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Women in STEM

Women in STEM: Q&A with Entrepreneur Laurie Clark

Canchek and Onyen Header-Laurie Clark
Sponsored by:
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Canchek and Onyen Header-Laurie Clark
Sponsored by:
Laurie Clark

Laurie Clark

Founder of Onyen Corporation, Canchek Corporation, and Smarten Up Institute

Serial entrepreneur Laurie Clark, founder of Onyen Corporation, Canchek Corporation, and Smarten Up Institute, shares her perspective on supporting women in STEM.


What global socioeconomic trend do you believe has the most relevance for Canadian women and girls?  

There are many complex issues that concern us all, but I’ll choose one where we have the opportunity to leap forward — STEM education. As China and the U.S. battle for technological supremacy, from 5G networks to artificial intelligence to quantum computing, we must be motivated to improve the pace of Canadian innovation. 

We have the means to do better, but our real opportunity lies in better using Canada’s diversity — at all levels — to build a STEM powerhouse. Our ability to bring more young women of every race into STEM is the litmus test of whether Canada will punch above its weight. We can’t win by dismissing an entire segment of the many outstanding brains in our country. But with an education in one or more STEM disciplines, the future for Canadian women and girls is infinite.


What is one thing you’d like to say to young women and girls as they look to the future?

Learn about the women who came before. There are many great Canadian women in STEM, from as far back as the 1800s or earlier, but we don’t know about them, for example:

Mabel Bell – aeronautics financier and social reformer who directly contributed to husband Alexander Graham Bell’s work; Elsie MacGill – first female Canadian to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and practice as an engineer; Donna Strickland – optical physicist awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for work with lasers; Vicky Kaspi – astrophysicist who studies collapsed stars and first woman to win Canada’s top science prize; and Roberta Bondar – astronaut, neurologist, physician, space medicine research pioneer, and first Canadian woman (and second Canadian) in space. 

Roberta reminds us: “Canada needs individuals to whom educators can point, and of whom we can be proud, whether athletes or astronauts or anything else. I think the role each Canadian plays is not so much ‘Look at me,’ but rather, ‘Look at our country.’”

I’d also tell all Canadians about the teenage girls making their mark in STEM today — Canada’s Zainab Azim (called the World’s Youngest Future Astronaut) and Sweden’s climate activist Greta Thunberg to name just two. I like to think that we have a few things in common: Focus, ethics, hard work despite naysayers, and a passion for fixing problems. 

The two companies I’ve most recently launched — Canchek, an anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorist-financing monitoring firm, and Onyen, which makes quality global environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting easily accessible (one way we’re helping in the battle against climate change) — are both small companies up against much larger rivals. Onyen won two inaugural Canadian Regulatory Technology Association awards — Best ESG Reporting Solution and Best RegTech Start-up.


How do you personally support women and girls? 

I hope my example of going from a family business to serial technology entrepreneur (Onyen, Canchek, Smarten Up Institute, and Dataphile) inspires others. I hire, promote, mentor, and help many women.

I created the Smart Mentor Program, pairing female (and male) industry executives and academics with women and men up-and-comers in dedicated mentorship relationships to spur success by offering customized individual education programs incorporating relevant science and technology skills. I also launched the SUI Top Under 40 Award to recognize talent and achievement of gender- and race-diverse groups to identify the next generation of CEOs — financial math, scientific principles, and IT are fundamental to women’s success as they climb the corporate ladder.     

However, it’s not enough. Recently I met a young Syrian girl, passionate about education, who played a key role in the Northern Secondary School (TDSB) robotics team competition win. I was so impressed by her that I’ve become a team sponsor. I’d like to see and support more young women in STEM and challenge all women (and men!) to support this and similar programs. It’s critical to the future success of women and to our country.

Looking forward, we must be dedicated to further advancing women in decision-making positions and leadership roles. To do this, I became a qualified board candidate CDI.D from Corporate Directors International and graduated from the ACE Board Certification Program. Being data-driven, I also seek out and use statistics that show that companies win when women lead.

“Out of more than 40 companies [Kevin O’Leary] invested in, about 95% of the women-led companies met their financial targets, compared with just 65% for businesses with male leaders. One fascinating analysis found that women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drove three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men! Another study by one of the biggest banks in Europe, Nordea, showed that companies with a woman in the chief executive or chairman role performed far better than a major global index over an eight-year period. Credit Suisse also unveiled a research report showing that companies with more female executives in decision-making positions continue to generate stronger market returns and superior profits.” – Forbes, March 24, 2019

When I started at Dataphile, I was the only woman among eight people in senior management. When I left, I was proud to realize that I’d succeeded in persuading my male colleagues that raising six women to the executive level and promoting them myself meant departments were running smoother and we were generating more revenue with fewer cost overruns. 

In addition, being dedicated to gender representation, I’m seeking to increase opportunities for professional women in all corners of the world. I hire women developers, coders, and consultants, and employ and mentor women in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. Gender diversity demonstrably brings better results.

A bit about Canchek: Canchek helps companies subject to AML/ATF requirements stay on top of new technologies, new illicit ways to transfer funds, new people who may transgress, and a mind-numbing number of rules. Unlike most of us, money-laundering wasn’t in COVID-19 lockdown; it continued to spread like the virus. 

