Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40: Everything You Need to Know (2020)

What is Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40?

Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 is an annual event that awards and honours those who are making a difference in our city.

For more than two decades, Avenue Magazine, in association with the University of Calgary, has celebrated Calgarians under forty years old who are moving the city forward. And in these times of economic and social transition, we need leaders in this city more than ever!

Käthe Lemon, Editor-in-Chief of Avenue magazine, explained Calgary’s Top 40 succinctly in a 2019 interview with Global News:

“It’s all about creating bridges among people . . . and helping us be empathetic to one another. These are forty stories of amazing people doing amazing things. We get bogged down in the city, in the bad news, in how we don’t want the city to be—these are people making the city the way they want it to be.”

Making the city the way they want it to be …

Who’s on the Top 40 Under 40 list?

Indeed, Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40 are inspiring to read about. In a world where change is happening so quickly, and news stories seem to polarize us, it’s a joy to read about Calgarians who are making positive innovations in this great city.

All the stories are compelling and inspiring, but I’ll only touch on several to give you a glimpse into this stellar list.

Man-Wai Chu – Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

Take for instance Man-Wai Chu, Associate Professor at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. She began her career as a high school science teacher with the Calgary Catholic School District, and experienced first-hand how “students’ distaste for a subject can often stem from the way they’re being assessed—the test, homework, and marked assessments—rather than the topic itself.”

Assessments can create anxiety about learning a subject, which isn’t good, but at the same time assessments can be beneficial and a necessary tool in the learning process. Her experience as a teacher launched her into the work she’s doing now, namely “developing assessments that tread off the beaten path, creating alternatives that students enjoy while improving the way teachers can understand their students’ strengths.”

One of Chu’s assessments sounds amazing: a video game with the local non-profit MindFuel that teaches students about storms using a video game as the platform. As students play, they earn coins that they can cash in for cars and other in-game rewards. And get this–the game is so compelling that students are playing it in their own time.

Nichole Dyer – Vytality At Home

Another great story in the Top 40 Under 40 is Nichole Dyer, Co-President and Director at Vytality At Home. Vytality at Home is like the Uber of in-home care.

Dyer graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in Economics, and worked as a receptionist at a seniors’ home. A three month trial in senior care turned into thirteen years and the co-founding of a tech company. But there was another experience that shaped Dyer’s entrepreneurial ambition: her grandmother relied on in-home care, but her family didn't know when or if help had come. “When older adults can access the help they need, when they need it, they’re more likely to live at home and independently longer …”

Vytality At Home is an app and web-based program for seniors and their families. Through the app you can select caregivers and services for in-home care at specific times. The provided services include making meals, playing games, or cleaning the house. The client’s family receives confirmation that a caregiver has arrived and carried out the services. In the first year the company grew to 55 employees. Many of the employees are mature workers and foreign trained health professionals who have struggled to secure employment.

Neil Gruninger – Co-Founder and President, Kidoodle.TV

How many parents are concerned about their children streaming videos and coming across inappropriate content? I know I am. And that’s where Neil Gruninger’s Kidoodle is such an important service, especially during our collective battle with COVID-19.

Gruninger, who developed the app with CEO Michael Lowe, explains that “Kidoodle is a safe-streaming video service where families can watch all their favourites in a safe sandbox we’ve created. Humans screen all of our shows, which his a big differentiator. This gives parents peace of mind knowing their kids aren’t watching content that is harmful.”

In 2014, Kidoodle was launched across Canada and the United States. Now Kidoodle is available in more than 160 countries. And viewers can stream it through Apple and Android devices as well as on connected TV platforms and smart TVs. The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand with more than six million active monthly users. In fact, just since COVID, Kidoodle has hired 35 people, which has more than doubled the company’s employees.

