Meet the Startup Mentors

Blog October 11, 2021

Posted by Alanna Haggard

Meet the Startup Mentors Featured Image

Think you’re ready to take your business to market? Let our Executives-in-Residence (EiRs) make sure that you are.

Let’s face it, no one has all the answers when it comes to being an entrepreneur. Everyone can use a little advice and guidance. Not sure how to manage growth? Need help unlocking your target audience? Looking for tips on effectively leading your team? Accelerate Okanagan’s EiRs are here to share stories, tips and tricks to help you manage your day-to-day while also laying the groundwork for the future of your business.

Our mentors have been there. They’ve lived the challenges, thrived in success and, most importantly, learned what leads to both of those outcomes. We recently sat down with our EiRs to learn more about their professional journey and why they believe so strongly in the power of mentorship.

Sheldon Gardiner


Sheldon Gardiner is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. He is an experienced entrepreneur who has started and grown several companies (including 2 exits) over the past 20+ years. His most recent technology start up is still in development. Sheldon has a background in business development, sales, venture capital and private equity and is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs achieve their potential.

Sheldon is very active in the Kelowna non profit community, has a keen interest for social enterprise and impact investing. His best start up was the startup of his family and is the proud father of 2 girls with his wife Shauna. Sheldon calls Kelowna home.

Crystal Henrickson


Crystal Henrickson is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. Crystal is a Certified Leadership and Career Coach and an employee experience consultant, working with technology-driven companies to build thriving cultures.

Having spent more than a decade working in the new economy, some of Crystal’s experiences include rolling out employee engagement strategies on shoestring budgets, developing distributed/remote teams, managing internal crisis and conflict communication and building values aligned hiring processes. Previous to co-founding her leadership and career coaching practice, Talent Collective, Crystal managed functions such as community management, people operations, marketing, PR and sales for a robust mixture of startups and small businesses ranging from brick and mortar beauty businesses to software and hardware. She is credited with driving the market expansion for Yelp into Canada and has had opportunities to work with local economies from across North America and as far away as Belgrade, Serbia. A year or so ago, she took a big leap of faith and moved from an apartment in downtown Vancouver to an acre in Penticton to spend her offline time hiking and homesteading.

Andrew Klingel


Andrew is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan and a Professor at the Okanagan School of Business. Prior to joining Okanagan College, Andrew consulted for major corporations such as Telus, TD and General Motors—but his real passion is entrepreneurship. He has been involved with many new ventures as an operator, investor and advisor. He also developed and launched a line of consumer products that are now sold in over 10,000 retail locations across North America.

Andrew is most proud of co-founding the Framework Foundation, a non-profit which has raised over 200,000 volunteer hours while investing $1 million in local artists. Andrew supports entrepreneurs in the North Okanagan through the Enterprize Challenge and Shuswap Launch-a-preneur programs.

When not teaching or working with entrepreneurs, Andrew enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and three daughters.

Rocky Ozaki


Rocky Ozaki is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan and the visionary behind NoW of Work Inc. Having held executive roles in both large enterprise and startup tech, Rocky is a rare talent who truly understands the challenges companies face today.

Rocky is deeply entrenched in the Canadian tech-sector having previously held the role of Vice-President Community & Head of Corporate Innovation for the BC Tech Association. He is being called upon all over North America to help companies build resilient businesses because of the impact of COVID-19.

Alison Ruks


Alison Ruks is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. Alison brings over 15 years of experience specializing as an entrepreneur, consultant, and executive leader in consumer packaged goods, natural health, cannabis, and education. She oversees multiple companies including Murdoch & Ruks in the growth strategy consulting category; and, Mobobaby in the eco-friendly and sustainable baby accessories category.

Alison’s passion for health and early foresight into the rising trends of natural health led her to begin her career studying natural medicine in 2001. After starting her first business in her early 20s, she pursued a business degree – graduating with honours – from the University of British Columbia. With a combined passion for health, wellness, and business, she shortly thereafter became certified as a Chartered Human Resources Professional with a goal of fostering positive, healthy, and productive workplaces.

