Ready for the Challenge

From improving healthcare to confronting climate change, polytechnics are addressing some of today’s most intractable challenges. Institutions are uniquely positioned to respond to the fast pace of change, with a front-row seat to industry’s most pressing talent and productivity challenges. Polytechnics are delivering pragmatic, scalable solutions to drive innovation and support the wellbeing of the communities they serve.

Opening Keynote: Jenn Harper
Indigenous Entrepreneur and Founder of Cheekbone Beauty Inc.

From Concept to Creation: An Indigenous Entrepreneur’s Journey

Jenn Harper is an award-winning social entrepreneur and proud Anishinaabe woman. In 2015, she founded Cheekbone Beauty, a leader in Canada’s sustainable cosmetics industry. In this keynote presentation, Jenn will talk about the challenges she faced as an Indigenous woman, breaking through stereotypes to create a brand synonymous with environmental sustainability, inclusivity and philanthropy. In keeping with the conference theme, Jenn will then sit down for a fireside chat that both challenges institutions to examine Indigenous supports and discusses a recent applied research collaboration.

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An award-winning social entrepreneur, Jenn Harper is the founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics INC. Cheekbone Beauty aims to help every Indigenous person see and feel their value in the world while developing sustainable colour cosmetics that won’t end up in a landfill.

Jenn Harper is an Anishinaabe woman and is a member of the Northwest Angle #33 First Nation in Kenora, Ontario. Throughout her life, Jenn has struggled with accepting her Indigenous roots. She was estranged from her Indigenous family for much of her child and adult life. After learning about her grandmother’s experience in residential school, she understood how her family was affected by generational trauma. Harper has been making a name for herself in the beauty industry for a number of years but gained popularity quickly after appearing on CBC’s hit show, Dragon’s Den in 2019. Since her appearance on the show, Jenn has been featured as Chatelaine’s “Woman of the Year in 2019”, Canadian Business’s “2022 New Innovator’s List” and Entrepreneur Magazine’s “100 Women of Influence in 2022” list.

She continues to be deeply involved in all aspects of Cheekbone Beauty operations, including product innovation with the Cheekbone Beauty chemist and sustainability experts to reimagine beauty products, starting with raw ingredients all the way to how all products are packaged. As part of its sustainability mission, Cheekbone Beauty is associated with organizations such as Pact Collective, 1% for the Planet and B.Corp. These partnerships show the brand’s commitment to both people and planet. By early 2023, Cheekbone Beauty will be available in 50 Sephora stores across Canada as a Sephora Clean and Planet Positive brand. It will also be available in 600 JCPenney stores across the United States.

Giving back to the Indigenous community is critical to Cheekbone Beauty’s mission. To date, Cheekbone Beauty has contributed upwards of $200,000 in product, monetary and project-focused donations to organizations across North America and will continue to do so.


Closing Keynote: Ryan Craig
Managing Director, Achieve Partners

Preparing Learners for First Job Success      

In today’s fast-paced economy, learners increasingly need an education that provides on-ramps and merge lanes into employment. It is no longer sufficient for graduates to have only a degree or diploma in hand – employers are looking for practical skills and job experience as indicators of workplace readiness, particularly in emerging digital occupations. In a keynote presentation based on his most recent book, Apprentice Nation, author and education expert Ryan Craig explores how institutions can better support post-secondary pathways that fold in a healthy dose of industry experience. To stay relevant, Ryan suggests today’s post-secondary institutions should be adapting the tradition of apprenticeship for a broader range of occupations and engaging employers in the effort to prepare the next-generation workforce for good entry-level jobs.    

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Ryan is a Managing Director at Achieve Partners and was formerly an MD at University Ventures. Ryan’s commentary on where the puck is going in education and workforce regularly appears in the biweekly Gap Letter, Forbes and Inside Higher Education. He is the author of the book Apprentice Nation: How the “Earn and Learn” Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America (2023). He is also author of A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (2018), which describes the critical importance of last-mile training and the emergence of bootcamps, income share programs, staffing and apprenticeship models as preferred pathways to good first digital jobs and was named in the Wall Street Journal as one the Books of the Year for 2018. Ryan’s first book was College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education (2015), which profiles the coming shift toward competency-based education and hiring. Ryan is a co-founder of Apprenticeships for America, a national nonprofit dedicated to scaling apprenticeships across the U.S. economy and is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Previously, Ryan led the Education and Training sector at Warburg Pincus. His prior experience in higher education was at Columbia University. Ryan also founded and built Wellspring, a national network of boarding schools and summer camps for overweight and obese children, adolescents and young adults. He began his career at McKinsey & Co.

Ryan received bachelor’s degrees summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University and his law degree from the Yale Law School.


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Algonquin College is a global leader in experiential learning, spanning across three dynamic campuses surrounding Canada’s capital: Ottawa, Perth and Pembroke. Offering 200 diverse programs, strong industry connections and a student-centric approach, Algonquin empowers 20,000 full-time students to excel through customized skills upgrading and industry-focused training. Algonquin distinguishes itself through academic excellence in applied research, sustainable development and international partnerships. Its commitment to these areas plays a pivotal role in advancing social, economic and environmental goals on a national scale.

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