having endured the pain of digital transformation in corporations large and small, Bonnie sees huge opportunity in start-ups getting it right from the get-go.
During Bonnie’s career within enterprises such as LoyaltyOne and start-ups such as SecureKey, she oversaw products for consumers, citizens, and businesses. Bonnie brings best practices and lessons learned from a variety of domains including loyalty programs / marketing, business intelligence, digital identity, authentication, payment, API platforms, and developer programs. Her experience in leading both Product and Technology teams has given her a deep appreciation for the productivity and engagement that is gained exponentially through cross-functional collaboration.
Areas of expertise and interest include:
• Product Management
• Business Analysis
• Cross Functional Team Building
• Agile Product Development
VP Sales & Strategy, Boast.AI
Russ is a sales and finance leader and co-founder of Limelight Platform, the worlds first experiential marketing cloud. Russ ran sales, finance and operation at Limelight for 5 years. Russ's expertise is building and developing teams in the B2B SaaS space, across finance, operations and sales & marketing. He is a dynamic and passionate go-to market leader with a proven track record of applying strong leadership, technology, Data and analytics to achieving corporate objectives.
Areas of expertise and interest include:
• Roles and KPI's of your sales team
• Sales team structure and design
• Sales funnel and definitions
• Mapping the buyer journey
• Sales Enablement Tools
Founder & CEO,Hyre
Eropa Stein is a passionate entrepreneur who has excelled in both academia and the professional work force. She is committed to growing her startup, Hyre, a multifaceted digital HR platform that connects event organizers with event staff. With direct experience in the industry and a background in organizational psychology, she has developed a comprehensive understanding of the space she is in. Eropa also mentors young entrepreneurs at Founders Institute and an Alumni in Residence at the DMZ. She is energetic in everything she does, bringing both experience and an open mind to every new challenge.
Founder & CEO, IAmI Authentications Inc.
Mick Be is the CEO & Founder of IAmI Authentications, Inc. (“IAmI”), an Identity & Access Management cybersecurity company. Being a startup founder of 10+ yrs, Mick advises coaches, and mentors numerous technology-based startups of all sizes and business types. Over the last 2 years, Mick has been an EiR and key member of the YSpace community.
Mick began his entrepreneurial journey after having worked for the financial services and card payment industries as a product marketing executive. Since beginning his first company, he has pivoted twice and now leads a highly innovative cybersecurity company. Mick possesses a very strong knowledge base in business development strategy, marketing, sales, operational management, technology & security strategy, and relationship building/management. He continues to be front and center at the crossroads of advancing technologies and user experiences, with a particular focus on privacy and security.
Areas of expertise and interest include:
• Privacy & Security
• Business Strategies
• Go to Market Strategy
Founder & Head of Growth, TieiT
Jessica Rawlley is the Co-Founder and Head of Growth at TIEIT, an award-winning software company dedicated to improving business efficiency with their all-in-one sales, marketing and business management platform. Shortly after graduating, at the age of 24, she launched her own successful legal practice in Newmarket. Through her legal work and experiences advising small businesses, she discovered her true passion for helping small business owners and entrepreneurs through the use of technology.
Through this passion, she pivoted from legal to technology and co-founded MAAS PROS in 2012, a custom software development company that scaled globally through the franchise model. Out of challenges that her company faced managing a scaling company, they then created TIEIT to help other small businesses become more efficient in their day-to-day operations and implement automations and the latest innovative tools to help their businesses grow.
Co-Founder & CEO, Rogue Insight Capital
Suraj K. Gupta is the Co-Founder, President and CEO of Rogue Insight Capital, and is the CIO for the Easton’s Group of Hotels; Canada’s largest private hotel development corporation. The Easton’s Group owns a portfolio of over 20 hotels across Canada as well as residential condominium projects across the Greater Toronto Area.
One of Suraj’s primary mandates includes investing in female, immigrant, and visible minority founders. Suraj believes that these groups of entrepreneurs do not get the exposure they deserve, and therefore over 70% of Rogue’s portfolio companies have diverse founding teams at the helm. Additionally, although Rogue invests globally, another of Suraj’s primary objectives is to support and spotlight Canadian founders by aiding great companies in their growth trajectory. He hopes that the world will increasingly recognize the incredible innovations that come out of the Canadian market, and that Toronto will become a hub for entrepreneurship similar to New York City and San Francisco.
Areas of expertise and interest include:
• Business Strategy
• Financial Analysis
• Sales & Marketing Initiatives
• Fundraising Preparation
Fractional CMO & Marketing Consultant
Erin is a fractional CMO and marketing advisor, to startups and scale-ups, with nearly 20 years of experience. Erin launched her company in 2004 and spent nearly 15 years working with scale-ups in Silicon Valley and growing the personal brands of best-selling authors, speakers, and actors. Erin also spent some time working in a B2B SaaS accelerator before joining startup, Fellow, as their first head of marketing hire.
Today, Erin is back to her fractional CMO roots, working with high-growth companies, as well as teaching the next wave of digital marketing professionals.
Co-Founder & CEO, Opilio Labs
Elliott is an educator and serial entrepreneur. Elliott spent 20 years in sales and sales leadership roles with high-tech companies including Microsoft and Dell before catching the entrepreneurship bug. He started his first business, AddMirror, in 2019 and sold it in 2017 after hitting seven figure sales numbers. His current venture includes a patented smart home platform. Elliott has a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and an MBA in Marketing from the Schulich School of Business.