She has demonstrated success in companies across multiple industries and in public, private and non-profit sectors via her passion and history of providing elevated leadership, promoting people-and-culture-focused human resources programs, shaping strategic plans, effectively executing projects, developing and distributing products at a global scale, and facilitating optimal brand identity and communication. She has engaged in the development of multiple brands, business models, and the associated investor relations and communications that resulted in sales and fundraising results in the multi-millions.

Reza Sanaie

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Reza is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. Reza was the co-founder and CTO at Beanworks, an accounts payable (AP) automation company. Founded in 2012, he built the infrastructure of this industry-agnostic software from the ground up, driving innovation and leveraging the latest technology solutions for businesses globally. His contribution led to Beanworks’ CAD $106 million acquisition by global giant, Quadient in 2021. The acquisition marks one of the largest tech exits for a Vancouver-based startup. He has also played a major role in promoting diversity and inclusion as an active policy at the company, further adding to its overall growth.

With over 20 years of experience in creating and managing industry-leading software solutions, Reza brings deep insight into a variety of fields including SaaS, fintech, software security, digital payments, and lean start-up methodology. Previously, he has worked in the bio-informatics industry at Genome Science Centre; and software security industry at Sophos. Reza has been recognized as BC’s top 40 under 40 for 2020 and the winner of EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021 Pacific program.

Gary Smith


Gary Smith is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. Gary is an accomplished CEO with a track record of fast and effective situation analysis and strategy development in turnaround and business development situations. He graduated in engineering and has held senior roles in five verticals (sports media, telecommunications, utilities, information technology and construction). His roles have covered three continents (North America, Europe and Asia) in businesses of all sizes from start-ups to multi-nationals.

Gary’s career journey led to Canada in 2004 when he took over Bell Canada’s television businesses (ExpressVu satellite and Fibe IPTV). He has since been back to school for an MBA from Ivey Business School and became a Chartered Director through the Director’s College at McMaster. Gary is insatiably curious and has a passion for helping businesses succeed. He moved to the Okanagan in 2020 and is an enthusiastic cyclist, Nordic skier, motorcyclist and is currently on a mission to learn to play the piano.

Ty Summach


Ty is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. He has a passion for all things entrepreneurship and believes that right now, with a little luck, brains and timing, anyone with a computer can spark a revolution.

In the early days of his career, he was instrumental in shaping the Marketing, Brand and Mobile strategies for Disney Interactive. There he focused on building safe and responsible online communities for titles such as Disney’s Club Penguin, which was the #1 Virtual World for Kids and sold in 2007 for $700M.

After his time at Disney Interactive, Ty jumped in to the start-up world by founding his own company within the e-learning and social space. Known as a “triple threat” amongst peers, Ty has held the role of Chief Operating Officer, Chief Product Officer and Chief Marketing officer all while navigation teams from the private markets to the public markets and through various mergers and acquisitions.

Ty holds a BBA from the University of British Columbia majoring in International Marketing and Finance and an MBA from Royal Roads University majoring in Executive Management. In his spare time, Ty is a big supporter of the Okanagan’s education network. Whether it be UBC’s Entrepreneurship Program or School District 23’s Online Learning Initiatives, Ty is passionate about supporting the local leaders of tomorrow.

Renée Warren


Renée Warren is an Executive-in-Residence at Accelerate Okanagan. Renée is an award-winning entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author, and founder of We Wild Women—a platform that helps entrepreneurs start and scale their own businesses. She’s also the host of the celebrated podcast Into the Wild.

Renée firmly believes that the best advice comes from someone who has successfully done it before. Her approach to coaching comes from over 22 years of experience as an entrepreneur and unapologetic risk-taker.

When she’s not coaching or podcasting, Renée can be found spending time with her family. She also enjoys working out, reading business books, and refining her drumming skills.


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