As the principal partner of Solutia SDO, Jackie Clark has had a front seat watching tech transform business in Canada and is proud to have managed the people behind the technology that’s transformed businesses across Canada. This seasoned leader has been leaping in for over 20 years with teams at Solutia SDO to break down the barriers standing in the way of success. She’s now using these talents to give back to the tech industry that’s offered her so many opportunities by helping to attract more talented next generation female entrepreneurs to tech. In this regular column called Startup to Startup she showcases female innovators who are leading startups and the impact they are making in opening doors for other women in the tech sector. Jackie enjoys hearing from readers. Please leave a comment or suggest a female entrepreneur to profile. Tweet Jackie @sdosolutia.
Corinne Sharp: President, Sharp Perspective Inc. & Founder and Executive Director, The WIT Network
First job: Paper Route in Trenton Ontario
Favourite quote: “I don’t see a need to retire as long as I’m having fun.” Stan Lee, former head Marvel Comics.
Hobby: Not really a hobby. I have been homeschooling my son for the past 3 years (even before COVID-19)
Guilty Pleasure: Paint by Numbers
Mentor(s): Gail Mercer-MacKay, Founder & CEO, Mercer-MacKay Solutions Inc.
Best advice for female entrepreneurs for managing global pandemic: Breathe 2-3-4-5. Engage more than ever before to expand your network. Take this pause to re-connect to your long-term vision!
Jackie: Let’s start by talking about your background and when you took the leap to become an entrepreneur.
Corinne: I’ve been in tech for pretty much my entire career. I like to say it’s between five and 30 years and you can figure it out.
Jackie: I love that. I’m going to use it!
Corinne: I started out my career in marketing for a tech software company and started my sales career at Hamilton Computer Sales & Rentals, an interesting technology reseller that was acquired by GE Capital. They were looking for a female sales rep. I kind of thought, well, that’s weird but took the job and discovered the president was female, the head of sales was female, the VP of Marketing was female, the VP of IT was as well. That was completely unheard of in the technology era 25 years ago and I haven’t seen it since unfortunately. I think Hamilton was a very progressive organization. The owner Bill Young was truly forward thinking and knew more women were getting into business and becoming decision makers. And yes, they did think that women would be better account managers and maybe open more doors. Wendy Lucas, an executive at Hamilton, often talks about the values of that company. People truly respected each other and we had lots of fun.
After that, I moved to Microsoft and spent 13 years in many different global leadership roles. I managed their channel ecosystem for the last six or seven years before leaping into entrepreneurism. Everyone who knew me kept saying I should start my own consulting practice to help smaller companies and product innovators figure out their go-to-market strategy. I took the plunge and I love it. I’ve since taken on executive-in-residence roles with some of my clients, including Chief Revenue Officer, and Chief Marketing Officer. I help them build out their business and growth strategies. Through this work, I realized there was a need in the marketplace for a group to support women in tech roles. I co-founded The WIT Network in September 2018 with four other women. We targeted around 500 members and less than two years later we have well over 3000 members around the globe in over 50 countries! We do three things: We support women and young girls to get into tech — mentorship programs, girls studying STEM, helping women grow their careers, whether it’s team lead management or C level board. Secondly, we help them build their confidence level because that’s such a challenge for women still. We give them the opportunities and the voice and champion them go after what they want. Third, we help companies who want to build and foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Now I’m running two companies – one for profit and one not for profit. And I’m the president of the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council with Fawn Annan and I homeschool my 15-year-old son. Time is precious. People say how do you do it all? And I say, I don’t do it all on the same day! It’s really about juggling and setting priorities.
Jackie: How did your network assist you in starting your business?
Corinne: They were everything. When I left Microsoft, I wasn’t quite sure of my path. I felt I was living that famous children’s book, Are You My Mother? I was trying to figure out the exact need and market. What do I have that I could give back to this industry? I was lucky to have a friend, Gail Mercer-MacKay, who runs a digital tech agency. She mentored me on how to start my business, how to build it, how to hone my vision. The friend network is critical. Even new friends like Alix Edmiston who I’ve met in the last few years. To me, your network is your lifeline. Whether it’s business development, business advice, or reaching into new markets.
Jackie: What was your experience being a female entrepreneur? Was it an advantage, disadvantage or gender made no difference?
Corinne: I was so fortunate early in my career to be surrounded by these authentic, smart, and strong women that mentored me directly or informally. I never saw a glass ceiling early in my career. That’s where so many young women struggle today. They don’t see women at the top, so they can’t strive for it. When I started my own business, I had a brand because of my previous experiences. At Microsoft I built my network of hundreds and hundreds of companies and people who were going to be my target market. So that gave me confidence. I had advisors telling me to do it, so that added to my confidence. However, being a woman starting your own business is harder, especially if you’re developing a product. Access to funding is not the same. It’s not fair. Access to power is not the same. I know progress is being made at The WIT network. We partner with another organization called Women in Cloud that solely focuses on women entrepreneurs in tech.
Jackie: If you had to do over, what advice would you give young women who might be starting down the same road?
Corinne: I’d take even more risks and be bolder. I didn’t think to scale right away. I probably could have got bigger right away. Don’t limit yourself. Think bigger, aspire bigger, and surround yourself with people who will challenge you to think about where you want to be five years from now. I might have been in the same place, or I might have gone in a completely different direction. I look back now and think I could have reached out globally faster.
Jackie: We are living in unprecedented times. How can we all support other female startups during this global pandemic?
Corinne: We can be their allies and champions, help amplify their voice and their businesses. We should search out women-led businesses on LinkedIn and connect – show them our support. As I mentioned, our networks are so critical and even more so during these times. Let’s lend ourselves and our networks to each other.
Jackie: How do you handle a situation with an unhappy customer? How would you counsel other women to handle this situation?
Corinne: There are always challenges with projects, whether it’s deadlines, delays, whatever. It’s not about what happened. It’s how do you turn it around? And I think that’s really important for new entrepreneurs to understand and think through right up front. You are going to run into challenges with clients. It’s how you turn it around to retain a referenceable client. It’s what you aim for every single time. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you need to fire a client and that’s ok too.
Jackie: Have you ever had to fire a client?
Corinne: Yes twice. You always remember those. It always comes down to your values not aligning. I had a former client text me at midnight and say: “Corinne, I need you to fetch me 20 partners by tomorrow.” My first thought was, this is my client and I have to make them happy. Then I thought, no that’s not my value proposition. I don’t fetch, that’s not what I do. It’s okay to walk away. Sometimes trying to make clients happy might be a bigger investment in time than going out to find a new one that aligns with your business and personal values.
Jackie: Do you think there are different challenges for women who chose to become an entrepreneur in their 20s or 30s versus those that might be doing it as a second career in their 40s and 50s?
Corinne: Well, I find younger women are a lot more confident.
Jackie: Yes, I would agree.
Corinne: They have a lot more bravado. They’ve got that in spades, many that I’ve met. They’ve grown up as part of a more equitable generation to a point. They’ve got some challenges, but I think there’s less to resolve. Their confidence levels are great in comparison to women who may be in the third quarter of their career or having to restart. It’s so different when you’ve got a runway of 20 to 30 years verses starting a company to survive the next 5 or 10 to retirement. But truly, women can do it at any point in their career – they just need to find the right recipe. And what is it? I will say you are going to do well if you have the right network, offer the right solution for the market and surround yourself with people that are going to lift you up and help you – whether they are male, or female.
Jackie: Well said! That’s a beautiful way to end this interview!