Name: Jessica Yamoah
Business: INNOVATE INC
Tanya: All right, so what is INNOVATE INC?
Jessica: INNOVATE INC provides awareness and access to underrepresented communities at the intersection of business and entrepreneurship as well as innovation and technology.
Tanya: What was your path to entrepreneurship?
Jessica: My path to entrepreneurship… very good question. So, I’ve always had a passion for business. Between that and my experience working for some of the biggest brands in the world, I hit a tipping point in terms of self-awareness. That is what led me to entrepreneurship.
Tanya: How long have you been considering yourself an entrepreneur?
Jessica: I’ve considered myself an entrepreneur from, I would say, a very early age, but officially took the leap, around 2011/2012.
Tanya: Was there a particular catalyst or did something happen in 2011/2012 that’s just like, you know what, I’m going to do this?
Jessica: Not a particular catalyst, but I think after working with people who were super smart and super intelligent, there comes a point, like I said, a tipping point, where you realize that you can go out on your own and do this yourself. I think also from a timing standpoint, in terms of our government here in Canada, we were fortunate that there were programs that supports entrepreneurship. It was just the right time to take that step.
Tanya: Nice. So what would you consider to be your boldest business move?
Jessica: I think my boldest business move is always my next step. Today I would say my boldest move would be the VIP program that we are launching in the fall. So, stay tuned, but it’s supported by the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE), where we are creating some really interesting awareness and access around Black women and for Black women.
Tanya: You already know that I love everything about that. What was your biggest financial turning point for your company? Your “I made it” moment?
Jessica: I wouldn’t say I’ve had an “I made it” moment. I think every day is a constant evolution of learning and growing. I think about our last major campaign. We had every possible landmine put in front of us and navigated through that. We came out on the other side in terms of a really impactful campaign where the funding was supported by a provincial government. And at that point, I knew I was on my journey, on the right path, on my way. So, I think whenever you can qualify and quantify it, it is a moment to celebrate.
Tanya: So, you work in an interesting intersection, which includes tech. How would you say the lens of being a woman in your industry helped you?
Jessica: I would say that the lens of being a woman and particularly a Black woman, has been a complete asset. Black women are an untapped and definitely undervalued resource. Our existence is a very mathematical equation where you need to be so aware of so many things. So, when you’re used to solving problems day in and day out, yourself as a mother, you understand, you’re not just solving for yourself at this point, you’re solving for children. You’re solving for an entire family. You apply that lens to the business. You apply that lens to how you solve problems, how you look at things. And I mean, from a corporate standpoint, companies benefit tenfold. And as an entrepreneur, you’re pretty much set to take on anything.
Tanya: That’s a great answer. You’d make an excellent elected official! (laughing) What do you see as the future for women in your industry?
Jessica: The future for women in the innovation technology space is in the senior management leadership roles and stakeholder roles. There’s been a number of reports that speak to the education of women, the adoption of women in terms of business and entrepreneurship, that there’s a lack of reflection or there’s still work to do in terms of women being in those senior management roles and decision making roles.
I see there are opportunities at that table and in those roles where we can help develop the pipeline, and also have more representation, not just in, I guess, in position or just in terms of sitting at the table, but actually being able to influence what’s being made, how things are being presented, how things are being marketed, a whole comprehensive effect on the innovation and technology space.
Tanya: Amazing. What is your business’s greatest triumph to date?
Jessica: Our greatest triumph, I would say, is the quantifying and qualifying of the connections that we’ve made and the people and organizations we’ve worked with. Being able to look back at some of the people or organizations we’ve partnered with and collaborated with and see the impact and the results.
You already see the impact in terms of raising awareness around women and the contributions that we make within organizations, within the economy and around the world. So being able to put that front and center for everyone to see, and for everyone to be able to quantify is really exciting. So that’s definitely our biggest triumph – how we’ve been able to work with people and have an actual impact that can be qualified and quantified.
