Home  »  Transforming the World Into Your Classroom and Making Sustainability Palpable

Transforming the World Into Your Classroom and Making Sustainability Palpable

Mar 5, 2024

A text based logo for International Women's Month - written in black over a white background. This featured story is brought to you by the Power of Why Podcast in collaboration with Invest Ottawa, with critical support from BDC Capital’s Thrive Venture Fund, the Title Sponsor of International Women’s Month 2024.

We teamed up to produce this special series to celebrate women leading in Ottawa for International Women’s Month and shine the spotlight on our IWW 2024 featured leaders to unpack their passion and purpose.

Five inspirational leaders are selected each year to represent International Women’s Month. They are role models who significantly impact our economy, community and society and embody the spirit, goals and values of IWM.  

When you plant a seed, you wait to reap the benefits. 

In some cases, you don’t see it for years. But does that mean you shouldn’t plant that seed? Jennifer disagrees. 

From her teenage years juggling multiple part-time jobs to studying accounting— though not her passion—it provided the exposure and access to creativity she lived for. At 18, she worked at the Biological Sciences Institute, immersing herself in labs with passionate scientists and researchers. Her curiosity drove her to continue learning despite understanding only a tiny fraction of their work. 

Today, Jennifer, CEO, and Co-founder Geoff MacKay are building The Aggressive Good, a technology solution that revolutionizes how people stock their pantries. Their goal? Eliminate single-use plastic packaging. 

Jennifer is ideating and building for the long term, focused on advancing humanity and caring for our planet.  

Here’s how she keeps her ‘why’ at the center. 

This episode is for you if: 

  • You want to leverage your diverse portfolio of experiences to drive personal and professional growth. 
  • You love the intersection of technology, business and environmental conservation. 
  • You want to build meaningful partnerships and ventures with like-minded individuals. 

Looking for a specific gem? 

[3:50] Being the daughter of immigrant parents. 

[5:00] Jennifer’s hustle mindset and resistance to conform have shaped her entire career as a consultant and entrepreneur. 

[5:48] Not a day passed where Jennifer wasn’t working— she held many jobs as a young adult.  

[7:35] Roll up your sleeves. 

[9:05] She started her first accounting and bookkeeping job at 16 years old, which opened the doors to every industry for her. “Everyone needs an accountant.”  

[10:43] Being an accountant allowed her to collaborate with scientists and entrepreneurs while satisfying her curiosity in robotics, engineering, mechanics, and biosciences. 

[13:44] She entered organizations she found intriguing by choosing the path of least resistance.  

[14:22] Learn about your field everyday! 

[17:00] Starting The Aggressive Good. 

[19:00] Work with people who share your values. 

[20:24] Creating a system that reduces single-use plastic packaging and food waste using data. 

[21:30] She worked with Google’s food team to develop a package-less way to deliver snacks to employees. 

[24:20] Making sustainability efforts accessible. 

[25:52] An important lesson in business: “You have to focus” 

[29:00] PATIENCE.  


Connect with Jennifer 

LinkedIn – Jennifer Look-Hong 

Website – The Aggressive Good (TAG) 

Connect with BDC 

LinkedIn – BDC Capital (Canada) 

Twitter – @bdc_capital 

Tune in to the podcast or take the time to dive into the article found below.

Regardless of the format, great content is headed your way!

Conversation Transcript 

Naomi Haile: Jennifer, I would love for you to start by sharing a little bit more about your origin story. How did you grow up? Were you encouraged to color outside of the lines or stay within them?  

Jennifer Look-Hong: My parents came here as immigrants quite some time ago and we grew up very poor. When they landed in Toronto, they navigated a number of things and at the time, there weren’t as many resources for immigrants as there are now. It was quite a challenge, which created quite a colorful growing up for my siblings and I.  

I learned from my parents and from navigating moving from one country to another is the hustle. And that has shaped my entire life, including how I work, how I coach and help other people with their profession. 

