17 Canadian entrepreneurs who will inspire you

12 min read
Lisa Rennie

Successful business people come from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe, but Canadian entrepreneurs are gems worth noting.

There are many impressive Canadian entrepreneurs who have made names for themselves.

Most exemplify sheer determination and belief in their ideas, while stepping outside the "norm" of working 9-5 jobs to make ends meet.

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17 inspiring stories from famous entrepreneurs

Here are just 17 of the many Canadian entrepreneurs who have found commercial success, along with their inspirational stories of hard work and dedication.

1. Scott Gravelle

Scott Gravelle Attabotics

Something about the innovative nature of leafcutter ant colonies captured Scott Gravelle's interest, so much so that it fuelled the entrepreneur's eventual creation of Calgary-based robotics logistics company Attabotics Inc.  

Mr. Gravelle's appreciation of the way these colonies were built vertically instead of horizontally inspired him to make significant changes to the e-commerce distribution warehouse model. Using robots, Attabotics moves products in an up-and-down structure rather than across aisles, which drastically cuts down on the amount of space required in warehouses. 

Scott is one of a growing number of Canadian entrepreneurs who are thinking outside the box to create highly successful businesses. For nearly three decades, Gravelle has been a pioneer in the integration of digital technologies in the manufacturing industry and has used his innate entrepreneurial skills to develop a thriving company.  

Prior to his career as the CEO of Attabotics Inc., Scott served in a variety of other roles, including a partner in a successful longboard company, an army medic, and a hang glider pilot.

Related: Meet Jasmine Branderhorst, a modern maker

2. Eva Wong

Eva Wong is the COO and co-founder of Borrowell, a Canadian fintech firm that helps educate Canadians to make sound decisions about their credit health and become financially stable. Based in Toronto, the platform offers free credit scores, educational tools, and regular credit monitoring.   

The company has accrued impressive accolades, including being listed as one of the top 100 fintech firms according to KPMG.

It was also named “Fintech Startup of the Year” in 2018 at the Canadian Fintech and AI Awards. 

Eva put her 15 years of experience in the world of business and global not-for-profit organizations to good use to establish Borrowell, which now boasts more than 900,000 members.  

Eva's educational background is quite impressive and includes degrees from Queen’s School of Business and Harvard University.

Before starting Borrowell, she worked at other companies, including Maple Leaf Foods, Oliver Wyman, and the UN Development Programme. She also co-founded Toronto Homecoming and sits on the board of The Scott Mission.

3. Tara Bosch 

Tara Bosch SmartSweets

Turning a passion into a successful business is precisely what Vancouver-born Tara Bosch has achieved. While in her junior year at the University of British Columbia, Tara started selling her own candy creations to vendors she contacted via email.  

She developed a candy recipe with much less sugar than conventional confectionaries without compromising on taste after discovering a lucrative niche.

Anyone with a sweet tooth who doesn't want to give up on their favourite treats but also wants to remain health-conscious can enjoy a guilt-free treat from Tara's company, SmartSweets. 

After quickly gaining traction with her product, the young Canadian eventually dropped out of school to pursue her blossoming career as an entrepreneur to run SmartSweets. By 2019, the company generated revenues of more than $50 million.

Related: The rise of young entrepreneurs in Canada

4. Jodie Morgan

Targeting pollution and being profitable while doing so is an accomplishment that Canadian Jodie Morgan can add to her list of accolades.

Jodie is the CEO of GreenMantra Technologies, an innovative firm that uses discarded plastic that otherwise would wind up in landfills and waterways and transforms it into polymer additives, artificial waxes, and other chemicals.  

That's just one example of a handful of companies that Jodie oversees. In fact, the entrepreneur has successfully helped build five companies with her serving as CEO/president. She's also on several boards, including GreenMantra Technologies, Pinova Holdings, and Bartek Ingredients, to name a few.

5. Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake

Ontario-born Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake teamed up to create Bridgit Solutions, an app that makes completing construction projects more streamlined for contractors. More specifically, the app gives contractors the chance to log and complete specific tasks on schedule, post images, and share pertinent information with team members.  

Mallorie and Lauren now boast a team of over 64 employees and more than $10.2 million in funding.  

The two both grew up in construction families and used their knowledge and experience to develop construction-based software that can be customized according to the needs of construction workers.

6. Stephanie Ciccarelli

Stephanie Ciccarelli is the co-founder of Voices.com, an online marketplace to connect producers, marketers, and instructors with creative talent.

Stephanie Ciccarelli Voices

Stephanie herself has more than 25 years of experience using her voice to communicate through the written word, spoken word, and song, after graduating from Western University with a Bachelor of Musical Arts. She has since used her experience in the industry to develop an award-winning company of her own.  

Stephanie has been a frequent guest speaker at industry conferences and has been made PROFIT Magazine's W100 list a handful of times.

In addition to regularly contributing to the Voices' blog, Stephanie is also a contributor to The Huffington Post and Backstage Magazine.

7. Hamid Arabzadeh

With an extensive track record in the world of business, Hamid Arabzadeh easily makes the list of some of the most impressive Canadian entrepreneurs.

Hamid currently serves as the chairman and CEO of RANOVUS, a company that develops optical transceiver communications hardware products for high-speed communications for telecommunications and information technology industries. The company is headquartered in Ottawa and has operations in the US and Germany as well.   

Prior to his position at RANOVUS, which he's held since its inception in 2012, Hamid held various senior management positions at firms including Identos Inc., Motive Health, and Spoke Technologies, among others.

Thanks to his impressive background, Hamid has been able to drive innovations including a secured laser technology that boasts 40 times the capacity of regular fiber optic cables, without the carbon footprint. 

8. Jenny Bird

Jenny Bird is a jewelry company founded in 2008 and named after its lead designer of the same name. Jenny's love of design was inspired by the natural surroundings she grew up around in Elora, Ontario. Her desire to create led her to develop her jewelry company, Jenny Bird, which has seen incredible growth over the past decade and is now recognized worldwide.  

Jenny's pieces are worn by some of the world's most well-known names in Hollywood.

They're sold at hundreds of top retailers across the globe, including Nordstrom, Indigo, and Harvey Nichols, to name a few.   

Over the years, Jenny has amassed an impressive arsenal of accolades and made it onto various coveted lists, including:

  • The Globe & Mail's Report on Business list of Canada's Top Growing companies
  • Growth 500 list of Canada’s fastest-growing companies

She's also taken home the 2018 Accessories Designer of the Year at Project and the 2017 Canada’s Accessory Designer of the Year Award.  

9. Shahrzad Rafati

Shahrzad Rafati

Born in Tehran, Iran, Shahrzad Rafati became a Canadian citizen after immigrating to Vancouver, British Columbia as a teenager. In 2005, Rafati founded BroadbandTV, a Canadian media and technology firm that is the second largest video property, followed only by Google.

The company secured a massive $36 million investment from RTL Group in 2013. The Canadian entrepreneur continues to lead the company while also serving as a board member for several organizations, including social media management platform Hootsuite.

1o. Mike Lazaridis

Mike Lazaridis co-founded Research in Motion Limited (R.I.M.), which created the famous Blackberry and revolutionized how people communicate.

Lazaridis dropped out of university to achieve his first business-minded goal of creating and launching R.I.M. Since then, Lazaridis has founded other organizations, including the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Today, he is known as one of the most successful technologists in Canada and was named one of the top 100 most influential individuals by Time Magazine in 2005.

11. Tonia Jahshan

Canadian-born entrepreneur Tonia Jahshan built Steeped Tea and turned it into a massive retail empire that spans the globe.

Like many Canadians, Jahshan found herself working a job that she wasn't passionate about.

So in 2006, she decided to try out entrepreneurship by creating her own loose-leaf tea products and selling them.

