Women entrepreneurs face unique challenges in starting and growing their business. Issues with confidence and mindset, lack of access to networks and mentors, a lower level of business training and management experience and challenges with work-life balance can affect women in all stages of business and prevent them from reaching their economic potential.
For nearly 25 years, Women’s Enterprise Centre (WEC) has provided services designed to help women overcome these and other barriers to achieve business success in the Okanagan and around the province. Funded by Western Economic Diversification Canada, WEC is a non-profit organization with its head office in Kelowna, plus offices in Vancouver and Victoria. It provides business loans, skills training, advice, mentors, resources and a supportive community to women entrepreneurs across the province.
On average, the WEC team responds to over 10,000 inquiries every year from current and aspiring women business owners and, last year, they provided over 1,500 one-on-one business advisory sessions. Since its inception, WEC has provided over $64.9 million in direct and leveraged financing, which has created over $1.95 billion in economic activity in BC and has helped create or maintain over 3,100 jobs.
“Each one of our clients makes an impact in her community: contributing to social change, fostering emerging leaders, creating jobs and generating economic activity. We are proud to help them enhance their communities,” says Laurel Douglas, CEO of Women’s Enterprise Centre.
One such client is Angela Nagy, CEO and Co-Founder of GreenStep Solutions, a Kelowna-based sustainability services company that helps businesses reduce their carbon footprint. WEC provided Angela with a growth loan as she expanded her business, then connected her with a Business Advisor and matched her with a One-to-One Mentor along the way.
Angela and her team are making a significant impact for their clients and for the environment and, in 2019, GreenStep was named a 2019 Best for the World honoree by B Corporation. Angela has also come full-circle to become a volunteer for WEC as a roundtable participant and storyteller to inspire other women entrepreneurs in the Okanagan.
“Many women initially come to us for a business loan or advisory services. As they overcome their challenges and start to grow, they are empowered to become leaders in their own business and community,” says Laurel. “Their real-world knowledge and experience is invaluable for other women in business.”
The WEC team credits their supportive community of partners, volunteers, storytellers and mentors for its success. On average, WEC partners with over 70 organizations per year to bring relevant training, financing, events and mentors to communities all over BC where local demand exists.
Having its head office in Kelowna allows WEC to benefit from the well-established entrepreneurial culture of the Okanagan and stay connected with other local business service providers like Community Futures Central Okanagan, Accelerate Okanagan, Kelowna Women in Business and others.
Over the next four years, WEC is expanding its support for rural, Indigenous, immigrant, youth and growth-oriented women entrepreneurs with the project, “Enhancing the Mosaic of Women Entrepreneurs” (EMWE), thanks to funding from the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy Ecosystem Fund. They will be rolling out some exciting new initiatives over the next year including expanded mentoring programs, training and increased outreach in many regions.