I was not encouraged to color outside of the lines. I was probably a little bit of a rotten kid. I come from an Asian background. I had to study and everything that I did had to be perfect. So there was no coloring outside of the lines. And because of that, I think about parenting and pressure. I just resisted every step of the way as much as I could. And that’s probably why I’m an entrepreneur today and why I’ve spent almost my entire career working as a consultant. So I’m only always accountable to myself. A lot of that had to do with how I grew up, it had to do with being an entrepreneur and my perseverance invested into my career.   

Naomi Haile: In our last conversation, I resonated with you telling me you had a myriad of jobs as a teen.   

Jennifer Look-Hong: There was not one day I was not working. I had so many part-time jobs. In our family, you work, you go to school, you work until it’s time to go to bed, and then you get up and you repeat.  

I’ve always had at least two, three, sometimes four jobs. It’s just what you did, there was no downtime. As soon as you’re at the age of working, that’s what you did. So I had healthy work experience, before age 20. I worked in retail and I had an opportunity to work in a law firm at a very young age. That was pivotal in shaping my view of how I would lead my career, mainly because of the people I worked with.  

At that particular law firm, there were many partners, but there was only one female partner. And I worked in the accounting office. And in the accounting office, there, it was all women, but our CFO was the boss. And that female partner was a boss, she was amazing. And what she taught me was, it didn’t matter what role you had, you always had to roll up your sleeves. A lot of times we were busy in the office, she actually would do our filing because we needed help. She would walk in and ask: “Okay, I have a bit of time, who needs my help? What can I do? Let me do your filing, let me help you get some things off your plate”. She was amazing. I learned a lot from that experience. 

Naomi Haile: You have a lot of breadth and depth to your portfolio of experiences. Could you share what experiences have positioned you to take off in your career? You started your career in accounting, right?  

Jennifer Look-Hong: I started doing accounting and the books. So I studied it in school, because there were really only a couple options I was strongly encouraged to do – accounting was one of them and it was something I was good at in school. I didn’t have to think about it. Numbers in my head always made sense. I started my first bookkeeping and accounting job when I was 16 and kept doing it. What I did learn is that I don’t like accounting. It wasn’t where my passion was. It was a form of functionality, right. I was good at it, so I stuck with it, but it also allowed me to see so many other industries. Everyone needs an accountant. When I was in that [accounting] firm, I watched all different types of aspects of legal. And it was fascinating to see everything and all the projects and cases that they touched, but they were still lawyers.  

That’s what I learned through that experience – that I have so many interests. Because of how I grew up, I couldn’t study one thing that would give me all of the exposure and the creativity that I wanted to see. But accounting did. As an accountant, I was able to work with engineers, scientists and I was able to kind of dabble into a little bit of everything else. So it satisfied my curiosity and in robotics, engineering and mechanics and biosciences. In all kinds of areas that I have a lot of interest in.   

Naomi Haile: And when did it click for you that you could use accounting as an entry way to fulfill your curiosities and your love for learning?   

Jennifer Look-Hong: While at the law firm working for that particular CFO, she grew up on a farm, which is probably why she had that same hustle in her because she was always up super early working at the farm and then would come to work. And she had asked me if I would help her on the farm and do the accounting. And of course, one job wasn’t enough. So I was said, “yeah, of course, I’ll help you no problem”. And, and so I ended up working at this Creamery. Being exposed to that type of lifestyle was something I had no idea about, because I grew up in the city. So being exposed to farming life and how it works was super fascinating to me.  

And that’s when I realized that as an accountant, I can work in a law firm, and I can work in a very corporate environment, or I can work on a farm because they still need my expertise as well. And I can get exposed to what that looks like. And I loved it. I loved working for them. 

Naomi Haile: For the folks who may have a similar mindset to you. Those who love to work and are curious about many things, are good at many things. What were some of the critical experiences that really enabled you to build and strengthen your toolkit as well as refine your expertise as you went along and built your career. 

Jennifer Look-Hong: Although I knew accounting wasn’t something I loved, I stayed in the accounting field. And I studied accounting. I actually moved up to Ottawa, and I had an opportunity to work for the National Research Council. I took it and the funny thing is I applied for an assistant job just to get in, and I quickly transitioned to the finance team.  

