Whether business ownership feels like a bumpy roller coaster or has the incredible speed and smoothness of the zipline experience featured during Wednesday's Forty Under 40 Awards celebration, the messaging that night remained the same: hang on tight and enjoy the ride.
Award-winning entrepreneur Jeff Westeinde, one of the visionaries behind the multibillion-dollar Zibi waterfront project, and his legendary mother Shirley Westeinde, 80, were captured by video soaring across the Ottawa River from Gatineau to Ottawa, 120 feet in the air and attached to the new Interzip Rogers.
While in thrilling transit, Jeff encouraged this year’s winners of a Forty Under 40 Award to continue pushing themselves to new heights. Once he and his mom were back on solid ground, he promised the recipients they could have their own free ride on the new interprovincial zipline. It’s safe to say that there will be a lot of takers, judging by entrepreneurs' general willingness toward trying new things.
Forty Under 40 is a popular awards program that identifies and celebrates the region’s rising young business stars and community leaders in all industries and sectors. The annual tradition is jointly organized by the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Board of Trade, receiving support from such sponsors as Telfer School of Management Executive MBA, BDO Canada, TEC Canada, Desjardins and OakWood Design & Build.
For the second year in a row, the in-person gala dinner was replaced with a virtual one-hour program due to the still-present coronavirus pandemic. The show was broadcast by Rogers TV and is also available to watch on YouTube.
So, maybe winners didn’t get to live out their fantasy of crossing the main stage to collect their crystal trophy as the audience cheered them on, but event organizers went out of their way to make the virtual evening a special and memorable celebration.
The awards were delivered to the winners’ home, along with Pop Up! party boxes full of cocktails, snacks and gifts. Ottawa entrepreneur, broadcaster and podcaster Mark Sutcliffe co-emceed the broadcast with his friend and colleague Sandra Plagakis, morning radio show host with KISS 105.3 on Rogers Radio. The pair has great chemistry, by the way. When Sutcliffe mentioned in passing that he co-founded the OBJ and is a former board chair of the OBoT, Plagakis playfully teased him for being a name-dropper.
Each Forty Under 40 winner was introduced to viewers, having previously spent a good 20 seconds in front of the camera, coming up with different ways to show their excitement.
There was dancing, double thumbs up gestures, strong arm poses and shadow boxing, all accompanied by giggles and toothy grins. TCC Canada president Sean Cochrane even broke out some go-go dance moves, with sweeping two-finger horizontal peace signs over his eyes.
The program showed segments of the winners answering rapid-fire questions that gave viewers more insight into how they've been coping during the pandemic. The individuals were asked what kept them sane during the lockdowns and what new hobbies they learned. Thirty-eight-year-old Christopher Redmond, writer, director and producer with Distant Red Pictures, took up the electric skateboard.
"It feels a little midlife crisis-y but I enjoy it, for sure," he said.
Viewers were also reminded how much work and responsibilities many of them are trying to juggle.
“With three kids under five I had no time for hobbies,” said Ronald Richardson, an angel investor and director of Calian Group and Tundra Oil & Gas.
The recipients were asked what they first plan to do once pandemic restrictions are lifted. Popular responses included travelling, hugging friends and loved ones again, and socializing.
“The first thing I’m doing after the pandemic is going to The Manx Pub (on Elgin Street) with my buddies and having a drink,” Shawn Ghandi, world wide head of AI/ML solutions, Amazon Web Services, said with a big smile.
Then there was Dr. Tracy Dalgleish, 36, a clinical health psychologist with Integrated Wellness.
“I would like to sit in my office, face to face with my clients, without my mask on.”
During the show, OBJ publisher Michael Curran explained how this year’s winners were selected by a panel of judges that examined nearly 300 nominations before making some tough decisions. The judges spent more than 100 hours assessing and ranking each nomination based on business accomplishments, professional experience and community involvement.
The 2021 panel was chaired by Curran and included Gregory Richards from the Telfer School of Management Executive MBA, Robert Rhéaume from BDO Canada and two alumni, Joelle Hall from Richardson Wealth and Pascal St-Jean from TEC Canada.
