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Our Voices

Helping Leaders Flourish Through Mentorship

Image of white woman in her 50's with blonde/grey curly hair leaning against a wall
Christy Pettit, founder of Pollinate. Photo by Britney Townsend Photography.

Christy Pettit thinks of bees pollinating a field of flowers when she thinks about the name of her company. 

“Pollen does not rampantly go everywhere,” she explained during a Zoom call. “There’s a strategy.”

Launched in 2008, the Guelph, Ontario based Pollinate Networks doesn’t match bees and flowers but mentors and mentees. Its technology predicts a high degree of compatibility among people, and their online education resources ensure mentees and mentors get the most out of their time together.

Mentorship Benefits Employees and Enterprise Leaders

Pettit has experienced first-hand the difference mentorship can make. “[Mentors] have really enhanced my knowledge and saved me a ton of heartache by having the expertise at a moment when I needed it,” she said. An early mentor helped her appreciate how she could make a more positive impression when working with clients and executives. 

“It wasn’t clear to me how much my tone and demeanor and approach affected the whole soup,” Pettit said.

Pettit said it makes business sense for business leaders, founders and owners to invest in mentorship tools, as external market research has found significantly higher retention rates, productivity, and job satisfaction for those in mentoring programs compared to those who were not. After all, employees today are seeking more individualized attention and learning. 

Moreover, Pettit said the pandemic has heightened interest in mentorship programs, as the interpersonal moments mentorship provides are more valuable in hybrid and virtual work arrangements.

Proprietary Software Makes the Best Matches Possible

What sets Pollinate Networks apart from its competitors is the rigor of its matching algorithms, Pettit said. Although there are around 300 large companies globally which offer mentor-mentee matching services, the information Pollinate collects from mentors and mentees with its proprietary software predicts better matches than most. 

“It’s not just throwing people together and hoping that it works,” she said. 

Pollinate works by collecting a myriad of detailed information to help mentees find their ideal mentors. Mentees start by identifying their career goals and the skills they want to develop, which might include things like strategic thinking, business awareness, or stepping outside their comfort zone. Likewise, mentors provide information including their work history and expertise. Pollinate also assesses the collaboration styles of mentors and mentees to ensure interpersonal dynamics are positive and productive, and then determines matches based on what the algorithm determines is the best fit for their needs and personality.   

While being a mentor is often unpaid work, these mentors volunteer their time because they don’t want“ all the hard-won knowledge and experience they have to go to waste,” Pettit said. 

Mentoring Can Support Diversity Goals

While the company’s strong suit lies in the power of its matching algorithms, Pollinate also offers online educational videos intended to help mentors and mentees to get the most from their mentorships. Topics include things like the role of mentors and mentees, Socratic questioning, and overcoming unconscious bias. Pettit said everyone has unconscious bias, and helping mentors discover their own biases and expand their understanding of the role of privilege, concept of intersectionality, and value of lived experience makes them better mentors. 

Mentoring programs can also help women and other underrepresented groups by expanding their networks and gaining access to more experienced or senior people who can support their career growth. 

Pettit said there is a “legitimate hunger” in organizations to achieve greater diversity in leadership roles and other positions. 

“It’s not just political correctness anymore,” she said.

Doing it Right Takes Time

While many of the company’s clients are big companies like Manulife and BlackBerry, which license its software to benefit their own employees, Pollinate also works with not-for-profits and emerging companies to match mentors and mentees within a broader community. 

Pettit and the Pollinate team. Pictured left to right: Christy Pettit, CEO Renate Wiebe, Project Coordinator João Paulo Viel Vieira, Project Coordinator Amy Strachan, Executive Assistant, Richard Bain Photography

For example, Pollinate partners with the Guelph-Wellington Business Center to match local entrepreneurs with advisors who offer support around pandemic recovery, and Project Learning Tree uses Pollinate to help pair mentors with youth looking to pursue careers in forestry. The company’s platform is also matching entrepreneurs in the food and agriculture industry with mentors to explore ways to address rising food costs and global food supply chain issues.

With more and more enterprises and organizations embracing the possibilities of mentorship, Pettit said Pollinate is “growing at a good pace right now and moving our way up, revenue-wise.”

While the company’s eventual goal is to focus solely on mentorship, Pollinate’s mentorship-pairing services currently represent between 70 to 80 percent of its income. The remaining revenue comes from things like engagement surveys, professional services, and grants, which Pollinate uses to fund ongoing improvements to its mentorship software.

Developing an computer based intelligent algorithm like the one Pollinate uses takes time and money; while the company could have easily designed a more generic mentor-matching program much more quickly, Pollinate has benefitted from taking extra time to develop its unique algorithm for maximum compatibility. Pettit maintains that the power of their well-honed matching system makes mentorship more meaningful and improves outcomes for all involved.

“I wanted to do this the right way,” Pettit said.

Publishers Note: Pollinate participated in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level

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Allied Arts & Media

Breaking Up With Patriarchy in Film and TV

A collage showing popcorn, a camera, film reel and three women, two brown and one white woman
Collage: Shreya Patel, Rabiya Mansoor, Window Dreams; Bonnie Anderson (top), Moxie Productions

British filmmaker Amma Asante once said: “Don’t take no as a full stop, treat it like a comma.” Three women indie filmmakers (Bonnie Anderson, Moxie Productions; Rabiya Mansoor and Shreya Patel, Window Dreams Productions) are doing just that. These filmmakers aren’t asking for a seat at patriarchy’s table. They’re building a better one on their own.