I never applied for jobs or looked at a particular position and decided I want that position. I just looked at an organization, and what they were doing and thought, “I want to work there. And how am I going to get in? The easiest way possible, even if it meant taking an assistant job, I would do that. And then, once I was in the organization, I would work my way up. And I understood what they were doing and what roles that they had so that’s how I was able to get in there. 

And working in finance and accounting, I read about the industry every day. Every day, even though it wasn’t my passion, I would force myself to learn one thing new about accounting. Whether it’s a policy change, a process change, I would learn one thing new. And I continue to do that to this day. Because processes and policies change all the time and you always have to stay up to date in your own practice.  

Naomi Haile: I like how you took the path of least resistance. You identified an organization that you were maybe fascinated by and found a way to get in. How would you spend your time while you were there? Were you meeting people at various functions? Were you sitting in on meetings? What did that look like for you practically? 

Jennifer Look-Hong: I worked for the Biological Sciences Institute, when I got there. And  to me it was like the best job I’d ever gotten. I started there when I was 18, so I was still a kid. And I thought it was the best job you could ever have in the world. Because I was around labs, I was around scientists and researchers, and they were just doing cool things. Even though I didn’t understand 85% of it, I was around all of the science and they were so passionate about what they did. And what they studied was really fascinating. So it made me want to learn what they were doing. 

“Not only did I do my job, I would also spend a lot of time with them in their labs just listening to them, and learning what they were doing. Even if I only captured a small percentage and understood it, I would then go home and read about it. And if there was something I didn’t understand, I would ask more questions and. I had an open mind about learning. Like everything and trying to absorb as much as possible was, you know, just kind of how I maneuver through life.” 

Naomi Haile: Just given how you navigate and how you see the world, you’ve probably had so many ideas throughout your career on things you could create and develop.  

Jennifer Look-Hong: I have books on designs and ideas, some very bizarre when I look back and read some of it. I have notes with ideas. A lot of times in the middle of the night, I write down these notes because I don’t sleep a whole lot. I experience a kind of like in a waking dream state and I come up with these ideas. And I started writing them down. 

Naomi Haile: Now you’re working on The Aggressive Good, what a fascinating company. Tell us about The Aggressive Good. Where did the idea originated from, and what are folks working on right now?   

Jennifer Look-Hong: The Aggressive Good was born out of my co-founder, Geoff MacKay And we had met through a mutual friend. He had this idea to automate bulk food dispensing. He had some challenges because he has dietary restrictions, I have some dietary restrictions and, and shopping bulk was just not safe for somebody that has any type of food allergy. 

And then we saw a shutdown across the board when the pandemic happened. He had this idea, but he didn’t have a strong business background. And when we met, I felt our connection was great and we really connected. He was somebody who shared the same life values that I have, and who lived his truth every day, which was something that you don’t meet very often. It was a breath of fresh air for me, because that’s how I live my life. So it just seemed like a really good match for our team. He also works for the fire department, and so I always refer to him as somebody who saves lives during the day, and the planet by night. 

We both have a very strong environmental sensibility and care for the environment, because he spent a lot of time growing up camping and being out in the environment. It was important for me to do something that supported the environment at some point in my career. So meeting Geoff was the perfect opportunity, because he had this idea that made sense. If we can eliminate all of the plastic single-use packaging with this system, we can take the data that we capture, and really refine a supply chain that not just eliminates the single-use packaging, but also reduces food waste. That, to me, is a game changer in an industry that really needed it, and still needs it. So, that’s how we got together and how we formed TAG. 

Geoff knew the engineer before, but we only started working on what a prototype would look like, building out the idea of the company, and really looking at what we wanted to develop. 

It took us a while to get to where we are today because we were very focused on solving this supply chain issue in the grocery space. We were very focused on that. And it wasn’t until we had an opportunity with Google that we completely pivoted the company. We had this amazing opportunity with their food team to develop a system that would deliver their snacks to their employees in a package and in a safe and sanitary way as well. During the pandemic, all bulk shut down. People really started thinking “Whose other fingers were in the cookie jar” Whereas before, nobody really cared or thought about it as much. At least, it wasn’t front and center. We did a global pilot with them, we assessed the data that we captured, the functionality of the system, and ease of use for their employees. 

