women entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship and Women in STEM


“As two women starting a company, there have definitely been challenges but there have also been a lot of opportunities”


So began the discussion with Justine Lywood on Friday at our first event focused on discussions about women in STEM. Justine joined seven of our ASPIRE students and three faculty members from the Centre for Water Resources Studies on our trip to Sugar Moon Farm. The farm and surrounding trails provided a picture-perfect winter setting for a hike followed by a fireside chat and dinner.

ASPIRE trainees Aidan and Nicole showing off their birdseed ornaments.

On the snowy hike to Jane’s Falls, all attendees were encouraged to reflect on their experiences and the experiences of those who have paved the way for women entering technical professions today. The day before this women-in-STEM-focused event was December 6th, the 29th anniversary of the massacre of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal. We wanted to acknowledge the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with a positive gesture of hope for the future.

Engineering schools across the country have some sort of monument to the massacre and we decided that our monument would be in the form of birdseed. All attendees were given a birdseed ornament as a memorial, to be placed in a special spot in the forest; this small gesture of nourishment to birds is symbolic of our actions of encouragement to women in STEM.

Jenny Hayward, Program Coordinator, explained the birdseed ornaments as a gesture of remembrance of the École Polytechnique massacre.

Following the hike, we were invited into the Sugar Moon Lodge. We sat next to the fire and settled in while we were formally introduced to Justine Lywood, an engineer who started plusArctic two years ago. In her own words, plusArctic is a partnership between her and Erin Mentink, a colleague whom she graduated with from Dalhousie and worked with at the Government of Nunavut. Their slogan is “for the north, with the north” and they provide a variety of services, but at the core, their expertise lies in understanding the north - the social, cultural, and built environments.

Justine encouraged the ASPIRE community to submit questions via email prior to the talk and formatted her talk into three themes: entrepreneurship 101, how to maintain the success of her company, and the challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities for women as entrepreneurs.

Fireside chat with Justine Lywood from plusArctic.

One of the first questions that came up was how her skills gained as an engineer have translated to owning and running a business. She answered that all of her experience has been valuable, from the things she learned in school to her experiences teaching English overseas to her technical experience in the Arctic, but the important thing is that as an engineer or scientist, you have demonstrated your ability to learn quickly and to break a problem down into parts and look at them critically to find a solution. As an entrepreneur, she stresses that interpersonal skills are as important as technical skills; she attributes plusArctic’s continued success to their reputation in the north. Another facet of her success comes from putting her full focus and effort into the projects she has, rather than spending a lot of time writing proposals or visiting sites for tender; saying, “If you overdeliver, people will want to work with you again.”


“Recognize what you’re worth and know that it’s okay to ask for that.”


One of the most striking moments of the evening was when Justine handed out pieces of paper and asked everybody to write down what they would charge as their hourly rate if they were to start a consulting business right then and there. On average, the men in the room wrote down a figure $70 higher than the women. It is often challenging, but as a woman and the owner of her own business, Justine must ask for a wage that will cover all her expenses and incorporate a reasonable take-home pay. She said that as young women, our biggest obstacle is gaining confidence but if you present yourself well and own your skills, you will demonstrate your value to clients.

The fireside chat was interesting and engaging and stimulated much more conversation as we toured the sugar shack and shared a beautiful dinner to end the evening. We wish Justine the best of luck for the continued success of plusArctic into the future!