Innovator Spotlight: Lazina Mckenzie

The manager of ThresholdImpact Venture Mentoring Service teaches us about the power of shower-thinking and team brainstorms.


Lazina Mckenzie became immersed in Edmonton’s business community after moving here to start her MBA in 2006 and, later, launching her own style consulting company, L Squared Style. In 2019, she brought her expertise back to the U of A to help startups get off the ground and thrive.  

Lazina is the manager of ThresholdImpact Venture Mentoring Service (VMS), a program that matches Edmonton-based business leaders with U of A alumni, faculty, students or staff who have started a business. Since its founding in 2013, VMS and its network of mentors have already supported more than 80 startups (including two founded by U of A faculty recently featured in Innovator Spotlight: Jana Rieger and Jacob Jaremko!).

In this week’s Innovator Spotlight, Lazina teaches us about the power of shower-thinking and team brainstorms.  

What are you working on? 

At VMS these days, we're sharing the word about the service we offer to entrepreneurs. Over this past year, it's been clear that supporting entrepreneurs through uncertain times isn’t just nice — it’s critical for those navigating things they never thought were possible. Our entrepreneurs and mentors have leaned on one another by sharing resources, expertise, contacts and time.

What’s one big problem you want to solve through your work?

I always aim to help people help themselves. It's my life mantra, really. Whether in my former role as a style and personal brand consultant, or in my current roles as a brand ambassador with lululemon and co-leader with the November Project, I aim to give people my unwavering confidence. It's amazing to see how people flourish when they know they have your confidence. 

What does the word “innovation” mean to you?

Innovation means evolution. It means being able to think and build without limits. It means collaborating with others to build something better and more valuable. 

I don't believe that innovation simply means tech advances. It also means an evolution of systems, processes and thinking. True innovation happens when there is diversity of thoughts and perspectives around the table. This is why I firmly believe that diversity and inclusion is critical to future global innovation.

What’s been your biggest a-ha moment — in life or work — so far?

Over a decade ago, I spent time articulating my values and personal motivators. That was an extremely important exercise — these things are now my North Star. They guide me in all of my decision-making processes in my professional, personal and volunteer lives. And these values and motivators have evolved as I've evolved.

What’s your favourite thing about working at the U of A?

It’s been a big change of pace, expectations, team structure — and more! — for me. I was an entrepreneur for the better part of a decade and, while I was excited to take on the role of leading ThresholdImpact VMS, I was also pretty hesitant about changing my focus to work within the structure of a university. 

Turns out, there was no need for that initial uncertainty. I get to work with a high-functioning team, stakeholders who have the special "VMS DNA" and a VMS board of advisors made up of many prominent entrepreneurs in our city who have stretched me and helped me level-up. And, the university’s positive reputation has enabled me to take the program to new heights through partnerships and outreach.

How do you come up with your best ideas? 

Maybe this is TMI, but my best ideas come in the shower. They also come when I'm not thinking about a problem I'm trying to solve. 

For me, my team and the volunteers we get the pleasure to work with, being able to share ideas openly — with a high degree of psychological safety — is key. Do we disagree? Of course. Do we come up with the best product? Always. I attribute this to the culture that has been built in VMS and, specifically, on the VMS team. There's a lot of trust, vulnerability, humility, drive, expertise and entrepreneurial spirit. This allows us to bring ideas forward, build new offerings, fail (that's sometimes necessary), iterate and evolve. We take pride in this team dynamic.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Innovator Spotlight is a weekly feature that introduces you to a faculty or staff member whose big ideas are making a big difference.

Do you know someone who’s breaking boundaries at the U of A? (Maybe it’s you!) We’re interested in hearing from people who are creating new solutions to make our world better. We want to feature people working across all disciplines, whether they’re championing bold ways of thinking, driving discovery or translating insights from the lab into the market

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