This International Women’s Day, we’re featuring women entrepreneurs in the ventureLAB community. Each day this week, we’ll feature a woman entrepreneur who is a trailblazer in her field, inspires and leads her team to success, and makes an impact on her community.

Today we’re featuring Nicole McLean, Director of Business Development and Co-founder of InStage. InStage is on a mission to accelerate the world’s ability to develop speaking skills. They make virtual reality speaking experiences by combining a believable VR experience with useful analytics to supercharge the development process. Nicole has guided InStage’s success and growth since 2017 to bring their technology to the thousands of people – including herself – who need it.

Check out other interviews in this series here.

What is success to you?

Success to me is accomplishing your own goals and what you set out to do. When you can achieve those goals, I think it’s important to recognize that and have gratitude that you’ve made it, whether it’s a small goal or a big one. It’s important as an individual to really recognize and acknowledge that you’ve made these achievements – as well as continuing to push yourself. Ultimately, personal success to me is being happy and healthy. I think our businesses need to contribute to these ends, or what’s the point?

Why is it important to recognize what you’ve done and have gratitude?

I think a lot of the time – just as humans – we tend to be hard on ourselves, and are always trying to over-achieve. I think by celebrating the successes you have, even the small things, you are more present – otherwise you’re always living in the future.

You really have to keep a sense of humour alive, be appreciative, be grateful for how far you’ve come, and at the same time push yourself to hit new limits.


Are there ways that InStage celebrates success (as part of your company culture)?

We make a point of it – anytime we have a pitch win or any big company success, we make it a point to go out for dinner as a team and talk about it. At the year’s end we reflect on the whole year, on our favourite customers and favourite influencers – really just acknowledge everything we’ve done.

You really have to keep a sense of humour alive, be appreciative, be grateful for how far you’ve come, and at the same time push yourself to hit new limits.

Are there people that have helped to shape your professional development or been a significant influence on you?

I have so many people that I respect and who have influenced me. In terms of entrepreneur celebrities that I don’t know, it would be Gary Vaynerchuck. He offers a lot of amazing, down-to-earth, practical business advice.”

In terms of people who have met in Toronto, it’s really it’s been so many. Judy Lindenbach is an incredible women who is an ongoing inspiration. George Gettas is my personal advisor – he’s amazing and truly believes in me, constantly makes me think outside the box, and is such an incredible advisor and friend. Another person that gave us a big boost was Chris Dudley from Seneca. He purchased our first VR kiosk and got us pushing the business in a new direction.

My whole team shapes my professional development. There’s no way I would be doing what I’m doing if they weren’t so inspiring to me on a daily basis.


It’s important as an entrepreneur – as a person – to surround yourself with really good, positive people that believe in you.

What do you mean by pushing hard? Is there a constructive way to do that- or a destructive way to do that?

Michael, our InStage CEO, is probably the hardest working person I’ve ever met. That just naturally motivates me to do better and push harder. He’s leading by example – when you’re around those types of people you push yourself harder to do better because you want to make sure that you’re giving as much value as possible.”

My whole team shapes my professional development. There’s no way I would be doing what I’m doing if they weren’t so inspiring to me on a daily basis.

If you’re doing a startup, go out there and get your first customer. Don’t just try to get investment with an idea- get your skin in the game.


Do you have advice for other small businesses and entrepreneurs?

As a team we’ve pushed not to raise money. Our primary goal has been to make a product that customers will pay for. You know the saying ‘pressure makes diamonds’? I think if you work extremely hard at something you enable innovation and change. If you’re doing a startup, go out there and get your first customer. Don’t just try to get investment with an idea- get your skin in the game.

Is there an early life lesson that shaped who you are?

The earliest lesson I can remember came from my grandfather – Sonny MacCuish, from Cape Breton Island. His advice to me, and I’ve had it instilled in me since I was kid, has always be to be as honest as possible. If you’re honest and portray yourself as such, it will always work out for you. I’ve always been an incredibly honest person (too honest at times) and I think that’s where a lot of my own personal and business success comes from. Isn’t it amazing how grandparents can have such an influence on valuable life lessons?

It’s so important to be surrounded by good, honest people – men or women – who can inspire you, motivate you, and push you to new limits. If you are working with good, genuine people and you are good at what you do, you will succeed.


Is there anything else you’d like to add (perhaps in the spirit of international women’s day)?

It’s ok not to win at everything! As women we’re always trying to push ourselves and work really hard, and often can be judgemental of ourselves when things don’t work out. If something doesn’t go as planned, I truly believe it’s an opportunity to learn or find another way.

It’s so important to be surrounded by good, honest people – men or women – who can inspire you, motivate you, and push you to new limits. If your skill set is in technology, I think it’s important to pursue it – ultimately, if you are working with good, genuine people and you are good at what you do, you will succeed.