Another year, and the dial moves forward another inch. The start of a new year is a time to take stock of all that we accomplished in 2020. And while the previous year presented us with some unprecedented challenges, we, as a community, should all be proud of what we achieved.
Together, regardless of the pandemic, we here in Windsor-Essex County have continued to push for inspiration, innovation and inclusivity. If you’d like to learn more about the mountains we moved together, read on…
MOVING THE DIAL: INTRA/ENTRAPRENEURSHIP
One of the many feathers in Windsor-Essex’s cap is the Entrepreneurship, Practice and Innovation Centre (EPICentre), the hub for all entrepreneurial endeavours on the University of Windsor campus.
“We have lots of different programs, events, workshops, mentorships and funding opportunities available,” Sydney Thompson, the Program Lead at the EPICentre, explains. “We don’t only serve and help University of Windsor students. We serve and help all other post-secondary students in Canada for up to seven years after graduating.”
One of the programs that the EPICentre hosts is the EPIC VentureWomen project, which aims to provide tailored training and support for women changemakers looking to reimagine the future.
“VentureWomen is a program that is near and close to my heart,” Syndey explains. “Ultimately, it aims to support female entrepreneurs in Windsor-Essex County. It helps women identify systemic barriers in society and overcome them. We offer an expert panel, workshops, increased networking opportunities and access to funding.”
VentureWomen is currently a four-month program. Participants work part-time in the program and get access to all of the EPICentre’s resources. It concludes with a final pitch competition, where all of the teams put together a formal presentation for a team of judges. Winners are even eligible for cash prizes.
“We will continue to run this program until 2023,” Sydney states.
Another program that plays a key role in developing female intrapreneurs across Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent is WEtech Alliance’s Innovation Catalyst (IC) program. IC is a six-month long Design Thinking sprint that brings together female professionals from organizations across the region in order to solve some of the challenges that those businesses are facing.
“Our goal is to not only provide these incredible women with new tools to solve challenges or take advantage of opportunities at the organizational level,” Adam Frye, Director of Business Innovation at WEtech Alliance, explains. “But also to create a network of female intrapreneurs across our region that they can lean on throughout their entire careers.”
This year’s cohort – activating female leaders to power innovation in the future of work – focused HR professionals across the region. Numerous local organizations participated, including Erie Shores Healthcare, YMCA, Wave Direct, Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare, Aphria Inc., Edison Financial and the City of Windsor.
MOVING THE DIAL: COMMUNITY IMPACT AND SUPPORT
F5: Refresh & Reload virtual networking event
RISE Windsor-Essex is a network of organizations founded by the Small Business Centre at the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation that empowers women in entrepreneurship and women in STEM in Windsor-Essex County.
“We launched RISE Windsor-Essex in March of last year,” Nicole Anderson, leading RISE Windsor-Essex Network, explains. “And to be honest, a lot of people have been coming to us through word of mouth. And not just women from inside our region, but women from outside our region. I was just on a call with a woman who said, ‘Is there anything like this in my region?’”
For Nicole, one of the greatest achievements of RISE Windsor-Essex is the sheer volume of information and resources it has been able to provide women.
“RISE was created to be a one-stop shop for women entrepreneurs in #YQG,” Nicole states. “Over the last year, the brand has really taken off and more women have been coming together to explore opportunities in entrepreneurship and careers in tech to understand more of the resources that are available to them in the region. Previously, all these talented women didn’t know where to go. And now, they do! There’s a home for them.”
The success of RISE Windsor-Essex is especially good news, considering some of the new challenges that COVID-19 placed on female founders and women.
“There’s a certain separation of challenges,” Tashlyn Teskey, the Manager of Projects and Research at Workforce Windsor-Essex, states. “A lot of it has to do with the sectors that women typically run businesses in. They’re often in retail or service sectors. COVID has had a much more devastating impact on those particular areas.”
