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Meet Three Women of Influence

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Kristina Williams, President and CEO, Alberta Enterprise Corporation

Kristina Williams, President & CEO, Alberta Enterprise Corporation.

Kristina Williams, President and CEO with Alberta Enterprise Corporation (Alberta Enterprise), describes her career journey as a tendency to say “yes” when opportunity knocks.

“It’s a combination of hard work, taking opportunities and appreciating the people I’ve met along the way,” she says. “My thinking has always been, ‘if you’re given an interesting opportunity, why not?’”

Born in Sweden, Williams had just earned her master’s in law when she ran into a friend who offered her a job driving VIP conference attendees around Stockholm. Replying, “Sure, why not?” she soon met two passengers launching a biotech life science startup with venture capital funding. Presented a role, Williams pivoted straight into the world of entrepreneurial finance.

A few years later, her Canadian husband expressed a desire to move home and Williams, always up for an adventure, moved west, only to discover her law degree was not recognized here.

“If life gives me lemons, I make lemonade,” says Williams. “I enjoyed the startup experience but realized I was lacking in business knowledge. I was not going to redo law school, so I pursued my MBA.”

Next was a marketing role with an agri-food startup spun off from the University of Alberta, later acquired by a European company. Her CEO there then invited Williams over to Alberta Enterprise as director of investment in 2009. “I didn’t know much about venture capital investment, but again, I said, ‘sure, why not?’” she says.

Formed and mandated to create access to venture capital for Alberta-based tech companies, Alberta Enterprise supports keeping that talent here and growing where historically they had to move to scale up.

“We create access to capital, but also to the expertise venture capitalists have in terms of operational experience in the same field these companies are working within, including mentorship, management and talent,” says Williams. “These startups create economic diversification and high value jobs in our city.”

By 2014, Williams moved into the CEO role with a strong team of seven. She engages daily with many people – San Francisco venture capitalists she’s trying to attract to the province, Edmonton entrepreneurs, all levels of government, support organizations and the entrepreneurs. “

There are some very smart people with some cool ideas here,” says Williams. “I know the trials and tribulations in this business and I have full respect for these individuals who take on that challenge. I love meeting them.”

A mother of two navigating a highly male-dominated industry, Williams has attended conferences with 10 women and 500 men. Now she is seeing up to 20 per cent female representation.

“There are still not enough women in finance and the investment space. We’re working on that,” she says. “I’d never thought about this in Sweden, only about who is best qualified for the job.”

Williams mentors female MBA students and is involved in Board Ready Women, a networking organization supporting women to achieve greater board representation across the province.

“If I can inspire one young female professional to take that step, that’s my goal,” says Williams.

 

Jessi Toms, CEO & Founder, Muse Canada

Jessi Toms, CEO & Founder, Muse Canada.

When pandemic restrictions left the Edmonton Muse short on local entertainment stories and event sponsors, Jessi Toms, Founder and CEO, didn’t give up. She got creative.

“People had no idea when their events would be back on and all the artists were stuck at home,” says Toms. “What was I going to write about besides complaints and frustration? That’s not where my energy and demographic exist.”

Within months, Toms envisioned bigger things for her publication. Established to promote local event listings, it had quickly grown by demand into a robust arts, culture and entertainment magazine.

“I didn’t want to give up on what we had built,” says Toms. “I realized if there was ever a time artists needed promotion, it was at that moment.”

A lifelong artist with promotional marketing roots, Toms’ passion for publicizing independent artists in the Muse began close to home but is quickly expanding.

“Edmonton has always inspired me with the incredible amount of talent residing here,” she says. “When I was creating the Edmonton Muse, it seemed a lot of people didn’t recognize this.”

She sees Edmonton as an up-and-coming music and arts city. “All the genres – film, art and music – are constantly growing,” says Toms. “The issue lies in why it’s not growing further and that artists feel they have to move away to advance their careers. Maybe we can change that.”

Working on Edmonton Muse, Toms and her busy team of 23 were extremely active in the local arts scenes. Monthly issues of the magazine were constantly growing while promoting hundreds of artists and events to over 36,000 viewers each month. When they hit the COVID wall, she decided it was time to take that momentum across Canada.

“If we could do what we did for Edmonton, why not create more across Canada?” says Toms. “We could revitalize what we had lost by gathering all the artists from coast to coast into one spot, help each other grow, create new ways of communicating and promote people from east to west.”

In Muse Canada, Toms and her team created a platform maintaining their media base, and included business-enhancing tools. A $5 monthly membership gives artists access to grants and branding information. A listing directory includes corporate partners offering legal advice or tech support.

“We’re increasing understanding in how to bridge the gap between being an artist and a business,” says Toms. “Working together to bring everyone forward instead of competing against each other, we create so much more opportunity.”

In an industry where an estimated 3 per cent of decision makers are women, it can be a tad intimidating for this 4’8” CEO invoking change, but Toms rolls with the punches. “Coming in as a decision maker, I’ve had a few issues,” she says. “I think it’s all part of the growth and change we need to experience to create equity within the industry. My stubbornness wins me over and I keep my eye on our ultimate goal. I buckle up my stilettos and keep walking.”

 

Pilar Martinez, Chief Executive Officer, Edmonton Public Library

Pilar Martinez, CEO, Edmonton Public Library.

When Pilar Martinez, CEO at Edmonton Public Library (EPL), met Acadia University librarian Mr. Mercer while working on her thesis, he made a lasting impact that continues to shape her mission today.

“I didn’t even think of librarianship as a career until then,” says Martinez. “Mr. Mercer was the kindest, most helpful individual. If you asked him a question, the whole library would know. He’d answer in his big booming voice, ‘come this way, follow me.’ That connection to information and solving problems really resonated with me and piqued my interest.”

That appeal intensified when Martinez connected with another fantastic librarian at the University of Lethbridge. Without a doubt, librarianship was the career for her. That decsion continues to positively influence library customers and the community. With Martinez at the helm, EPL remains the first and only library outside of the U.S. to win the Library of the Year Award by Library Journal and Gale Cengage Learning.

“I’m so proud to have played a role in winning this award,” says Martinez. “It really is about our customer service and innovation. We’re constantly trying to meet community needs.”

Under Martinez’s leadership EPL boasts a number of firsts. For instance, they were the first to bring in an Indigenous services librarian and their epl2go Literacy Vans have been a model for other communities. The award-winning progress at EPL is driven by her joy in working with her team, staff, EPL’s board, the City and the community.

“It’s wonderful to work for a community-led organization with passionate staff committed to serving our customers,” says Martinez. “Seeing the difference we make for Edmontonians is very gratifying.”

On any given day, Martinez is reviewing financial statements and reports, engaging in board meetings, aligning the library’s direction with the City’s Strategic Plan, fundraising and more.

“We appreciate the many viewpoints that bring diversity of opinion and feedback so we can always do better,” says Martinez. “We celebrate the accomplishments of our team and it’s a joyous part of my job to support people and remove barriers to their continued success.”

That commitment to fostering success in those around her is recognized through Martinez’s achievement of the Canadian Library Association/Ken Haycock Award amongst many accolades.

“I love building connections and relationships while solving problems,” she says. “That’s what drew me into librarianship – helping people, the detective work we do to help them find information and knowledge, all with the end goal of making a difference to the communities we serve, and to our city overall.”

 

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