Tara Kelly

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych. Photographed at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary.

Age: 39

Job title: Founder, President and CEO, SPLICE Software

Why she’s a 2016 Top 40:

In less than 10 years, Kelly has transformed her human voice-messaging technology start-up into a multi-million-dollar company with offices in Calgary, Toronto, Chicago and Dusseldorf.

When Tara Kelly needs motivation, she doesn’t think about business leaders. She thinks about a woman she used to see taking her kids to daycare, and herself to work, on the bus each morning.

“I watch how hard people work to get from one step to another and I think, ‘She’s an inspiration, both for my own work and to help others,’ ” Kelly says.

SPLICE Software Inc., the company Kelly founded in 2006, is built on that desire to do more. After a frustrating encounter with a robotic voice service at her bank, Kelly came up with a system of splicing together audio phrases to customize such interactions. What customers hear is still an automated voice, but, instead of being robotic, it’s warm, responsive and personal; Kelly’s system even uses existing data to remember customer names and anticipate service requirements. Unsurprisingly, SPLICE is in demand by insurance companies, banks and retailers.

Kelly expanded SPLICE into the U.S. in 2009 and risked opening a Chicago office in 2014. The venture was successful, and the company is currently moving into the Mexican and European markets. In 2016, the company made the Profit 500 list of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies for the fifth consecutive year. Barely a decade old, SPLICE is squarely in the $5-million-per-year revenue range.

Kelly’s father was a software engineer who taught her to program when she was nine. Despite being raised in a traditional household where women weren’t expected to pursue careers, Kelly dreamed of being a world leader, an astronaut, a news broadcaster – someone who could inspire change.

SPLICE volunteers with Grow Calgary, a grassroots urban-farming group, and, in 2014, Kelly co-founded Food for the Sol, a group that raises awareness, education and funding for Calgary organizations that provide fresh produce to those in need. She imagines a Calgary where public corridors grow food instead of grass.

One of the core values at SPLICE is “We Believe It Can Be Better.” “The ‘it’ is everywhere,” Kelly says. She believes her community should be better because she’s part of it; in return, she’s inspired by the world around her. “Things happen all the time that just motivate me to say, ‘That was so awesome – I could be more awesome!” – Julia Williams

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