Women's Business Network of Ottawa announces 12 award finalists during sold-out cocktail reception

Final four winners of a Businesswoman of the Year Award to be revealed at gala dinner on April 23rd
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The 12 finalists for a Businesswoman of the Year Award were announced Thursday, February 13, 2020, during a cocktail reception hosted by the Women's Business Network of Ottawa at the Sala San Marco Event & Conference Centre. Photo by Matt Stewart.
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And then there was 12.

That’s the number of accomplished and inspiring women announced as finalists for a WBN Businesswoman of the Year Award during a well-attended reception held Thursday night.

Organizers decided to build buzz in the days and weeks leading up to the event by keeping the finalists’ names a secret until the big reveal party, held at the Sala San Marco Event & Conference Centre. 

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From left, Jessica Keats, volunteer board president of the Women's Business Network of Ottawa, with Nancy Graham, portfolio manager with title sponsor PWL Capital, gala chair Deborah Bard, and Soula Burrell, executive director of the Women's Business Network (WBN) of Ottawa, at a cocktail reception held at Sala San Marco on Thursday, February 13, 2020, to announce the finalists for the upcoming Businesswoman of the Year Awards (BYAs) Gala. Photo by Matt Stewart.

They invited all 58 nominees to attend, as a way of making the gathering more social and welcoming. The event was a sell out, with nearly 300 tickets snapped up.

“Not only is it about creating a lot of stir and excitement but it gives women of this city another opportunity to mix and mingle with other successful women, and not just the 12 finalists,” Deborah Bard, chair of the Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala, told OBJ.social. “The WBN is all about networking.”

The glitzy gala, better known as the BYAs, will take place Thursday, April 23rd at the Infinity Convention Centre. The dinner will celebrate the achievements of the 12 finalists, with the evening culminating in the announcement and presentation of awards to four winners in their respective categories. The gala's title sponsor, wealth management firm PWL Capital, was represented at the reception by portfolio manager Nancy Graham.

The finalists and award recipients are chosen by anonymous selection committees made up of women and men from a wide range of professions. 

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Finalists for a Businesswoman of the Year Award are, from left, Jennifer Reynolds (Fresh Legal), Tonya Bruin (To Do Done Services), Meghan Dagenais (Restoration Co.), Heather Desjardins (The Open Door Educational Services) Roxanne Whiting (Video Interpreting), Jennifer Stewart (Syntax Strategic), Anjali Dilawri (Logan Katz), Karen Brownrigg (iHR Advisory Services), Sabrina Fitzgerald (managing partner of PwC), Vanessa Kanu (CFO of Mitel), Jennifer Conley (chief advancement officer at Carleton University) and Jacqueline Belsito (vice president at the CHEO Foundation). Photo by Matt Stewart.

The finalists in the Emerging Entrepreneur category, sponsored by Logan Katz Chartered Professional Accountants, are: Tonya Bruin, CEO of To Do Done Services Inc., Meghan Dagenais, president of Restoration Co., and family lawyer and mediator Jennifer Reynolds, founder of Fresh Legal.

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From left, gala co-chair Judith Scott, with Emerging Entrepreneur finalists Tonya Bruin (To Do Done Services), Meghan Dagenais (Restoration Co.), Brenda Valente on behalf of award sponsor Logan Katz LLP, and Jennifer Reynolds (Fresh Legal). Photo by Matt Stewart.

In the Established Entrepreneur category, sponsored by GGFL Chartered Professional Accountants, are: Roxanne Whiting, owner and director of Video Interpreting - Sign Language Interpreting Associates Ottawa Inc., Jennifer Stewart, president and CEO of Syntax Strategic, and Heather Desjardins, founder and owner of The Open Door Educational Services.

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From left, gala co-chair Judith Scott with Roxanne Whiting (Video Interpreting), Jennifer Stewart (Syntax Strategic), Heather Desjardins (The Open Door Educational Services) and Margot Sunter from award sponsor GGFL. Photo by Matt Stewart.

The finalists in the Professional Services category, sponsored by CIBC, are: Karen Brownrigg, founder and CEO of iHR Advisory Services, Anjali Dilawri, partner at Logan Katz Chartered Professional Accountants, and Sabrina Fitzgerald, regional managing partner of PwC and national technology leader.

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From left, gala chair Deborah Bard with Karen Brownrigg (iHR Advisory Services), Anjali Dilawri (Logan Katz), Sabrina Fitzgerald (PwC) and Andrew Phillips from award sponsor CIBC. Photo by Matt Stewart.

