Encouraging more women to consider entrepreneurship and careers in emerging technologies has gained momentum this past year in Windsor-Essex, according to the head of the RISE Windsor-Essex network.
“This past year, we have seen incredible results. Over 700 women were exposed to entrepreneurial training, mentoring and networking thanks to the great work of our partners and financial support of our funders” said Nicole Anderson, Director of the RISE Windsor-Essex Network. “Although we know there’s still a lot more progress to be made, we are very proud of the impact that has been achieved in year one.”
The RISE Windsor-Essex network is funded by the federal government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) program and administered by the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre. It is supported locally by five additional partners and is designed to co-ordinate the region’s efforts to increase participation of female entrepreneurs and/or business leaders in emerging technologies.
“Women entrepreneurs and business leaders of Ontario make incredible contributions to our economy and communities every day,” said Linda Cousineau, Acting Vice President at Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. “We are proud to support women entrepreneurs in the Windsor-Essex region and the RISE Network through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy Ecosystem Fund.”
Relative to other areas in Canada, the Windsor-Essex Region has seen a low rate of entrepreneurship.
“We know there are challenges facing women entrepreneurs and that is why we want to help break down those barriers and support women across the region to help start and grow emerging technology businesses” said Anderson. “In 2016, only 3% of women living in the Windsor-Essex Region derived their main source of income from self-employment”.
Anderson added that innovation and entrepreneurship are the bloodlines for diversification and economic prosperity. She expects to see enhancements in not only the knowledge and data of female entrepreneurship in the region but an increase in the number of female entrepreneurs and women represented in emerging technologies over the course of the four-year WES program.
The following content is a glance of the various activities performed throughout 2019-2020 along with the many partners that have collectively supported Windsor-Essex in moving the dial. RISE is administered by the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation’s Small Business Centre and supported by the WEtech Alliance, EPICentre at the University of Windsor, Workforce Windsor Essex, Build-A-Dream and the Windsor-Essex Capital Angel Network.
MOVING THE DIAL: ENTREPRENEURSHIP
EPICentre’s EPIC VentureWomen Idea Accelerator program, funded by the WES, is a program which encourages women to take on leadership roles in entrepreneurship and technology. Its first cohort took flight in January 2020.
“Women entrepreneurs face many challenges in advancing their businesses, especially in technology sector that is dominated by men” said Wen Teoh, Director at EPICentre. “We hope the EPIC VentureWomen Program will provide the necessary tools and resources to help women entrepreneurs succeed and to empower more women in entrepreneurship.”
Mara Belano, who launched Beaux App last May, credits the WES initiatives with supporting her efforts to launch an app which helps women find and book esthetics and hairstyling services.
“Before I launched the app, I had trouble finding someone to provide eyelash extension services,” explained Belano. “I went on social media sites and still had to wait three hours for service providers to get back to me.”
Now, they can access her company’s app, click on whatever service they choose and through the app’s GPS location portal, they can find a convenient service provider.
Clients can also book and pay on the app as well as leave a review of the services.
Belano said the Covid-19 pandemic crisis put a temporary pause on her app services because salons and esthetic service providers were temporarily shutdown.
Instead, she pivoted to providing telemarketing and e-commerce services to clients while awaiting government approval for businesses to re-open.
Belano, who has a background in multi-media arts, came to Canada 10 years ago after living and working in Brunei and then the Philippines.
She first launched a wedding photo-booth business but has since moved on to Beaux App.
She credits the WEtech Alliance and the VentureWomen program with helping her launch her fledgling business.
“They helped with market research, marketing, network introductions, access to funding sources and identifying what I didn’t know so that I could fill in the gaps in my business knowledge,” she said.
“It’s hard to start a business without help and these two organizations provided me with all the help and advice I needed,” she added.
Since receiving the WES funding, WEtech Alliance has seen the number of female founders within its client portfolio increase by 263% – from 8 to 29 representing 16% of the WEtech’s total client portfolio.
MOVING THE DIAL: INTRAPRENEURSHIP
In partnership with Automate Canada, WEtech worked with frontline female employees from member organizations to participate in a ground-breaking professional development program called Innovation Catalyst.
Innovation Catalyst has been successfully carried out across a broad spectrum of partners such as ENWIN Utilities, Schlegel Villages long-term care, and the Greater Essex County Public School Board.
“Automate Canada sought to lead the first all-female Innovation Catalyst cohort aimed to engage and activate frontline innovators,” said Director of Innovation at WEtech Alliance, Adam Frye. “Over the course of six months these nine intrapreneurs were not only trained on Design Thinking, but put those learnings to work utilizing Human Centred Design to understand and solve for their organizations greatest opportunities and challenges. We created an environment where nine women from different backgrounds and roles across multiple organizations have come together to help one another solve big challenges and form relationships that are going to last a lifetime.”
Among this year’s participants was Nicole Menard from Vista Solutions, an advanced engineering and technology company located in Windsor, ON.
“Throughout my catalyst journey I have learned a lot about empathy when it comes to solving challenges and exploring opportunities” said Nicole Menard, HR Generalist at Vista Solutions. “The most important part of design thinking is getting out there and collecting ideas and feedback from all levels of our organization.”
The Automate Canada cohort has highlighted that not all company problems are unique. In fact, chances are, someone has the solution.
“One person brings forward a problem and another has a solution, and regardless of being from two separate companies, have been working together on it” said Carly Deslippe at Automate Canada. “I think this program is amazing and I would recommend it to any company, whether you know you have a problem or not, it’ll help you.”
MOVING THE DIAL: CAREERS AND CONNECTIONS IN STEM
In addition to supporting female entrepreneurs, the RISE Network has played a key role in helping spotlight careers and role models within the emerging technology fields while creating vital industry and community connections for regional female tech talent.
“Networking is important to help females navigate their career paths. This year’s events provided a platform for local students and professionals to gain career insight, leverage growth opportunities, access mentors, and even gain a friend or two.” said Yvonne Pilon, President and CEO at WEtech Alliance. “In addition to the networking events and panel discussions featuring women in technology, we have also seen a growth in new female campus groups including the first Canadian Chapter of Women in Cybersecurity as well as a Google Women TechMakers Group.”
MOVING THE DIAL: NEEDS ASSESSMENT AND DATA
As a founding partner of the RISE network, Workforce WindsorEssex developed the 2020 RISE Needs Assessments Report.
Based on community consultations, the report provides an overview of the challenges facing women in their careers in STEM and entrepreneurship, and the successes of community organizations, local companies and entrepreneurs, and education institutions. Recommendations for improvement to the local entrepreneurship ecosystem were also identified from local success stories and provincial best practices.
Tashlyn Teskey, Manager of Projects and Research at Workforce WindsorEssex said among the key recommendations for the community included: diversity of community advocates with varied experience, open work spaces in the community, and increased data collection.
To read more about how Windsor-Essex supports women in STEM and female entrepreneurs, check out the 2020 Needs Assessment Report here.
MOVING THE DIAL: GENDER BASED DIVERSITY TRAINING
RISE Windsor-Essex also partnered with Build-A-Dream’s Workforce Innovators Network to create and administer a 45-minute webinar on gender-based diversity training. This mandatory training for organizations wishing to become members of RISE aims to ensure accountability when organizations commit themselves to a more diverse workplace. Organizations taking part in the RISE network include not-for-profit organizations supporting entrepreneurs and women in emerging technologies, as well as for-profit companies dedicated to hiring a diverse leadership team and workforce.