Panel

This past month, Futurpreneur Canada hosted their Action Entrepreneurship Summit in Toronto. As part of the Summit, we had several subject matter experts who shared their expertise with the audience of business professionals, entrepreneurs, mentors, and partners. One of the sessions in particular was a panel of four dynamo female entrepreneurs that was moderated by Janice McDonald, President of The Beacon Agency and Futurpreneur Canada Board Member.

The panelists consisted of Barbara McLean-Stollery, President of Executive Airways Grooming Services, Celine Juppeau, Founder of Kotmo, Chivon John, Founder and CEO of Secrets of a Side Hustler, and Lisa von Sturmer, CEO of Growing City, all of which were incredibly unique and inspiring.

Here were some of the insights and highlights from the panel.

Biggest Lessons Learned

One of the first conversations the panel had was some of the most important lessons they learned as entrepreneurs.

Lisa mentioned one of the biggest lessons she learned was to never have one client greater than 30% of your business. She learned the hard way when she lost a client that was a huge chunk of her business. Although to her this was a personal failure, she emphasized how important it is to forgive yourself. You can’t continue to beat yourself up for each challenge you face as an entrepreneur, she stressed.

Chivon talked about her personal experience always talking herself out of doing things because she thought she wasn’t ready, despite making that assumption herself. “You have to be your biggest cheerleader in order for others to believe in you,” she shared. To help keep her confidence up in business, Chivon said she has affirmations and mantras to help build herself up.

The audience chimed in to remind everyone in the crowd to not believe everything you think, and Janice touched on Amy Cuddy’s power pose, and how body language can really change your confidence.

Celine learned a hard lesson when starting her business in partnership with someone else. She soon realized after months of working together that her partner and her didn’t share the same values. She stressed how she has now learned how important it is to have common values with your partner because it will help make decisions and compromises easier.

Lastly, Barbara, who is a part of eight different companies and has grown Executive Airways Grooming Services into a company that services 90% of aircrafts flying in and out of Alberta, talked about how important it is to be the best of the best and provide service above all. Barbara particularly faced challenges when her staff decided to branch out on her own to become entrepreneurs within the same space (aka her competition). She eventually learned that she should take this as a compliment over anything else. “Embrace the fact that you can’t control what other people in your space are doing,” she said.

Gender Equality

Being a female in a space that is dominated by males is a challenge within itself, and although we have come a long way and are seeing more and more female entrepreneurs, there is still an evident gap. Janice next asked the group about challenges they have faced that particularly had to do with being a female in their industry.

Lisa was quick to jump to answer this question as she explained the hardships she had with people taking her seriously as a small woman with a high voice. She described herself as being looked at as small and cute and having to really work to prove herself within the industry when people doubted why she was in it. “I like to be the kind of women I like to be,” she said. “Take that disadvantage and let it make you stronger”

Access to Financing

One thing that all four of these entrepreneurs had in common despite their businesses being drastically different was that they had difficulty accessing financing when they decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship. Barbara had said that she basically did a Google search of “where to go for money when you don’t have any money” and this landed her on the Futurpreneur Canada website (which was then Canadian Youth Business Foundation). At the time, the loan with us was minimal, but once she had the backing of Futurpreneur, this opened up the doors to other financial institutions that wouldn’t even consider giving her financing previously.

Lisa was a bit of an unusual case as she wasn’t interested in getting loans since it seemed scary to her. She did however get a Futurpreneur loan of $15,000 and managed to stay in business for six years with that. In reality, looking back, Lisa wishes she would’ve gone out and tried to get more money and taken more risks, but at the same time, this made her much more of scrappy entrepreneur. She kept her business afloat by working two night jobs and driving compost for her business, Growing City, without sleeping. Due to this experience, she feels her current drivers respect her much more and she’s able to provide them with what they need since she’s been there before.

Chivon’s business, Secrets of a Side Hustler, is built off of the idea of having a full-time job and a “side hustle” outside of it, so having a full-time job was important to her. Since she had the stability of her career when she started, this gave her flexibility to focus on building a business instead of stressing out over cash flow.

The conversation steered into what Canada can do to make access to financing easier for entrepreneurs, and in particular, access to financing for females. Barb mentioned that regardless of who you bank with, there’s a stigma and banks typically lend less to women. Alternatively, Barb also mentioned that this can be two-sided since women typically ask for less. Lisa had such a struggle finding financing, with every bank telling them no, even with parents as guarantors. Little did they know, regulations around businesses like hers would change a couple years later and suddenly the banks would look at Lisa as a genius and wanted her as a client.

All the panelists agreed that kids should be learning about financial literacy in high school, and should be learning about how to borrow money, since this seemed to be a gap that many of these entrepreneurs faced when deciding to start their own business.

Failure

When we see four successful entrepreneurs before us, and some of us are just starting our businesses, we wonder the struggle and the failure they dealt with to get them to where they are today. An audience member wanted to hear about the failures that some of these entrepreneurs have faced, because often they aren’t talked about as much as the success.

Barb opened up about an interactive books app for children which her husband quit his job to pursue despite them knowing nothing about apps. The pair thought they’d make millions on these apps that taught kids about things like potty training and put the app in the app store as a free app. The plan was to sign-up for iAds, only to find out that you aren’t allowed these on children’s apps. Despite that, they still managed to get by Apple and were making money anyways. Unfortunately Apple eventually caught on and asked them to return what they had made in profits.

Celine initially started her company thinking she would take products from designers and sell them to clients, but this business model quickly failed when she realized that she didn’t know anything about the designers and products, and also didn’t know what the companies she was trying to sell to were looking for.

The panel was filled with lots of “ah-ha” moments for the audience, and everyone left the room with a buzz of inspiration after learning about how these four fearless females made it in their respective industries.

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