VP Growth Marketing, Kinedu
Samantha is a marketing professional with more than 7 years of experience, leading teams in performance marketing, design, lifecycle communications, and customer research efforts globally.
As the first marketing hire, Samantha built the marketing team at Kinedu, a baby development app for parents, where she helped the company grow from 0 to seven figures in revenue, generate a user base of 7MM+ parents, and become a recognized app with a loyal following in the space.
Our Food and Beverage EiRs
Founder at GEM Inc.
Brett brings over 20 years of experience in Sustainable Business Management. As a former Plant Manager, Brett has first-hand experience driving organizational performance through a focus on operational excellence. Brett’s experience combined with a passion for integrating Sustainability into business strategies delivers tangible and quantifiable results that drive performance now and into the future.
Business Strategy/KPI | Innovation development | Financial | Inventory Control | Production Optimization | Co-packing | Culture Development | Sustainability | Manufacturing | Operational Excellence | Supply Chain | Employee Engagement.
VP, Marketing, Category & Digital Experience at Second Cup
Mangala Rao-D'Sa has a reputation for building iconic brands through fully integrated marketing and bringing marketing, innovation, and digital product teams together to build great businesses that deliver a superior customer experience. In the past, Ms. D’Sa held leadership roles in marketing at Roots (2018), Pepsico Canada (2016-2018), and Post Consumer Brands (2005-2016). Ms. D’Sa also worked at Reckitt Benckiser (2002-2005) and started her career at The Nielsen Company (1998-2002). She recently served as an independent strategy consultant for Indigo Books & Music Inc, and is currently the Vice President of Marketing, Category, and Digital Experience for Second Cup Coffee Canada.
Marketing | Innovation | Business Strategy | Value proposition | Creative content | Advertising | Insights
President of BritOn Solutions Group Inc.
Chris Rodkin, President of BritOn Solutions Group IncChris is a Toronto native who has an extensive CPG based sales and marketing background. A passionate architect and builder, Chris loves the challenge of collaborating with his customers to help them sustainably overachieve and outperform.
Business Strategy | Pricing | E-commerce | Channel Strategy | Category Management | Consumer Research
Founder/CEO at Healthy Crunch
Julie Bednarski is a dynamic and energetic entrepreneur with almost ten years of experience in the food and nutrition industry. In July 2014, Julie started Healthy Crunch – as a way to satisfy her craving for super crunchy kale chips that were BIG in size and BIG in flavor. With Julie’s ambition for success Healthy Crunch grew to have over 25,000 points of distribution within Canada within the first 2 years in business. Healthy Crunch now distributes their products throughout the world including Canada, USA, Europe, and the Middle East. Since the start of her business, Julie continues to expand Healthy Crunch’s product lines to include coconut chips, trail mix, granola bars, rice crispy squares, chia jam, seed butter, instant lattes, kale chips, and dark chocolate fruit bites.
Business Strategy/KPI | Pricing | Category Management | Sales (Broker/Dist rel’n) | Innovation development | Marketing | Social Media | Financial | Inventory Control | Production Optimization | Co-packing
Founder & CEO of MAAV Inc
Iram Blajchman, founder & CEO of MAAV Inc, leverages almost 20 years of experience working in all facets of CPG sales to deploy resources that help brands both large and small execute growth strategies at retail. His experience, including leading sales teams for brands like Nivea and Philips, and running go to market strategies for Heinz, allow him to bring a wealth of knowledge to early stage brands, and he takes great pleasure in helping founders understand the marketplace, how to fund growth at retail, and avoid the pitfalls that can prevent brands from achieving their goals.
Business Strategy/KPI | Pricing | Category Management | Sales (Broker/Dist rel’n) | Leadership | Team-building | Negotiation | Retail Strategy and Execution | Commercial Strategy
President at Hush Brands Inc.
Raffi is a seasoned entrepreneur and executive with a unique combination of operational and financial skills. In his 25 year career, he has started two consumer products businesses (Natural Health & Beauty and Personal Care) and a technology business (Location Based Marketing). He has turned around struggling businesses in challenged sectors, worked on large financing/M&A deals as a senior investment banker at Morgan Stanley and consulted on large public/private infrastructure projects at KPMG.
Business development and growth strategies | New product development and launch | Marketing strategy and execution | Restructuring and turnarounds | Debt and equity financing | Mergers and acquisitions
Principal at Levelfour; Co-owner at Fire in the Kitchen Spice
Mark Venton has over 35 years of CPG experience Including Sales and Marketing executive roles at Procter & Gamble and ownership of a small food business (Fire in the Kitchen Inc). In 2012 he founded Mark Venton Consulting that provides sales, marketing and operational strategy advice for small to medium sized companies. He has supported over 50 different companies during that time frame. He also supported the Ella Program at York with fractional executive work. He also does executive coaching for CEOs of entrepreneurial companies.
Business Strategy/KPI | Pricing | Category Management | Sales (Broker/Dist rel’n) | Marketing | Financial | Inventory Control | Negotiation Skills Training | Leadership Training | Recruiting