Jeanette Jackson

CEO at Foresight

Prior to joining Foresight, Jeanette was founding CEO of Light-Based Technologies, which she built into a thriving enterprise before a successful exit. As President of The Brag Company, she oversaw the complete restructuring of the business and sale of the company in just two years. As an Executive in Residence with Foresight, Jeanette advised more than 20 companies in several markets including bio-energy, electric vehicles, smart buildings, water tech, robotics and wind.  

An energetic leader with a rare ability to create and execute on a vision, Jeanette is applying her talents to help position Canada as a global leader in the cleantech sector.

Work and impact

Well, as the first cleantech-only accelerator in Canada, it’s pretty much embedded into our DNA, it is impossible for us to embark on any programs, initiatives, events, or deliverables that are not sustainability- or climate-focused. And of course, over the last couple of years, social impact and its relation to climate change have become even more apparent. And so it’s important for us to recognize different stakeholders, underrepresented groups, Indigenous communities, of course, diversity, equity, inclusion is all reflected in our work.

Pushing to make Canada a global leader in clean technologies.

I left university and really wanted to be an ambitious entrepreneur. Someone had presented to me a technology that was targeting the opportunity for high-efficiency lighting. So I started my first cleantech company right out of university. From there, it continued to be a passion in every venture and initiative that I’ve embarked on since I personally exited that business in 2011.

I was always very passionate about innovation and business. As I matured, I started to look at things like pollution, alternative fuels, biomaterials, and other products. It really did become the third pillar of a traditional Venn diagram. So impact & climate, business, and entrepreneurship.

I’m really excited that there is more collaboration than ever to support early-stage ventures in their journey from ideation to commercialization. Industries are much more open about the challenges that they face. That’s giving a great opportunity for them to collaborate with other industry colleagues, innovators, and with capital allocators so that we can reach Canada’s net-zero climate targets. Collaboration is certainly front and center.

I think a lot of people traditionally looked at clean technology as deeply-integrated hardware technologies with extremely high capital costs. That is the case with some technologies (e.g., carbon capture, food systems, fuel infrastructure) but there’s actually a lot of opportunity for digital experts, data experts, and even sales professionals. It’s not just about deep tech and engineering, there’s real business happening and all of the different roles in these companies need to be filled.

Life and aspirations

I do not have a work-life balance. I am a workaholic. It’s something I’m actually working on because I love what I do. My daughter is 15 years old. She inspires me every day. Also, the team that is committed to this organization inspires me, so it’s not hard to wake up and think about work and the impact that we can have as an organization. In terms of a typical day, I do about 30 to 50 interviews, panels, moderation sessions a month. Certainly one or two a day. Often, you always want to start with getting the team inspired, checking in, and making sure that everyone has the support that they need to execute on their activities and their milestones. Then there’s always some thought on “who is a priority for me to connect with today?” Whether it’s through partnerships or government organizations that we’re supporting, there are often a few strategy-related calls for some different specific initiatives. Then, of course, you always want to end the day knowing that the organization is financially sound, bills are paid, and people are happy. So my schedule is pretty full. I’ll have back-to-back meetings from 8AM to 5PM. Then in the evening, I’m fiddling around, reading up on literature, articles, news stories, and contemplating how we can continue to do more as an organization.

There are two parts that are most challenging. First, Foresight as an organization moves at an extremely fast pace, both as a nonprofit and as an organization in general. Ensuring our stakeholders are well-informed and up to date on what’s happening is a job in and of itself. Secondly, for organizations like ours, funding is so segmented. We’re often pulling together several contribution agreements and industry funding opportunities to make an initiative happen. It would be great to have some strong framework funding to continue to do what we do, and even expand our reach into organizations like the Business Youth Council and other areas that we often get asked to support given the scope of work as an ecosystem builder in Canada for cleantech.

For me, personally, I would certainly like to be recognized as someone who built a team of thought leaders and passionate people for climate sustainability. Who can build their careers in the space, and quite frankly, feel like they’re part of Canada’s accelerated transition to net-zero. In the long-term, if foresight as an organization received the recognition that we really were essential in helping move the needle, perhaps globally, I think that would be pretty cool and inspiring. Not only for myself but for all the hard work that the team does.

Advice for the next generations

The first is relentless focus. To make sure that every day we wake up asking: “How are we going to position Canada as a global leader in cleantech through our programs and initiatives?” and ensuring that no distractions come into play. The second is communication. Over-communicating and providing context are some things that even I still have to work on. Ensuring that we’re over-communicating and are in alignment is crucial so we don’t duplicate efforts or waste anyone’s time. The third would be to have high energy and commitment. For me, I think my role is to come into every conversation positive and high-energy so that others can feed off that and hopefully have an amazing day before they break down for time with their families.

I would say not a specific degree. I think there are certain fundamentals that I got from my business degree. Understanding budgeting, team leadership, human resource management, as well as how to set a vision and align KPIs and operations to achieve goals. I think there are certain fundamentals within a degree that can tie into this role(s) within the organization. What I don’t think we do enough of is integrate students into the workplace with proper workplace support. I’ve seen so many working stints where people are being hired to literally do filing. For us, when we bring on students or short-term contracts, we really want them to have a capstone project to learn about the business, how it operates, and feel like they’ve left that experience with something they can take to the next journey in their careers. In general, I think we need to have higher expectations of the talent and capacity that students have and reward them for those efforts.

It’s a mix. We do have five core values at Foresight and some of those certainly play a role. A few examples would be a strong communicator, a multitasker, and someone who is collaborative. I’m quite entrepreneurial and I think it’s important to understand the unique characteristics that make an entrepreneur as opposed to other individuals like lawyers who may not be as entrepreneurial. Also, having a passion for what you’re doing and a focus on working well, while still being personable is important. So find a good balance there. Finally, I value the ability to give and receive honest feedback. If you see something that shouldn’t be happening or seems misaligned, don’t hesitate to speak up. It’s not just a top-down approach when we’re a team and everyone has a voice. It’s important for everyone to be heard.

There are periods in my career where I looked at a course to build skills or dive into a specific area of learning, and sometimes I didn’t do it. I now think: “Maybe I would have been further ahead faster.” I still learn a lot. I’m reading and documenting every day, but sometimes that structured approach balances all the other information that you can self-select on Google. 

In terms of career advice, I certainly recommend young people to take a risk. As you get older, it gets harder to take a risk due to the commitments you have to friends, family, partners, babies, whatever it may be. So you’ve got nothing to lose in the early days. If you’ve got a passion for something, just go for it. You might fail and you’ll learn a lot from it, but you won’t be hit as hard as you will be with some of those other obligations.