Business Link’s Client Feature blogs allow us to highlight some of the many incredible Alberta entrepreneurs we work with, like Ghalia Aamer and her business, TalkMaze. We connected with Ghalia and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial journey, and the impact that COVID-19 has had on her business:
Q. What is your background?
A. I am an 18-year-old entrepreneur from Edmonton, Alberta currently studying at the Alberta School of Business. I hope to pursue law school after my undergraduate degree so that I can be better prepared to help vulnerable people in my community. I started my first company, Toon Tutors, at the age of 13 and fell in love with entrepreneurship. My involvement with Junior Achievement for four years affirmed my passion. Last year, I decided to merge my love for business with my dedication to speech and debate by launching TalkMaze.
Q. Tell us about your business and what it does.
A. 8 out of 10 people struggle with public speaking, but existing resources to combat the fear are limited and expensive. TalkMaze solves this with its interactive digital platform that connects people across the globe with the training they need to build effective communication skills. Users from anywhere in the world can connect with a coach in seconds. They can also interact with other members directly on our site using an innovative forum and access on-demand resources to build skills ranging from interview skills to formal debating.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. I was so quiet throughout childhood that teachers would push me into friend groups. It wasn’t until I joined the debate team in grade 7 that I found a way of self-expression. I struggled with confidence for so long that I could never have imagined being on a team that emphasized public speaking. Yet, within just a few years, I went from being a quiet child to debating in front of hundreds during the final round of the provincial championship.
I’ve spent four years giving back to this life-changing sport. I have coached hundreds of students in speech and debate and organized numerous city-wide tournaments. Throughout my involvement, however, I’ve noticed a great disparity in the training opportunities; only students from large urban schools with coaching staff can participate and even then, they do not all have access to high-quality resources.
I was lucky enough to attend a school that offered a debate program, but most students are not given the same opportunity. Public speaking skills can have a vast impact on self-confidence as well as future career prospects. In mid-2019, I decided to change the status quo by developing my business, a digital platform, TalkMaze, to deliver training in public speaking and debate. My goal is to make a difference in schools, organizations, and communities across the world.
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. I’m most proud of the extraordinary people who are part of our team. Within under a month of our beta platform launch, we received over 220 applications from talented coaches in 30+ countries who wanted to join our team to help empower others. After an extensive review process, we brought on the top 20 coaches from around the globe who are now working vigorously to develop a world-class training curriculum in time for our hard launch in September.
Q. What is your biggest challenge now, in light of COVID-19?
A. All our work is remote so we have been able to adapt to the changes very easily. Our team members and coaches come from all around the world so it is impossible for us to be physically together. In general, we are missing the in-person networking opportunities that we would have during other times.
Q. Have you had to pivot your business due to the impact of COVID-19? If so, what have you done?
A. We had to speed up our beta launch because we had demand earlier than we had anticipated. This was largely due to the shift to virtual programming and many groups looking for training online. COVID-19 has actually helped expose people to the benefits of digital platforms and allowed us to gain greater traction!
Q. What has this pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
A. A platform like TalkMaze is very much needed in today’s world! Digital programming during COVID-19 has bridged borders across the world and that’s our goal at TalkMaze. Effective communication, public speaking, and debate need to be addressed at the global level. It is remarkable to have students from multiple countries within one live class where they can freely exchange ideas and learn from one another. Our coaches come from all over the world with Canada, the United States, Brazil, Ireland, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan only being a few of the countries!
Q. What advice would you offer other small business owners as they continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 on their business?
A. Utilizing the resources and network around you will be the best way to navigate the impacts of COVID-19! There are often more people willing to help than you might think. A few months ago, I connected with eHUB at my university and I have received numerous resources as a result. Despite not being able to meet people in person, I have been exposed to many virtual networking opportunities and met tons of new people who can help me with my business (maybe even more than I would have in person)!
My main piece of advice would be: Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, the worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no.
Q. How has Business Link helped you? Why did you come to us?
A. I have been working with Business Link since 2015. I was 13 years old when I first reached out to Business Link and I am so grateful to have found such a wonderful organization. The staff at Business Link were some of the few people that took me seriously despite my age and helped me build my first company, Toon Tutors. I came to Business Link because I had no idea how to start a business at that time. Over the past five years, the guidance I have received from the Business Link staff, especially Kari, as well as their expert advisors such as lawyers has been extremely useful in building my companies. I have also attended some of the webinars offered by Business Link and they are quite valuable!
Q. Have you received support from other organizations? If so, which organizations?
A. Last year, I was selected as one of eight students from across Canada to take part in the We Are Social Entrepreneurs Program. I was able to flesh out my idea with TalkMaze, pitch to judges, and get valuable feedback from mentors. At the end of the program, I received a $1000 grant from RBC Future Launch to build TalkMaze. I’ve also received a $5000 grant from the ManCap Foundation in support of my entrepreneurial endeavors.
eHUB and Enactus at the University of Alberta have been quite supportive as well over the past few months. TalkMaze was recently awarded a $4000 grant from Rural eHUB for our efforts to increase accessibility of public speaking programming in remote areas. On top of that, I get to regularly meet with experienced mentors who are passionate and willing to help me navigate the process of building a business.
More recently, I was selected to take part in the League of Innovators Incubator Program and will be joining the next cohort from September-December! I am looking forward to connecting with young entrepreneurs from across the country as I continue to grow TalkMaze.
Q. What advice would you share with others who want to start or grow their own business?
A. I’ve talked to a lot of people, especially youth, who say that they would love to start a business and are really interested in entrepreneurship. When I ask why they haven’t started, the most common answer I hear is, “I need more experience so I’m trying to learn more before I actually start a company.” While I am a strong advocate for education, I believe there is a lot to learn from taking action. It is impossible for an entrepreneur to go into starting a business knowing everything they could possibly need – there’s a new adventure each day. If you want to start a business, the best time to do it is now, so go for it! Find the right support network and learn along the way.
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
A. We’ve been busy this summer testing our beta platform with real users. Coming up next is our hard-launch in September! We’re super excited to continue building confidence through the power of public speaking within people all around the world.
Q. Is there anything you would like to share?
A. We’re looking to partner with organizations of all sorts to empower individuals and help build confidence. If you are a member of an organization, school, or club that could benefit from public speaking or debate training, please reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether you are a business person, educator, or anything else, effective communication skills are vital in every career. Reach out to us and we’ll find a partnership that helps both of our organizations prosper!
I’m also always open to learning more and love connecting with leaders in the community. If you have any feedback, suggestions, or advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!