What began as a plan to provide small business support to women in remote and underserved parts of Alberta has sparked an effort to rethink the experience of female entrepreneurship.
Project Gazelle, created by Community Futures Lloydminster, is one of two projects in Alberta supported by the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), a national $2-billion investment that seeks to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025.
Named after both the emerging business term for an agile and adaptable firm and the swift and tribal groupings of grassland animals, Gazelle took what has been an established process for small business development and deconstructed it to examine the many roadblocks women in Alberta face.
“A business incubator can be anything, so we’re taking a wide-open definition and creating either enhanced or brand-new incubators that have unique and flexible components for female entrepreneurs,” said Project Manager, Glenys Reeves-Gibbs.
From the start, the people behind the idea knew geography was a barrier to getting access to local business expertise, which is why the concept of the incubator is meant to grow and move. Partnering with 15 other Community Futures locations across Northern Alberta, and one in Saskatchewan, the project empowers each community to start a women’s business incubator or engage other organizations to add features to an incubator that’s already in the area. Over a two-year timeframe, the project hopes to build the entrepreneurial capacity of 4500 women in Northern Alberta.
“In order for this program to become successful and sustainable, it will require all our collaboration, engagement and support. This program is meant to be implemented in any region that is interested in developing their own ‘Gazelles’,” said Corinne McGirr, General Manager of Community Futures Lloydminster.
In March, when the first enhanced incubator is ready at Startup Lloydminster, and a new incubator is opening in the town of Hinton, some of the options female entrepreneurs can access may include; local peer support, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing; targeted soft skills workshops on pitching to investors, personal confidence and communication; children’s programming that introduces entrepreneurship to kids while a parent is working on their business.
These new approaches tackle some of the most pressing issues Canadian women describe as barriers to entrepreneurship. According to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization in Canada, the top three challenges women face are support from family, access to capital/financing and having a network of peers.
Project Gazelle has included language assistance as potential entrepreneurs undergo a business assessment, and translators can be accessed to help new female Albertans build their business road map or interpret during workshops and coaching sessions.
Defying traditional expectations
Finding a common language was also a beginning point for the Maskawisîw (pronounced: “Mus-Kow-See-You”) project that is growing Indigenous female entrepreneurship in the Rocky Mountain House area. Maskawisîw in the Cree language means “Strong, Powerful, Vigorous”.
One of the first bridges that needed to be built was between Community Futures Central Alberta, located in Red Deer, and the Asokewin Friendship Centre in Rocky Mountain House. Listening intently to each other, the two organizations have begun to address obstacles around Indigenous reconciliation and are forging a path for mutual growth.
“This is a project which focuses on building relationships within the Indigenous communities in our region,” said Kelly Kierluk, General Manager of Community Futures Central Alberta. “The Maskawisîw Women in Business Start Up Program is a project that will be implemented in partnership with the Asokewin Friendship Centre. It meets our combined fundamental vision to support entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities, with a targeted focus on providing enhanced services to female Indigenous entrepreneurs in our region, which also includes the O-Chiese and Sunchild First Nations”
At each step, the Maskawisîw program has been working to defy traditional expectations.
“Many women may not have seen that their contributions and artistry can also make an economic contribution to their family or in their community,” said Kierluk.
Cultural traditions and expectations are also finding common footing in consultations between partners, and in choosing to rely on local knowledge holders and other small business support organizations including Business Link, that specialize in Indigenous entrepreneurship.
The Maskawisîw Women in Business Start Up Program will launch in April at the Asokewin Friendship Centre and will provide training, mentorship and networking opportunities to Indigenous females empowering them to start, maintain, or grow their business ideas.
In total, the project hopes to help 40 women begin developing a path towards entrepreneurship and economic opportunity.
As well, the team at Community Futures Central Alberta is looking to add long-term strategic opportunities inside their organization with corporate training in Indigenous relations for their staff.
If you want to access or learn more about these Community Futures programs in Alberta, please contact:
Community Futures locations across Alberta also offer mentorship groups, local partnership events and workshops specializing in women’s entrepreneurship.
Find your local Community Futures office today.