Giving Back Through Mentorship

CPAs can be found in every industry, being experts at more than numbers – and they’re great with those, too.

Every month, CPA Manitoba spotlights the diverse and dedicated professionals that prove CPA is more than a designation. 

I think North Forge and its entrepreneurs see tremendous value in CPAs and the skillset we have. I encourage all CPAs who are interested in supporting new business start up to reach out to North Forge, since they are always looking for additional mentors.

Rosalie Harms, CPA, CMA grew up with a keen appreciation of what it takes to run a small to medium sized business. From as early as she can remember, she was surrounded daily by “shop” talk.

“I was raised in an entrepreneurial home. My grandfather owned a machine shop in the North End of Winnipeg that my father took over and later expanded into a diverse manufacturing operation. I was always intrigued by business, particularly as I watched and “lived” the ups and downs of what it means to grow a successful family business. This later fuelled my passion for entrepreneurship,” explains Harms.

“When I completed high school, I did not initially go to university but worked for an extended period of time in sales and marketing until I was in my late 20s. I then went to the University of Winnipeg thinking I wanted to become an economist,” says Harms. “When I started my BA in Economics, I fell into accounting accidentally because I needed a course that fit within a particular time slot.”

Soon afterwards Harms discovered a newfound passion for accounting and decided to do a double major in Administrative Studies and Economics, completing as many accounting courses as possible.

“When I graduated it was my intention to complete the required courses for CASB at the University of Manitoba, when unexpectedly admissions staff recommended that I pursue a master’s degree rather than complete a second undergraduate degree. After a brief period of consideration, I committed to a one-year compressed MBA program,” Harms recalls. “This proved to be a rewarding and life-changing career decision.”

Upon graduation, Harms accepted a position at TD Bank working as a commercial lender. After several years at the bank, she transitioned into a business analyst role at the Women’s Enterprise Centre (WECM). It was during this time that she was given an opportunity to teach both Introduction to Business and Fundamentals of Financial Accounting at the University of Winnipeg as a sessional instructor.

It did not take long before that excitement for entrepreneurship took over and she left the Women’s Enterprise Centre to start her own consulting practice specializing in strategic planning and business development for new start-up companies.

In 2011, the University of Winnipeg approached Harms with a new opportunity and asked her to apply for a full-time teaching position.

“The Dean at the time said to me ‘Rosalie, you are teaching Fundamentals of Accounting and Entrepreneurship, you need to complete your accounting designation.’ I was thrilled to receive this opportunity, which was only enhanced by the fact that the university was going to support me through the process,” explains Harms.

Within two years, Harms earned her accounting designation, had a full-time faculty position and is now the Department Chair of Business and Administration at the University of Winnipeg.

“During this time, I altered what was happening in my life. I went from being a full-time consultant and part-time sessional instructor to the other way around” adds Harms. “However, through this entire period I thrived on teaching and mentoring.”

This past summer, the CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange contacted Harms and asked if she would be a mentor for the organization. She jumped at the opportunity.

North Forge Technology Exchange is an innovation partner for the Province of Manitoba. The organization problem solves and helps provide resources for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and their businesses.

“While consulting, I’ve worked with hundreds of business start-ups,” states Harms.

In the majority of first mentor meetings, entrepreneurs are finalizing their business plans and financing proposals to “pitch” to potential investors. Harms sees it as her role to help them perfect the pitch.

“These entrepreneurs understand their product and the need for it in the marketplace, but sometimes they can be overly technical in their explanation. A good mentor helps them “talk it through” so they can clearly articulate their ideas to interested stakeholders,” says Harms. “For example, developing answers to the potential questions that investors may have regarding an equity financing structure, strategic direction or market opportunities.”

Ongoing mentor meetings can cover multiple management topics, this can include providing support with industry accreditation, identifying organization values, determining internal hiring needs, developing internal controls by establishing appropriate protocols for policies and procedures, just to name a few.

During Harms’ time mentoring at North Forge Technology Exchange, she has had the opportunity to aid several different types of businesses.

“I’ve worked with companies in a variety of industries. This includes a clean air technology company, a company currently creating an educational simulation tool for the Building Industry and a company that has automated the process for lab technicians analyzing water samples for micro plastics,” says Harms.

“As a CPA I’m trained to critically think through all aspects of the strategic planning process. Many entrepreneurs need help with financial structuring, evaluating start-up costs or creating appropriate revenue models, for example. CPA’s can look at the organization from a multifaceted perspective and it is these conversations that demonstrate how valuable a CPA mentor is,” Harms states.

While there is an intrinsic reward associated with assisting start-up companies in reaching their goals, Harms finds the mentorship process beneficial to her as well.

“The opportunity to meet energetic, new business leaders is one of the things I enjoy most about mentoring. It builds an important connection between industry and the university,” says Harms. “It also brings immense satisfaction to be of service to my profession by way of mentoring.”

For CPAs that are looking to get involved with mentoring at North Forge Technology Exchange, Harms has some good advice.

“I think North Forge and its entrepreneurs see tremendous value in CPAs and the skillset we have. I encourage all CPAs who are interested in supporting new business start up to reach out to North Forge, since they are always looking for additional mentors,” Harms says before adding. “This is a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution by supporting the growth of Manitoba’s new technology start up companies.”

For anyone that is interested in learning more and giving back through the mentorship program, CPA Manitoba and North Forge Technology Exchange are hosting a free virtual meeting on March 5, 2021 from 2:30 – 4 pm. Learn more and register for Mentor Manitoba’s Next Great Entrepreneur.