Every year an advisory board made up of major Canadian business executives – such as CIBC CEO Victor Dodig and Nestle CEO Shelley Martin – comes together to select 40 winners from a pool of nominees under the age of 40 whom they consider up-and-coming leaders.

The importance of hard work was the overwhelming theme BNN heard this summer from this year’s winners.

From software developers to food-chain owners to medical doctors, the country’s next leaders weighed in on what it takes to be a young entrepreneur in Canada, and they didn’t sugarcoat it. Here’s what they had to say:

Foteini Agrafioti, chief science officer and head, RBC Research Institute



Agrafioti is responsible for RBC’s intellectual property portfolio in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The things that scare you? Prioritize them. Your degree of discomfort should be rooted in the size of the impact you’d like to have – on the people around you, the company you work for, the industry you’re in, and even the country as a whole. It means taking on a big vision that goes beyond your personal goals and demands that you think about how you can move society forward.”

Tariq Fancy, founder, The Rumie Initiative


Rumie is a non-profit organization that aims to bring free education to underserved communities around the world.

"As an entrepreneur, you're always overworked and under-resourced. You have 100 things you could be doing – but time for only 10 of them. You have to very quickly figure out which 10 per cent of work drives 90 per cent of your targeted outcomes, and just say no to all the rest."

Robert Niven, chief executive officer, CarbonCure


CarbonCure retrofits concrete plants with a technology that recycles carbon dioxide to make stronger, greener concrete.

"Understand that the global industry is undergoing enormous changes to adjust to increased demand for green buildings, and solutions that help mitigate climate change. The industry needs young people to lead this. It’s a great time to enter the industry and be part of this change."

Sachin Aggarwal, chief executive officer, Think Research


Think Research is a cloud-based software design company that focuses on finding solutions to today’s healthcare problems.

“You need to be dogged. You can’t be the type to give up. Be out on the field and in your sector’s environment as much as you can. It’s important that you always know where your next funding cheque comes from.”

Corey Berman, president, Koru Distribution


Koru Distribution is a distributor of eco-friendly lifestyle brands.

“You need to love what you’re doing. It might seem obvious, but it’s important. You don’t want to be the person who has to drag themselves into work every day. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart, and it’s not for everybody.”

David Segal, founder, Mad Radish


Mad Radish is a new salad-based chain restaurant, created by the founder of David’s Tea.

“You need to make people fall in love with your concept. Great brands are built by customer evangelists, so keep your eye on delivering an unforgettable customer experience at every touchpoint.”

Matias Marquez, founder and chief operating officer, Buyatab


Buyatab offers online solutions that help brands sell their gift cards online.

“In the fast-moving world that we live in today, making an impact means growing with change. Have a vision, believe in your vision and execute. Hard work, by the way, is a part of the process and really just table stakes.”

Hossein Rahnama, founder and chief executive officer, Flybits


Flybits is a cloud-based platform that curates data into dashboards

“Have a bold vision and learn how to execute fast. Your idea on its own does not have much value. Your team is your biggest asset. Avoid becoming a follower and build something new that addresses a big market pain.”

Melody Adhami, chief operating officer, PlasticMobile


PlasticMobile is a software development firm that focuses on mobile apps in the financial, retail and loyalty spaces.

"If you’re saying ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘that’s above my paygrade’ – stop. While this applies to young talent, it should ring true regardless of where you are in your career. Embrace the opportunity to wear different hats, build a variety of skills whenever you can, and take pride that you’re trusted to take it on. At the end of the day, it’s not what you're doing, it’s how you’re doing it."

Brad Katsuyama, co-founder and chief executive officer, the Investors Exchange (IEX)


IEX is an SEC-approved stock exchange based in the United States.

“I think it’s really important to be curious – always ask why – and to work hard. The combination of those two things can be meaningful to any company, large or small, and can help a young person make a difference for the company they work for.”

Ian Crosby, founder and chief executive officer, Bench


Bench is a digital bookkeeping service

"The only truly sustainable advantage today in business is to become the best in the world at what you do. Becoming the best at what you do takes focus and specialization. It means giving up on all the other exciting things you could be doing to become excellent at one thing." 

Liam Brunham, principal investigator, Centre for Heart Lung Innovation


Brunham’s research focuses on understanding the genetic aspects of heart disease, and the genetic basis for how people respond to medication.

“I love this quote from Wayne Gretsky: “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take”. Never be afraid to go for it. More often than not, attempts will fail. Embracing failure, and learning from it, is the key to moving forward towards your goal.”

Jeremy Gutsche, chief executive officer, Trend Hunter


Trend Hunter tracks and features innovative ideas, viral news and pop culture to advise brand clients and create custom trend reports.

“There are two keys to success in the world of innovation: Relentlessly obsess about how to get better at adapting to change, and get faster at finding ideas.”  

Reetu Gupta, chief operating officer, The Easton’s Group and The Gupta Group 


The Gupta Group is a residential and commercial real estate development company.

“Always believe you can achieve anything you put your mind to, because the second you doubt yourself, that will be the reason you do not achieve it.”

Joshua Simair, CEO and co-founder, Skip the Dishes


Skip the Dishes is as a food delivery and online takeout ordering service that was acquired by the U.K.’s Just Eat.

"Being a founder is a rollercoaster of euphoria, anxiety and despair. It is less glamorous than people think. For most people, joining a high performance startup is a great first step to learn entrepreneurship. But if your heart is telling you that you are ready to be a founder? Go for it."