How local companies evolved and adapted to the pandemic remained a common theme among the Forty Under 40 crowd, said Curran.
“We heard from so many different companies from so many different sectors that are all being influenced differently. Technology, real estate, retail, professional services – just incredible stories of resilience. This makes me, and should make people watching tonight, very hopeful for the economic future of Ottawa and the region.”
Audiences also heard how the OBoT has stepped up during the pandemic as the voice of local business. It has advocated at every level of government for programs and policies to help the business community pull through, said OBoT president and CEO Sueling Ching. It’s also delivered 30,000 COVID-19 rapid test to local businesses.
This year’s group of recipients was described as “outstanding” by BDO’s Mike Abbott, managing partner of the national accounting firm’s Ottawa office and a former Forty Under 40 recipient He reminded the winners to “take a moment to celebrate with the people who supported you through this and encouraged you through this.”
The winners were also congratulated by Mayor Jim Watson and such Ottawa business leaders as Excel HR CEO Kathryn Tremblay, Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay, Culture Check founder and CEO Nathan Hall, and Kinaxis CEO John Sicard.
Sicard, in dishing out some advice to the recipients, told them: “Remember that everything you’ve learned has been through the generosity of others who have come before you. Now it’s your turn to pay it forward. Be generous with your experiences and knowledge and help to grow the next generation of great leaders here in Ottawa.”
The show wrapped up with a live performance from Ottawa musician Jeff Rogers, followed by a virtual afterparty on Zoom, where, one hopes, the recipients were all able to raise a glass together.
Here’s a complete list of the 2021 Forty Under 40 recipients:
- Roberto Aburto, partner, Gowling WLG Canada LLP
- Darryl Arvai, corporate controller, Shopify
- Jonathan Atwill-Morin, president, Atwill-Morin Ontario
- Cynthia Benoit, CEO, CB Linguistic Services
- Bradley Bezan, CEO and founder, Spark Lifecare
- Kevin Brennan, general manager, Cavanagh Concrete
- Matthew Carr, president and principal broker, Gifford Carr Insurance Group
- Michelle Coates-Mather, vice-president, Syntax Strategic
- Sean Cochrane, president, TCC Canada
- Sarah D'Angelo, director of people operations, You.i TV
- Dr. Tracy Dalgleish, clinical health psychologist, Integrated Wellness
- Gareth Davies, founder, Maker House
- Kurtis Funai, chief technology officer, Fullscript
- Shawn Gandhi, worldwide head of AI/ML solutions, Amazon Web Services
- Meseret Haileyesus, CEO, Canadian Center for Women's Empowerment Ottawa
- Kelly Haussler, manager of destination development, Ottawa Tourism
- Dr. Samuel Hetz, owner and medical director, Concept Medical
- Sarah Howard, manager, buildings & structures, WSP Canada
- Ken Jennings, owner, Jennings Real Estate
- Taylor Johansen, director, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario
- Elnaz Kanani Kuchesfehani, senior manager of data and artificial intelligence, Deloitte
- Jason Kealey, vice-president of strategy, FranConnect
- Ashleigh Kennedy, CEO, Neurovine
- Jordan Latimer, operations manager, PCL Construction
- Benjamin Leikin, program manager of mental health and substance, Ottawa Public Health
- Diego Matute, CEO, Cyphercor
- Dave McCann, managing partner and general manager, IBM Canada
- Nick McRae, president, Roxborough Bus Lines
- Chris Murray, chief strategy officer, Wake Network
- James Nguyen, co-founder and CEO, Quantropi
- Kailin Noivo, co-founder and vice-president of sales, Noibu
- Sergey Poltev, CEO, CAPITALTEK
- Christopher Redmond, director, Distant Red Pictures
- Allan Reesor-McDowell, executive director, Matthew House Ottawa
- Sandro Ricci, president, ASL Agrodrain
- Ronald Richardson, co-founder, Benbria
- Solmaz Shahalizadeh Kalkhoran, vice-president of data science and engineering and head of commerce intelligence, Shopify
- Connor Shea, director of investment management, Colonnade BridgePort
- Trevor Szutu, director of corporate development, Descartes Systems Group
- Emilie Wilcox, managing partner, Baiame Consulting