The 2022 Women of the Year Awards: Entrepreneurial Leader – Winner

The winner for the entrepreneurial leader category of The 2022 Women of the Year Awards is chair and CEO Shahrzad Rafati of BBTV Holdings.

Shahrzad Rafati, Chair and CEO of BBTV Holdings

Shahrzad Rafati
Chair and CEO, BBTV Holdings

Shahrzad Rafati had a choice of four TV channels when she was a teenager in Tehran. “But I could see the power of content, even at small scale,” she remembers. Rafati, whose mother and father, both engineers, ran a textile and a real estate business, respectively, grew up during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. “I wanted a different life where I could make a difference, and I knew even at that time that I wanted to build a global business.”

Moving to B.C. at 17, Rafati spoke little English. She earned a computer science degree at UBC and watched with interest as Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod. “I just knew that video was going to be the next thing,” Rafati says. “I wanted to play a big role in defining the future of content and entertainment—and storytelling.”

She launched media technology company BBTV in 2005, expanding its offerings from digital rights management to include services for creators, direct advertising, mobile games and e-commerce. Every month, 600 million unique viewers worldwide use the Vancouver-based company’s platform, consuming some 50 billion minutes of video.

Investors have taken note. When BBTV launched its $172-million initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange in late 2020, the listing was one of the TSX’s top 10 of all time, its biggest with a sole female founder and CEO and its first such IPO in the tech sector.

For Rafati, the inequality she experienced as a child has been a powerful motivator. BBTV operates with a quadruple bottom line that measures financial, people, social and environmental performance. On the people side, the company has eliminated the pay gap between female and male employees, and 46 percent of its managers identify as female.

Rafati also encourages her 300-plus employess to embrace what she calls quick failures: “It’s very important for you to be able to fail fast, fail forward and to learn from your mistakes.”

BBTV isn’t shying away from the blockchain. For example, it recently announced a partnership with top Ethereum software developer ConsenSys to build tools for minting, publishing and marketing non-fungible tokens (NFTs). “Given the scale that we have, we’re uniquely positioned to capture this massive opportunity in Web3 as the company that provides these end-to-end solutions to content creators,” Rafati says.