And we thought, “Why hammer out an industry that is so opposed to changing?”  

I think the grocery industry will change because they have to change and because they will be legislated to change. Other than that, they continue to move forward and can work their regular day, because that’s what they know. And they don’t care that much, because their margins are so small. 

So we thought, well, that will be phase two. Let’s target everybody’s daily life. Let’s look at developing a package, a vending machine. We wanted to build a lifestyle that people can think about every day. While making it easy for people to eliminate their packaging footprint, contribute to the health of the environment, and feel like they’re contributing.  

These days, everyone talks about being sustainable and lowering your carbon footprint, but what does that really mean? Does that mean switching to solar, switching to wind, carbon credits, buying an electric vehicle (EV)? To me, those are all amazing opportunities, but how many people can access that? How many people can actually afford to buy an EV, and can afford to put solar panels in their home? The average person can’t.  

With TAG, we wanted to develop solutions that still had the technology behind it, so that we can still look at the data that we can capture and keep refining systems, but that everybody can access, and everybody has to eat. 

“So even if you are the poorest kid on the block, which was me growing up, you can have a tag membership card, and that kid can just tap their card and they can still get food. That’s the idea and you can still feel good about it, because now they’re not buying a packaged bag that goes in the garbage that never gets recycled.” 

Naomi Haile: How long did it take for you to decide to double down on this other opportunity, before making the switch? Was it difficult to pivot or did you both see the opportunity immediately and say “Yes, let’s try to make a run here”. 

Jennifer Look-Hong: We both saw the opportunity. From an early stage, we saw the opportunity of our system in many different markets, because it’s actually applicable to a lot of different markets. But we had to focus, and everyone kept telling us to focus. And so we did, and we focused on the grocery chain, which happens to be, you know, a very difficult wheel to turn. There’s so many different decision-makers in that supply chain. Whereas if we pivoted to corporate offices, to commercial real estate, and packaged vending machines, then we can control that model in the beginning. And we can get it out to the market faster so it made sense to pivot. 

Naomi Haile: Where do you both hope to see for the future of TAG? 

Jennifer Look-Hong: We hope to see everyone buy into the tag lifestyle. We want to create a TAG movement. We’re coining the new SAAS model, which we call “Snack as a Service”. We want to see it everywhere, we want to see it in food banks, because everyone should be able to access food and not be restricted by the budget that they have. We want to see TAG systems everywhere, we want that to be the new way that people look at filling their pantry, and snacking. 

Like how most people now are accustomed to taking their grocery bag to the store, when they got rid of plastic bags at the grocery. And taking your water bottle, taking your coffee cup, and your coffee mug in your car. So the next step is to take your little snack container, keep it in your car. So when you stop at the gas station and you want a snack, you’ll see our TAG machine and you can get snacks in bulk. And you can fill your container and you’re not buying another packaged good. We want people to be able to see it as taking your water bottle and filling it everywhere. 

Naomi Haile: I’m curious, when it comes to your leadership and your strategic thinking skills, what experiences lend themselves well to building with intention? 

Jennifer Look-Hong: Patience. You have to have patience, in anything that you do. You know, I think that sometimes people think that they can make change right away or things are easier than they really are. Or they’re afraid to fail. You know, people sometimes won’t try things because they don’t want to fail at it, but it’s okay to fail at something. You just pick yourself up and you try again. And I think there’s a certain amount of patience that comes with anything. And patience builds perseverance. And you need that as an entrepreneur. 

Naomi Haile: I’m sure you can recount many scenarios where you’ve had to demonstrate patience or be patient in a certain process. Is there one that sticks out to you? 

Jennifer Look-Hong: Gardening. 

“When you plant something, you don’t reap the benefits right away. And in some cases, you don’t see it for years. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t plant that seed. And I think that applies throughout many aspects of life, including one’s profession. You have to start somewhere and you may not see the successes that you want to see, or that beautiful bloom until much later in your life. But it doesn’t mean you don’t start.” 

Naomi Haile: Do you think about your preparedness, and how that’s been able to help you in your career. 

