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Our Voices

The Politics and Practices of a Feminist Entrepreneur

Line of of illustrated men in suites with hedgehog in the line up looking fierce
Images by Grodno, Belarus and Christos Georghiou |Shutterstock| Mash up by pk mutch

I remember the sting felt while listening to speakers at a small business conference ten years ago. It was there that I sensed alienating and regressive elements about the small business space. Table talk centered to the political right, and sometimes far right of center. I sensed contradictions between the values speakers espoused and their operating practices. For example, firms that showcased donations to local food banks while paying temp workers $14.00 per hour to minimize labour costs. It became evident who in the room had power through voice and who did not. This moment has not left me. Further forays into small business spaces have reinforced my initial impressions.

Small business communities are not, of course, homogeneous. In my experience, the pulsing heart remains male-dominated, conservative, and increasingly populist. When it comes to advocating for justice, diversity and inclusion, its leaders are more likely to push for initiatives that put money in owner pockets without consideration how they might affect a wider group of others.

Given the size and power of the small business community, those of us working for change should be concerned. Social change makers cannot ignore Canada’s small business community. From 1.2 million incorporated, for-profit enterprises in Canada: only 380 (.0003%) are ‘Business for Good’ BCorps. 

Business as a force for good?

It’s 2022. The world is on fire. I am getting impatient. Being a conformer in business is not enough. If we want a better world, we need progressive small business owners to put their weight behind advocacy and organizations working for social and economic justice. 

History has shown that for-profit founders can be powerful allies to movements for justice. In the 18th century, small business traders and merchants helped peasants and serfs accelerate change from feudalism to capitalism. Dutch bankers risked their lives by leveraging their wealth to resist the Nazis in the early 1940s. We can look to the founding of women-owned credit unions in the 1970s. Today, small business owners have been successful in fighting interest rate hikes and landing COVID-related recovery measures. Small business advocates are powerful when they want to be. The community knows how to organize and have impact, when its interests are perceived to be at risk.

If today’s economic system that shapes our lives is hurting most of us, doesn’t it make sense for small business owners to challenge capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and other forms of oppression?

In Canada, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 97.9% of all incorporated companies. 53.8% are companies with 1 to 4 employees – including the founder – employing 67.7% or 7.7 million Canadians. These businesses generate 37.5% of private sector GDP. Women-majority owned businesses represents only 16% of incorporated SMEs, and another 13% are equally owned by men and women.

Clearly, the small business part of our economy is big, influential, and while women are making progress, still mostly male-led.  

The small business entity is unique from it’s large, often publicly traded, hired CEO-led counterparts in that these founders have considerable freedom to choose and operationalize their politics and values. They can also pivot and implement changes quickly. Given this freedom, and the weight and size of the Canadian small business community in aggregate, it has the power to change — everything. Instead, it primarily chooses to work at maintaining and perpetuating the status quo.

This set me on a journey. 

Are there others looking to re-imagine the role of small enterprise in these times of growing, grotesque inequality? Are there other founders interested in leveraging their passion for innovation, fairness, inclusion, resilience building and enterprise crafting to help dismantle rather than protect capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy?

Intersectional feminist Entrepreneurship – a porchlight in the storm

Turns out there was.

However, finding the feminist entrepreneurship community was a bit like finding a stick insect in a forest. They were there, but they’re hard to find. This required patience and persistence.

But find them I did.

The feminist enterprise community is an informal, intergenerational, diverse, international group of brave pioneers who are scattered across the world. The composition includes feminist thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, writers, artists, academics, activists, corporate ex-pats, and dreamers. Today, they are my core community of practice-as-a-feminist entrepreneurs.

Our conversations and debates cracked me  open and let the light in. Online meet-ups and in-person conferences, and ongoing debates provide nourishment, support, teaching and provocation Through these experiences, I have emerged from beneath a heavy blanket of no longer relevant beliefs, values and teachings, including those espoused in my MBA courses—accumulated and internalized as unassailable truths gathered over the decades.

Come Sit At Our Table

Today I am a proud and vocal feminist entrepreneur. I do business very, very differently because of what I have learned.

