Mobilizing volunteers

Debbie Pinard and her daughter, Melissa.

Telecommunications guru Debbie Pinard (BASc ʼ79) teams with daughter to change how event volunteers are managed.

By Kyle Bournes

Debbie Pinard and her daughter, Melissa, are trying to achieve the dream of every event planner – an app to manage volunteers effectively and efficiently.

They are the co-founders of InitLive, a start-up based in the National Capital Region’s Kanata North. The company is focused on developing a system that ensures that event planners, large and small, can manage their most important event resource – the team on the ground. And as a bonus, over the summer festival season, an InitLive app was used to track down lost children at two different events.

The National Capital Region is a four-season festival destination. The region plays host to a wide array of major events, ranging from the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, to many music festivals, to world-class sporting events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and even University of Ottawa Alumni Week. These events are very dependent on volunteers. Thankfully, the region boasts an event volunteer community that is savvy and extremely experienced in helping out at these large gatherings. However, there is always room for improvement, which is where Debbie Pinard and InitLive saw an opportunity.

It all started during Debbie’s outstanding career in telecommunications that spanned more than three decades. Debbie regularly found herself in environments that saw teams of people working together temporarily. Over time, she developed an idea for an app that would improve this type of short-term teamwork.

Armed with an innovative idea, Debbie began searching for the ideal market in which to apply this type of disruptive innovation. She found that event planning was the perfect field to apply this new technology and best of all – there was very little competition.

The idea caught on with one of the most influential investors in the region, Sir Terry Matthews, who happened to be Debbie’s former employer at Mitel and Wesley Clover. At the time, Debbie was VP Innovation at Wesley Clover, a role that Matthews asked her to take on in 2011. The new concept made such an impression on Matthews that he is now an investor in the company.

InitLive is a cloud-based system that enables event planners to manage staff and volunteers using their mobile device in real time. The system removes the need for walkie-talkies and relies on a volunteer’s iPhone or Android device. Event leaders can communicate directly with an individual, group or an entire network of volunteers from their phones or tablets. But perhaps one of the app’s best features is the broadcast function, which has worked wonders in helping to re-unite lost children with their parents.

The mother-daughter team has been very successful to date. Debbie serves as CEO and patent expert, having already filed four patents in the field of volunteer and staff management. These patents will nicely complement the 45 patents that she has amassed over her career.

Melissa is leading the company’s marketing and social media efforts. Together, they are harnessing their strengths to build a quality product and a stellar team at InitLive.

Walking into the InitLive offices in Kanata North, visitors will find an open concept office environment with brightly painted walls and a conference room covered in bright-yellow Post-It notes. This approach brings the team together and encourages group creativity.

Given that she has been at the heart of innovation for over three decades, Debbie has the leadership experience needed to move InitLive forward. Always a trailblazer, Debbie received degrees in math and physics from the Faculty of Science in 1979. At the time, she was one of two women in many of her classes. Early in her career, she worked at Mitel, and spent 18 years with that company, eventually leading a group of over 20 software and hardware engineers.

Debbie’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed on campus: she was recently selected as one of the inaugural recipients of the Faculty of Science Alumni Award of Excellence.

Melissa and Debbie Pinard

Mum and daughter work together at InitLive. Photo: Melissa Pinard

Main photo:
Debbie Pinard (right) with daughter Melissa at the InitLive offices. Photo: Melissa Pinard

Debbie Pinard

InitLive in the news: With the app, event leaders can communicate in real time with an individual, group or an entire network of volunteers from their phones or tablets. Photo: Melissa Pinard


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