Tanya: I think that those words – qualifying and quantifying the impact – are great. People are just like, well, we’ve had an impact on X and it’s like, but how, what does that mean? So being able to pinpoint the tangibles of that is amazing. So, kudos to you for sure.
Jessica: Even with that, being able to attribute dollars to it, so from a business standpoint, as entrepreneurs there are several ways that you can keep track and have accolades. But at the end of the day, from a corporate standpoint, the business is beholden to shareholders and as an entrepreneur, you’re beholden to yourself. So, you want to be able to keep the lights on and all of those things. So being able to attribute dollars to things that traditionally women aren’t as comfortable doing or recognized for doing is a huge accomplishment.
Tanya: What is your business’ current biggest challenge?
Jessica: INNOVATE INC’s current biggest challenge is the business journey and taking that journey with the right people. We are fortunate. We have a fantastic team right now working on the VIP project. But overall, and I’ve heard it a number of times, one of the most important decisions, or some of the most important decisions, we make in life are who we partner with, whether it’s personally, professionally, et cetera. And so that’s the biggest challenge finding people who are aligned in terms of values and acumen.
Tanya: And sometimes it’s finding out the hard way that certain folks are who you thought they were going to be. So that’s also part B of the challenge for sure. What do you wish people would know about being a Black entrepreneur?
Jessica: That is a good question. What I would like people to know about being a Black entrepreneur is, understanding the value that we bring in terms of how we, again, socially maneuver or how we do things and the businesses that we are involved in.
For example, Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana, is coming up. A festival that was a gift to the city, from a country that can sustain itself on the revenue from that one event. Its run by entrepreneurs. But is it viewed or respected or valued in the same way when you look at the greater tourism industry and the revenue that’s generated for them? The restaurants the venue owners that host the parties or the truck owners that pulled the massive floats. When you look at all those businesses in terms of entrepreneurship, don’t write us off right away. I would encourage folks to understand the types of businesses that we’re creating or that we’re running and work with us and be open to seeing and doing things differently.
The entrepreneurs who run the festival, it’s exercising that muscle and a little bit of flexing to say, okay, well this is what we bring in. So where are the sales points on what we contribute or how we negotiate different elements of how the festivals run for those two weeks? We also need to take a little bit of accountability to say, okay, how can we be savvier? How can we start impacting things? But I think even as a community, again, it’s also taking that accountability to ensure we have people in the leadership and stakeholder positions. Because at the end of the day, it’s revenue and all income that’s generated contributes to our economy. And more importantly, it is part of our culture. We should be able to celebrate that and receive the same respect and be valued the same way that other festivals and cultural events that take place throughout the city, especially considering it’s one of the largest Caribbean festivals in the world.
Tanya: So, the last question from me and then we can kick it freestyle – how do you or do you find a balance between your personal and professional life?
Jessica: I will speak for myself as an entrepreneur to say, I love what I do. So, personal and professional are one and the same. But I think from day to day, minute to minute, hour to hour, there’s a handoff, kind of like driving standard. So, if you’ve ever driven standard or manual or stick, you can’t do the two things at once. You’re either giving gas or you’re on the clutch. And for me to maintain momentum and to keep going, I am very good at doing the transitions in terms of sometimes you’re in first gear, or second gear, or third. And that’s how I live my life.
In terms of being an entrepreneur, it’s something I love. It was a passion even in the different roles I’ve had before in corporate at organizations. But now being able to choose and work with a fantastic team of people who have similar dispositions, acumen, dignity, respect, values, and are committed to excellence. It’s a whole other space. So there’s no need to switch off. It’s just, if anything, switching gears at different times.
Tanya: I can respect that. I love that answer. Are there any last thoughts you like to share with those who will read this, that you would like them to know about yourself as an entrepreneur or about your business?
Jessica: The only other thing I’d add is that in the fall we were gearing up for the VIP program. If there are women who are entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, who may be interested in a unique program to reach out to us at INNOVATE INC and thank you for having me.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur and Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 30,000 and a national non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO. The statements and opinions expressed by guests & interviewees are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bank of Montreal or its affiliates.