I dream of a day when saying ‘We are a feminist business’, tells people what the enterprise stands for. But first, we need more people to understand what feminist founders believe and what feminist enterprise community is about.

So, draw up a chair, and let me share what I have learned from my teachers:

  1. It’s not new. Feminist enterprise crafting goes back to long before suffragette days. There have always been folks who align their enterprise skills and ability to marshal resources with social movements.
  2. Intersectionality rules: Feminist entrepreneurship as a field and practice are predicated on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality which reoriented today’s feminist work to focus on ending all oppressions because they are all ultimately linked.
  3. Not only women: The feminist enterprise movement includes all people, trans, queer and those who experience gender-based oppression.
  4. How to tap bountiful alternative resources: Most feminist enterprises are bootstrapped. Why? Founder independence and progressive politics turn off many investors and corporations. By necessity, founders work to grow and sustain their enterprises by working like individual hydrae in nature’s underground mycelial networks—adapting, collaborating, sending and receiving and sharing, so each has what they need and so that the whole is ultimately stronger.
  5. Deep learning and questioning: The feminist entrepreneurship community demands deep study beyond topics like mastering social media. To unearth viable, innovative alternatives, we dig into radical and subversive ideas for insight. We examine the thought leadership of Karl Marx, adrienne maree brown, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Raeworth, Alicia Garza, Vandana Shiva, Nick Srnicek, CV Harquail,  Dr. Barbara Orser, Tim Jackson–not just Lean Startup by Al Reiss. We co-create, elevate radical, alternative ideas for leading, designing, growing enterprises that are missed in mainstream entrepreneurship education and support programs.
  6. It’s about the how: Feminist entrepreneurs prioritize how versus why and what of enterprise work. We think about how systems of oppression work, are embedded and perpetuated in how they operate. We work to liberate or disassociate our venture practices from these systems.
  7. The personal and organizational is political: Feminist entrepreneurs are fiercely, transparently political, and careful about who gets our time, attention and money. We march. We write to our elected officials. We don’t do business with founders who are trans-exclusionary, businesses who fund alt-right or anti-choice organizations.
  8. Non-extractive: We see ourselves as accountable, stewards of resources not masters of extraction.
  9. Solidarity: We support indie feminist activists, feminist media and feminist organizations including nonprofits, collectives, and non-registered grassroots initiatives. We see the feminist economy as one big sisterhood, undivided by legal formation choices.
  10. We have fun. This is a love centered, loyal, joyous, complex community that is re-learning what it means to build post capitalist enterprises.

This all said, we are not yet organized as a strong political voice. But we are working on it. It is critical that we do this work to sustain our collective voices, have resources to be allies, and mobilize this small business body politic.

Workshop at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum. Over 200 attendees participated.

Growing the new, inside the old

The feminist entrepreneur’s movement remains an outlier. It’s not an idea. It’s a practice. 

It is ignored by labour, the left, and side-eyed by some who see feminist entrepreneurs as neoliberal lipstick capitalists.  Mainstream entrepreneurship and small business people think we burn bras for a living.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we are to build a post 20th century capitalist world in which all can thrive, we need activists and movements to take a closer look at the small business space as an ally and to find ways to mobilize individual change makers within it.

We need entrepreneurship educators and training institutions to overhaul programming—which emphasize enterprise skills and knowledge developed in the 1990s.

Just imagine if all SMEs were a force behind transforming capitalism towards a healthier, fairer, market-based system that operates in anti-oppressive, non-extractive, human-centered ways of strengthening community! 

Imagine if they are not. 

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Our Voices

The OPS Collective – One Woman’s Vision, Many People’s Opportunities.

Image of young black woman with long hair sitting on an off white couch. She is wearing off white sweater.
Nana Moore, founder, The Ops Collective-Photo by Sevven at Mint Studios.

Nana Moore loves being creative.

However, her Ghanaian upbringing compelled her to do something more ‘traditional and stable’. Now as a CPA and professional finance director, her ‘traditional’ work couldn’t be further from creativity.

