Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
March 15, 2023
UCeed Social Impact Fund backs Monark, a company democratizing access to leadership development
Ideas and decisions, not widgets, are the daily outputs of many companies today. What kind of leadership and leadership development is needed in this new environment? How can leadership training be more accessible and equitable? Monark is a startup that is exploring these new frontiers of leadership development and creating tools leaders will need. UCalgary’s UCeed startup investment fund is backing Monark as they scale their solutions.
“A huge mandate of ours is applying the research to practice,” says Dr. Amanda Julian, PhD’21, chief research officer and co-founder, Monark. “In this area, we see a large gap between what's being done in research and what's being implemented in practice.”
Trained in organizational research, Kelsey Hahn, Monark's CEO and co-founder, and Julian were challenged in delivering leadership and organizational strategy services, as conventional methods are highly fragmented and episodic, falling short of meeting the needs of the organizations they were serving. They saw a deeper need to scale services into the broader depths of an organization, and to engage them more continuously, placing an emphasis on the transfer of leadership training to the workplace.
After months of research and development, the team at Monark developed an online leadership development platform that is self-led and personalized.
The platform begins by allowing clients to choose which competencies they would like to improve, and then prompts them to complete a behavioural 360-degree assessment, serving as a baseline for measuring progress. Following this, users engage in relevant learning through the delivery of microcontent that enables them to learn while practising.
UCeed supports research to real-world impact
UCeed is a group of pre-seed/seed-stage investment funds that funds, trains, mentors and supports startup companies during the critical transition stage between innovation demonstration and commercialization. Qualifying ventures can receive investment ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 depending on the venture’s stage of development. Five funds, Haskayne Student Fund, Child Health Fund, Health Fund, Social Impact Fund and Energy Fund, support different priority areas of innovation.
The UCeed Social Impact Fund, with its focus on social-purpose organizations making positive changes in our community, has put its support behind Monark.
Monark’s platform can profoundly change resource and authority flow in leadership training, impacting the skills in the future workforce.
Democratizing access to leadership development
Leadership training in U.S. organizations is typically only offered to approximately five per cent of employees, usually the most senior and high-status leaders. There is frequently a bias in who gets these opportunities. Those that are charismatic or “look like those at the top” are more often selected.
The Monark platform can provide more equal access to development and growth opportunities in organizations, helping to level the playing field for everyone. As well, employees can access leadership training earlier in their careers, allowing individuals to create their own path to grow their potential.
Diversity, inclusion, ethics and integrity
The demand for modules Embracing Diversity and Inclusion, and Ethics and Integrity among Monark’s 16 current clients is high. The online platform allows easy reach to a dispersed workforce and is a way to action a company’s priorities.
“There are very few training offerings in the space, and especially ones that provide an engaging and applied, behavioural focus like ours,” says Hahn. “Most offer a standard one-hour compliance webinar or similar opportunity. We can report back on the engagement and behaviour change after successful adoption and completion of these modules within their workforce.”
Some companies have started with the training program and then are progressing to other leadership development services.
Internship opportunity supports startup
Monark currently has a team of 11, with three of these employees being current UCalgary students and four being UCalgary alumni. There have been some unique employment and internship programs that Monark has accessed as a young startup.
“It's a great way to meet new hires,” say Hahn. “Accessing grants, as a startup, helps us to continue to employ students until we get more of our funding and our revenue underneath us.”
Elisabeth Vezina, Mmgmt'22, was a Master of Management student when she first joined Monark on a Propel Business Project, which is a short-term paid opportunity funded by a grant from the Haskayne School of Business with no cost to the employer. With her previous background in psychology and newly acquired business skills, she was a perfect fit for the blend of work at Monark. The startup was later able to transition Vezina to a full-time role with matching funding from the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship Program.
“It has been incredible. It's a steep learning curve, but I’ve been loving learning, new technologies and new platforms, how to really make them a most of certain platforms for data analysis,” says Vezina. “Being able to start a career that really fits what you like is amazing because I feel like a lot of people don't get that opportunity.”