Skill Squirrel Grand Prize Winner in CIBC and MaRS Inclusive Design Challenge: Career Advancement

Breen & Associates Consulting and Fig Daily Media top runners up in innovation competition focused on career advancement for persons with disabilities

TORONTO, May 17, 2023 — Today, CIBC and MaRS Discovery District are excited to announce the winners of the Inclusive Design Challenge: Career Advancement. The $50,000 grand prize goes to Mississauga, Ont-based Skill Squirrel for their innovative skills-based marketplace and digital credentialing service that helps people along their journey to a satisfying career by having their skills valued and validated.

We are also proud to recognize the runners-up, Jonathon Breen from Breen and Associates Consulting and Leigh Felesky from Fig Daily Media, who will each receive $20,000. In addition, honorable mentions have been awarded to SignAble Vi5ion Inc. and Fable Tech Labs Inc., which will receive $5,000 each.

“There were an exceptional array of submissions and applicants for the Inclusive Design Challenge, each demonstrating a deep understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities,” said Janet Dodge, VP, People and Culture at MaRS Discovery District and Career Advancement judge. “We are truly impressed by the ingenuity, passion and dedication of all the participants who have contributed to fostering a more inclusive and accessible work environment.”

“Congratulations to the winners of our third innovation challenge in the Inclusive Design Challenge series. These innovative and inclusive career-advancement solutions will help make ambitions real for so many people living with disabilities,” said Stephen Forbes, Executive Vice President, Purpose, Brand and Corporate Affairs, CIBC. “It’s so inspiring to see what can be accomplished when we bring together some of Canada’s most promising ventures and those who have lived experience across the disability spectrum – thank you to everyone who participated.”


Grand Prize Winner

Skill Squirrel‘s cloud community hub software is addressing the fragmented nature of workforce development ecosystems by applying skills-based matchmaking to connect marginalized individuals,

Current employment and training options and practices are too rigid to bend to the needs of people with employment challenges, whether it be due to level of academic achievement, location or physical capability.

By enhancing the accessibility of Skill Squirrel’s Skills First workshop series and one-on-one career coaching for starting a business and career planning, more people with disabilities will have access to the knowledge and support to help them build networks to achieve and manage a satisfying career. In addition, Skills First participants will be eligible to acquire verifiable credentials for improving their chances of securing employment that aligns with their skills and experience.



Breen & Associates Consulting provides support and creative solutions for organizations that are making efforts to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. They are currently developing an online version of our Skills-Training, Awareness, Resources and Theory (SMART) Model of disability awareness training. The attitudes of employers and co-workers contribute significantly to the overall employment success of people with disabilities and our START Model has been shown to bring about measurable change to these attitudes in the workplace. Delivered live through Zoom, this training will provide the same experience as our in-person sessions that have proven successful in enhancing workplace attitudes toward employees with disabilities.

FIG Daily Media is a content agency focused on creating digital storytelling, products and experiences that empower causes, brands and businesses. Our solution for this challenge, Inclusion Inc., is a multi-platform storytelling research project to share stories of people living with disabilities working in a wide range of industries led by founder Leigh Felesky. Rich narratives will provide insight, knowledge and awareness of the barriers and possible solutions to career advancement both at an individual and employer level. The stories will aim to provide lived experience knowledge and support for people living with disabilities who are navigating career advancement. At the same time, employers will be called upon to question attitudinal bias and consider a re-think regarding inclusion that could lead to better workplace structures and open support networks.


Honorable Mentions

SignAble Vi5ion Inc. helps people who want to become inclusive communicators learn the applied skills needed to embody their role as change-makers by providing tools, teaching and resources. Allies who work with SignAble Vi5ion Inc. gain the skills and awareness to make accessibility and inclusion part of everyday life — including the workplace. SignAble Vi5ion Inc.’s submission is to create an e-learning course called “Sign2Succeed in the Workplace,” which will focus on enhancing the inclusion of Deaf people and others who communicate differently by creating a more sign-friendly workplace.

Fable is the leading digital accessibility platform powered by people with disabilities. It helps enterprises build accessible user experiences by engaging people with disabilities throughout the product development cycle — from custom accessibility training to research and testing.

Fable Pathways is a free, accessible and on-demand skill development program created by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities. Its goal with Pathways is to create the go-to resource for people with disabilities interested in advancing their careers in the tech sector.


About the Inclusive Design Challenge Series

MaRS and CIBC launched the Inclusive Design Challenge Series, a set of four distinct innovation challenges designed to seek solutions to help overcome many of these employment barriers, back in 2020. It was inspired by a joint research report, which profiled a range of barriers faced by persons with disabilities throughout their employment journey.

This third installment of these innovation challenges launched in November 2022, focusing on career advancement. It challenged Canadian innovators to come up with solutions to help persons with disabilities and diverse identities advance their careers. Priority areas of focus identified by the disability community include attitudinal bias, support networks, workplace disclosure and workplace structure.

About CIBC

CIBC is a leading North American financial institution with 13 million personal banking, business, public sector and institutional clients. Across Personal and Business Banking, Commercial Banking and Wealth Management, and Capital Markets businesses, CIBC offers a full range of advice, solutions and services through its leading digital banking network, and locations across Canada, in the United States and around the world. Ongoing news releases and more information about CIBC can be found at

About MaRS

MaRS is North America’s largest urban innovation hub. A registered non-profit, MaRS supports high-growth startups and scale-ups tackling key issues in the health, cleantech, fintech and other sectors. In addition, MaRS convenes all members of the tech ecosystem to drive breakthrough discoveries, grow the economy and make an impact by solving real problems for real people — in Canada and around the world.

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