Natasha Spokes is the CEO of FarCloser Travel and the Associate Director, Ventures at the Creative Destruction Lab-Rockies at the University of Calgary. Prior to her current roles, she spent 6 years in Australia and has spent time working as a surveyor, GIS specialist, consultant, fishing lodge manager, travel adviser, business development manager. She is a mom to two young children and is inspired everyday by women in leadership positions who are making a difference in their communities.
What need did you find within the community? Describe your innovation.
FarCloser Travel was born out of personal experience seeing Venezuela with a local family and having it open my eyes to the ability for travel to make an impact on the way we live our lives when we get back home. When I lived in Australia, I tried, and failed, to find opportunities to replicate that experience when planning a trip to SE Asia. Out of that frustration, after experiencing first hand the life changing potential that travelling for multiple days with a local can create, the idea for FarCloser Travel was born. We help travellers find and connect with the people who know a destination, its culture and its people better than anyone, and create opportunities for them to build trusted relationships before, during and after their trip.
What has been your biggest learning since being an innovator?
My biggest learning has been that nobody has it all figured out so don’t wait until you feel like you’re “ready” to start, just start. Those with a dedication to being curious, to keep learning, and who are willing to try, are the ones who make the biggest difference. You won’t always get it right and you’ll make mistakes but learn to look at those as learnings, not setbacks because they are a part of the journey.
Have you faced any barriers being a woman in entrepreneurship?
There are still people out there who will take a male CEO more seriously than a female CEO, or will ask a female CEO if she is the decision maker when there is a male in the room. My recommendation if you’re in these situations is to find a different room. There are a growing number of resources in Alberta for women in entrepreneurship including startup programs, investment programs and peer groups, that encourage and empower women to take their seat at the table, not make them wait for one to be offered. There are also incredible networks of mentors and role models who are willing to share their learnings and provide support but it’s up to us to ask.
What advice would you give to women starting out in innovation?
You have to execute. You can have the best idea on the planet but without execution, you won’t get anywhere. Learn how to prioritize so that you are working on the right things at the right time, otherwise you can spin your wheels without making meaningful progress. Believe in yourself and work towards building something that you believe in because that will make the good days more rewarding and the tough days more bearable. Finally, act in a way that’s true to your values. That means that not everyone will understand or agree with what you’re doing, and that’s ok.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many smart, ambitious founders over the past few years who are building game changing businesses and more and more of these founders are women. It’s incredibly motivating and inspiring to see women founders standing up for what they believe in and doing the work to solve problems that will make a significant difference in the world. I’m looking forward to watching how they continue to learn and grow their businesses for real world impact.