Julia Rivard

Breaking her back (literally) in 1994 didn’t stop Julia Rivard from becoming an Olympic sprint canoeist. Likewise, having doors closed to her in 2002 because she had a lack of “real” work experience helped her start her own business. 

Rivard started out in North Bay, Ont., as a swimmer but eventually shifted her focus and interest to sprint canoeing, leading to her Olympic performance in 2000. That same focus and versatility helped the 2002 NSCAD University arts grad evolve into the CEO of Halifax-based IT firm SheepDog Inc., Google’s premier Canadian enterprise partner and industry-leading software-development shop. “High-level sport is one of the things you can do as a youngster that promotes qualities that later tie into professional success,” says Rivard. “It takes commitment, focus, and work.” 

Unfortunately, the business community doesn’t always recognize that fact. In 2003 Rivard was an Olympian with degrees from Dalhousie and NSCADU but struggling to land an interview with local agencies. “I wanted to be a graphic designer,” she says, “but I had no [concrete] work-related skills in agencies’ minds.” 

Frustrated, Rivard went freelance, then in 2004 co-founded Queen Street Studios, a Dartmouth-based incubation centre for independent creative people. Today she works with Canadian Sports Centre Atlantic helping high-performance athletes network with businesspeople. She also remains a force in sport; she sat on the board for the 2011 Halifax Canada Games and is a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

In 2008 Rivard merged Queen Street Studios with website design and marketing firm Norex, becoming Norex’s creative director. She wanted to blend her design and marketing skills with the innovative talents of company founder Brandon Kolybaba, who has been a trailblazer in the field of technology and, most recently, cloud computing, a system that stores data on remote servers hosted on the Internet rather than on a local server or personal computer. 

Recently the pair merged again, this time with partner Shawn Wilkie, to formed SheepDog. Together Rivard and Kolybaba still own Norex, SheepDog, and a third company, Dynamic Hosting. All three companies are thriving, with SheepDog’s benefiting from the industry’s gradual conversion to cloud computing. “Cloud computing has been regarded as the biggest shift in IT since mainframes gave way to personal computers,” says Rivard. 

Currently SheepDog is focused on helping organizations make the move to cloud computing. In fact, it’s such a crucial moment for the company that Rivard has reluctantly resigned from managing team services for the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games in London, which would take her away for several weeks over the next year. “It’s time to focus on business 100%,” she says. “With focus, we can take this business to the moon.”

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