The Power of Her Story: Tech Trailblazers

By: Yasmin Ranade

September 13, 2019

On reflection of a busy tech summer, a highlight was the inspiration provided by several female millennial tech leaders at “The Power of Your Story” event, which took place in Toronto on July 24, 2019 at the Verity Club.

Benchmark joined by CompTIA hosted the  “The Power of Your Story”, which included Mpumi Nobiva, graduate of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls; Tim Cork, coach and Mpumi’s mentor; Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro, CPA, CMA and Founder, My African Corner; Riya Karumanchi, Founder and CEO, Smart Cane; and Vanessa Vakharia, Founder and CEO, The Math Guru.

From Left: Luc, Riya , Chioma & Vanessa

The remarkable panel of tech trailblazers shared their unique stories about how they leveraged their talents to move the needle forward for women and tech.

Luc Villeneuve, President of Benchmark Corp.


“They are entrepreneurs who see the sky as the limit”, commented Luc Villeneuve, president of Benchmark Corp and champion of gender diversity in tech. “They forged their own path and they inspire us to see what’s possible.” Villeneuve described the three of the panellists as:

  • “Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro was an immigrant who arrived bursting with enthusiasm, great ideas, and refused to let anything stand in her way. She saw an opportunity to bring together her community to help one another with My African Corner, a platform dedicated to accelerating black professionals and entrepreneurs.”
  • “Vanessa failed math two times, changed schools, realized there is no such thing as a ‘math person’ and turned her experience into a successful business called The Math Guru. She’s making a huge contribution by helping girls see the doors that open when they study math.”
  • “Riya is only a sixteen years old high school student and is already CEO of Smart Cane and is being supported by innovation communities that are helping her grow. She just did a TedTalk and was honoured with the “One To Watch” award from the Hon. Charles Sousa.”

Villeneuve added, “They inspire all of us, even if we’re not entrepreneurs. Every business in Canada can benefit from employees who have the entrepreneurial mindset and want to forge ahead to achieve the things that others think are impossible.”

I asked Chioma, Vanessa, Riya as well as Mpumi for their advice to other young women on how to mobilize their own talent and creativity, and their answers and perspectives did not disappoint!

“A good name is better than all the money in the world,” said Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro, and “Invest in relationships that feed your soul. Focus on self-care,” she added. “Stop listening to that negative voice in your head. Surround yourself with people who lift you up.” She also advised, “Take up space, #DoItAfraid. Step out of your comfort zone and learn how to dance through any situation.

“My advice to young women is simple: follow your curiosity,” began Vanessa Vakharia, Founder and CEO, The Math Guru. “You don’t have to just be one thing or do one thing.

Vakharia explained, “For like, 18 years of my life, I was convinced that because I wanted to be a famous rock star, that meant that was ALL I could do, that the logical world was something I couldn’t be a part of. Once I learned that I could be BOTH logical and creative, that’s when the most creative ideas actually came to fruition! Now I run a math tutoring business (super logical) with a super vibey Zen spin to it (super creative), and the intersection of those two worlds are what have given me my most competitive and fulfilling edge!

Founder and CEO, Smart Cane shared her advice as follows:

  1. Find something that you love and that challenges you.
  2. Leverage resources online to develop your skills in an area that interests you. We are living in one of the most exciting times in history, where there is no next “one big thing” anymore like the Internet. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, IoT and Quantum Computing are changing the way the world works.
  3. Learn by building. You can start being creative and apply the skills you learned to solve real-world problems and building solutions.
  4. Find a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask others for help.

Mpumi Nobiva

“As young women,” began Mpumi Nobiva, “I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we learn to prioritize our own growth and development before all else. This is imperative to our sustenance considering the many systems, structures, ideologies, beliefs, traditions etc., already set in eternal motion to deliberately stunt our growth unless we, ourselves, break the cycles.

Nobiva added, “Focus on who you aspire to be and what you inner voice directs you to do. Slow down, replenish, fill your self first, and then follow with filling others – not the other way around. These are lessons I constantly draw from in the wisdoms and teachings of Mom Oprah, my coach Tim Cork, and my own life. Watch your life, listen to your heart, pay attention to the signs.”

Tim Cork, president Straight A’s and Nobiva’s mentor commented, “Women need to lean in more and accept that they are on the same level as men or above in many cases. This is a mindset. A growth mindset. I see these young women on the same playing field as the experienced Executives.”

Cork also shared his “sure fire formula to success:

  1. You need to take care of “YOU” first and become the best you. Get great at you.
  2. You have to build a network of people around you who have your best interest.
  3. “GIVE.” This is the attitude of “what can I do for you”.

I also had the opportunity to speak in-depth with Luc Villeneuve, president of Benchmark Corp about gender parity and inclusivity so stay tuned for an upcoming article.

Related:  Women & Tech

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