The SheEO Spotlight Series showcases the talent and radical generosity of the SheEO Community, one entrepreneur at a time.
Meet Laurel Walzak!
Laurel Walzak is a positive and driven woman whose love of sport and healthy living has translated into her entrepreneurial pursuits. As a co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer of Fitneff, Laurel promotes the importance of living healthily even while on the go. She and her team are driven to help businesses incorporate physical movement and other healthy practices into the work routine to boost the productivity and mental agility of their employees. Here, she shares about her eye-opening executive MBA education, her sources of motivation, and her passion for sport and wellness.
How did your journey as a businesswoman begin?
My career in business first started with my love of sport. I’ve always enjoyed playing, watching, and coaching sports, all of which I’ve been very involved in throughout my life. I held different summer and winter jobs where I was a tennis instructor and a ski instructor. While pursuing my undergraduate degree at Western, I had the goal of working with large, and even global, sports organizations after I graduated. However I decided to continue my education first and achieve the credentials required to do so, and so I enrolled in a sport and event marketing post graduate diploma program at George Brown College. That program was really a stepping stone for me to start my career, and led to an internship at the National Football League. The internship as well as my post-graduate degree afforded me the opportunity to get my feet wet at the bottom, and begin working my way up through the industry of sport.
I then spent a number of years working in various sports organizations, with my most recent being the position of Director of Integrated Sales at the National Hockey League. I also pursued my Executive MBA degree at Queen's School of Business, which opened me up to an entirely new world and network of people. I’d say that my time in the program definitely catapulted my career, and helped me realize what else was out there in the world of business beyond sport and within sport.
What are you working on these days?
I lead the operations at Fitneff, derived from ‘Fitness and Efficiency’. A few colleagues from Queen’s Executive MBA Program joined together to create this new venture a couple of years ago. Fitneff promotes the importance of a healthy and active life and its positive effects on productivity. Our team creates innovative products that help users work routine low impact exercise and physical movement into their busy schedules.
How did you decide to pursue the fitness and sport industry through the entrepreneurial lens?
My embarking on the entrepreneurial path was largely influenced by my professor Dr. Elspeth Murray, who is an Associate Professor and the Associate Dean of MBA and Masters Programs at the Stephen J.R. Smith School of Business, their CIBC Fellow in Entrepreneurship, as well as the Director at Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing. I was in her introductory course to new ventures, and I remember being just mesmerized by it. Each night after our studies ended around midnight, my classmates and I would head to the local pub at the conference centre to grab a glass of wine, unwind, and network with one another. I once chatted at the pub with a fellow colleague who asked how I stayed fit amidst the busyness of our program. As our conversation progressed, he mentioned that he had created a do-it-yourself treadmill desk, and was interested in him telling me more. I was compelled by the concept, and offered to invest in the product if the year-long feasibility test he was about to conduct produced positive and potentially profitable results. Almost a year later he called me with positive results, I invested in the company, and he asked me if I wanted to partner. I accepted his offer and decided to take on a full-time consulting role at Fitneff.
What was the transition into the position, as well as into the entrepreneurial sphere, like for you?
It was actually very easy for me. While pursuing my executive MBA, I was searching for opportunities that would challenge me more than what I was currently doing--I knew that I had the capability, energy, drive, and desire to offer.
I did go through a long decision process before deciding to join Fitneff. I considered consulting opportunities, starting my own business, and other opportunities in my sector, all while using a diligent process and a Queen’s Executive Coaching Advisor Ruth Gruer, she is worth mentioning as she was instrumental in guiding my thought process with this specific decision, to ensure that I was going to make a positive and successful decision. By the end of the process, I knew that Fitneff was the place for me.
How have you kept balance in your life and maintained your mental well-being between work, studies, and exercise?
Right now I am more self-aware than ever before. I strive to apply the philosophy of sports to different areas of my life: that you need to practice, put in the training time, and make sure that you’re working on your strengths and weaknesses. I find clarity and strength as well through exercise itself. Regularly going to the gym affords me with the energy and positivity that physical activity brings.
In addition to focusing my energies on wellness, I find time to do things that I enjoy such as spending time with my family. I also look for balance by being involved in things that I care deeply about. By being an active member and contributor to a community whose message I believe in such as SheEO, it adds value both to my life and hopefully to the organization. I am the type of person where if I’m in, I jump all in. Thus, I make sure that anything I get involved in is something that I support, that inspires me, and that allows me the opportunity to be an essential contributor.
What is something that you are excited about right now in your work and projects?
I’m at a very interesting stage at Fitneff because the company is two and a half years old, and we are seeing great change and starting to experience growth in the business. The majority of our current business is based out of the U.S even though we are a Canadian company. Our community is growing, and I am quite intrigued by the people that are coming on board to work with us as partners and customers. Fitneff has evolved since its start, and our ultimate goal now is to take it all to another level as per our strategic plan.
Outside of Fitneff, I spend a comfortable amount of time at George Brown College where I’m on the Board of Governors. I receive intrinsic benefit from being on the board, as well as by simply being on campus with the refreshing outlook of the students. The college recently recognized me on May 9th for the service I’ve performed over the past five years by nominating me with a Volunteer Service Award presented by its Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration, and International Trade. I’m very much humbled by the prestigious award.
How did you begin cultivating the great positivity and motivation that seems to influence the many different facets of your life?
I believe it’s my mindset and ambition. Throughout my life I have continued to develop a positive outlook by surrounding myself with motivated and like-minded people. I also take time to celebrate, and have been doing more of it recently. I think that taking the time to celebrate and enjoy a moment is an essential part of the process of living a healthy life. If you are always anticipating what the future holds, you may overlook the little things that also bring pleasure into your life.
As for your relationship with SheEO, why are you are a member of the SheEO community?
SheEO is a movement that matters to me. I feel a sense of belonging to its community, and where I can meaningfully contribute to the organization. I am particularly inspired by Vicki Saunders, and absolutely support her and her endeavors, as well as those that join in the SheEO movement with her. I’m quite excited to see how SheEO will continue to grow globally and so that by 2020 we will have raised $1 billion for the organization. I like being a part of something different, and I also like sharing that bold outlook with strong women!
Anna Wolle is an intern with SheEO, and a rising junior studying philosophy and French at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and abroad in Paris, France. You can email her at [email protected].
Hello SheEO Activators!
My Activator Ask ? First, I encourage Activators to support the Top 5 SheEO ventures that were awarded the inaugural $500,000 raised in 2015. And second, activators start cultivating relationships with women in your network whom you believe would be a great addition to the SheEO movement and willing to commit $1,000 in an act of radical generosity, whether in your city or around the world. Let’s together hit the goal of $1 billion and be part of history and see women led ventures thrive!