Our Why We Give series spotlights donors and why they support our non-profit organization.
As a young girl, Cybele Negris lived with her family on the upper floor of a high-rise in Hong Kong where, each year during typhoon season, “everything went dark.”
She’d watch her parents pull down the metal shutters on the windows that blocked her view from what “frightened and fascinated” her—the hurricane-force winds battering the city.
“I wished I could drill a hole through the wall just to see what was going on outside.”
When she was six years old, she got her wish.
One of the deadliest Pacific typhoon seasons on record brought Typhoon Elsie, which tore through Hong Kong and ripped the air conditioning unit from the window of the study where she and her family had hunkered down.
In the few seconds it took for her parents to pull Cybele—whose name comes from a Greek goddess of wild nature—from the room, she caught a glimpse out the window to see debris flying chaotically through the air.
To this day, Cybele has nightmares about powerful winds, but in her waking life, she passionately chases different kinds of storms.
Her favourite quote comes from Italian-American racecar driver Mario Andretti: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
After all, having co-founded Canada’s first .CA registrar during the dot-com bubble, Cybele probably understands more than most the need to move quickly.
That’s one of the reasons she and her company Webnames.ca are supporters of our non-profit organization, and a founding organizer of our free program Girls and STEAM.
Citing studies that show how diversity within companies increases profits and builds a healthier, more sustainable economy, Cybele says, “Science World is a necessary component for the future of STEAM fields in BC, and that future is coming fast.”
A Heritage Minute
Currently sitting on six boards (including Science World’s as Vice Chair) and holding about a dozen other positions, Cybele traces the serpentine journey of her prolific STEAM career back to the moment the air conditioner flew out the window and she developed a fascination for the forces of nature.
Within a few years, her family immigrated to BC and, at eight years old, she became intrigued with the science of orcas, how they communicate with each other through profound emotional intelligence and form life-long bonds and networks of connections just beneath the ocean surface.
She pursued a degree in psychology at UBC and excelled in her courses, receiving job offers from two professors to assist in research on the science of facial expressions and, the other, death and dying. But, after working closely with parents who’d lost infants, Cybele realized she didn't want such an emotional career.
Resisting her professors’ overtures to pursue a Masters and PhD, she took on university administrative roles and, in short order, worked her way through enough fields—from HR, to finance, to bone marrow transplant, to construction—to provide consultant and managing services and start her own construction business.
In 1999, during a stint helping the University-Industry Liaison Office build their very first website (where she “learned HTML on the fly”), she met John Demco, UBC’s Computing Facilities Manager.
Twelve years prior, John had founded dot-ca, the universally recognized domain name for Canada. By the time he met Cybele, he managed about 100,000 dot-ca domain names for free, never charging a single fee. With paperwork literally piling up in precarious stacks behind his office door, the load had become untenable.
John, Cybele and the university’s technology transfer manager teamed up to commercialize the .CA Registry, which they sold to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) in the fall of 2000. They founded Webnames.ca as one of the accredited registrars under CIRA.
Within four months, they grew to 30 people. In their first year, their revenues exceeded $2.5 million. And they haven't slowed down. A subsequent entity Webnames Corporate has 800 products that serve enterprise level, government and medium to large corporations.
With the same spirit she brings to her support of Science World’s Girls and STEAM, Cybele speaks widely about her struggles with imposter syndrome.
In our interview, she recalls being the only girl in her Grade 10 computer science class, an experience that turned her off of the subject for over a decade.
As an adult, getting catcalled at her own construction sites and making tech deals in downtown bars where she was the only woman has often made Cybele feel like she doesn’t belong.
And while titles like Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women, BC’s Most Influential Women in Business and her recent nomination for a YMCA Women of Distinction award do contribute to her sense of community, Cybele says her ultimate moment of inclusion occurred at Science World in 2019 when she was keynote speaker and mentor panelist for Girls and STEAM.
"Sitting on that stage, looking at the 300 girls who were so excited to be there, it was amazing. We were actually making a difference. If even one of those girls takes that experience and builds it into a career. Or one of them could be the person that cures cancer. Absolutely, it could be one of them. I got tingles.”
After the event, dozens of girls swarmed her panel excitedly, asking for their autographs. It was a first for Cybele, and their zealous enthusiasm was an indelible reminder of the crucial need for young people to see themselves represented in what’s possible.
"Looking at BC's economic plan StrongerBC, Science World is in such alignment. We can be that essential piece of science curriculum to build up that future workforce our province needs. There's a gap right now for kids in remote and rural areas, and a gap for kids who excel and need more. I hope we get the funding necessary to continue building into that vision, so that none of those kids falls through those gaps.”