Nevertheless, the initial days of Kidoodle were not so easy for Gruninger, especially when he moved into Lowe’s basement. The upside was the living arrangement gave Gruninger a team to test the app—Lowe’s children. In spite of all the naysayers of the early days, Kidoodle was unrelenting in its vision, pushing through struggle and adversity to where it is today. “It’s all about believing in what you’re doing and pushing forward,” Gruninger explains, “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Now there’s one more I just have to include in this short-list of the Top 40 Under 40, because it’s about something that touches the hearts of many of us–sometimes several times a day …

Justin Eyford, Jeremy Ho, and Ben Put – Co-Founders, Monogram Coffee

I’ve had Monogram Coffee only a handful of times, totally unaware of how compassion plays such an integral role in its overall vision. Here’s how Avenue describes the founders: “People over profit, community investment and caretaking the future of their industry are values shared by Monogram Coffee’s three founders: Jeremy Ho, Justin Eyford, and Ben Put.”

The three Founders first met while working at Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters. They launched Monogram in 2014. One of the keys to their success is Ben Put’s background as an internationally recognized competitive barista. This year, Ben’s guidance helped Monogram’s Jill Hoff win the Canadian Barista Championship for the first time.

In addition to Monogram’s 2019 revenue of $4.5 million, the company places a premium on fair trade and community development. I was so inspired when I read this little blurb on Monogram’s website that featured their ‘Christmas blend’ coffee called ‘Mittens’, five-dollars from each sale going to the Mustard Seed: “Monogram’s purpose is to positively change people’s lives through coffee. Let’s come together as a community, to give warmth to those that need it.”

To positively change people’s lives through coffee …

During COVID, the company has given away hundreds of pounds of coffee to front-line workers. And when Monogram’s staff didn’t feel safe returning to work, the team kept cafes closed, while focusing on new bulk products and educational classes.

Ben Ho’s closing line from the Avenue Magazine’s profile of Monogram says it all: “When I look at the communities that we’re a part of, and how much joy it brings to us as a team and the people that come into our stores … it’s something that I see as actually life-impacting.”

Leaders cut against the grain …

And that’s what leaders and innovators do—they have a way of shaping and forming the world based on their vision and calling.

Yes, it’s a calling—a calling that takes courage and intellect, and heart and guts to get up to every morning and strive to see come to fruition, especially in times of challenge and tragedy.

It reminds me of how philosopher and public intellectual Cornel West defined courage in his book Hope on a Tightrope:

“Courage is the great enabling virtue that allows one to realize other virtues like love and hope and faith. To have courage is to have the ability to look unflinchingly at catastrophic circumstances and muster the will to overcome the fear, not eliminate the fear, but to overcome the fear so that fear does not … push one into conformity, complacency, or cowardice.”

As I read through this year’s issue of Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40, I am inspired by the courage of these amazing leaders.

History is made by ordinary people doing extraordinary things: Alexander the Great, St. Paul the Apostle, Louis Pasteur, Helen Keller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mozart, Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci—and the list goes on …

And in our current world, we are witnesses of the work of people like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Ginni Rometty, and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

All of these leaders cut against the grain; they see a better world and strive to make their vision a reality.

Master's Academy & College student celebrating Calgary's Top 40 Under 40

Why Master’s Loves the Top 40 Under 40

But there’s another reason why we’re so interested in the Top 40 Under 40: at Master’s we are creating the conditions for students to understand who they are becoming, the role of calling in their lives, and to have the skills and tools to bring their personal vision to fruition. We call it Imaginal Leadership.

Imaginal Leaders are those who are able to see, learn from, and create the future—or, back to Käthe Lemon’s quote above, they make the world the way they want it to be.

Imaginal Leaders are the artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, inventors, and disruptors who shape our world. They take the light inside them and spread it wherever they go.

And that’s why featuring our Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40 is important to us, for in these times of change and complexity they are the Imaginal Leaders who have vision and shape our city, our nation, and our world.

In an economy hit hard by cut backs, landlocked natural resources, and a global pandemic, we need more people in our city to step up and do extraordinary things. We need people to innovate, invent, and inspire.

But how do you train people to become Imaginal Leaders—to see, learn from, and create the future? Is there a curriculum anyone can point to?

We’ve been working on this curriculum for a long time. Click here to learn more.

Congratulations Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40—our city, our province, and our world need more Imaginal Leaders like you!