TranQool’s Chakameh Shafii: Tech needs diversity to thrive
Chakameh Shafii initially thought a corporate job would accelerate her path towards being an entrepreneur, but found her way into the startup world by striking out on her own. Now, as founder of TranQool, she’s taking on the often-stigmatized world of mental health, using an innovative tech platform to help people overcome their challenges. Read on to see her global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I did engineering for both my undergrad and graduate studies – at University of Toronto for both – so I’ve been “around tech” for a while.
It was my extracurricular interests, however, that got me interested in startups.
During the first year of my Master’s degree, I was doing research on nanofabrics and wondered why there were no high-growth nanofabric technology companies in Canada.
I didn’t want to move (there were opportunities in Portland, Oregon, and Germany), so I started a conference to talk about tech and building growth companies to Canada, addressing the issue head-on and inviting founders to build innovative companies.
The first year of the conference was all about innovation in STEM, but I ended up partnering with Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) because they had a strong brand and could help me grow the conference.
Now the WISE conference is still going strong, running annually.
After graduating, I started my career at GE. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but figured a big corporation would accelerate my learning. I quickly realized that I was more comfortable building my own company or working in a small startup versus working at huge organizations, so I left and founded TranQool in summer 2015.
My year at GE was extremely useful and I did learn a ton, and the training I received at GE helped me design many of the practices we use today at TranQool.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
This is a really hard question! I think we’d go to Queen West.
I think it’s busy enough that there’s a lot of people at any given time, but at the same time there is nature, it’s clean, and it’s safe.
One of the reasons I love Toronto is that regardless of how many people you’re surrounded by, chances are there will be a lot of people from different backgrounds. This is exemplified on Queen West, and I’d want to show off the diversity of Toronto to anyone that I’m trying to make fall in love with the city.
The reason I’d show them diversity is because being Canadian means coming from different backgrounds. I’ve spoken to a lot of people considering immigrating to Canada, and the thing I love is that there is no “us vs. them” – in Canada, it’s all “we.”
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
#ItsOurTime and #DiversityIsOurStrength.
It’s our time because we have a huge opportunity to welcome back to Canada many people who have initially left to innovate elsewhere. It’s our time because we can build global companies here since we have people with different backgrounds who are going to be able to build products for a global audience.
Diversity feeds into making it our time; we have a critical mass of difference here that means we can build products applicable to many all over the world.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to ensure that all founders and ecosystem builders work with people who are different from them and invite them to the decision making table whenever they can.
When I talk about diversity, I mean all forms of identity and experiences. The tech world especially needs people who come from different backgrounds and who have lived different lives.
I talk about the tech world needing more women, but it’s not just about gender. For instance, how women are treated around the world differs country by country. How we interact with other forms of difference – class, education, race, etc. – also differs as you move around the world.
Knowing this, the global landscape needs to pull a chair around the decision making table and bring in people who are different from them in order to source the better ideas and unique collaborations that build better products, companies, and communities.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
Come and see for yourself! We are thriving, excited, and building great companies. Come check out those opportunities and come work for companies in Toronto.