At the same time, there were substantial changes to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) and regulations. Expanded legal requirements were accompanied by new reporting obligations, which are being implemented in stages through 2024. Public shaming and $500,000 in penalties per violation for firms not meeting AML/ATF regulations tend to get executives’ attention – Canchek helps avoid breaches and their fallout for its customers.

Canchek customers get as near-to-real-time updates from the regulatory lists of international Politically Exposed Persons, Heads of International Organizations (PEPs and HIOs), and sanctions. And at $1,200/year, Canchek’s most popular package is affordable for the smallest financial institutions and other companies now subject to the PCMLTFA, as well as scalable for the largest.

The offerings of international AML/ATF competitors, despite economies of scale, were seen as too complex, too expensive, not sufficiently customer-service-oriented, and lacking certain Canadian data sources.  Canchek successfully competes against other enterprises vying for the top spot in a world of Goliaths, just as Greta took on world leaders. As Canchek has continued to apply our technology, regulatory, and financial know-how, we’ve incorporated emerging technology trends and new content for our customers.

Canchek combines old-style service with this new technology – artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning – to provide facial and document recognition through Canchek-eID. Canchek’s most exciting recent development rolled out in late 2021 to great market interest, Canchek-eID is being adopted by current customers and also companies not using Canchek’s AML risk-screening service because the product enables remote client ID verification using standard browsers and easy-to-use iPhone and Android devices. 

Canchek customers register would-be clients on the Canchek system, initiating a customized email to the client requesting they use the phone app to take a “selfie”, move their head for a second or two as a “liveness test” to defeat spoofing, and photograph their driver’s license. AI assesses the probability that the driver’s license picture matches the selfie. As additional security features, the app reads the text on the driver’s license, compares it to data encrypted in the bar code, and checks the license characteristics against a database to detect tampering. 

Canchek-eID allows Canchek customers to confirm the identity of an individual within seconds and activate a new account.  Equally important, by using the ‘data minimization by design’ concept, Canchek-eID deletes client data once used to reduce the risk of client data exposure through hacking, and minimizing the risk of privacy law contraventions.

More, Canchek now allows its customers to get ahead of the game by giving them a heads-up about possible future problems through an application linking to a massive, continually updated database.  Customers can check if a prospective client, who is not on an AML/ATF list, has generated negative media coverage anywhere in the world – often an advance warning sign of problems to come.

A little about Onyen: A Canadian success story in less than nine months, Onyen’s automated ESG reporting solution is critical to companies, and to the communities and governments of the countries where they operate. Climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying and focus on ESG issues is increasing, but there’s no easy access to comparable ESG data that companies and their stakeholders, widely-defined, need. And as we know, what doesn’t get measured, can’t be managed.

The Responsible Mining Foundation determined it’s less about the availability of ESG data itself, and more about the lack of a simple data collection, administration, and reporting process. Onyen’s software, absent global/harmonized ESG standards, simplifies data consolidation down even to a site level – the hardest to do, but critical to effective ESG assessment. 

Until now an almost entirely manual process, data capture by Onyen’s system, despite ever-changing and increasingly-complex regulatory requirements, accepts various native formats from diverse organizations and departments in different parts of the world, standardizing it, and enabling customers to report quickly, credibly, and consistently to shareholders, regulators, local stakeholders, and others who may have very different interests. 

Onyen has entered existing accepted ESG standards into the system, and can update them in real time, providing only those disclosures relevant for the customer to address. It presents year-over-year trend analysis and allows benchmarking. Customers choose the format(s) for publication of their scorecard on their company website; Onyen facilitates customers all-in-one reporting to multiple standards agencies.

While a regulatory reporting tool, the Onyen platform is equally valuable as a management information system showing management where the company stands in all their ESG disclosures to identify and prioritize action. It focuses on metrics that matter by role – chief sustainability officer, CEO, director or ratings agency. Using green, yellow and red indicators, it highlights corporate areas performing excellently, as well as those that present risk, against targets set by the corporation and aligning to what rating agencies look for, identifying threats to their people and business; focusing on governance practices; and driving shareholder value and a better bottom line. The system has a tracking and audit system that monitors every action on the system giving the rigour regulators and investors expect.

Onyen levels the field. Start-ups to small- and mid-tier customers can get robust exhaustive reporting just like large-cap companies, which pay ~$1MM to $5MM for what Onyen customers pay a base price of USD7,500 annually. Without masses of staff.

Why is this system important? Ratings agencies such as Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley, Morningstar, and hundreds of others take the ESG reports published on public-issuer sites and use web crawlers and bots to create a ‘report card’ each year around February.  For companies that cannot report in a manner the agencies can use, the ratings agencies’ annual reviews list “does not report (DNR)”. Even if an investment request reaches a portfolio, hedge fund, or money manager’s desk, the DNR means the proposals will be thrown out. 

What Onyen enables (and incents) is not only good corporate citizenship from its customers, but also access to alternative capital sources. At the same time, better disclosures and the progress they show will raise the bar for all companies in a particular industry. Onyen’s ESG reporting is no longer a burden on customers, it’s a marketing opportunity, as companies can highlight ESG program(s) to promote their company and attract investors.

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