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.
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.
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.
In the Established Entrepreneur category, sponsored by GGFL Chartered Professional Accountants, are: Roxanne Whiting, owner and director of 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.