Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Sarah Pflug

From changing focus in her final year of university to transitioning from capsule wardrobes to live events for women entrepreneurs, there’s no question that Kim Kirton has mastered the art of the pivot.

During her undergraduate studies, Kim made the decision to explore the world of social entrepreneurship and hasn’t looked back since. In just a few short years, she has launched and bootstrapped 3 social ventures, run two successful crowdfunding campaigns and secure over $100,000 in external grants - pretty impressive, right?

Now, as the Co-Founder and CEO of UnCo. Official, Kim is not just focused on running her own social business (or rather, ‘UnCompany’), but bringing women together to equip them with the skills they need to build their own. In fact, the first-ever UnCo. Summit will be held in downtown Toronto from September 20-21!

With an unwavering desire for new experiences, combined with a dedication to hard work and social impact, she has managed to forge a path that is uniquely hers.

Here’s Kim on embracing failure, the power of self-growth and why she’s on a mission to empower women to start businesses that carry purpose, profit and impact:

 

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

During my undergraduate studies, I was running my very first business, studying full-time and working two-part-time jobs to make ends meet. In my final year, I ended up failing a class for the first time (in my life) and had an option to retake the course...however it involved a couple thousand dollars. I took this self-deprecating opportunity and took it as a sign that I was doing too much and it was time to prioritize my education and take ownership of it.

So, I left my final year of studies, leaping into the unknown world of entrepreneurship as I realized that education comes in so many different forms rather than just the traditional forms of academia and institutions. The main focus of my life needed to shift from test scores, lectures and standardized academia to learning, failing, learning and failing some more to adapt to the changing workforce and changing world of life.

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Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.

Make Lemonade & my home!

At one point, I was probably at Make Lemonade more often than my own bed...I love environments where I can feel inspired by just looking up from my laptop. Whether it be individuals working away or looking out a window--when I take a breather from the work, I want to look up and feel inspired with what’s around me.

After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

The business continues to grow when I grow as an entrepreneur.

The best way I did this is by surrounding myself with peers, mentors, & advisors who have expertise in different areas and diverse backgrounds. You know that saying, to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you? 100% agree with that, because being around people who have experience and are willing to walk you through something incredibly valuable.

How do you measure success in your career?

I measure success through social impact. My journey in entrepreneurship started from a place of empathy and wanting to change the world for the better-- regardless of what I end up doing throughout my career, I will consider it a successful one if I am impacting people or the planet in a positive way.

“I feel like my success comes from the failures because that is where the key learnings happen and the transformative growth as a person and as an entrepreneur.”  

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

I would say risk taking is certainly part of the process in entrepreneurship but I would say the “ success” part actually comes from the failure that inevitable happens when taking risks. I see the risk taking part as a form of luck sometimes; so the more often you do it, increases the chances of something sticking… but is that the part that leads to success? Perhaps...depending on what your version of success means to you, but I feel like my success comes from the failures because that is where the key learnings happen and the transformative growth as a person and as an entrepreneur. To me, growth and meaning is the version of success I try to strive for everyday.

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If you could attend a dinner party with 3 women of your choice - past or present - who would they be?

Michelle Obama

Sheryl Sandberg

Allie Daniel

Do you have a mentor? What role have they played in your success?

Yes! I have a few mentors; they have been crucial to all and any success I may have in the future. I have been so fortunate enough to be able to talk and confide in some of the city’s top entrepreneurs who have walked this path before me. The mentors I have probably don’t even know that they are my mentors - the advice and insight they have given me professionally is amazing but the advice they have given to me, as a human in this process of building, has been invaluable.

What impact are you making through your work?

We are in such a special time in women entrepreneurship-- women are feeling more empowered than ever to start businesses, which is awesome! But imagine if we used this special moment in time to encourage individuals to not only start businesses but start business that carry purpose, profit and impact… imagine the type of world we could live in? UnCo wants to use its platform to foster this type of (social) entrepreneurship and we hope to inspire women to consider this option when deciding to start or grow their current businesses.

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What is one book and/or podcast that you believe every woman should read or listen to?

Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Changed my entire outlook on the failure process. :)

What's next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about something exciting you're working on?

UnCo was born out of a desire to use business as a force for good. As the ‘UnCompany’, who’s not down with traditional consumerism, we wanted to gather a group of people who want to do the same. People who want to build something that matters, whatever the output.

We started out living our UnConventional vision in 2017 by creating capsule wardrobes that showed women how to do more with less.

Through a series of events and experiences throughout 2018, culminating this September the first ever UnCo Summit, our new direction, is to challenge how we grow our businesses. Same values, same beliefs, but a lot of live action and real conversations to help and inspire more people to build something that matters.

Hopefully see you on September 20-21st - details here!


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