Sylvie Ouellette is President and Co-founder of Versatil, a women-owned IT-Solutions and Professional Services company specializing in analytics. After working in the corporate world for over 20 years, Sylvie knew it was time to change her course , use her skills and expertise to make a difference. At the same time she met Rana Khartabil, her soon to be business partner and together they launched Versatil. Destiny? Perhaps, but it’s the perfect working relationship and today Versatil is working with the federal government, and several major corporations with plans to expand the business beyond Montreal and Ottawa into Toronto and eventually the US.
WBE Canada: Why did you go into this business?
Sylvie: After working in the corporate world for over 20 years, I reached a point where I no longer felt fulfilled by my work. While on a hike along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, I asked myself: who am I, what do I want and what is my purpose in life. Right there and then, I knew I needed to quit my job. I wanted to use my skills and expertise to make a difference. It was around that time that I met Rana Khartabil, my business partner and co-founder of Versatil. We shared the same goals and vision, and I am grateful to have crossed paths with her. In each other, we found the perfect business partner: I having worked as a leader in the corporate world in analytics and Rana having the technical and consulting expertise. We complemented one another in our strengths and experience, and founded our company Versatil in 2010. Together, we bring vision, integrity and commitment, and created a company that we could be proud of and that was aligned with our values and dreams.
During that time, I also did non-profit work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa working with women and children. I felt that I had been blessed with many opportunities throughout my life, and it was important for me to give back. This experience allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream, and gave me time to refine my goals and plan the next steps.
WBE Canada: When it comes to your business, what are you most proud of?
Sylvie: Throughout the years, we built a reputation of being a trusted advisor and delivering high-quality solutions and services. We help our clients improve effectiveness and achieve their business goals. We are proud of being part of their success. In addition, we are a diverse company – we were the first company to achieve four diversity certifications in Canada: WBE, CGLCC, CAMSC and CCAB. We believe in diversity and hope to inspire other companies to follow suit.
WBE Canada: As a business grows it has a tendency to focus on institution instead of inspiration. How do you prevent this from happening?
Sylvie: By keeping our organization lean, with a flat structure and minimal administrative processes. Our business is built on trust and commitment. Both Rana and I maintain a personal involvement in day-to-day activities and projects in order to set a clear vision and exercise strategic leadership. We provide our professional services partners opportunities to learn and grow, and to take on greater responsibilities as our business expands.
WBE Canada: How has your WBE certification helped you in your business?
Sylvie: It has been great to network with other women-owned companies. We learn from each other and have also found business partners; for example, one company is now supporting our marketing activities. We also leveraged our certification to obtain some funding to support our growth and to develop a prototype solution. It also opened doors for us to companies to which otherwise it would have been very difficult to gain access.
WBE Canada: What advice would you give to another woman at the beginning stage of building her business?
Sylvie: Believe in yourself and be persistent. It’s a journey. Invest the time to network with other entrepreneurs. You can learn a lot and help each other.
WBE Canada: What has been the most challenging time in your business and how did you overcome it?
Sylvie: The most challenging time was the first couple of years of our start-up. It was very difficult for us as women with a dream to build a professional services company in the male-dominated IT field. It took time, effort and perseverance to build our reputation and to earn the recognition of our partners and our clients. Our patience and dedication helped us overcome these challenges.
WBE Canada: What has been the biggest triumph?
Sylvie: To have gained the credibility of being a trusted business partner for our clients and achieving Premier Business Partner status with IBM.
WBE Canada: What is your superpower?
Sylvie: My “superpower” would be my ability to change and adapt, to be versatile. 😉 Being an entrepreneur is very rewarding, but it is also challenging. Without being able to change and adapt quickly, it would be difficult to grow and build a successful business.
WBE Canada: How do you continue to develop and grow as a leader?
Sylvie: I enjoy learning. I am always reading 3-4 books at once on how I can grow as a person and be a better leader. I like open discussions, seek feedback from people I work with and learn from my mistakes. Growth is an ongoing process. I also like to surround myself with people who are open-minded and like to share experiences. We learn a lot by listening to other people’s stories.
WBE Canada: Has there been someone who inspired you and how?
Sylvie: In the beginning of my career, I was very lucky to have a leader who was a great coach and mentor. He believed in me and was my champion. He sent me on retreats to learn about how to become a leader and grow as a person. He promoted me at a very young age and early in my career. He was authentic, open and loved his work, and was not afraid to share and recognize the people around him. He helped me build a strong foundation that has served me well in my career and throughout my life. I would like to do the same to inspire others.
WBE Canada: What is your favourite quote?
Sylvie: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ~ Gandhi
WBE Canada: Are you actively involved in community work? If so, please provide a brief outline.
Sylvie: I have been involved for many years with CPA Without Border where we organize missions outside Canada to help populations in need. We help not-for-profit and charity organizations in our field of expertise such as strategy and governance, finance, performance management, audit and tax. I also participated in various projects in Africa. I love to make a difference. As a company, making meaningful impact is one of our strategic goals.
WBE Canada: What do you hope your legacy will be?
Sylvie: I hope that I have inspired people to dare to dream. Anything is possible when you have a vision and passion for what you want in life.
Versatil is a women-owned IT-solutions and professional services company specializing in business analytics. They help clients navigate the journey to artificial intelligence, enabling them to gain insights into their data and make evidence-based decisions. Most of their business is with the Canadian federal government, though they also work with many large corporations. They are currently operating primarily out of Ottawa and Montreal with plans to expand to Toronto and eventually the United States. Connect with them on their website, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
About WBE Canada
WBE Canada is a Canadian non-profit organization that is opening doors for women-owned businesses to supply chains across North America. It certifies Canadian firms that are at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by women and introduces them to opportunities with corporations. To learn more about how we support women-owned businesses, click here. If you are a mid-size or large company looking to support women-owned businesses through procurement opportunities, we want to hear from you. Click here to learn more how you can get involved.