But once afflicted with the creative itch, it stays there, eager to resurface at the slightest opportunity. So it should come as no surprise that Nana found a way to channel her creative energy by starting her own enterprise. That  was a nerve-racking and scary decision for this thirty-something year-old sole proprietor.

 The Ops Collective, founded in 2016, is an online, virtual business management and marketing services company that helps build brands via the creation and management of high impact content for social media. Their specialty? Creating content and amplifying brands on Instagram and TikTok.  “Even though I have held big leadership roles for corporations, I’ve always been behind the scenes,” says Moore. Now that she has found an outlet for her creative energy, she feels more alive. Her own business allows her to socialize with others on a different level than in her current role as finance director.  Plus, creating virtual enterprise is relatively easy. “The Internet has changed the way you can build your business. “The internet has changed the way you can build your business. It’s no longer about just handing out flyers or posting random billboards. Businesses with a zero-marketing budget can now build an online following of loyal customers through social media and brand influencers.”

Minimum overheads, maximum reach

For Moore, keeping overheads down by designing and implementing a frictionless, flow-based business model and finding clients are critical factors for a successful business. Moore launched her virtual business management enterprise on Facebook and found it was a fast and easy way to line up clients and find exceptional contract talent, no matter where either lived in the world. ““Fortunately, an online service business doesn’t need much money upfront”, says Ms. Moore. “I’ve never taken out a loan or brought in investors. I’ve used the money earned from my corporate roles to fund my business and continually reinvest revenue generating back into the company.”

 The Ops Collective is based on horizontal leadership, empowered by the collective energies and talents of its core team. To ensure everyone operates on the same page, Moore makes sure they are clear on the mission, vision, operating values and work ethic expected of them. When there is a spike in the workload, she takes on additional operational, financial and leadership work.

Moore also reaches out to her peers for support. This includes participating in coffee chats with other online business managers, exchanging insider information about onboarding talent, setting up proposals and hiring business coaches.

Women helping women 

Moore works to provide income opportunities for other women whenever possible. She is clear in her definition of feminism—for me it’s about the ability to be financially independent. “I run my own business, many of my clients are women and I hire other women.” The majority of her women clients came to her through referrals. “When you do good work your clients will tell other people about you.” Moore also works with talented women lawyers who have introduced her to their networks, opening new doors for her. Her clientele is almost entirely based in the U.S.

Managing Growth

As the company took off, she realized early on that she was holding the company back because everything came back to her, slowing down the entire process. She was overwhelmed with client calls, strategizing, dealing with subcontractors and liaising with various people. She realized she needed to reassess how she wanted her business to run. So, she applied to-and was accepted-by Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for women in digital media operated by the Canadian Film Centre. Mentors at Fifth Wave helped her pivot to design a more sustainable model. She also focuses more on strategy and creative vision as a founder—no more micro-managing. “This year was all about spreading the autonomy, re-pivoting and changing the business model.”

Moore’s lived experience and background in finance and operations sets her apart from other service providers in this space. This enables her to look at the big picture, while also being detail oriented. Further, The Ops Collective doesn’t only look at social media opportunities for clients; they also identify gaps and suggest ways to improve operations across the entire ecosystem of a company.

Activism makes for better business

Due to the pandemic, domestic violence and homelessness have been on the rise. “As a brand we have a critical role to play in tackling domestic abuse and homelessness in Toronto. I want us to be known as a company focused on creating educational programs with a heavy emphasis on community building.”  

Currently, she is working on a course which will allow her to offer virtual assistance to women in shelters and help them make money online. “Often women who experience domestic violence can’t leave because of money. If we can show them how to manage their money, it can help them in their dark times.” She wants to use the profits generated for programs and sponsorships for abused and homeless women. “That’s the reason why I started the company. My calling is to help people and impact lives on a more meaningful and deeper level than my corporate roles permit.”

As a mother with a young son, Moore also wants to support programs for boys because she believes that young boys can get lost in today’s world and are in urgent need of mentorship. 

She believes today’s youth look for instant gratification, making patience a much-needed virtue for this demographic.  What is her advice to restless Gen Z? “Just start. Try to avoid the comparison trap. Believe that you are worthy of achieving great things. From there, just keep providing value year after year. Keep at it. Persist. You’ll get to where you’re looking to go.”

Her own life lessons came from her mother, whom she considers to be her biggest influence and inspiration. Her mother’s advice has been invaluable: “When confronted with animosity, don’t fight evil with evil” and “You can’t be the same as your White counterparts; you need to be better. You need to be perfect.”

However, life has taught Nana that the relentless pursuit of perfectionism can slow you down, and she wants to change that. “The need for everything to be perfect holds you back,” she says. However, she will continue to pursue excellence.  Being black, she was raised to have a sense of excellence. This has compelled her to work harder and learn more. “I used my multifaceted ethnic and cultural background to my advantage”.

The future is packed with plans

Topping the to-do-list is the need to market intensely to bring in more clients. She also wants to bring in more freelancers to work on a consistent basis and provide them a better contract and higher rates. Plan No. 2 is to put her finance background to better use by starting courses to help others get a better understand of finances. Metrics are important to her, so she will measure the number of women participating in free programs along with the dollar amounts collected and donated to community initiatives like women’s shelters.”

“I’m a busy brain person,” says Nana. Yet, she also realizes you can’t get better at something when pulled in different directions. “This year, I am also thinking about how to further build our own online presence. The business has thrived for years off referrals but to take it to the next level we’ll need to be more proactive in marketing the brand online – like we do for our own clients.”

She also makes time to read. A book she highly recommends is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work by Steven Kotler. She’s also trying to find time to read the other two books currently vying for her attention: Venture Deals and Traction. Despite her vigorous schedule, she’ll make the time. No doubt. 

Follow @OpsCollective on Instagram. 


Publishers Note: The OPS Collective 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 sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 4 are open.  Apply her

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Feminist Practices

A More Accessible Future

A mature indigenous woman with blond hair smiles over her shoulder. She is wearing large hoop earrings and a lavender blouse
Brooke Wobodistch, president of Closed Caption Services. Photo provided.

Imagine this: It’s May 2020. You are in the middle of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders caused by the novel coronavirus. There is no vaccine yet, and much of your life is online — especially on Zoom. 

In one such Zoom meeting, you start seeing what speakers are saying appear at the bottom of the screen. They’re being typed by one of the participants in the call in real-time.

The text you are seeing is called a closed caption. Closed captions aren’t always typed out by volunteers. Sometimes it’s automatically generated and sometimes it’s done by artificial intelligence (AI), but the accuracy of such services vary. For real-time transcription, ideally these captions are created by employees of companies that provide closed captioning — companies like Closed Caption Services (CCS). 

CCS is a Canadian family-owned business whose mission, according to its president Brooke Woboditsch, is “to build better accessibility in media.”  

This mission has gained momentum over the past year and a half as around the world, organizations and communications have moved online during the global pandemic.

Says Woboditsch: “By the time fall 2020 came around, I would say we must’ve had over 30 new clients in those last six months … There was a massive rush for people to put their businesses online — especially a lot of businesses where there’s multimedia content [like] film festivals, educational institutions, artists’ presentations and talks, museum exhibits.”

Strengthening the Family Business

Woboditsch’s father Larry Gavin was a broadcaster, and Woboditsch grew up helping her dad in his work. 

In 1994, Gavin started Closed Caption Services (CCS), providing fast and reliable services in closed captioning, offline captioning, live captioning, web captioning and audio-described video.

CCS started by providing captioning services to the now-defunct Canadian media company CHUM Television’s new CityTv stations and network of ‘A Channels.’ CCS then began working with Rogers, CTV (now Bell), NewCap, S-Vox, Cogeco Television), Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Pattison Group, TVO and more.

Woboditsch, who is Indigenous and was adopted at birth, also dabbled in television production in her late teens and early twenties. Working at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), she learned more about her Indigenous culture and history. 

She said it was “always the plan” to take over the company from her father one day. 

“We didn’t discuss transition or the future of the company. It was just that I was ‘the future’ and the company would go to me someday.” 

That day came in 2016. With the decline of her father’s health and after 10 years as the general manager, Woboditsch took over as president of CSS. 

Come 2020 Woboditsch would be called on once again to lead a company. Only this time, it would be in the middle of a pandemic while the world — still not accessible — was moving online.

The Business Case for Closed Captioning

Disabilities occur when people who have impairments confront inaccessible environments, prejudiced attitudes, or other situations where their needs for participation are not met. 

According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), different types of disabilities include but are not limited to mobility, vision, and hearing impairments, visible and invisible disabilities, episodic disabilities, intellectual and learning disabilities, neurodivergence, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses, and limb and facial differences.

According to a 2018 article by the Web Accessibility Initiative, at least one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, have a recognized disability. 

In Canada, a 2017 estimate by Statistics Canada found that 6.2 million Canadians have one or more disability, with disabilities related to pain, flexibility, mobility, and mental health being the most common disability types.

Captions play an important role in improving digital accessibility for people with disabilities and those who do not speak English as their first language or are not comfortable doing so. 

Captions refer to text on a television, video screen, or other visual display that transcribe oral speech or dialogue as well as capture background audio. Captioning increases the accessibility of media for a variety of people — including people with disabilities and people who speak different first languages — by communicating all audio sounds that may otherwise be missed by some viewers, including sound effects and other non-speech elements.

Along with helping businesses interact with existing customers who may be people with disabilities, Woboditsch says closed captioning in particular also helps businesses expand their audiences by capturing new customers. 

Disabled Canadians are estimated to control $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income and more than seven million Canadians report their mother tongue is neither English nor French. 

CCS believes that high-quality accessibility services help to increase the reach of your content to at least 10 per cent of your audience. 

An article from UK-based Zen Elements from earlier this year says that three in four disabled people and their families have walked away from a UK business citing poor accessibility and/or poor customer service. 

In a similar vein, a 2019 survey by Scope, a UK-based charity trying to improve digital accessibility, found that half of the people surveyed who experienced problems buying goods or services through a website, app, or in-store machine did not purchase the product. Another 48 per cent found a different provider and purchased their products elsewhere.

Captioning also helps businesses meet compliance standards like those put forth by the Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission, which require that 100 per cent broadcast content must be captioned and that Primetime shows be audio described, and Bill C-81, which is an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. 

The bottom line, Woboditsch says, is to normalize accessibility as an essential part of providing high-quality and equitable services to all audiences. 

”We want people to think of accessibility when they’re putting any content out there. If I’m going to have a meeting, if I’m going to sell a product — whatever my business is [doing] online.”

The team at Closed Caption Services (CCS). Screenshot via CCS's website.

Finding Community and Improving Services for Underserved Communities

“Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place; you’re alone in your world when you’re at the top and it’s hard to ask advice from the people who are working for you,” says Woboditsch. “It’s hard to be vulnerable or show doubt, even though I do … to be able to have some people who have a variety of experiences in different areas of business, whether it be financial management or feminist business models, things like that.”

But the Fifth Wave accelerator program was different from the other entrepreneurship programs she’s been a part of in that it gave her the opportunity to take a second look at her business and figure out “where it is in the world today.” 

“I really asked myself, what do you want in life? And then I worked backwards to how I [was] going to get there with my business.”

For Woboditsch, the need for increased accessibility is clear: her company gained over 30 new clients in the first six months of the pandemic, 99 per cent of whom have become returning clients. 

The support she has received from the accelerator program has ultimately helped her move towards a future where high-quality accessibility services are provided to underserved communities. 

“I want people to remember that there’s a wide variety of people out there who use various forms of accessibility services, more than just the ones that I’ve been talking about today. American Sign Language (ASL) is one of them, and multiple languages as well,” Woboditsch says. 

“I want accessibility not to be driven just by compliance or doing it because we have to. I would like to see a world where people are choosing to provide high-quality services that improve accessibility.”


Publishers Note: Closed Caption Services 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 sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 4 open Nov. 22nd! Apply here

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