Photo by Andrea Hausmann, COCO HAUS
In the dynamic realm of entrepreneurship, Liesl Barrell's lived experience has empowered her to support others in reaching their business aspirations. As the head of marketing and communications at Futurpreneur, Liesl is a passionate advocate for young business owners, fueled by her own entrepreneurial background and unwavering commitment to support others on their journeys to business success. Liesl is an award-winning marketing leader with an extensive background, including more than 15 years collaborating with brands like L'Oréal, Just For Laughs, WWF Canada, Birks, and Pfizer Canada.
Her present role at Futurpreneur, a national non-profit organization that supports diverse young entrepreneurs through financing, mentoring and resources, represents a convergence of her purpose and passion. The organization's commitment to fostering inclusive prosperity deeply resonates with Liesl's ethos. Futurpreneur's impact is profound, as it has nurtured over 17,700 young entrepreneurs, resulting in nearly 14,000 new businesses launched, with a notable emphasis on inclusive economic empowerment—44% of supported businesses are women-led, 22% have Black founders, and 4% have Indigenous founders.
Liesl's path to Futurpreneur is rooted in a compelling narrative of evolution and self-discovery. With her own entrepreneurial venture spanning six years, she knows firsthand the challenges and triumphs of navigating the business landscape from her experience co-founding her own marketing agency. When she announced to her team that she was transitioning away from her business, her longest-serving employee shared how grateful he was to have had his first work experience as an immigrant to Canada be with Liesl and her agency. He recollected how Liesl signed a letter to help him secure a mortgage, that during his tenure he got married and had his son all while working at her agency. His reflections on these milestones reminded Liesl that the reasons she loved being an entrepreneur were creating opportunities for others and building extended communities beyond her own. Her work at Futurpreneur is a natural progression, scaling those goals to support thousands of young entrepreneurs across Canada as they create opportunities and build communities on their own paths and their own terms.
At the heart of Liesl's motivation lies the concept of "Return on Purpose," a term her friend Mahalia Verna introduced to her that articulates the alignment of intention, values, and drive –the potent synergy that emerges when one's actions reflect their core beliefs. Born in South Africa, and having grown up and lived around the world before settling back in Canada, Liesl’s work as a marketer has often sought inspiration from the cross-cultural perspectives she’s experienced, challenging clients through her agency to push boundaries and celebrate inclusion. Through her agency, and now with Futurpreneur, she continues to make intentional choices that align with her values.
In a world that often over-emphasizes Return on Investment, Liesl's commitment to Return on Purpose stands as a reminder that true fulfillment lies in the alignment of intentions with actions. Her journey from entrepreneur to advocate underscores the transformative power of purpose-driven work, shaping not only her life but also the lives of countless clients and entrepreneurs she has touched throughout her career, as well as her public speaking and volunteer work.
We spoke with Liesl to learn more about how she is championing purpose in business and life.
You define ROI as Return on Purpose rather than Return on Investment. What does that mean to you?
Aligning intention and drive with values creates a magical multiplier for time and effort. That my colleagues and I spend each day helping diverse young entrepreneurs across Canada is a true gift.
Could you share one or two stories of entrepreneurs who have left an indelible mark on you through your work with Futurpreneur?
Joanna Griffiths, founder of Knix and a Futurpreneur board member, inspired me even before joining Futurpreneur. I admire her leadership in building a global brand that empowers women, as both a long-time customer and a fan!
Hearing about the impact of our CEO, Karen Greve Young's visit to Bishop’s Family Cycles, a business led by entrepreneur parents seeking to build a life around their son with non-curative cancer, really sticks with me. Their dedication is deeply moving, as is the support of their community.
Is there a person or quote that drives you, in life or work?
My sister, Alana Barrell, an artist living with schizophrenia, is a tremendous inspiration. As her caregiver, witnessing Alana face her challenges with resilience and grace compels me to succeed. I owe it to her, and to myself, to make the most of every opportunity.
The quote by Rosalynn Carter— “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver”—speaks to me as care is profoundly cyclical, not linear. Kindness and fortitude work wonders even in the most difficult circumstances.
Head of Marketing & Communications