2020 Women of the Year Awards: Rising Star

Our first annual Women of the Year Awards.

Credit: Credit: Peter Holst

Winner: Laura Patrick

Founder and CEO, Kids Physio Group

A love of babysitting turned into a career in pediatric physiotherapy for Laura Patrick, who worked for Vancouver Coastal Health after earning a master’s in physical therapy at McMaster University in Hamilton. But as one of three people covering the entire Vancouver School District, with a caseload of about 100 kids, she saw that there were limits to what she could do.

It came to a head when a young girl was having surgery at BC Children’s Hospital. “After she was discharged home, her mom asked me where Cristina was going to get physio done,” Patrick recalls.

“As her public physiotherapist, it was my responsibility to help her family navigate the private world, and I honestly came up very empty-handed—I didn’t really know where this kid was going to get physio from. So her mom planted a seed in me and said, ‘Can you just do it?'”

So Patrick quit her job and set about establishing a private practice in her hometown. She spent about four years running the business out of her Kitsilano garage, but in 2009, with help from the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (“it gave me some really strong foundations”), she opened Kids Physio on Fraser Street.

To date, the business has seen more than 15,000 kids, and Patrick now has four other B.C. locations. Having launched her first franchise outfit in Toronto last year, she plans to do the same with a school colleague in the city of her alma mater.

“We want kids across Canada to have easy access to Kids Physio Group,” Patrick says when asked about her future plans. “The big goal would be 30 locations across the country in major metropolitan areas so that kids don’t have to go to adult-centred practices and can come to a place designed exclusively for them.”

Finalist: Shaina Azad

Founder and CEO, Suva Beauty

Where to start with Shaina Azad? Maybe in Cairo, where she worked as a correspondent for Egypt News Daily before that country’s 2011 revolution. Or perhaps it’s a couple of years later, on the production sets of Budweiser and Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercials, for which she did makeup.

But then we’d be forgetting the downtown Vancouver food court where Azad began selling her makeup kits in 2014, to students she’d just taught at the nearby Blanche Macdonald Centre. That was the start of Suva Beauty. “I had a lot of international students, especially from China and Taiwan,” Azad remembers. “They started bulk-buying Suva Beauty, and I basically sold out within the first two months and started developing more products, more customized stuff, things like that.”

Since then, the Vancouver company has been featured in stores like Bloomingdales and Forever 21 and, in 2019, Los Angeles–based makeup giant Morphe Cosmetics picked up its line. Azad believes it won’t be long before Suva does a major expansion into Europe and her old stomping grounds in the Middle East.

Finalists: Lulu Wang and Ashley Wu

Co-founders, Sparks STEAM Academy

At first glance, Sparks STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Academy looks like a typical education camp for kids aged three to 15. But the brainchild of Lulu Wang and Ashley Wu is more progressive than your average program. This is, after all, an institution that quotes both Albert Einstein and Elon Musk in the Philosophy section of its website.

“The traditional classroom is teacher-centred—the material is being taught to the kids,” says Wang, who argues that Sparks is focused on the pupil. “It’s more personalized learning, where students can actually discover learning behaviours and perspectives.”

So far, attendance at the year-round camp has nearly tripled from 30 kids when it launched in July 2018. There are also plans to open a second location to complement Sparks’ current spot in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. The returning-student ratio is about 90 percent, Wang says. “All of that is growing organically from referrals.”

Finalist: Lyndsay Scott

Owner, Kindred Cultures

Lyndsay Scott was a project coordinator until she started selling infused-water kefir beverages out of Metro Vancouver farmers markets in 2018. The concoction helped her son overcome autoimmune dysfunction, whereby one’s immune system attacks the body, and the Richmond native realized how big the market opportunity was.

Kindred Cultures now sells in 36 stores in three provinces and Yukon; in February, it launched in what Scott calls the “Holy Grail of natural foods retailers,” Whole Foods Market. “It’s an incredibly valuable opportunity for brand awareness and validity,” she says, adding that she hopes to go national this year. Scott, who has “a couple other product ideas that we’ve always been toying around with,” also pledges to start expanding further into cultured plant-based products.

Finalist: Kyla Dufresne

Founder and CEO, Foxy Box Wax Bar

“I was entrepreneurial as soon as I came out of the womb,” says Kyla Dufresne. “I’ve always been a bit of a hustler.”

Dropping out of high school in Grade 10, Dufresne became a server and bartender and “just made money.” At 20, she started a clothing line, abandoning the idea after about two years. But following her first Brazilian wax, she found setting up appointments was more painful than the actual process. “There was a missing gap in the market—you either had to pre-book weeks in advance or go to the back of a seedy nail salon.”

So in 2012, she began planning a business around a fast, convenient and fun place to get waxed and started taking clients in the dining room of a house she shared with two roommates. The waxes cost $20 a pop and came with a shot of tequila or whisky. Soon she was doing 15 clients a week.

Dufresne moved to downtown Victoria and kept expanding. Now she’s got two 2,400-square-foot corporate locations in her hometown—combined revenue hit $2.5 million last year—plus two franchises, in Courtenay and Nanaimo, and about 50 employees. Her “big, hairy audacious goal” is 50 locations in four years.