As you complete your gift shopping this holiday season, look to women entrepreneurs who are building their businesses and making a difference in their communities
Small business has been hit hard by the pandemic – recent statistics published by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report small businesses owe an average of $170,000. Women have been particularly affected, often facing the increased pressures of child and elder care duties in addition to workplace challenges.
That’s why Visa Canada and iFundWomen partnered to launch the Visa Canada She’s Next Grant Program, helping women-owned businesses thrive during a difficult time. This program offers grants of $10,000 as well as mentorship and coaching. Since launching earlier this year, 20 grants have already been awarded, with the program looking to continue in the new year.
“Obviously, there was a need, and this was an amazing way to help fuel the recovery,” says Sarah Steele, senior director of small business products at Visa Canada.
For these women entrepreneurs, the She’s Next Grant Program came when they needed it most, helping them ramp up their e-commerce capabilities for the 2021 holiday shopping season.
Jewelry that gives back
Pre-pandemic, Kind Karma founder and jeweler Laurinda Lee-Retter had relied on in-person events to introduce people to her social enterprise. Kind Karma employs at-risk and homeless youth in Toronto to handcraft fine jewelry, and part of the proceeds go back to supporting the employees’ goals.
“With digital, it takes a little longer to bring in revenue,” Lee-Retter says. With the help of the She’s Next grant, Kind Karma has transitioned to an e-commerce model, maximizing its digital presence with ads targeting people who are interested in social enterprise, ethical business and homelessness.
Part of the funding is also paying rent for a physical location so the youth can have a place to meet and work, essential for employees who may not have a stable home life.
Lee-Retter shared that as a BIPOC woman, there have not been many business owners for her to look up to or emulate. “It’s important to support women, so the next generation can see role models in the space,” she adds. “Women have a different way of running things. It’s nice to infuse that colour into a space that was predominantly male.”
Teaching kids about African history
For Nigerian-Canadian author Ekiuwa Aire, education is her business. She launched Our Ancestories — books that teach children about African history — in the middle of the pandemic.
“African history is a big part of world history,” says Aire, who wrote two beautifully illustrated books about prominent African women and self-published during the early days of the pandemic.
She launched her business because she could not find any books about African history for kids.
“I decided to fix what I thought was a problem,” she explains.
Aire spent the pandemic building a social media presence so strong that when bookstores started reopening, not only had they heard of her, but they were also seeking her out.
The She’s Next funding came just as Aire was considering how to prepare for the holiday gift-giving season and helped her strengthen the e-commerce side of her business. With two new books coming soon, she’s ready to grow her brand.
Aire writes about strong women role models who teach kids to think outside of the box, and she sees her business in the same light.
“When we succeed, we can pave the way for other women-owned businesses to succeed,” she adds.
Encouraging less waste with package-free goods
The Tare Shop, a package-free grocery store based in Nova Scotia, opened its second location this summer. Achieving that kind of success required some serious resilience through the pandemic.
“It’s been a slog,” says Kate Pepler, founder of The Tare Shop, referring to the supply chain issues and labour shortages she’s faced over the last two years. At first, she let her entire staff go, because no one was comfortable when so much was unknown.
After crying in bed for a week, Pepler says she went back to the store and reopened for shopping by appointment. As business increased, she transitioned her bulk grocery store online, and slowly started rehiring staff. With items priced by weight, moving to e-commerce was a challenge, she explains. “For a lot of people, living with less waste is a foreign idea.”
With the help of the She’s Next grant, Pepler is tackling misconceptions about low-waste living and bulk food by devoting more resources to education and outreach. Through the holiday season, she’s welcoming online orders for gift items from recycled crayons to beeswax food wraps to menstrual cups.
Pepler believes it’s time women entrepreneurs get the recognition that they deserve. “All of the women entrepreneurs that I’ve talked to have started their businesses because they saw a gap, and they saw a problem, and they wanted to fix it.”
Shop local when you shop online
Visa Canada’s Steele underscores the silver lining of businesses shifting to more of an online presence is that shopping local (Canadian, but also among your local community) has become more accessible. Now, small businesses have expanded their sales potential and can reach Canadians across the country and beyond. It’s the kind of market expansion that can help small business owners drive Canada’s economic recovery forward.
“There’s a direct correlation to the health of our economy and the health of small businesses,” Steele says. “In the past, we know that women entrepreneurship was underrepresented. It’s my hope that women will play an equal part in this economic recovery.”
If you’re interested in helping women-owned small businesses thrive and grow, Steele suggests buying something thoughtful and locally-made from the organizations profiled here, or from some of the other incredible She’s Next grant recipients. Perhaps coconut- and shea butter-based hair products for curly hair from Toronto-based CurlShoppe, or delicious organic wellness teas from Vancouver’s Amoda.
Spending your money where it matters can help empower these women-owned businesses to be shining examples for young women who hope to follow in their footsteps.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Visa. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.