Jahshan managed to take her small one-person company to one that now boasts thousands of sellers that help her rake in $20 million in annual sales.

Today, Jahshan not only continues to run her successful company, but also holds talks designed to inspire others to follow their passion.

Woman wrapped in Canadian flag enjoying scenic view

12. Joseph-Armand Bombardier

The curious and inventive mind of Joseph-Armand Bombardier led him to launch Bombardier Limited, the largest railway equipment and civil airplane production company in the world.

Born in Valcourt, Quebec, Bombardier dreamed of creating vehicles that would be capable of operating on the snow and at high speeds. He worked hard towards reaching this goal, which propelled him to eventually fulfill his dreams of developing and selling B7 snowmobiles.

13. Susan Niczowski

You may have come across Summer Fresh salads and dips in your grocery store, but what you may not know about these products is the CEO behind them. Since 1991, Susan Niczowski has been leading the company, which sells healthy-based mixed salads and dips.

Niczowski started the company from her mother's kitchen.

She played around with old family recipes for traditional Macedonian dips and sauces like hummus and baba ghanouj. It was a leap of faith to start the company, as these types of foods, while popular today, were not that common 30 years ago.

Through perseverance and belief in her products, Niczowski successfully changed the perception of these foods, which are now a staple in grocery stores and on kitchen tables of Canadian households.

14. Dani Reiss

Infamous outerwear company Canada Goose is run by Canadian entrepreneur Dani Reiss, who took the role of CEO in 2001.

Close-up of someone using a sewing machine

It was his grandfather, a Polish immigrant, who originally developed the Canadian-based company in 1957, then known as Metro Sportswear. Reiss took Canada Goose public in 2017 and owns 18% of the stock himself.

The company is well-known for its high-quality down-filled jackets, which are not only favourites among Canadians, but are also coveted by the Hollywood elite.

Reiss has maintained Canada-based manufacturing without sending production overseas.

Thanks to his efforts to keep manufacturing on Canadian soil, the company now employs over 3,400 Canadians.

Related: Building community through clothing

15. Leonard Lee

Lee Valley is a retail store that specializes in unique woodworking and gardening tools, but it's also home to some unique gadgets you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Leonard Lee, a Canadian entrepreneur, founded Lee Valley in Ottawa in 1978, and since then, several more stores have opened up across Canada.

Saskatchewan-born Lee went on to launch Canica Design in 1998, a medical design company. As a result of his successes, Lee was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2002.

16.  Martha Hall Findlay

Martha Hall Findlay

Toronto-born Martha Hall Findlay started her career off in corporate and commercial law, and even got into politics after being elected to the House of Commons of Canada with the Liberal Party of Canada.

Following her political career, Findlay got into entrepreneurship and is now one of the country's most successful females in business. She was the president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation and currently serves as senior VP and chief sustainability officer of Suncor Energy.

17. The McCain Brothers

Back in the 1950s, brothers Harrison, Wallace, Robert, and Andrew McCain launched McCain Foods, which has since gone on to become a global empire selling food products in grocery stores across the world. 

The McCain brothers took inspiration from their father, who farmed potatoes.

Using their agricultural background, combined with frozen food technological innovations, they decided to try their hand at entrepreneurship by freezing sliced-up potatoes in the form of french fries.

It wasn't long before McCain Foods became a well-established company in the world of Canadian products. Today, McCain Foods is the largest manufacturer of frozen potato products in the world.

It's your turn to join these Canadian entrepreneurs

Coffee mug that says “It’s about making ideas happen”

One thing these Canadian entrepreneurs have in common is that all managed to reach soaring heights in the world of business. They took risks, created opportunities and overcame many obstacles to see their dreams reach fruition.

Successful businesses take time, patience and a whole lot of determination to see things through.

Don’t be afraid to start small and build your business one step at a time.

You, too, may be the next to join these famous entrepreneurs as the next big Candian success.

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UPDATE: This Canadian entrepreneurs post was first published on 23 February 2021 and updated 27 May 2022.

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