The other side of the equation, Tashlyn notes, ties back to pre-existing gender roles.
“Gender roles and income inequality are also a factor,” Tashlyn explains. “In families with a Mom and a Dad, it’s still typically the Mom that has to take off that time.”
That said, many female entrepreneurs have adapted to this climate by pivoting their services. And many of that success is due to the support women continue to offer each other.
“Women lean on other women,” Nicole states. “We have eighteen women on our RISE and Resilience Summit organizing committee. Most of them are women from the area who have their own businesses. They’re just doing this pro-bono. Women have seen the need for a network like this, and want to help it grow.”
Since July 2020, the Small Business Centre at the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation has delivered COVID-19 relief funding to businesses through the RE3: Rebuild, Reopen, Revive program. RE3 is a government funded program that provides non-repayable performance-based contributions of up to $5,000 to assist women-led SMEs to rebuild, reopen and revive their businesses across Southern Ontario.
“Women entrepreneurs have been hard hit by the pandemic and we are grateful that we were able to step up and lead this funding in our service area from Windsor to Toronto, in order to help relieve operating pressures and help these businesses prosper in the post-COVID economy,” said Sabrina DeMarco, Executive Director, Small Business Centre.
MOVING THE DIAL: CONNECTIONS
Driving Diversity: A Women in STEM Networking Event at EPICentre February 12th 2020
One of the many things Windsor-Essex County has endeavored to create is a more diverse workplace in our community. Specifically, over the last several years we have made several strides in regards to creating more opportunities for women in STEM.
“Over the last two years we have hosted a number of ‘Driving Diversity: Women in STEM’ events to connect and engage students, professionals and founders from all STEM fields,” Yvonne Pilon, President and CEO of WEtech Alliance, states. “Each event has provided a unique opportunity to gain valuable connections and insight into experiences, resources, and pathways to STEM careers.”
In life and in business, Yvonne stresses, leveraging the power of networks is critical for staying afloat.
“By tapping into the experience and vast networks of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy and the regional STEM ecosystem, the ‘Driving Diversity: Women in STEM’ events have extended relationships to mentors, jobs, experienced entrepreneurs and global subject experts to women in STEM living and working in Windsor-Essex,” Yvonne explains. “In fact, we are already starting to see the fruits of our connections.”
One of these success stories is a recent graduate of the University of Windsor’s Mechanical Engineering program, Yasaman Amidpour. After attending a ‘Driving Diversity: Women in STEM’ network event, Amidpour was introduced to numerous new connections and resources—including WEtech Alliance’s tech job board—where she learned about an opening at CAMufacturing Solutions, a Windsor-based company that specializes in creating custom software.
“Amidpour is now a full-time member of the CAMufacturing Solutions team as a Software Developer!” Yvonne exclaims.
Another tremendous champion for diversity in the STEM fields comes from Build a Dream. Founded by Nour Hachem-Fawaz, Build a Dream delivers specialized programs to encourage and empower female students to explore careers where women are under-represented. The organization offers various events, such as hands-on camps, workshops and high-demand career discovery expos.
And while the pandemic halted Build a Dream’s in-person events, the organization pivoted by launching the #DreamBig speaker series. These virtual panels invite young women and their parents/guardians to learn more about careers in skilled trades, science, technology, engineering, math, emergency services and entrepreneurship.
“We launched nine of these events over the fall,” Nour, the President of Build a Dream, explains. “We have several more lined up for the winter and spring.”
Last year, Build a Dream also launched the Canada-wide #HerPower Council. The committee brings together women in skilled trades, STEM, emergency response and entrepreneurship. The #HerPower Council currently meets bi-monthly to connect as industry professionals to discuss support for women in connecting them with new career paths.
International Women’s Day is held on March 8th every year. It’s a day when we celebrate the amazing social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women.
So what can you do to celebrate? Click here are 10+ great local, regional, national, and international ideas to get you started.