Jennifer Look-Hong: I don’t. I always feel like I should prepare more. I always feel like I don’t prepare enough. And sometimes I just wing it, and it ends up turning out good. 

I would say there’s so much in my career that I have not had control over. And whether it’s kind of the path that I chose, or a decision that I made that led to something that I wasn’t expecting, or the people that I had to deal with. And the patience that I had to endure to deal with those people, taught me a lot. 

I think that when you go through life, you start getting stuck in your own way, and seeing things from your lens. You have to remember that sometimes there’s no right or wrong answer. There’s multiple ways of getting to the end, and somebody else needs your support as well. And they see things in a different way. But you still have the same goal, you still want to get to the same place. So you have to work as a team. 

Naomi Haile: In your bio, we talked about carpentry, jungles and being out in nature and in the environment. In your mind, how do you see your appreciation for nature connect with your interest in sustainability? 

Jennifer Look-Hong: I think my exposure to it came at a very young age. My family grew up camping. My parents took us camping all the time. They came from a tropical environment, so when they came to Canada I think that was a way for them to reconnect with the environment and their home. I spent a lot of time throughout my life traveling, and really hiking through jungles, and forests. My dad grew up in the rainforest. And I think seeing that lends to what TAGs mission is.

As time goes on, even just a year, two years, the difference in what I saw, at one period of time today is quite different. Our impact on the environment is so fast. And we can’t undo it as quickly. It’s really important to find a way to live sustainably, and to live in sync with your environment. At the end of the day, my goal is to retire back into the rainforest. 

Naomi Haile: When you shared this with me, I thought it was so beautiful. During the pandemic, the moment we lost access to a lot of the things that were previously normal, there was this yearning to connect back to nature. And I think that’s a bigger theme – our very natural connection with nature. 

The last question I’d love to ask is, what’s the best investment that you’ve made in yourself? And how did you decide to make it? 

Jennifer Look-Hong: The best investment that I’ve made in myself is building a home. This is where I honed my carpentry skills. I actually bought a house that was falling apart, literally. And, I never gave up on it. I spent a lot of time and still do, working on it, and building something that I can call my own. Building a space that now feels like home and is comfortable. 

I moved around a lot throughout my life. So finding a place that I could call home was very important. 

Naomi Haile: Thank you, Jennifer. We will catch you in the next episode. 

A profile picture of smiling Naomi Haile, Talent Strategy Consultant & Podcast Host - who's standing in front of a light blue background.

Naomi Haile, Talent Strategy Consultant & Podcast Host

A human capital professional and inclusion strategy expert, Naomi Haile understands people. With 7+ years of experience spanning international tax compliance at the Canadian federal government and consulting at specialized boutique firms, Naomi leverages data about how people interact with systems and filters them through her unique lens to build responsible organizations. Using innovative design thinking strategies, she works with executives and their high-performing teams to co-create sustainable solutions for even the most complex of human capital challenges.

Currently, she is a Senior Talent Strategist, Office of the CEO, at WritersBlok, a white-glove ghostwriting agency that helps business leaders, celebrities, executives, politicians, and athletes turn their personal stories into brand assets. In addition to her consulting work, Naomi is the producer and host of the rising Power of Why Podcast (which boasts over 30K downloads and 200 active monthly listeners), where she interviews top global and local industry leaders. Most notably, her recent interview with Netflix’s Chief of Human Resources Officer was featured on Business Insider.

An avid traveler, Naomi has explored over 25 cities and 11 countries, and loves to connect with new cultures through her passion for food. When she’s not monitoring her investment watchlists, she is boxing or enjoying a Broadway show.


Invest Ottawa
Invest Ottawa, is Ottawa’s leading economic development agency for fostering the advancement of the region's globally competitive knowledge-based institutions and industries. Invest Ottawa delivers its economic development services through a unique partnership with the City of Ottawa, where the City and Invest Ottawa, through its members set the strategy and manage the programs that move Ottawa’s economy forward. Invest Ottawa is a non-profit, partnership organization that operates on an annual budget that comes from a variety of sources including: municipal, federal and provincial government; membership fees; professional development programs; and private sector contributions.

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