There and back again — again?

Reflections on the flight from Calgary to Toronto

View from a Client’s Office in Toronto ~ Photo Cred: Dudon Wai

I’m writing because I’ve been relatively MIA (missing in action) since I announced I left Shell in February and I want to take this opportunity to give an update on the adventure. I should also mention that I still may be quite MIA, but I intend to regularly share and give some updates!

Why have I been so silent? Looking back, when I was going through so much change so quickly, I needed to be extremely focused to stay on top of everything, so it was hard to find enough time to share and connect with people — and there’s always so much to tell, that it’s hard to know where to start. But with the kind of pace that things moved, it became a real challenge to maintain a balance between health, family, friends and work. Needless to say, I made some mistakes and learned very quickly about my values and priorities, which for me, are in the order that I’ve listed above.

Recap since Feb

Last time, I wrote about my experience leaving my home in Toronto for a career in Calgary, and 4 years later, returning to Toronto a different person. I was following where the best opportunities were as they unfolded, and at the time, those opportunities were in Toronto. As things turned out, my stay in Toronto lasted for a total of 18 days, before I wound up in Calgary — again! I’ve silently spent 2 months in Calgary, so I apologize for not letting many people know, and I hope you understand I was trying to figure out a lot of things for myself. And now, at the very moment of writing this article, I’m on a flight back to Toronto — again. Confusing? Let me explain a bit to try and make sense of it for the reader (and myself).

Feb 9: Last Day at Shell

It’s hard to believe that 3 months ago, I was nervously sitting in a breakout room for a quarterly review with my manager at Shell where I submitted my 3-week notice that I was leaving Shell for the NextAI program I had been accepted into just a few weeks before. It was an incredible relief to be completely understood and supported, and receive genuine curiosity in the new path I was taking.

Feb 12: Return to Toronto

Three short days later, I was on a flight to Toronto for the start of my new adventure. As part of the transition back to Toronto, I set aside a week to spend some long-overdue time with family and friends to catch up before preparing for NextAI. The time flew by quickly and was hardly enough, but I’d have many more opportunities to spend time with them now that I was back in Toronto, so I thought. A week later, I made the decision to go back to Calgary, so my plans to catch up were pushed back for the next while.

Feb 20: NextAI Kickoff

If I haven’t already explained, NextAI is an incubator based in Toronto for startups specifically using AI (artificial intelligence) as a key differentiator, to leverage the recent progress in storage, computing and platforms to develop practical AI applications in industries ranging from healthcare to finance to energy. NextAI provides mentorship, education, networks, a tight-knit ecosystem and initial resources to take ideas or existing businesses to a point where the business opportunity is clear and the startup is ready to receive capital and scale up. The NextAI kickoff week was the chance to learn all about the process, to pitch your business idea, and for everyone in the cohort to meet each other, the organizers and corporate partners.

If I wasn’t sold on the opportunity before kickoff week, I was definitely reeled in by the end of the week after fancy dinners, meetings with academic researchers at the forefront of AI, and discussions with C-suite executives at Magna, Scotia and BDC about vision of AI applications in their industries. Kickoff week was followed by 2 months of remote meetings and content before re-launching in May for the entire summer. When I found out I had 2 months before re-launch, my team and I decided to seize the opportunity to understand our customer (energy producers).

Mar 1: Return to Calgary

The 18 days in Toronto led to the decision to spend the following 2 months in Calgary getting as close to the customer as possible, to learn about their painpoints and to experiment with a variety of quick-fix solutions (called MVPs, or minimum viable products) to test the feasibility for building a scalable business around the solution. I’ll keep the details brief, but it was an invaluable experience incorporate the business as Unsist Inc., to meet people from C-suite to front-line positions, across the industry from producers to service companies, and from trade organizations to government groups in technology and economic development. In 2 months, we built an internal toolbox of code, a strong portfolio of work and a deep network, and now we’re ready to bring what we’ve learned to hit the ground running when we return for the NextAI re-launch.

May 1: Return to Toronto

So that brings us to May 1. I touch down in Toronto shortly, and begin the next sub-chapter of the adventure: Toronto Pt 2. May 1 marks the first day of the next 5 months in the program, where I’m back in Toronto — but this time with a developing business, a growing portfolio of data science projects, a performing team and an even stronger drive to make this venture a success.

I’m looking forward to be surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs and to learn from leading researchers in AI and world-renowned business professors and economists. I am sure there will be highs and lows, making progress and mistakes along the way, but I’m incredibly excited to learn many new things — and very quickly.

And so, the adventure continues. Til next time!

Tell me what you think on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter! I look forward to sharing again in the future so that you can learn with me, or at the very least, join along for the fun! And thanks for understanding that I’m not the most reachable person, I’m getting better at being available so please feel free to share your thoughts!