WBR: A lot of startups build their businesses around a problem. For Lunaria, what is that problem and how did you come to discover it?
Cassie: Lunaria solves the problem of diversity and inclusion in all spaces of the world by reframing the way people imagine diversity and inclusion.
Right now, companies increasingly want to integrate diversity and inclusion (D&I) into their culture, but they are not taking a customized approach to their own needs. For example, something that is very common at the moment is D&I workshops and trainings. Lunaria encourages people to take a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion by surveying their employees, tracking demographic information and determining their needs and investing in those needs.
Lunaria equips companies with the information they need to choose the right diversity and inclusion initiatives to invest in. We then continuously evaluate their next steps, next goals, and the effectiveness of their chosen initiatives.
WBR: What prompted the idea of wanting to work in D&I and what led you to the current solution you are working in now?
Cassie: Lunaria has pivoted quite a bit since its inception. We initially started off working with nonprofits by performing impact evaluations. However, we found that we were getting asked to do more evaluations that focused on more than the direct outcomes of a program.
If we were hired to evaluate a STEM program, we would measure not only the interest garnered and program effectiveness, but also the diversity of its participants for example. And so now, what we do is we work with our customers on finding different ways to measure the impact of diversity and inclusion; we measure with a data-driven approach on numerous metrics ranging from the impact of D&I initiatives to how people feel when accessing resources.
The D&I industry is evolving out of the non-profit space too, as growing compliance requirements and new government regulations are being put in place which encourage companies to invest in D&I.
What kind of role does D&I play in an organization?
Cassie: Ideally, D&I should be integrated into all levels of decision-making at a company: from departments, to hiring, recruiting, management, to day-to-day operations. There have been many studies that demonstrate how beneficial D&I is in business; for example, diverse and inclusive companies have been linked to higher profits due to higher levels of cooperation between companies, higher retention, and higher hiring rates. So it is really about integrating D&I into the culture of companies at all levels and that is really fun. Through our diversity audit where we look at anything from hiring practices, to asset management practices and how our customers evaluate their suppliers, D&I can be ingrained in every aspect of a company.
WBR: What kind of impact has the data-driven approach had on companies?
Cassie: I think one of the biggest things is that a lot of companies don't know where to start or don't know what's working. So through our data-driven approach, it is really powerful to be able to show management how their investment has changed peoples lives—whether it is a workshop, training, or artifacts that make people feel like they belong. Providing anonymity in the service allows employers to get raw responses from their employees that can be telling to the real situation happening within their firm.
WBR: How has your involvement as an Entrepreneur in Residence helped you grow your business?
Cassie: My experience at Waterloo has definitely helped. I think we're really lucky to be in a community like Waterloo which has so many entrepreneurial resources and opportunities to advance your skill set, improve your ideas and connect with other entrepreneurs here that have gone through similar things. I am really grateful to be a part of this type of ecosystem right now. We currently in the Jump Start program with the University of Waterloo and the Accelerator Centre. Through these programs, we get the opportunity to engage with mentors and other companies which has been extremely helpful.
WBR: What was the biggest technical challenge when it came to launching your business?
Cassie: In the beginning, as a non-technical founder, I found the technical side of things to be the challenge. More recently, I am finding that technical skills is getting easier to bridge because we can surround ourselves with more technically competent people, and taking on classes and projects to fill in our knowledge. But now as we grow and expand our team, the challenge that I am trying to work on is how we are going to grow our own culture. That is, how we can share a vision across different groups of people and how we can grow fast yet still make everyone feel like they are a part of that founding idea.
WBR: What role do you think diversity and inclusion will play in the years to come?
Cassie: With D&I, we're seeing growth in popularity more than ever before. Now it's really exciting because we're looking at more intersectionality within identities, race, culture, accessibility, religion, education and socioeconomic background. In this age, we have a greater diversity of people working in the same space than ever before; some people are physically there and some people are there virtually. As companies become more diverse, the question of how do you make a space for everyone to thrive has become a more prevalent question.
Changes in government policy are good indicators of trends in society that may be here to stay. As more legislation is being put forward, it is evident that more responsibility is being expected on the side of the employer. As such, we can observe the longevity of D&I and the benefit of investing in it now and taking it into the future. D&I is continuous, so actions taken in 2019 may not carry you through to 2020 and beyond. D&I is something that should be with your company on an ongoing basis and should be integrated within your company culture.
I think it’s going to be really exciting to see how the changes in policy and different populations working together will drive decisions.
WBR: Advice for entrepreneurs in work and in life?
Cassie: The first thing I would say is to not wait. I think that if I had not gone to Waterloo, I probably wouldn't have started a company. Waterloo truly has so many resources for students to try ideas. People in the region of Waterloo as a community are very accepting. This is a community where people are very open and welcoming: if I look up to someone who might be a CEO of a company down the road, I can reach out for advice and have a 10-minute conversation with them.
Furthermore, there are many courses where projects can expand into a business; from the engineering capstones to research-based courses, there are a lot of ways to imagine your assignments in a way that could be turned into a startup business.
To learn more about Lunaria and Cassie, you can visit their website at https://lunariasolutions.com.