Film has always been a brutal industry for everyone but women bear a disproportionate brunt of the pain. A 2021 report by Women in View found women were afforded significantly fewer film contracts than men by two major funders and far less funding. BIPOC women fared the worst. A story in World Economic Forum in March reported that while the MeToo movement uncovered gender power dynamics in Hollywood, inequities behind the scenes garnered less attention: fewer than 20% of directors and writers of the 250 highest-grossing U.S. movies were women (according to a recent study). It isn’t lack of education that holds women back – a 2018 report found equal representation of women in higher education in film and television.

Indie Film Making: The Road to Freedom?

While building one’s own company doesn’t make systemic oppression and challenges vanish, the autonomy that comes with going indie provides film makers with the freedom to produce content that matters to them, their way, and in ways that aligned with their feminist ideals. Moxie Productions’ Anderson recalled an incident where a male actor ignored her – even though she was director and producer, and looked to her male Director of Photography instead. She hasn’t hired him again. For the keepers though, she provides a work experience “I wasn’t finding in other places.” She loves hearing how working on her set is fun. “I want everybody to have that feeling when they’re on set because that’s when you get the best work done.”

Photo of three people. A man, two women.
Left to Right: Jorge Molina. Andrea Grant and Bonnie Anderson of Moxie Productions. Photos by Denise Grant.

For the co-CEOS at Window Dreams (below), going indie means you can put people and relationships first. “If there is no friendship, this doesn’t exist, and it’s not fun anymore,” Patel said.” “You don’t have to be lonely at the top.” The system pits marginalized creatives and producers (they are both of South Asian descent) against one another. There is often only one ‘diversity’ seat at the table. “Our mindset has always been, well, we’ll just build our own table or we’ll just make the table bigger,” Mansoor said. “There could be seats for everyone.”

Anderson took the leap into independent film making after years of industry experience that included lighting designer, theater director, playwright and actor. Technology has helped get hers and other women’s derrieres in seats. When cameras and lighting got smaller, and editing apps became available (“Film is really all created in the editing room”) she realized: “I’m tired of waiting for other people and I want to just create things for a living.” She learned how to edit through YouTube videos and appointments at Apple Genuis (“They were great”) to make her first film ‘GPS Love’: “A man falls in love with his new GPS and finds himself.” 

Leveraging Technology, Global Networks and Diversity

Window Dreams has been busy during this pandemic. Learning to leverage new technology has helped. The Toronto-based Mansoor had wondered whether she would ever have the opportunity to be in a writers’ room with people from New York and Los Angeles. Then virtual meetings became the norm.  Their documentary, ‘Unity’ (logline: “Love spreads faster than a virus”), had over 100 cast from almost 70 countries. While Patel slept, videos arrived from different time zones for her to edit when she woke up. ‘Unity’ was the closing film at the Unified Filmmakers-Munich International Film Festival last year. Their music video, ‘Freedom Dance,’ with Bollywood and other celebrities was directed virtually by Patel. It went viral and was reported in Rolling Stones India. “I’m retiring,” Patel joked. (She is obviously decades away from retirement!)

Anderson said that if she could change one thing to support the advancement of women, she would appoint more of them “To be head of where the money is.” The Women in View’s On Screen Report found women give other women more breaks. They refer, for example, to the ‘showrunner and producer effect’. When women occupy these positions, their teams have far greater representation of women in creative roles like writers, directors and cinematographers. When women of colour are the producers, the playing field for other women of colour is significantly more level.

A study done earlier this year, Building Inclusive Networks in the Film and Television Industry, found BIPOC women and non-binary individuals viewed networking events as vital to gaining industry access. Yet, most participants felt ‘unwelcome’ at industry events. Lack of diversity, micro-aggressions and cliquishness were some of the reasons cited. Participants felt greater inclusivity in networking opportunities would lead to positive outcomes: better programming for more accurate reflection of current reality; greater authenticity in the stories; fewer stereotypical or sexualized portrayals of women; on-screen reflection of the diversity of Canadians.

Left to Right: Shreya Patel and Rabiya Mansoor, Window Dreams

Even for Patel, with her expansive global network and a gift for networking and connecting – “That’s where my forte is when it comes to business” – access remains a challenge. Though there’s no lack of funding opportunities, finding them is a problem. Peers are generally tight-lipped for fear of competition. Mansoor and Patel feel funders need to promote these opportunities better, while supporting applicants to ensure strong submissions. They found out about the Bell Fund Slate Development Program late but hustled to submit their application. They got funding for several projects including the comedy series Layla is Relevant (which they also star in) about “A former child star and current nobody” who moves back to Sarnia (Patel’s hometown) with her single mom and gamer cousin.

No Money? Carry On!

Lack of funding never stopped these women from pushing ahead on their dream projects. Anderson had pursued funding before Moxie Productions without much success. She realized: “I’m going to create a production company and make money from it. And from that money, I’ll be able to create my own personal work that I want to do.” She has a thriving business in educational videos (For the purpose of training doctors and other professionals) and actor and musician promotional reels. This allows her to take financial risks that help other women like her improv partner Kate Ashby. “I Just thought Kate needed her own television show,” Anderson said. Talk with Kate Ashby was a talk show with a twist where prominent guests like actor Susan Coyne decided on the next guest (only revealed to Kate on camera). A new season of SNAK (four-minute lively interviews with celebrities like Sandra Shamas, Jean Yoon, Peter Mansbridge) is launching. “This is something that is dear to my heart and we celebrate Canadian talent,” Anderson said.

The women at Window Dreams pursue stories about social justice knowing their payday may be far off. Years ago, while Patel was doing humanitarian work in India, she watched helplessly as poor children were waiting to be treated for terminal illnesses. She knew documentary filmmaking could shine a light on marginalized people and create change. Window Dreams’ Girl Up about human trafficking in Canada took years to develop without funding. A feature film about domestic human trafficking is in the works.

