Leading the Way

This year’s Techcellence Award winners share leadership tips for entrepreneurs

Photo from left: 2019 Techcellece Award winners Kim Atkinson, David Brebner and Jenessa Olson

ASK ANY ARTIST what led to their great achievements and you likely won’t hear them recount the final stroke of paint to canvas or the recognition that followed, but rather the countless hours of practice, scrapped projects and creative downturns faced in pursuit of mastering their craft.

Much like with art, leadership echoes these same peaks and valleys of success and failure, and the necessary adjustments to keep the journey alive.

TechAlliance’s annual Techcellence Awards celebrate innovation, growth and community engagement in the region’s tech sector. Leadership is fundamental to each ­winning company’s journey to success, and yet leadership looks different for each one.

But while individual styles differ, the founders and leaders of this year’s winning companies—Jenessa Olson of STMNT, David Brebner of Mobials and Kim Atkinson of Ontario SEO—all agree on one thing: becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to cultivate leadership skills and ensure you are thinking about your organization’s vision rather than the mere execution of different tasks.

For a startup co-founder like Jenessa Olson, every day feels like an opportunity to grow into her role with STMNT, the winner of this year’s Startup Innovation Award. Thus far, her handful of vital hires for the tech-powered clothing rental company has enlightened her thinking.

“It’s not solely about motivating a team, it’s about finding the right person in the first place and investing in that process,” she says.

Coming from an internationally recognized competitive track and field background, Olson knows firsthand the ­connection between preparation and success, and applies those learned strategies to find, hire and ensure cohesion within her team and the company’s goals. “Leadership starts with doing the due diligence,” she says.

For a business to be flexible and innovative, it requires leadership that models and shares accountability. “It’s not just about you anymore,” shares David Brebner, CFO and co-founder of Mobials, a software development company and Business Growth Award winner for the second consecutive year. “If your people do something well, then that’s their win. But if they don’t, then it’s your loss.”

Brebner’s own professional journey, both as an entrepreneur and within a corporate structure, continues to shape his leadership development. “Every leader has a toolkit,” he says. “To me, the best leaders are the ones who know which tools are in front of them, but are also smart enough to know which tool to use. The application of the tool is more important than the tool itself.”

When it comes to following instinct and utilizing resources, Kim Atkinson, co-owner Ontario SEO, follows a case-by-case approach. “It’s about making sure that you’re giving people trust to be able to grow into a role,” says the winner of this year’s Community Engagement Award.

As a leader, Atkinson understands that individual development for her team is crucial to reaching collective goals. “You have to be adaptable—assessing the skills of the people around you, where their strengths are and allowing yourself to trust them. We let their roles evolve based on what we learn.”

With an award reflecting her agency’s role in a collaborative initiative to build a stronger community in Old East Village, she credits her readiness to grasp opportunities and evolve with them. “Although it wasn’t something we had done before, we knew we had the resources. And that’s the same way that the company started. We didn’t have a plan to become a digital marketing agency, but there was a need.”

If there’s any advice to be shared with leaders trying to ­perfect the craft, Atkinson urges entrepreneurs to listen first. “Listen. Listen to yourself, listen to your employees, listen to your clients, listen to your community,” she says. “You never know what you’re going to learn and what you can apply—always have an ear out.”

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