The DMZ at Ryerson University: Top female founders

The DMZ (formerly the Digital Media Zone) at Ryerson University is Canada’s top university business incubator, open to tech startups worldwide and helping entrepreneurs win since 2010. On March 8, the DMZ is celebrating International Women’s Day by championing women working in technology and entrepreneurship. Read about the inspiring female founders that make up their organization below.

Maayan Ziv, founder of AccessNow:

Maayan Ziv is a visionary young leader. She is an activist, a photographer and an entrepreneur. From a young age, Maayan challenged norms and worked within her community to increase awareness of disability issues and improve accessibility.

Living with Muscular Dystrophy, Maayan is a passionate and relentless advocate for creating a more accessible world. In 2015, Maayan founded AccessNow, a crowdsourced app to map the accessibility status of locations worldwide. She has since been a regular media commentator in the media on topics such as disability and inclusion. In 2016, Maayan received the City of Toronto Access Award and the David C. Onley Leadership in Accessibility Award in recognition of her innovative solutions and commitment to improving the lives of people of all abilities.

Maayan also sits on the boards of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto and the Toronto Arts Council. Maayan has received a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of her work to increase awareness for disabilities in the arts. She has also received the David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility.

She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Radio and Television Arts and a Master’s degree in Digital Media at Ryerson University.

About AccessNow: AccessNow uses crowdsourcing to pin-point the accessibility status of locations worldwide on an interactive map. Users can search for specific places or browse the map to discover what locations have the accessibility features they require. Anyone can add a place to the map, contributing to the project’s mission. AccessNow is a community empowering each other to live the lives we want to live; a community of advocates, socializers, movers and shakers, sharing accessibility information so we can all have access, now.

Market Need: Currently about 15 per cent of the world’s population lives with a disability. In Ontario, we are talking about 1.85 million people, or one in seven. In the next 20 years, the number of people living with a disability will increase to one in five. Currently, there are limited navigational resources available to people with disabilities. AccessNow is all about sharing accessibility info around the world, allowing everyone to find access.

Maggie Bergeron, co-founder of healthSwapp:

Maggie is a registered physiotherapist, co-founder of healthSwapp and sole proprietor of the yellow room. After graduating from McMaster University with a Masters in Physiotherapy in 2009 she worked in a variety of private, outpatient clinics in the GTA where she consistently observed that most patients don’t do their exercises as prescribed. Being a Mac grad, Maggie started to research this phenomenon and found that the evidence supports her experience – 70 per cent of patients don’t do their exercises, yet exercise is a blockbuster drug that has the potential to significantly speed recovery times and reduce the risk of re-injury.

After taking extensive continuing education classes and personally experiencing the lack of knowledge transfer from the course instructor to the practitioner and ultimately to the patient, I co-founded healthSwapp with a software developer in 2014. healthSwapp is a mobile, tablet and desktop application that improves patient engagement and empowerment, and enables practitioners to share video exercises from course instructors or that they have uploaded themselves. There are 2 parts to healthSwapp – a web application for practitioners – and a smartphone app for patients. Practitioners can share short exercise videos, resources and track patient progress. Patients can access their home program on their smartphone, tablet or computer and keep track of their performance and recieve reminders when it is time to do their exercises.

Maggie founded the yellow room in 2013 where her and her staff provide holistic, affordable and compassionate one-on-one physiotherapy care that is based on the principles of mindfulness, neuroplasticity and myofascial release.

About healthSwapp: The simplest way for rehabilitation practitioners to send patients their personalized home exercise programs including exercise videos and educational material. Patients can track how much of their program they’ve completed, their symptom levels and their progress by checking in with functional goals. Since practitioners can see how well their patients are doing, they can quickly and easily modify programs to better suit their patients’ needs.

Market Need: They’re filling the gap in home exercise prescription for rehabilitation practitioners, like physiotherapists and chiropractors. Currently, practitioners provide paper handouts which are easily lost, not customizable and inconvenient. Practitioners can now personalize programs and see how much their patients are doing between sessions.

Lily Tse, founder of Think Dirty:

Lily is the Founder and CEO of Think Dirty® is a mobile-first, social commerce platform that connects ingredient-conscious beauty shoppers to natural beauty brands. Think Dirty’s mission is to make reading cosmetic and personal care product labels simple, easy and fun.

