Key takeaways from “Women Entrepreneurs on Building and Growing a Resilient Business”

The economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic presented enormous challenges to large and small organizations alike. Last Thursday, VCIB hosted a webinar featuring three successful women entrepreneurs that managed to create business models that are conductive to long-term resilience and growth. Read the webinar’s key takeaways below and watch the event recording at the bottom of the page.

1. To build a level playing field it is important to have a democratic leadership style and develop a new template of understanding.

Women have long battled barriers in the workforce, and the share of women decreases with each step up the corporate ladder. This was the experience for Alina Turner, co-president and co-founder of HelpSeeker: “I came up in an industry that was almost 90% female, but interestingly the top layer was still male.” Even though she came from a predominantly feminized industry, Alina Turner still faced a fair share of gender discrimination. Turner continued: “I’ve been passed over for jobs because I was pregnant, and I’ve seen that in a sector that should know better. To build a stronger ecosystem, as entrepreneurs, we need to give opportunities to anyone that has the ability to flourish in the space.”

Pam Fanjoy, founder of Fanjoy Culinary + Wellness Center, also started her career in the social sector. Fanjoy has led the way towards creating a different culture in the restaurant industry, one that looks at inequality and diversity issues to create a more level playing field of opportunity. In doing so, her business has also become more sustainable. “As a boss, we’re used to running businesses top down with a directive leadership approach,” said Fanjoy. “What we need to be able to sustain us through the incredible changes that are happening through the pandemic is a more democratic way of leadership.”

Having worked in the oil and gas industry, Chelsey Reschke was a minority in what is still a largely male-dominated world. “I had fantastic male mentors, there were just more men than women to look up to at the time.” Now, as the now CEO of Voran Group Ventures and a board member at Alberta Innovates, Reschke is a mentor to many women, and has shared with them her forgiveness approach when faced with gender discrimination. “[When someone makes a negative] assumption, an approach that I took very early in my career is to automatically forgive it. Not fixate on it or allow that negative first interaction to shape the entirety of the relationship going forward. A lot of people that have greeted me in a way that wasn’t very becoming, ended up being some of the closest colleagues that I developed over time. They just needed to see someone develop a new template of understanding.”

2. Leading with values, forging a decision matrix, and creating a culture that values safety are great ways to build resiliency within an organization.

Resilience in business often means being able to continue generating revenue, or increasing revenue, during challenging times. When onboarding new products and deciding to pursue new opportunities to stay afloat, Chelsey Reschke uses a decision matrix: “Things that are unique in our matrix would be: Does it fit our mission? What’s the margin potential? What are the commercialization hurdles? How does this strengthen our IP asset base? This makes it easier to sit down, quantify it, and make sure that we make a decision that’s going to be a long-term fit for us and not just a short-term opportunity.”

For Alina Turner, one thing that’s been essential to HelpSeeker’s resilience is building a culture that leads with values: “The one thing that’s been key is having a north star that everybody believes in, leading with social justice values is why everybody’s coming together at a time when we haven’t actually been able to meet face to face.”

To survive the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure her staff retention was high, Pam Fanjoy put a lot of work into creating a culture that values safety: “When we first shut down in round one, my staff were all laid off for almost 3 months in the restaurant. When they came back the very first thing we did was implemented a Thursday mental health lunch. It was optional, but it was an hour of basically free therapy for the team, and that was a key feature in getting people engaged in figuring out how we were going to become adaptable.”

3. Building financial literacy, creating a strong balance sheet, and partnering with the right organizations are key to accessing capital.

In the first five years of her venture, Pam Fanjoy had a really hard time finding capital. “It really is 2% of female entrepreneurs that get venture funding,” she said. “I learned that as my experience as a SheEO venture in 2021.” But that all changed when she was able to borrow against the equity of the property she purchased in 2016. Fanjoy continued: “I was able to come to VCIB during the pandemic when no other bank would look at me. Partnerships are the way to go because what an entrepreneur can do to grow their business and access capital is compounded if organizations and banks work together.”

Like Fanjoy, Alina Turner had a hard time accessing financing. “The nature of our business (being a mix of tech but at the same time a social enterprise) made it basically impossible for us to get any series A capital early on, nobody understood what we were doing.” said Turner. What made matters more difficult was understanding financial terms, Turner continued: “This is something I didn’t understand going from the world of social work to business, financial literacy is critical.”

In her research, Chelsey Reschke found that there are a lot of resources out there that help organizations become more bankable: “You have to be cognizant of building a strong balance sheet as you scale. There’s more capital out there than people realize, and perhaps it’s just a matter of having a better match-making service.” Besides VCIB, Reschke mentioned there are many lending platforms in Alberta, including: SANDSTONE Asset Management, InterGen, and The51. Another interesting organization, Start Alberta, serves as a match making service for entrepreneurs to find capital.

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Watch the webinar recording here.

Learn more about Fanjoy, Turner, and Reschke’s organizations in our blog:

Learn more about VCIB’s impact financing in our Business Banking page. If interested in chatting with VCIB about your financing needs, get in touch.

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