Emerging Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Policies are Helping

There is reason for aspiring women indie filmmakers to be optimistic. Commitments to gender parity by publicly-funded organizations such as CBC, Canadian Media Fund, and the CRTC have increased the number of women directors in film and television. Mountains still need to be moved to increase representation of BIPOC women and all women in key industry roles like cinematography. However, women in film are increasingly leveraging the power of trust, connection and collective action. They are also helping each other out. They are helping each other out. Organizations such as Women in Film and Television (WIFT), Fem Script Lab, and Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC) offer development and networking to support women’s advancement in the industry.

Anderson, Mansoor and Patel participated in the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab’s Fifth Wave Initiative, a development program that integrates intersectional feminist ideals with entrepreneurship. For Anderson it was “mind blowing” to be connected with women who were rooting for her success. The enthusiasm of mentors and others to make connections to help their business thrive was invaluable.

What’s their advice to help the next generation of women? Anderson would like everyone to see business differently. “It’s not sales; it’s building relationships.” Mansoor would tell them to have “The confidence to run with an idea, knowing there are wins and losses”. “Don’t give up,” Patel would advise. “Entrepreneurship is a long road.”

We can all help make that road a little smoother.

TIFF (September 8 – 18) has a category of films ‘Directed by Women’. These films deserve our support.

Publishers Note: The FitIn is a part of the Fifth Wave, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally and content sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 5 are OPEN!

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Our Voices

Hurtling Towards a Metaverse Future

Photo of a young woman wearing a blue v neck sweater and a virtual reality headset.
Candice Houtekier, founder, Art Collision. Photo by B. Mulholland, Moo Company

“The frenzy was really unique,” Candice Houtekier said, recalling her first Collision technology conference in 2018. Houtekier had recently obtained a graduate degree in Art History and Video Games from the University of Montreal and was working at a contemporary art gallery. At the Collision conference she met tech-savvy entrepreneurs working at the intersection of art and blockchain technology. “It was avant-gardist,” the 29-year-old said.

“I remember thinking art fairs, art events and art organizations in general are really late,” she said, thinking back to how dated the arts world seemed compared to what she experienced at the Collision event. She wanted to change that. Six months after the conference she launched her own business. She had the perfect name: Art Collision.

Working at the Intersection of Art and Technology

Like many entrepreneurs Houtekier said “Yes to everything,” at the beginning. Her clients were independent artists, collectors and smaller arts organization wanting to improve their digital presence.  She helped them with things such as website design and analytics.

“But with years, I learned what I’m good at, what I like to work on, and what is profitable for my business,” she said. While she still provides more routine technical support, there has been a seismic shift in her business in a short time. In 2020, virtual reality services were less than ten percent of revenue. A year later it jumped to almost twenty-five percent. More and more clients are from around the world.

While the overall value of NFT art has dropped precipitously recently, Houtekier maintained it is a sound longer-term investment for savvy art collectors. She gave the example of the American abstract expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler.  Someone who bought one of her paintings in the 1970s and flipped it two years later probably lost money. “But if you resold it forty years later, well you’re probably going to make a lot of money.” Houtekier helps her clients succeed in the world of NFTs. “I think the scene is a bit overwhelming because there is a lot of information, a lot of new vocabulary, and a lot of scammers,” she said. “I show to my clients how to enter the scene in a secure peaceful way.” This includes everything from how to open a crypto-wallet to minting an NFT to showcasing clients’ artwork in a metaverse where it can be exhibited “In a professional and beautiful way.”

Houtekier is a solopreneur with a strong team of collaborators like Brendon McNaughton, co-founder and CEO of Art Gate. She introduced herself to him at an art fair after noticing cynoculars in his hands. “Wow, what’s going on in your headset?” she asked. “Show me what you can do.”

Art Gate is a metaverse that leases space to art galleries to exhibit beyond their brick-and-mortar spaces. Imagine this: An art collector from anywhere can visit an art gallery thousands of miles away. They enter the Art Gate metaverse via their laptop or virtual reality headset. This gallery may be designed to look traditional with white walls or something completely outrageous. Similar to an in-person experience, there are even greeters and tour guides—sometimes these are bots. Art Collision and Art Gate collaborate on several art fairs every year and a month-long biennial with talks, discussions and gallery tours.

 A New Land Owner in Cryptovoxels

Last year, Houtekier expanded her footprint in the metaverse by buying a parcel of land in Cryptovoxels. Cryptovoxels (like Art Gate) is a metaverse that works well for exhibiting art. Her first project on her property was designing wearables (digital clothes for avatars). Her collection of designer hats was a hit with other Cryptovoxels land owners, artists and art collectors. “Or just people having fun and meeting the community and partying,” Houtekier said. After all, making a fashion statement in the virtual world is as important as in real life.

This wearable project built Houtekier’s competencies for selling digital assets in the metaverse that translated to her core business of helping artists. Many artists work with NFTs but there is not enough gallery space around to exhibit and sell their work. Houtekier collaborated with an architect to create Floating Point Gallery in the web3 to support emerging artists.

Art Collision’s first exhibit in Cryptovoxels was the work of Canadian artist Antoine Lortie (@agrophobe). “I fell in love as soon as I discovered his work,” Houtekier said. With the wearable project and her first art exhibit under her belt, she was ready to do more. She has recently added four new artists to her roster and has more exhibitions planned for later this year.

Avatars Empower Us

The metaverse opens up possibilities beyond creating and exhibiting art. Houtekier said it also empowers people by allowing them to create avatars as a form of expression. “It’s about being yourself; it’s about choosing who you want to be,” she said.

Houtekier said some metaverses are very inclusive where avatars can have different skin colours (even blue!), religious symbols, assistive devices like hearing aids, robotic parts for limbs—and more. “The metaverse is giving us the opportunity to lay the foundation of a gender-neutral world where people can adopt the gender traits they want,” she said. One of her female colleagues “Always wears a pretty moustache” during their team meetings in the Horizon Workrooms metaverse. “You can now be a woman, a man or a sandwich!” she joked. What about Houtekier’s digital incarnation? “I embrace my female traits,” she said. Her avatar sports sneakers and a little skirt—and of course, a hat!

Houtekier spent a lot of time as an avatar during the pandemic. She joined empowerment groups in the metaverse like Meta Angels where she met other women interested in sharing intelligence about the blockchain. She expanded her network across the globe thanks to Natural Language Processing which removed language barriers. However, the metaverse can only go so far in building networks. She is looking forward to live conferences, art fairs and openings. “It’s going to be a great spring and a great summer and a great opportunity to meet the community again and to connect with people in real life,” she said. “It’s important to have a real time conversation with people one-on-one, face-to-face.”

The Future of Art Collision

Houtekier’s said she feels very privileged to work in an area she loves and to feel so well supported by the arts community and her collaborators. Art Collision has accomplished a lot in just a few short years. But Houtekier is set to take a big leap forward.

“We are ready to work with larger art organizations, museums, the government, and academic institutions”, she said. Art Collision is currently working with the Canadian government to help transition from the traditional Canadian art scene to a more digital one, and advance the empowerment of women and minorities in the metaverse.

“We have the tools, the experience and the skills to really make the Canadian art scene a better one.”  Houtekier is “Ready to do a great digital transition.”


Publishers Note: Art Collision participated in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse levelApplications for Fifth Wave Connect are open. Apply here

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Our Voices

FitIn’s Marathon to Investor Funding

An image of a white woman at a gym wearing a tshirt that reads "fit in".
Catherine Chan, founder, Photo credit: Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real

The hashtags on FitIn founder Catherine Chan’s LinkedIn profile tell the story of the long hard road to investor funding: #breakthebias, #fundingforwomen, #economic inclusion. Her first foray into the school of hard knocks was at an investor boot camp. The male instructor insisted the stepping stone to investor money was raising money through family and friends first. “If your friends and your family aren’t willing to invest in you, investors consider it a red flag,” she said. Unfortunately, Chan didn’t know people with deep pockets like the male MBAs who tapped their old classmates and colleagues for cash. Although she was “fish-wife swearing” to herself about the injustice of it all, she found the experience invaluable. “I knew that my own money was going to have to last me a lot longer than everybody’s else’s.”

Despite the long hours devoted to FitIn and two external leadership-level roles, the 48-year-old founder and single parent looked surprisingly relaxed for a Friday afternoon. Appearing on Zoom in a leopard print top with chunky reading glasses resting casually on top of her head, her calmness spoke to the value proposition of her business. Chan had long suffered from depression and fitness changed her life. As she approached forty, she decided to train for a marathon. “By the end of it all, I was a whole new person,” she said. “The only thing that has ever given me peace is a workout. I wanted that for everybody else in the world.”

How Does FitIn Fit In?

FitIn is a shared economy platform connecting fitness and wellness providers with fitness and wellness enthusiasts who visit FitIn’s ‘marketplace’ where classes and events are aggregated. This one-stop shopping makes fitness and wellness more accessible, i.e., no more scouring the internet! Fit-preneurs (Chan’s name for her providers, typically independent personal trainers, wellness practitioners and smaller fitness studios) use FitIn to market their services and process customer payment at an affordable rate.

Screen shot of the website

Running the Investor Funding Marathon

Chan is reluctant to share negative experiences about what it’s like trying to raise funds as a female in a tech-enabled business without a male technical co-founder. She shared one story as an example. During her pitch to a group of angel investors, an older man told her: “There’s a David somewhere in that marble” and that she was “onto something.” But then asked the sort of question less often posed to male founders: “Aren’t you concerned that someone with more money is going to build the exact same thing as you but a lot faster and better?” She bit her tongue but wanted to say: “You know, you have the power to make that not happen.”

While Chan has not yet acquired venture capital or institutional funding, she did secure two angel investors at an Open People Network pitch event. And, a few friends and family are now investors too. Unfortunately, grants for her type of business are scarce. Chan said funders often think of fitness as just a fun thing people do on weekends. “They don’t get the impact it can have socially, and economically when you have a healthy population,” she said.

It should be just a matter of time before Chan raises the money needed to accelerate the growth of FitIn. After all, she has a unique offering. FitIn combines the best features of business unicorns Mindbody and into one product. What’s more, FitIn is a social enterprise that supports—rather than exploits—gig economy workers. Chan plans to launch an affiliate shareholder program, which she said is “A virtuous cycle economy within the platform itself.”

Mentorship at the Heart of Success

Chan amassed skills for successful entrepreneurship even before realizing this was her dream. She obtained a graduate degree in classics in 1998 which has proved to be invaluable. Her degree integrated diverse disciplines from philosophy to politics to analyze the chain of events in a bygone era. “It’s that big picture mentality,” she said. This education also honed her presentation skills – key for pitching investors.

After graduation, Chan did reception and admin work before her upward trajectory began in sales and training at well-known corporations. Eventually, she grew weary of office politics and under-representation of woman at the top. After being let go from her last corporate role, she decided to pursue a business idea percolating for some time. She began searching ‘start-ups’ on Facebook.  Networking events at places like Startup TO and Startup Canada began to fill her feed. “I let the algorithm feed me all the information I needed,” she said. She immersed herself in the startup landscape like at that investor boot camp. FitIn was born.

Two years ago, Chan participated in Fifth Wave’s Connect Accelerator Program. Her mentor Val Fox was “absolutely amazing.” One piece of advice Fox offered was for Chan to seek freelance work rather than devote all her time and energy to FitIn. This has allowed Chan to keep a roof over her and her child’s head without the stress of cash flow, and grow FitIn on her own terms rather than accept funding with conditions that might be in opposition to her own feminist values.

Chan is paying the mentorship she received forward. “I don’t think I can ever pay back in my lifetime of helping people, but boy I’ll try,” she said. She was recently appointed as Entrepreneur in Residence at Fifth Wave, and also mentors women at Elizabeth Fry Society Toronto. Mentoring others has helped her grow as an entrepreneur. She recalled a saying about how people barely remember things told to them but remember things forever when they teach it to others.

The Funding Marathon Continues

FitIn is still in its early days. While most of her Fit-preneurs are in the GTA (where Chan lives) she has big plans.  “I would really love to create a virtual fitness tourism type of economy,” she said. This would involve getting fitness and wellness providers in rural communities onto her platform, giving them access to a wider audience.

“So, give me a million dollars and there is no way I am not expanding across Canada in a heartbeat, making sure we are supporting communities and accomplishing our mission of helping Canadians get healthier physically and mentally.”

If you would like to invest in FitIn, Catherine Chan can be contacted at

Publishers Note: The FitIn is a part of the Fifth Wave, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally and content sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 5 will open this summer.

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Featured Our Voices

The Apprenticeship of a Priestess

A photo of annie matan, a white woman in mauve glasses, wearing red lipstick and wearing short reddish hair.
Kohenet Annie Matan, Jewish Priestess and founder of Matanot Lev (Hebrew for "Gifts of the Heart"). Photo by Trevor Sherwin.

Kohenet Annie Matan appeared on Zoom wearing a red onesie. It was a different look than in a photo on her website. In that photograph, the 42-year-old redhead wore a red hooded robe for the gay interfaith marriage she officiated last Hallowe’en.

But today Matan is sick, so it is a pajama day. Despite being unwell, she insisted on proceeding with the interview for this story. “It’s the Winter Solstice,” she said. “And that feels auspicious.” The Kohenet (Jewish Priestess) had drunk immune boosters, pulled tarot cards and readied her crystals. She was now ready to talk.

Finding the Right Jewish Fit

Matan grew up in a Reform Jewish household in Toronto and felt a strong connection to Judaism early on. “I devoured religious school,” she said. She admired the female rabbis at her synagogue. “They enabled me to see myself as clergy.”

Matan set out to become a rabbi by pursuing Jewish Studies at university and rabbinical school. However, a sense of alienation took root. As a woman she was excluded from participating fully in her religion. She was not permitted, for instance, to sing at her grandmother’s Orthodox funeral service because it was considered inappropriate to hear a woman’s voice in that setting. She found even Reform Jewish services to be patriarchal in their liturgy. Matan once asked a rabbi: “Why are we talking about God as Lord and King and Master?” His answer surprised her: “It’s not written for you,” he said. “You’re a woman.”

Then, Matan found out about the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute. “It was like a thunderclap.” She was in the first cohort of ordained Kohenet in 2500 years. Evidence suggests that priestesses existed before the creation of the Hebrew Bible but references to women’s spiritual leadership were mostly eliminated from the text. Matan embraced the reclamation of this “Feminist earth-based embodied experiential Judaism.”  She said: “That community really helped raise me up as a leader”.

Having once aspired to be a woman rabbi like the ‘fiery powerhouses’ she admired who made change from within conventional institutions, Matan realized: “I’m a build it from the outside-in person”.

The Entrepreneur Priestess

 It wasn’t a straight shot to becoming a Priestess entrepreneur. Matan held a variety of jobs from administrative support to customer service in both corporate and Jewish cultural settings. It was while working as a facilitator at the JCC in downtown Toronto, that people encouraged her to start her own high holiday and Shabbat services.

After running these experiences for several years out of her own pocket, in 2018 she launched Matanot Lev (Hebrew for ‘Gifts of the Heart’) and began to charge her clients. Matanot Lev focuses on Jewish and inter-faith religious practices like high holidays, Shabbat, funerals, and weddings through a Jewish lens. Matan prioritizes meaning over rote practice. A common reaction: “I didn’t know Judaism could be like this. I felt so comfortable to be myself here.”

The sole proprietor knows the importance of being comfortable in one’s skin. It has taken years to embrace her whole self: Mama, Queer, psychic superpower, mentor, sacred space and ritual facilitator, and artist. “I’m also poly, which I’ve just started singing out loud more recently,” she said. She loves queer culture because it allows people to be their “Crazy, weird, unique snowflake self.”

The pandemic wasn’t a difficult pivot for Matan’s business. She had already been using Zoom (“A magical portal that defies time and space”) for one-on-one spiritual guidance, mentorship and readings. Many of her clients are busy moms or entrepreneurs who prefer meeting virtually. Matan has noticed increased demand for virtual mentorship during the pandemic as more people awaken to their intuitive gifts and seek support to integrate these gifts into their daily lives. “Because I work with energy, I’m pretty good at invoking the feeling of being in the same room,” Matan said.

Matan’s monthly New Moon Red Tent Circle (An ancient ritual where women gather on the new moon to celebrate the sacredness of women’s space) moved on-line. Matan had been doing these circles for well over a decade under real tents and in person. Now, women close their eyes and imagine being under the tent together, sitting in a circle. “We envision the altar before we bring our offerings,” said Matan.

A new weekly group was launched last year. Living from the Heart is a space where women become courageous and authentic. For example, when a woman says something like, “Ugh, I’m so bad, I did XYZ,” Matan explores where the need to be perfect originated. This group considers how beliefs are shaped by patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy. She lights up when a woman shares how they handled a challenging situation by applying what they learned in her group

Matan is still thinking through what her business will look like post-pandemic. While there will be a return to in-person gatherings, she wonders whether a hybrid-model would continue to attract people outside of Toronto as they have for Living from the Heart and the New Moon Red Tent Circles. One thing that won’t change is how people feel transformed by the group experience. They often arrive saying things like “I’m exhausted, I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling frazzled.” And by the end? Matan said she hears: “I feel clear, I feel calm. I feel confident.”

Women Lifting other Women

Matan has a favourite GIF. In it there is a line of women. The woman at the front turns to lift up the one behind her; that woman then turns to lift the next one in line; and on and on. Matan has been lifted by her spiritual community: the strong women rabbis, her Kohenet teachers and cohort, and Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan who founded a thriving Jewish renewal community in Israel and believed Matan could start her own in Toronto.

Matan’s business mentors have lifted her as high as her spiritual ones. At Shecosystem (a feminist co-working community) Matan became a member of ‘The coven’ (the leadership team) and learned important lessons from its founder, Emily Rose Antflick, like how finding ‘balance’ is less important than ‘integrating’ all aspects of one’s life. “That’s when the full breadth of our vulnerability and our power are fully celebrated in any environment, we’re in,” said Matan. “That’s when we are thriving. And that’s how we transform the world.”R

Small group of people holding candles standing around two men who are cerimoniously being blessed by Annie Matan
Matan blessing grooms Roman and Brandon with herbs. Photo by Studio Kuefner Photography

In 2017, Matan began working with Judith Manriquez, a business and spiritual mentor who convinced Matan to offer one-on-one spiritual guidance. Matan initially balked, questioning whether she was qualified.  Then, she realized how she had always been the go-to person for important decisions. Furthermore, she had been reading cards for over twenty years. “I’ve been using these tools this whole time,” Matan said. “The only difference is now I’m asking to be paid for it.”

Matan is doing her part to lift others behind her up. She is active in the community like speaking to LGBTQ students. “These kids need to see what Jewish clergy can look like, that we can be queer, and we can be feminist, and we can be earth based, Matan said. “And we can be welcoming to the core of our souls, unapologetically.”

She also co-hosts “Tending Lilith’s Fire” on Youtube with Kohenet D’Vorah Grenn, which they started in 2020. They discuss women and spirituality. Recent episodes explored the relationship between patriarchy and trauma, and how women might allow themselves to dream of playful possibilities in their lives.

Lilith is a guiding force for Matan. In Jewish mythology, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. Matan said Lilith asked Adam: “How dare you hover over my light. How dare you try to dominate me?” Matan explained how Lilith sprouted wings and flew away, rather than continue to suffer inside the beautiful Garden of Eden. Lilith wanted to create the world in ways that hadn’t been imagined yet. “And, that’s where I want to go,” she said.

A white woman wearing mauve glasses and bright red dress with patter smiling with hands folded in front of her on the table
Kohenet Annie Matan reading cards at the Darling Mansion. Photo by Studio Kuefner Photography.


The Meaning of Success

Business is growing mostly by word-of-mouth but people also find her via her Instagram account and substack and advertisements in places like Wedding Wire. She launched a show in 2019 at the Free Times Café called ‘Raising up the Courageous Voice’ as Floxy Blu, her singer-songwriter, raw poet persona. She invited other singers, storytellers and poets to share the stage. The show moved on-line during the pandemic but the plan is to return to live performances this year. Tickets will be on a sliding scale, like Matan’s other offerings.

It’s still early days for Matan’s business but her vision is to facilitate sacred experiences with larger gatherings. “I want big rooms where people are in circles, where they’re seeing each other, connecting with each other,” she said. “Where people are building relationships as humans in the experience.”

While Matanot Lev (the Jewish and inter-faith services) lend themselves to large group settings, Matan believes it would work for spiritual guidance too. For instance, when she read cards at a women’s business conference, many women asked the same thing: “Should I do the practical thing or the thing I really want to do?” Matan thought this question could have been effectively explored in a group setting. What does Matan think about this question?  “Put your energy into what lights you up, and the rest will follow.”

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State of the Art: Making Room and Income for Women in Art

A photo of a black woman artist, Winsom Winsom, in a white short, learning forwrard, painting
Winsom Winsom is a multi-media installation artist whose instinctive works explore themes of freedom, survivance, resilience, renewal, and African spirituality within the context of the Black Atlantic experience.

Women artists have been denied equal access to opportunities in the art market for too long. But there is a new wave of feminist art-preneurs, who are making sure women are smack dab in the middle of the canvas of possibilities. Here are four examples of women in the art market who are adapting to an ever-evolving business environment. Meet: The Techie, The Curator, The Art-preneur and The Collective.

The Techie
“Nobody does what I do,” says Candice Houtekier, 29, from her home in Toronto. She runs Art Collision, the only marketing agency in Canada focused on the fine art market using emerging technologies. After working at various commercial art galleries in Montreal and Toronto while a graduate student in Art History and Video Games at the University of Montreal, Houtekier quickly realized she didn’t excel at sales but had a gift for improving galleries’ presence in the market place through web design and social media. She remembers thinking: “Whoa, maybe I am more tech savvy than average.”

Image of woman looking through black VR glasses
Candice Houtekier, founder of Art Collision. Photo Provided.

Houtekier turned that realization into a business. She launched Art Collision in 2019 to help art dealers, artists and art consultants build more and better connections. “My marketing agency has a real focus on new technologies like virtual reality (VR) experiences but also blockchain solutions,” the feminist entrepreneur said.

From Houtekier’s experience, established gallery owners are stuck in the status quo. They work their strong contact lists, meet collectors face-to-face and make a sale. “These people are really resistant to learn about the importance of having more females in their business, representing an equal number of male and female artists, representing artists of colour,” she said. “And they are very against new technology.”

Houtekier is helping to change the way the art world operates. She works with a new breed of gallerists who are ready to shake things up. “If they represent emerging artists, they’re going to try to have 50 percent women and 50 percent of men; they are going to try to represent more artists of colour,” she said.

Houtekier says Millennials and GenX consume differently than older collectors. “They act fast, they like to see prices, they like to have concurrent info about the artwork,” she said. “When you start to embrace new tools, new technology and you make the inventory more accessible, you start to see interest from this new generation.” To that end, beyond the obvious tools like well-designed websites and social media platforms, Houtekier creates virtual reality hubs where artists and art dealers can curate exhibitions and host live events. She is a co-director in Art Gate that offers these VR solutions.

Houtekier also helps clients navigate the new world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a unique piece of digital art that lives on a blockchain. If you Google ‘NFT and art’ you’ll find the story that made headlines around the world in 2020. Beeple’s compilation of digital images—Everydays: The first 5000 Days—minted as an NFT, fetched over $69 million US at auction-house Christie’s in March, 2021. While some women have had decent paydays for the sale of their NFTs, like Itzal Yard for Dreaming at Dusk (sold for 500 Ethereum, about $1.7 million US), women risk being left behind in this new art space. But Houtekier is helping her clients understand blockchain technology and how to accept crypto payment. While she can’t predict how NFTs will play out fully, Houtekier is convinced “It’s a flourishing business for the future of the art market.”

The Curator


The new breed of gallerists includes Toronto’s Miriam Arbus, founder of Sky Fine Foods (SFF) and Ottawa’s Carrie Colton, founder of Studio Sixty-Six. The two curators are making sure women and people of colour are not left behind—but placed smack dab in the middle of the canvas of the art market.

Arbus, 34, launched her virtual gallery at the start of the pandemic. The name ‘Sky Fine Foods’ was the name of a defunct corner store near her home that she thought would make a cool gallery one day. But SFF is 100 percent online where collectors view the art in virtual interactive environments. As reported in The Art Market 2021 there was a stratospheric rise in online art sales in the past year. The majority of buyers lived more than 1000 kilometres away from where they purchased a piece of art and had never stepped foot inside the gallery or met the dealer.

Mirium Arbus. Founder of Sky Fine Foods. Photo Provided.

“Having this really flexible digital virtual presence where I’m not restricted at all because of physicality, I feel I can be really open to artists from all over,” she said. Arbus has attracted digital artists from around the world. Twelve of her fifteen artists are women. “In the digital art sphere that I hang out in, most people are vehemently fighting for equal access and raising up voices that have been put down, I think there’s really a strong generation of artists who want to make space and want to lift each other up.”

Arbus says her values of social justice and feminism are inextricably connected. For instance, twenty per cent of all SFF’s sales support Black Women in Motion and Black Artists’ Network in Dialogue (BAND) Gallery & Cultural Centre. Her values are also reflected in the focus of her artists’ work. Amanda Amour Lynx for instance, is a queer, Two Spirit, mixed Mi’kmaw interdisciplinary artist who combines traditional approaches with new media and digital art to explore important issues such as the environment, land and relationality and gender identity. It is also important for Arbus that her artists are supported and fairly compensated. Unlike traditional galleries where there is typically a 50/50 split, Arbus has more flexible arrangements on a project-by-project basis.

While Studio Sixty-Six’s Carrie Colton, 59, has a more traditional brick-and-mortar set-up, she also represents the new ethos of gallerists. When she opened her gallery in 2013 she seized the opportunity to do things differently. “I wanted cultural diversity right from the beginning,” she said. Colton represents twenty-one artists, half are women and several are people of colour. “I’m not a gallery that is trying to represent as many artists as possible so I can cover as wide a market and make as much money as possible,” she said. “I’m really trying to work with a small number of artists so I can really help those artists with their careers.” And Colton has seen a shift in collectors looking for help to diversify their collections. “The conversations are starting to happen and it’s really wonderful,” she said.

Carrie Colton, founder of Studio Sixty-Six

As an entrepreneur, Colton looks for different income streams but chooses carefully. She only expands in ways that help her artists. During the pandemic she researched NFTs, something she hadn’t given serious thought to until recently. “Playing in that matrix is very interesting to me because it’s a way I can help fund the artist and the gallery,” she said. She is in conversation with her artists about NFTs and plans to include them in next year’s catalogue.

The Art-preneur

Most collectors, according to the Art Market Mid-Year Review 2021, prefer buying art through dealers and gallerists because they value the trustworthiness and reliability of these professionals and have a greater confidence in the quality of the art. For artists there are benefits like those provided by Sky Fine Foods and Studio Sixty-Six: exhibiting their work, promoting their work through their own marketing channels, liaising with collectors and mentorship, to name a few.

But access to these benefits is harder for women. Despite holding about 70 percent of bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees in the United States (as reported in National Museum of Women in the Arts), women are under-represented in commercial galleries (a 2020 survey of eighteen top Toronto galleries found fewer than 40 per cent artists were women; artists of colour fared even worse). And while there is a positive trend of greater representation of women in the primary market, the share of women declines by the level of artist establishment, according to The Art Market 2020. Women’s work sells for less too, the median price in North America is $1700 lower than men based on 2019 internal data from Artsy 

Quinn Rockcliff, artist. Photo Provided.

For Quinn Rockcliff whose minimalist nude sketches began as a way to reclaim her body after experiencing sexual abuse from her partner, it was about taking control of her destiny. Speaking from her new studio in Toronto, she said: “In the way galleries might overlook us, we can kind of bridge that gap ourselves online,” said Rockliff, 26. “I’m sure twenty years ago, I couldn’t just be selling my work.”

In addition to selling her commissioned nudes, Rockliff has a thriving e-commerce business selling totes, t-shirts and other wearable art on her website. 2020 was her busiest year. “There was a very clear push for individuals to support local in response to the pandemic,” she said. Many women artists turn to e-commerce as a source of additional income even if they are associated with galleries. Remember Amanda Amour Lynx from Sky Fine Foods? She too sells one-of-a-kind items like Tepknuset Language Sticker Packs.

While Rockliff is doing well on her own and appreciates not having to hand over a 50 percent commission to a gallery, she is still interested in pursuing representation. “There is a lot to be said for having someone else doing all the labour of getting your work out there and presenting it in a good way,” she said.

Since graduating with an MFA from OCAD in 2019, Rockliff has learned a lot about entrepreneurship, mostly self-taught. “The interesting thing about being an artist is there are so many routes you can take and I feel that makes it trickier to teach in school,” she said. Another part of Rockliff’s value proposition is collaborating with corporate brands, something many successful artists are doing now.

One has to be savvy though. She observes many offers are not thoughtful ones since some companies only engage artists to make their brand look more grassroots. “They’re not in the community helping artists,” she said, “but using them to seem better.” Quinn’s collaborations have gone well, like the validating and positive experience she had with H&M. “It made people take me more seriously and allowed me to go on and do greater projects.” One of her guiding principles is only engaging with a brand if it is a true collaboration and she retains her name on the image. Still, it can be complicated to accomplish this, and contract properly. “I feel I need a lawyer half the time to talk to these people,” she said.

The Collective

It takes a lot of hard work and a strong entrepreneurial spirit like Rockliff’s to make it in the art world.  While there are big paydays for some artists (remember Beeple?) the majority make a pittance. The 2016 median earning in Canada was $20,000 (CAD) according to 2016 statistics published by Hill Strategies. For women, the starving artist cliché is especially true.

If the art world isn’t tough enough on women, women can be tough on themselves. Even someone as accomplished as Winsom Winsom—a 75-year-old Canadian-African-Maroon-Arawak-Romani-Scottish artist—who was the first Black artist with a solo exhibit at YYZ Gallery in Toronto; member of the first group of Black Canadian artists to show at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO); the first Black person to receive an honorary doctorate from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD)—has a hard time assigning a monetary value to her work. But as her friend and two-time Juno award winning, spoken-word dub poet and Lillian Allen reminded her: “That’s old African ways. Now you have to talk yourself up.”

A photo graph of black woman artist Winsom Winsom working with textiles at a table.
WINSOM-WINSOM. Photo by Marlene-Sulker-Z

The bright spot in this bleak canvas is how women are holding each other up. They are helping each other gain confidence, sustain their practice and secure opportunities. Community is often the backbone of women’s success in any endeavour.

For many artists having access to free platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Tik Tok is a way to develop and engage a community. For Rockliff, it was the outpouring of support of her online community that encouraged her pursue art as a vocation, not just a hobby. “My origin story is I started posting my art online to get my feelings out,” she said. She sparked lots of dialogue with others about art, consent, being a survivor.

Communities of women are working to ensure women get their fair cut of the NFT pie. The world of NFTs is dizzying. And intimidating. But running towards the possibilities of NFTs rather than running away can have a serious upside. Women of Crypto Art offers courses like ‘Setting up a Mobile Tezos Wallet’—perhaps in response to the fact that only 15 percent of cryptocurrency users are women, which obviously poses a barrier to enter the NFT world—and ‘Minting your Artwork on Hicetnunc’. All-women NFT shows like Grafitti Queens organized by Crypto Luna and one on International Women’s Day are gaining attention. Michele Pred, one of the International Women’s Day exhibit organizers, told artnet: “We want to see more diversity in the work being shared in digital marketplaces, and we want to see BIPOC women especially benefitting from this boom.”

Toronto artist Jenn Long, 47, a former assistant professor & associate chair of cross-disciplinary art practice at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) co-founded the Feminist Photography Network (FPN) to promote and sustain women’s art. Long said it is as much of an accomplishment for a woman artist to still be doing art mid-career as it is to be making money from it. “Probably more of an accomplishment,” Long said.

Photo of artist Jennifer Long sitting on a chair looking at her hands.
Jennifer Long founder of the Feminist Photography Network (FPN). Photo by Tobi Asmoucha

Long has consciously developed a diverse community of photographers, which is obvious from FPNs beautifully curated Instagram account. “I developed my eye and sensibilities within a conventional system,” Long said. “I went to university and was taught mainly by white men.” The network provides a safe place where artists can bounce ideas around without judgement.  Their online residency which attracts photographers from Canada and abroad further builds community through mentorship and peer support. “For women it is about knowledge sharing and supporting each other,” Long said. “If one person moves forward, everyone moves forward.”

The other benefit of any network, as men have benefitted from for so long, is that opportunities are often hidden and happen through word-of-mouth. “If someone is looking for an artist for a show to profile, I’m more than happy to wrack my brain,” Long said. “And it tends to be in my community circle.” Long says many communities of women exist in the world of art like:

Black Women in Visual Art, Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art, Mothra Artist-Parents, Artist Residency in Motherhood, 44.4 Mothers/Artist Collective.

A Canvas of Possibilities

There’s still a lot of work to do in the art world to showcase more women and give art lovers access to a fuller range of the human experience. Yet, it feels like a hopeful time for women in the arts.

Women are helping women see a new canvas full of possibilities. And isn’t seeing things in a new light the purpose of art?

Publisher’s Note: This is the first in a series of four articles focused on feminist artpreneurs. Watch for more in 2022!

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