2024 Women of the Year Awards: Community builder – Winner Michelle Sklar

Michelle Sklar of entrepreneurship@UBC is the winner of the Community builder category of the 2024 Women of the Year Awards


Michelle Sklar
Head of venture growth strategy and entrepreneur in residence, entrepreneurship@UBC

After 25 years of building and scaling companies, Michelle Sklar is in her element as head of venture growth strategy at entrepreneurship@UBC.

The business incubator accelerator inspires the entrepreneurial thinking of students, faculty and recent alumni at the University of British Columbia, where Sklar earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Part of her work is to lead networking and learning events, helping internationally diverse business owners make vital connections in person and online. “Your network is so crucial to your ability to build anything,” she says. “You need a really rich and vibrant ecosystem to help these transformational entrepreneurs get their impact out into the world.”

Sklar wears a second hat at e@UBC, serving as the entrepreneur in residence. Her experience in founding and scaling retail, tech, direct-to-sales and marketing/communications companies has proven valuable in supporting business owners. She believes in the power of storytelling in business; those seeking her advice benefit from hearing her anecdotes as well as her guidance on building and growing ventures and her specialty in public relations, marketing and communications.

Sklar also lends her knowledge and  experience as a board member with the Vancouver Entrepreneurs Forum. She serves as the events director, offering opportunities for innovators across the region to come together. There’s crossover between the e@UBC and VEF communities, with Sklar, ever the connector, as  one of several common denominators.

“I tend to find ways to bring everyone along with me because I think there’s such value when people can connect with like-minded people,” she notes.

For Sklar, building community is not just about being in the same room; it’s about representation and democratizing entrepreneurship. Equity, diversity and inclusion principles are embedded in the events, panels and conferences she plans, allowing attendees of different genders, races, experiences and skills and abilities to see themselves reflected in the identities of the speakers.

For example, at e@UBC, she hosts a women’s business founders’ meet-up that focuses on the unique needs of female-identifying entrepreneurs. In February—Black History Month—she organized an event to launch the new Black advisory hub to be based at e@UBC, in partnership with Toronto-based Casa Foundation for International Development. Speakers from the Black business community in Metro Vancouver addressed the crowd, giving a preview of what Black and BIPOC entrepreneurs can expect at the hub—support from people who look like them plus additional resources to advance their ventures.

“For me, it’s always about making sure that people feel welcomed and included and can see themselves in the community,” Sklar explains. “It’s about ensuring that people who are building companies feel seen and can build vital connections.”

Amid the serious crises society is ­facing—health, climate, housing—Sklar has observed more entrepreneurs entering the ecosystem, more businesses being founded to tackle the world’s serious problems.

“We want to harness those who want to be change makers and ensure we’re helping to create pathways for them to find out where they can make the best impact,” she says.

“These challenges are the mother of invention,” she continues. “That’s often when someone says, ‘I’ve got a solution for this!’”