Founded in 1995, the Women’s Enterprise Centre (WEC), which has a head office in Kelowna and satellite offices in Victoria and Vancouver, helps women start, grow and succeed in running their own businesses.
Thirty-seven per cent of businesses in B.C. are owned by women, according to Dawn McCooey, skills development manager of the Women’s Enterprise Centre. The WEC conducts about 75 training sessions per year and lends $1.4 million in loans per year to women across B.C. McCooey calls WEC a “well-hidden little gem of resources for women.”
The WEC is a non-profit organization. It is funded by the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification Canada department, which represents the four western provinces.
“Women have different barriers to business than men do,” says McCooey. Women often have a harder time accessing capital, she says. When a woman comes out of a divorce or a broken relationship, her credit rating is usually the one that is badly affected, making it difficult for women to qualify for a traditional bank loan.
The WEC is able to offer more flexibility to women seeking business loans, because it looks at the reason for someone’s bad credit rating, says McCooey. Instead of focusing on what it can take if the business fails, the WEC looks at the business’s potential for success. This includes looking at the trends and the profitability of the industry, but the biggest factor is ensuring that the woman is a good fit for the business. The WEC looks at each woman’s character, the skills she possesses and her willingness to learn new skills. Before the loan goes through, McCooey says someone from the WEC will visit the business site to determine if there is a match between the person and the business.
WEC loans are up to $150 000 and are secured at a minimum of 30 per cent security (collateral that will be given to the lender if the entrepreneur cannot pay back the loan) and 25 per cent equity (the cash or business-related assets the entrepreneur herself invests). “These are much lower requirements than a traditional bank,” says McCooey.
McCooey identifies three key elements of a good business plan as the operations part of the business, financial management and marketing. Most people are strong in the operations part, she says. This includes knowing the ins and outs of running a particular business. For example, a Red Seal baker will know how to bake, what the best ingredients are, how much they can produce in a day and who the suppliers are. Financial management includes knowledge of profit margins: measuring the net profit as a percentage of a business’s revenue. Marketing focuses on differentiating the business in order to attract customers and developing a plan to get those customers to come to the business. “ ‘Build it and they will come’ only happens in the movies,” says McCooey.
Business advisors at the WEC help women through the entire process of developing a business plan through telephone calls, webinars and, on occasion, in-person meetings. These business advisers must have their own direct business experience. The WEC offers 2 200 business advisory services every year to women across B.C., including one-on-one mentoring and peer mentoring. Seasoned women business owners are invited to a WEC training session after which they are sent back to their own communities to mentor other women. This creates a network of women in business working together and supporting each other.
The WEC offers business support, resources and education for young women (including recent graduates) aspiring to become entrepreneurs. All that is requred is a willingness to learn and a drive to succeed in business. The WEC also works with YWiB (Young Women in Business), which has a chapter at UVic.
The WEC is trying to connect with women in technology, because most women entrepreneurs still fall into traditional career categories, including service and retail. “We’ve joined women in technology groups, and we’re doing a peer mentoring group just for women in technology in Victoria,” says McCooey. She adds that this mentoring receives additional support from Vancity. “It’s the first time we’ve done that, and it’s just a roaring success.”
For more information, go to womensenterprise.ca, email the WEC at firstname.lastname@example.org or call
1-800-643-7014. To learn more about YWiB at UVic, visit ywib.ca/uvic/.