The answer to empower the next generation of men and women entrepreneurs, innovators and their ideas by putting real-world challenges in front of them and not limiting creativity is expanding and supporting the culture of STEM initiatives.
By definition, to be a disruptor you must break some rules, create some chaos and be comfortable as an outsider in a world that craves acceptance. For men, such personalities are characterized as ambitious, strong and steadfast. To be a disruptor and a woman most are labelled difficult, bossy or headstrong. Words and labels don't really mean much to someone chasing a dream fuelled by passion and an unrelenting need to succeed. Enter the formidable Nicole Verkindt, CEO of the Offset Market Exchange (OMX) an aerospace platform technology company. She's a 31-year-old fierce entrepreneur whom relishes in being referred to as a "bossy disruptor".
The path to success for Nicole hasn't been paved with a bed a roses or necessarily linear. She got the taste for commerce growing up and learning the family business. A successful Canadian manufacturer that saw a dramatic decline in spending from its main customer, the U.S. Government, was sold to a U.S. Private equity firm in 2011.
Nicole launched a tech company in Toronto Canada in 2012, called OMX which stands for "Offset Market Exchange" which, in an effort to streamline a process she had trouble with while leading her previous business Ironically, although the aerospace and defense sectors often lead the way in technological innovations, inventions and breakthroughs but internal processes were not leveraging all of the latest technologies available to them. That's where the eternal entrepreneur saw an opportunity -- to disrupt the way in which this particular (Government contracting) business was conducted.
Offset Market Exchange OMX is a technology based platform that connects suppliers to large equipment manufacturers.
OMX helps level the playing field for Canadian suppliers of all size to compete and gain access to large contracts with mostly foreign Government contractors. Without getting too complicated, often large Government contracts require local sourcing, referred to as 'offsets' in the defense industry, but are often less formal in mining, oil and gas and infrastructure. Nicole recognized that often times local suppliers are ill-equipped to find and bid on supplier RFPs while large manufacturers have difficulty sourcing local suppliers, as well as communicating those impacts to the economy, and voila the OMX platform.
It is the first software built that provides real-time electronic tracking of the exact economic benefits that flow to the Canadian economy: particularly the tech industry. Now in its fourth year, it has not only achieved its stated mission, but exceeded it. The company did the economic impact analysis on major programs like the infamous Lockheed Martin F-35 Strike Fighter for instance.
OMX is now the leading destination for innovative thinking to connect businesses in the international defense, aerospace and security industries to facilitate the fulfillment of defense offsets, as well as other sectors feeling the pressure to reduce their supply chain costs such as the energy sector. Nicole, has become a thought leader and influencer in its own right.
"Being bossy and disruptive is all about passionate, and being engaged and ambitious and just being someone whom does not mind leading. We should be careful what language we use around those words, especially when talking to young girls. It took me a long time to realize that those are my best qualities, and thus a huge compliment."
- Nicole Verkindt
For women to become leaders in the important fields of science, technology and engineering, they have to start by making up larger percentages of STEM graduates.
According to statistics, 39 per cent of STEM graduates are women, yet only 22 per cent of Canadian working STEM fields are women.
Women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the workforce and half of the college- educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in Canada, and the wide agreement that there must be done more to improve nation`s competitiveness.
Young girls need to be exposed to and encouraged to explore the wonders of technology and engineering, and other related topics. We need to break down this notion that "girls do arts/English literature and men do math and engineering."
However, Nicole believes the role of the government and private sector is crucial, "for instance, by setting targets, even quotas the government creates incentives; however, the problem starts much earlier. Why are less and less young women entering STEM programs in University? is it because young girls don't think certain activities are "cool" or "interesting"? That is the question. I believe it is cultural."
Nicole has a solution for the cultural barrier: "young women whom do not enter the STEM programs (like myself) could team up with technology experts and still lead that universe! The point is, from a big business perspective, the innovation that happens and is so critical is typically routed in technological advancement. Of course, it is often the intersection between the two: arts and technology, but if we want women to be leading the most innovative enterprises of the future, or we want them, in their roles in government to encourage this innovation, then as a minimum, women need to be exposed to the sectors to gain an interest in them. The point is not that women should be working in one sector or another, the point is that we should all be empowered to do what we want and that we shouldn't be limited by cultural barriers that suggest women should or shouldn't lead in one particular area."
Young women will play a critical role in building the future of an innovative Canada. It's critical that women work together, help each other, mentor and sponsor each other.
Recently, Nicole became the newest Dragon on CBC'S"Next Gen" Dragon's Den, which is available online at cbc.ca and on youtube. Nicole is passionate about leveraging the talents of Canadian entrepreneurs to grow the Canadian economy as well as help solve important global issues. She is also a frequent commentator on CBC Exchange's "Round Up". She has recently committed to help Female Funders, an organization led by her friend Katherine Hague get to 1000 angel investments by women into women led start ups and is also sponsoring 1 girl/year to take the Ladies Learning Code coding course. Her first sponsorship commitment has been to her two younger sisters.
This is not only important because it is just the right and morale way we should all be living, but studies have shown that when the leadership table is diverse, we will have a more successful economy and country. If we don't want to push for this simply because it is the right thing to do, lets do it because it is more profitable and will put Canada on the map.
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