Think Dirty is the winner of Mastercard Women Entrepreneurship Competition, MaRS JOLT Cohort 6, Digifest It’s a Start Competition, Canadian Youth Business Foundation/Spin Masters Innovation Fund, Canadian Film Centre Media Lab IdeaBOOST and Launch Festival Demo pit scholarship. It was mentioned on Fast Company, Huffington Post, NPR, O Magazine, TED Blog, Allure Magazine, The Atlantic, PSFK, New York Magazine,, Brit + Co, Global News, App Central, Consumer Report’s ShopSmart Magazine and Refinery 29.

Lily has been an award-winning Art Director in advertising and design for 13 years. She began her career in marketing in the e-commerce department of MoMA, New York and worked at agencies such as Sid Lee, TAXI, Wunderman and TBWA\ Chiat\ Day for major international brands in consumer packaged goods, retail, financial, auto, telecommunications and non-profit, including Joe Fresh, Holt Renfrew, Mercedes-Benz, Recyclebank, Harvard Graduate School of Design, MIT, Aviva, American Express, Tim Hortons, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Rogers and Canadian Film Centre.

Lily’s passions for design, technology, health and beauty have led her to a path of building a purpose-driven venture about consumer transparency and sustainable practices for beauty.

About Think Dirty: Think Dirty app is the easiest way to learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. Think Dirty users quickly and easily scan a product’s barcode to discover its rating out of 10 from cleanest to most toxic. Users can also search through a constantly growing database of over 300,000 products to discover new and potentially less harmful options, and then order them for purchase through Amazon. The platform engages both consumers and brands to make healthier and socially responsible choices when it comes to ingredients safety and environmental health.

Market Need: This app allows individuals to understand the truths in the beauty industry. Due to family history of cancer, Lily Tse decided to research into the many causes behind breast cancer, including ‘toxic’ ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products.

The app combines the latest credibly sourced information on harmful ingredients in personal products with usability to engage millennials. It is also a next-generation marketing solution that enables brands to support full ingredient-transparency and build consumers’ trust.

Ami Shah, founder of Peekapak:

CEO & Co-Founder of Peekapak, teaching skills for success like empathy and gratitude – both in the clas
s and home. Peekapak is backed by the Edtech vertical of Y Combinator, Imagine K12, based in Silicon Valley, the Unreasonable Institute and the DMZ.

Ami has earned a MBA from INSEAD, the #1 ranked MBA program by the FT, and has gained extensive marketing experience through roles at Procter & Gamble, and most recently, as Director of Retail Marketing at a consumer products start-up. Ami is passionate about improving youth education, and has previously advised, volunteered and taught children at education-related non-profit organizations, schools and start-ups. Ami is a mentor at Founder Institute Toronto and a member of the DMZ Steering Committee.

About Peekapak: Peekapak is a digital language arts-based character education program, fully equipped with stories and lessons that help teach important character education skills and concepts, like perseverance, gratitude, kindness, empathy. Peekapak uniquely provides classroom lessons that teachers use and activities that are sent to parents, for them to do with their children at home. Teachers can easily incorporate Peekapak into their class schedules. The 20-minute sessions are designed to fit into a teacher’s classroom routine, and with the click of a button, teachers can send updates, discussion questions, and digital storybooks to parents to reinforce lessons at home. Peekapak tracks the student’s progress both at home and at school and provides a complete view of a child’s development.

Market Need: A child’s early-years education has a lasting impact on their future development. It is essential for children to receive academic guidance and reinforcement not only at school but also at home, so that their learning is continuous. Peekapak radically improves learning outcomes in early childhood by creating innovative educational content that enables teachers and parents to work as partners in a child’s education.

Other top female founded startups from the DMZ:

Repable: powers financial decision making for the eSports and streamer industries. (Co-founder: Heather Carson)

Borrowell: A safe responsible new way for Canadians to obtain three and five year fixed-rate loans at low interest rates that reward your good credit score. And since your credit score is so important to managing your financial life, we’re also a secure way to get your credit score—for free. (Co-founder: Eva Wong)

Sampler:  Helps brands build effective product sampling programs by delivering real product samples to digitally-targeted consumers with analytics & remarketing. (Founder: Marie Chevrier)

Ahmed Saleh
Ahmed Saleh
Ahmed Saleh is the Public Relations Officer at the DMZ. He builds a strong narrative, clear messages and a compelling delivery of initiatives and stories that come from the DMZ community. Ahmed works to reach out to media and proactively pitch new story ideas to earn valuable exposure. He also works with startups to translate complex messaging into simple, accessible words that convey the essential points of their business in a powerful way. His approach is informed by his prior work as a Media Relations Strategist at a Toronto-based public relations firm. Ahmed has an extensive background working with clients ranging from Canadian startup businesses to American television host and producer Bill Kurtis.

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