The Intrapreneurs are Coming! How Windsor-Essex Emerging Tech Companies are Activating Female Leaders to Power Innovation

Creating a network of female role models in the automation industry, and providing them with a new toolbox to solve the challenges their organizations are facing, is the goal of a new program launched recently by WEtech Alliance in partnership with Automate Canada.

The Innovation Catalyst Cohort aims to bring together women from companies across the region, all of whom are involved in one way or another with Canada’s industrial automation industry.

“Our goal is to break down barriers for female entrepreneurs over the next four years and train 60 female intrapreneurs in the process,” explains Adam Frye, Director of Business Innovation for WEtech Alliance which is administering the program.

“All of the participants in the cohort will bring problems and challenges from their own workplace and by the time the six months are up, they will be able to take solutions back to their employers,” adds Frye.

The program is seeking to make a tangible difference in the automation industry by empowering female employees over a six-month period to become intrapreneurs.

According to the program’s mandate, those selected by their employers will go through a design-thinking journey designed to give them not only a new way to solve challenges their organizations are facing but give them the tools to solve those challenges in real time.

By working on those challenges in a non-competitive group setting, it will also create a family of peers that the participants can rely on for the rest of their careers.

Shelley Fellows, head of Automate Canada and co-founder of Radix Controls which is now a part of AIS Technologies, said the program grew out of an idea presented by Irek Kusmierczyk, WEtech Alliance’s Director of Partnerships at the time, and now a federal Member of Parliament.

“We decided to take the idea and turn it on its head by opening it up to a number of different companies rather than limiting the program to just one,” explained Fellows.

“I love working with programs which are designed to advance the roles of women in technical positions across our industry,” said Fellows.

Companies involved in the initial cohort include CenterLine Windsor, AIS Technologies, DataRealm, Laval Tool, Vista Solutions, Women’s Enterprise Skills Training and Automate Canada.

Carrie Seguin, who has worked for CenterLine for 21 years and is now an account manager with the company, jumped at the chance to become involved with the program when nominated by her employer.

“It sounded like a unique opportunity when it was first presented and even though we have only had one half-day session, I am not disappointed,” said Seguin.

Seguin joined CenterLine as a receptionist and has held a number of different positions since then including working in estimating, commodity programs and purchasing.

“CenterLine is very supportive when it comes to helping you find roles where you are comfortable and challenged,” she said. “I have never felt pigeon-holed or limited in the time I have worked here.”

“Our goal is to develop a stronger group of employees with new skill sets which they can take back to their workplace.”

Participants have been asked to bring a problem or challenge their employer is facing so that the entire group can help design a solution which can then be taken back to the workplace.

“I love the foundation they have created in that there’s an empathetic approach to all of the problems and the conversations have flowed naturally,” added Seguin.

Seguin said that the sessions are designed to be interactive and because the group is fairly small, there are ample opportunities for every voice to be heard.

“Everyone’s time is valuable, both ours and our employer’s, so I truly believe this will be beneficial for all the participants going forward and that this won’t be an elevator to nowhere,” she said of the risk that ideas will be shelved once all participants return to the workplace.

Frye, meanwhile, said that it’s encouraging to see people from competing companies working side-by-side to solve problems and challenges.

“They all understand the importance of what the program is designed to achieve,” he said. “Our goal is to develop a stronger group of employees with new skill sets which they can take back to their workplace.”

By the end of their six-month session, participants will have developed a strong mentoring network with whom support and best practices can be shared.

It is also expected that participants will be able to drive continuous improvement within their organizations while at the same time improving efficiencies and quality.

This cohort is made possible with support from WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation and is funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario as part of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy.