In December 2020, it was reported that 97.9% of employer businesses in Canada were small businesses with 1-99 employees, and the business start rate for majority female-owned businesses was higher than for majority male-owned businesses. From the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub report on the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship from 2021, we know that in addition to gender bias and systemic discrimination, many women entrepreneurs experience barriers to financing, services, and supports.

These challenges are often increased for women from certain groups such as racialized or Indigenous women, women living with disabilities, or those identifying as LGBTQ2S+. Despite systemic challenges and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, women business owners show immense creativity and resiliency as they start and grow their businesses.

International Women's Day

Tuesday, March 8 is recognized as International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality. The theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. We’re proud to support thousands of inspiring, strong, and bias-breaking women entrepreneurs and small business owners across Alberta. This International Women’s Day, we are sharing the stories of four women entrepreneurs and Business Link clients to inspire and challenge everyone to #BreakTheBias. Learn more about each of these incredible entrepreneurs below!

Kemet Advanced Manufacturing Ltd.

Morẹ́niḱ Ẹniọlá Ọláòṣebìkan, Kemet Advanced Manufacturing Ltd

Meet Morẹ́niḱ Ẹniọlá Ọláòṣebìkan, the CEO of Kemet Advanced Manufacturing Ltd, whose long-term goal is to provide facilities to African countries that are experiencing extensive medication insecurity and medication shortages. Kemet is currently focusing on a pilot facility in Edmonton. This pilot is a sandbox for the R&D of modular manufacturing facilities and processes alongside a proprietary app that allows them to understand and digitize medication supply chains. 

I grew up listening to stories about entire villages of parents being wiped out by HIV while they were taking counterfeit medications. Since then, I have made it my life’s purpose to create and be part of solutions that meaningfully contribute to health equity and access. These issues of health inequity have driven me to become a pharmacist and pharmacy owner, the founder of Ribbon Rouge Foundation for health equity, and these issues of health inequity are also what drives Kemet Advanced Manufacturing Ltd. 

The first major hurdle was having the courage to step outside of the confines of what society calls “successful” and to be true to myself…the first major hurdle was to become Morẹ́nikẹ́ Ẹniọlá Ọláòṣebìkan, because people who look like me are socialized to conform in particular ways. The first major hurdle was to challenge all the ways my ideas are not necessarily validated within these systems we live in, and the many ways people who look like me are made to feel like they do not belong in Science or in Technology or in Manufacturing or in Construction or in Pharma. 

The first major hurdle was seeing the oppressive structures around me and then mobilizing my community of fellow travelers to break the mold with me. 

With my community of advisors, confidants, and allies, I found creative ways to pull my concepts together, to secure some funds, to develop my first product and to launch this company towards my vision for global drug security and a world in which people who look like me live full, abundant, healthy, courageous, and dignified lives. When I hear another young Black woman say, “you’re so inspiring, I want to be just like you”, I give thanks and I respond, “This world deserves you to unabashedly become fully You!” 

I continue to learn, grow and evolve as well, as I offer these pieces of advice. 

I am learning every day that everything is about growth and evolution, so I think it is crucial that one commits oneself to not only learning but also learning how to learn. I have found it instrumental to my work to pick up mental models over the years and to apply these mental models as “thinking tools” in many vastly different fields of study. So far, this aptitude has been valuable for me because on any given day I can be sales and marketing and finance and operations and product manager at once. I find that the very early beginning of a start-up often requires a particular blend of curiosity, mental agility, and determination. 

It is also crucial to surround oneself with all kinds of people at vastly different stages of life with a broad range of worldviews/perspectives who are all 100% rooting for one to win! What has been a strong asset for me has been the wealth I have in relationships, so I would suggest that it is crucial to form and maintain authentic relationships from broad spheres of life. At some point, one moves on from the idea to become the person who rallies others in the entrepreneurial journey. It seems easier to attract competent, values-aligned people who have the capacity and willingness to sign up for the “fun” start-up journey, within a good, critically diverse network. You will need to lead, so if this does not come “naturally” to you, you get to develop the self-awareness to see which skills you get to grow within yourself or which people you get to surround yourself with who are strong in skill sets that are complementary to yours. And in addition to your leadership aptitudes, you will have to explore your inner world every day to be the kind of person that others will follow because of your strengths, virtues and character.  

Being an entrepreneur is the perpetual joyful discomfort contained in forever growth. 

Jacqueline Jacek, JACEK Chocolate Couture

Meet Jacqueline Jacek, Founder and Cocoanista of JACEK Chocolate Couture, which is an artisanal chocolate business that operates on a fashion business model, but that exists to spread joy.  JACEK was started from a basement in Sherwood Park in late 2009 as a one-woman show, and now consists of a talented team of twenty-five who are equally committed to the shared JACEK values of joy, experience, excellence, teamwork, and artistry.  JACEK has a flagship retail boutique in Sherwood Park, a partner location in Canmore, an online store that ships across Canada and a network of wholesale partners across western Canada. 

I have always been an entrepreneur, having started my first business (Jax Hatz) when I was 11 years old.  After having completed my business degree, I worked in several corporate jobs but always missed fusing my creativity with entrepreneurship.  My dream was to start a business that brought joy, which to me is fashion and chocolate, so began my journey as a Cocoanista which is essentially a chocolate designer (yes, I made up this title!). I attribute the growth over the last thirteen years to the people I surround myself with, our dedicated team, and the incredible community that we live in. 

The biggest challenge to pursuing my dream job as a Cocoanista was the idea of leaving permanent (guaranteed!) employment to become self-employed.  In an effort to manage the risk of leaving my job, I built the business as much as I could in the evenings and weekends to test the concept, gather feedback from the community and build the brand.  It was the slower path to growth, but for me, it aligned to my risk tolerance, and it allowed me to build a solid platform to grow upon. 

The best advice I can give to anyone is to surround yourself with people that believe in you, can offer constructive feedback, and people that have a lot of experience in business and in the industry you are pursuing.  Finding the right suppliers is critical as they become your partner in success.  

JACEK Chocolate
Beechi Neechi

Melanie and Chesare Francine, Beachi Neechi

Meet Melanie and Chesare Francine, Principal Owners of Beachi Neechi, a family-orientated beach volleyball facility with multi-business avenues. The facility Yêkawᔦᑲᐤ(Sand) Dome and a not-for-profit organization will support programming for various beach recreational sports to ensure accessibility to all.  Beachi Neechi strives to increase Indigenous representation in beach volleyball and create a safe place for all treaty people to coexist harmoniously in the sport. 

We fell in love with beach volleyball from the first time we played together. This passion we developed for beach volleyball has us playing in sand, grass, and snow all year round. It has nurtured all aspects of our wellness and brought our families closer. Our business was born out of the desire to share this incredible sport with our community. We want to continuously nurture holistic wellness throughout each phase of life, ensuring that children and youth are given the guidance, support, and love they need to develop into healthy adults within the realm of athletics. Also, to offer the opportunity for adult athletes to learn a new sport previously unavailable in the area. Currently, no Indoor Beach volleyball facility could provide year-round programming in the City of Edmonton and surrounding areas. We will be the first.  

Challenges with starting our business are processing all the information and channeling it in a way that serves us. Due to our project being large-scale, creating the company, maintaining momentum, and having the self-confidence to pursue this dream were additional challenges in the beginning. Despite these challenges, we are still moving ahead due to the support from others who believe in us as individuals and our concept; new partners and friends continue to reach out. We wholeheartedly believe that introducing Yêkaw Dome to our community will facilitate healing, which drives us forward.  

As women, we often push aside personal aspirations for others, and there may be self-doubt. People emit positive energy when actively pursuing their dreams; this attracts people who can help you on your journey to achieving your dreams. Trust your instincts and surround yourself with those who will support you and offer feedback. 

Kristen Hutton, Kreative Kustoms

Meet Kristen Hutton, Owner of Kreative Kustoms, a one-stop-shop collective boutique for all things local and custom. Her love for creating started at a young age; Kristen loved supporting local and wanted to give other small business owners an opportunity to showcase their products without having the risk and overhead of maintaining a storefront. In 2015 her hobby grew to a small home-based business relying on referrals through family and friends and as her client base grew over the years, she outgrew her basement office and needed more space. In November 2020, she decided to pursue opening a brick and mortar and has since grown from 30 vendors to over 100, celebrated 1 year as a storefront, won the 2021 Sherwood Park New Entrepreneur business award, and won Sherwood Park’s Best Boutique and Home Décor award. 

My love for crafting and creating for others, and my desire to bring other small businesses together. 

Overcoming the mental aspect of it all and dedicating absolutely everything I had into it. I sought out support from other small business owners, made sure to take care of my mental health, and believed in myself. 

Believe and trust in yourself, because you’re stronger than you think. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to other small business owners. 

Kreative Kustoms

More Resources for Women in Entrepreneurship

We work with women entrepreneurs every day at Business Link, helping them create clarity and confidence in their businesses. As we reflect on how we can help to #BreakTheBias during International Women’s Day, we hope the stories above inspire you to think about what this means for your business and the broader business landscape in Alberta.  

To keep the momentum going, consider learning more about and supporting women entrepreneurs in Alberta through some of the events and organizations linked below.

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Logo

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enabling women to build successful businesses. AWE provides unique programs and services to women at all stages of business through advising, financing, mentoring, and network development.

The 2022 AWE Awards celebrating women in entrepreneurship are currently underway!

WEKH logo

The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) shares research and resources on women entrepreneurs in Canada. Made up of 10 regional hubs, WEKH operates in both official languages and includes a network of over 250 organizations, reaching more than 100,000 women entrepreneurs.

Explore the See it. Be it. Database – a resource featuring profiles of successful women entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, sectors, experiences, and regions across Canada.

WEC logo

Formed in 2022, The Women’s Economic Council is the only national organization advocating for women-centered Community Economic Development (CED) in Canada, and the only organization that supports networks of like-minded organizations that help women-centred CED flourish across the country.

Check out the Hear This, From Her podcast, exploring entrepreneurship, financial sustainability, and economic security for every woman in Canada.

Register now for upcoming free webinars & events in March at Business Link