Funded by the Western Economic Diversification, the Women’s Business Hub (WBH) is a program by the Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS) that started in 2019 with the first cohort of eight participants in September. Since then, the program has had two cohorts each year in March and September.
The 12-month program is for immigrant women who want to start or expand their business in the province. WBH helps participants to brush up on their business skills, and access resources, tools and support for their businesses. The hub provides opportunities for the women to learn, connect, network, innovate and launch or expand their business in a safe, supportive environment. Participants can also access the hub’s commercial kitchen, sewing machines, meeting rooms, a big hall, child minding area and other practical resources for their business at discounted rates. In addition, the hub has an e-commerce platform for businesses to sell their products or promote their services.
According to Shahira Mabrouk, the Program Coordinator, “WBH does not fund these immigrant women’s businesses, but it facilitates their business process and can also connect them to financial institutions to facilitate loans. The program also hosts the Dream to Reality pitch competition, which awards the winner a cash prize”.
Majority of the program participants have been able to start their businesses with the support of the program.
Helen Lijunyan came to Canada in September 2020 and wanted to start a business to make a living and be a positive role model for her kid, but she says, “as a new immigrant, I knew nothing about the business culture, financial environment or government rules and regulations in this country”. When Helen heard about the Women’s Business Hub from another Open Door program she was participating in, she knew this was the best opportunity to learn all she needed to execute her business idea.
Helen says WBH provided step-by-step directions for all aspects of business from registering a business, book-keeping to filing taxes. “It also provides us with access to local social networks. Through these networks, we connect and communicate with entrepreneurs in different sectors as well as potential customers in our communities. Whenever I have any problems or questions regarding my business, WBH team is always my first resource to seek professional help”, she adds.
With the help of WBH, Helen started the Edventure Clubhouse to provide after-school classes, holiday camps and in-school enrichment workshops featuring STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading & writing, Engineering, Art and Math) education to kids in Grades K-8.
Helen concludes, “this program teaches entrepreneurship in a hand-holding way, and I’ll recommend to every immigrant woman who wants to start a business in Canada.”
Krisztina Marki was a specialty yoga teacher in Serbia before she migrated to Canada in 2019. She says, “yoga has been a part of my life for more than 15 years. It helped me to learn how to manage stress and anxiety and live more consciously. I really wanted other women to also experience the benefits of yoga. I wanted to build a community of health-conscious women who practice yoga together as part of their self-care routine.”
With the help of WBH, Krisztina established Karmaburn Yoga in 2020, a key step towards her goal. She says, “I remember how lost, confused but highly motivated I was when Shahira interviewed me for the program. I told her all the business-related things that I didn’t know how to do, and she smiled and confidently told me that they would help me. I had a hard time starting a business on my own because I didn’t understand this system, but WBH provided a lot of support, and a community of other like-minded immigrant women with the same goals. So, I never felt alone”.
Like Helen, Krisztina says she also highly recommends the program for all newcomer business women.
The program is open to immigrant women who are eligible to work in Canada, moved to Canada within the last 10 years, are either permanent residents or Canadian citizens, have English language level CLB 4+, and have the technical skills and passion for their business.
To learn more about the hub program, ecommerce or commercial space, visit https://www.sods.sk.ca/welcoming/look-for-work/womens-business-hub or contact the hub’s administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.