Owning and running her own business wasn’t part of the game plan for Corrin Harper as a young business student at the University of Saskatchewan, let alone becoming one of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs.
Yet, that is just what she has done, being named to the 2014 W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs, a list put together by the editors of PROFIT and Chatelaine magazines.
Harper (BComm’95, MBA’00) doesn’t recall an option to take classes geared toward owning your own business when she was a College of Commerce (now Edwards School of Business) student. “The emphasis was on getting a job with a big company. Bringing in recruiters from big companies seemed to be the focus [of the college],” said Harper.
She had somewhat typical, albeit not totally accurate, perceptions of business school at the time: a major in marketing would lead to a career in sales and accounting meant a life of counting beans. That narrowed her options. “I liked human resources, and healthcare administration seemed interesting. I thought having a double major would help my employment prospects,” said Harper.
The passage of time brings wisdom, and upon further reflection on her time at the U of S, Harper noted, “All the courses you take are relevant to running a company. I didn’t necessarily see the connections until later.”
After working in the healthcare field for a few years, analyzing data and trends, Harper decided to return to the U of S to pursue her MBA. That’s when she met Larry Goodfellow (BComm’72, MBA76).
“Larry was my marketing professor, and he owned a consulting company that I worked for. They outsourced their data and surveys, so we decided to look at starting a business focusing on primary research.”
So began Insightrix Research Inc. With a third partner who had some technical expertise, they developed their own online research software that allowed both interviewers and online respondents to use the same system to collect and analyze responses—a unique feature at the time.
“Larry is very entrepreneurial. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment. But I thought, ‘If I’m going to work this hard, why not do it for myself?’ There’s more control; that’s what I like.” But being your own boss comes with risks too. “Everything I do impacts whether I get paid or not.”
As the company grew—including opening an office in Australia—Harper recognized Saskatchewan was being underserved with province-specific data to help make political, social and business decisions. She explained that national survey panels would only have a few Saskatchewan residents in their sample because our population is small relative to the rest of the country. But her Saskatchewan clients needed provincial information. So, they created SaskWatch Research, an online research panel made strictly of Saskatchewan residents. SaskWatch now has over 15,000 registered participants, and they are creating a similar panel in Manitoba.
Some large national research companies have started to notice opportunity in Saskatchewan’s growth. But Harper is confident that SaskWatch, client-focused service and expansion into other areas of online research—like SMS-based polls and surveys, online communities, gamification of research, and providing measurement dashboards and infographics—have given Insightrix a solid foundation and competitive edge.
This fall, Harper had the opportunity to meet other members of the elite W100—past and present. She shared their collective advice for budding entrepreneurs: “Do what you want to do. You have to have a passion for it.” She added her own advice, “[You need to] take risks, have courage and work hard … and if you have a passion for it, it won’t seem like pressure and sacrifice at all.”