The finalists in the Organization category, sponsored by Daniel Fernandes Law Office, are:Jacqueline Belsito, vice president of philanthropy and community engagement at the CHEO Foundation, Jennifer Conley, chief advancement officer at Carleton University and president of the Carleton University Foundation, and Vanessa Kanu, chief financial officer at Mitel.

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From left, Deborah Bard, chair of the upcoming Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala, with finalists in the Organization category: Jacqueline Belsito (CHEO Foundation), Jennifer Conley (Carleton University), Vanessa Kanu (Mitel) and award sponsor Danny Fernandes of Daniel Fernandes Law. Photo by Matt Stewart.

Rosa Maria Iuliano, who is a former award recipient, was there on behalf of Baker Tilly LLP, sponsor of the scholarships fund.

The Women’s Business Networking of Ottawa, which has nearly 300 members, helps business and professional women make connections, develop their brands and grow their careers. 

Its annual gala, which draws both male and female attendees, showcases the great strides that women are making in the workforce, as they build businesses and take on leadership roles. “Women can be CEOs and women can be in prominent positions in large companies and organizations,” said Bard, who’s the head of quality at Arnprior-based construction company M. Sullivan & Son Ltd. and the CEO of Bard Consulting. “I think this is an opportunity to highlight those successes and allow these women to be celebrated.”

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From left, award finalist Sabrina Fitzgerald with Nancy Graham, portfolio manager for title sponsor PWL Capital, and Doris Belland, founder and CEO of Your Financial Launchpad, at the WBN of Ottawa's finalists cocktail reception. Photo by Matt Stewart.
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From left, Taryn Gunnlaugson, vice president and senior investment counsellor at BMO Private Banking, with Andrea Gaunt, global trade director at Export Development Canada, and Christine Lécuyer-Auger, administrative assistant at Finance Canada. Photo by Matt Stewart.
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From left, past award recipient Kristine van der Pas-Norenius with Brenda Sangster and Shelly Gosse at the WBN of Ottawa's finalists reception, held Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Sala San Marco. Photo by Matt Stewart.

Bard was still a newcomer to Ottawa when she agreed to jump into the top leadership role for this year's gala. She moved to the nation’s capital with her family only a year ago, after having lived and worked in Switzerland for 20 years. She’s originally from Northern Ontario, from the small town of Geraldton, outside Thunder Bay.

She was used to being very busy and involved through her management role at Swiss International Airlines. “When I moved here, I thought, ‘I don’t know anyone, I don’t have any friends. I don’t know how to start. I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what I want to be’.”

Everything changed for Bard when she happened to walk into Collab Space — a collaborative community centre for entrepreneurs — and met Soula Burrell, the executive director of WBN of Ottawa.

“I’m lucky that I met her at the moment that I met her,” said Bard. “Soula Burrell has opened my eyes to this whole city.”

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From left, members of the Businesswoman of the Year Awards gala committee: Oana Labes, Linda Cousineau, Harminder Kaur, Deborah Bard Judith Scott, Soula Burrell and Helena Guzman. Photo by Matt Stewart.

Bard started volunteering for WBN soon after she met Burrell. One thing led to another and she soon found herself in the role of gala chair, assisted by fellow volunteers. “It’s been really exciting for me,” said Bard. “I credit where I am, with this whole business network, to Soula Burrell, because she introduced it to me.”

Looking back at the 2019 BYAs Gala, Bard said one of the evening highlights for her was listening to Katherine Cooligan accept her award in the professional services category. Cooligan is the first woman and the first family law lawyer to lead the Ottawa office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, becoming regional managing partner in 2014.

Bard was so moved by Cooligan’s speech that she hugged the recipient immediately after she left the stage. They were strangers at that time. Now, they’re friends, thanks to the WBN of Ottawa.

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Sandra Tisiot emceed the cocktail reception, held Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Sala San Marco Event & Conference Centre, to announce the finalists for the upcoming WBN of Ottawa's Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala. Photo by Matt Stewart.
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From left, finalist Jennifer Stewart (Syntax Strategic), with Courtney Turk, owner of Courtney Turk Interiors, and Caroline Topolovec, account executive at Iversoft, at the WBN of Ottawa's finalists reception, held Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Sala San Marco. Photo by Matt Stewart.
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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson with Carole Saad, owner of Chic+Swell Event Designers and LouLou Lounge Furniture Rental, at the WBN of Ottawa's finalists reception, held Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Sala San Marco. Photo by Matt Stewart.

– caroline@obj.ca