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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, FitIn.io. 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 Fitin.io 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 ClassPass.com 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 catherine@canwcc.ca


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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Categories
Our Voices

RADICAL IS BEAUTIFUL

A beige collage that has text that reads "Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism" as graphiti text, and a Banksy image of a bar code on a cart pulled by a white tiger"
Banksy "Barcode Tiger" mashup collage--pk mutch

My entrepreneurship journey started as a teenager. I signed up for a local entrepreneurship education program where high school students could run a business with the help of business leaders from around the region. Turns out I was good at it… REALLY good at it. Several awards, scholarships and two national conferences later, I found myself at a crossroads. Should I study commerce in university? Yes and no – I have a Bachelor of Science in Language Honours degree. All is not lost.

After completing a post-graduate certificate in Human Resource Management, I went on to spend a decade working in HR for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. My interest in entrepreneurship never faded as I began to see how large businesses failed to honour human beings as mission critical to the success of any organization.

I began to wonder about what it is to run a business. I began to question what a business actually is versus commerce (The exchange of goods & services for money). The years I spent in the dank depths of capitalist endeavours made me realize I never want to be a part of such a venture – a venture where systemic oppression (namely capitalism & white supremacy) reigns supreme.  

I had the distinct opportunity to experience innumerable instances of anti-Black racism in my career. No matter how much work I accomplished, intellectual property I produced or technology I mastered faster than others, I was still a Black woman seen as slow, lazy and a threat to the established order. 

I also began to wonder about commerce… and how my enterprises can be commerce. As I worked to bring my own enterprises to life, I happened upon the concept of radical entrepreneurship. (Holla!)

Many books, journals and conversations later, I decided to define what radical entrepreneurship meant for me as a Black woman and a person of the global majority. Radical entrepreneurship happens when you start an enterprise that transcends racism, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.  

It’s a return to commerce: the exchange of goods & services for money.  It’s treating people as equals, with respect, paying a thrive rate wage AND distributing wealth, educational opportunities, upward mobility influence and sharing connections (money is not the only kind of wealth), ensuring health, wellness, and not working people 16 hours a day (which people did). In short, commerce as community – a spiritual and activist endeavour undertaken to enjoy the process of work; trading (We love working at something as humans) while lifting up others in the process.

Radical entrepreneurship is having the courage to step outside societal norms to run your enterprise as you see fit. There are elements you will definitely need like good recordkeeping and an accounting/bookkeeping practice. However, the radical part means your enterprise is contributing to eradicating social injustice.

Capitalist business education will tell you that your business’s sole goal is to earn money for investors and to place profits over people. Radical entrepreneurship values people, their contributions and their livelihoods. 

Yet, I’m still a Black woman with light-skinned privilege in this dominant culture – a culture where awareness of anti-Black racism is now in the limelight and still somewhat of a trending hashtag.  Corporations are taking advantage of this golden-hued PR opportunity to allocate a teeny fraction of their sizable quarterly profits to Black entrepreneurship initiatives. Let’s not forget the countless mentorship opportunities that ultimately don’t cost anything but look good on paper.

The Black community is not a monolith but is widely perceived as one. I constantly see Black entrepreneurs who are regarded as (air quotes) successful by white capitalist standards put on display to say “Hey, we’re not racist… look at this cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied Black person who is now a millionaire.” 

To put it simply, not all skinfolk are kinfolk. 

Huge barriers to funding opportunities continue to exist within the Black diaspora.  There’s a significant divide and significant conservatism in the diaspora. Cishet neurotypical, able-bodied Black people who are willing to accept the crumbs of capitalism may indeed be successful in obtaining a few loonies but it’ll be nowhere near the resources available to their white counterparts.

Studies have been done about the hardships that Black female entrepreneurs face. The proposed solutions are literally steeped in capitalism & white supremacy. Black venture capitalists are still capitalists.  We also haven’t talked about the extraneous hoops Black women entrepreneurs have to go through to access the few funds (e.g. Being asked about your sexual orientation on a loan application which, last I checked, is a human rights issue) and even then no one seems to trust Black women with a significant amount of money…there are hair & nails to be done after all.

In navigating this world, I find myself having to explain myself constantly. I have an Honours Bachelor of Science in Language. I’m fluently bilingual in Canada’s official languages. I have worked in global head offices for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Mastering new technologies is easy for me.  But all people see is Black… and immediately assume I’m not qualified enough, not skilled enough, not professional enough…the list goes on.  

Professionalism – for the record – is deeply rooted in white supremacy.

My mere existence is resistance in and of itself. When those days come where I wonder if my enterprises will actually thrive despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers that line my way forward, I have to remind myself that being a Black radical entrepreneur is more than a radical act. By choosing commerce over capitalism & white supremacy, I’m now actively creating change. I’m learning by doing. I’m gathering more knowledge and insight every day.

Dominant culture can keep their crumbs of capitalism. I won’t scale my enterprises in 3 months or less. I don’t exist to make money for those who’ll remove it from the economy at large and hoard it for their own purposes. I won’t pander to those who choose not to see my worth or genius in favour of my skin colour.  

Radical entrepreneurship is going to be the way forward for this Black entrepreneur. 

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Categories
Our Voices

STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD WITH WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS

Image of a brown woman wearing a hijab, standing, hands on a railing, wearing orange shirt. There are plants in the background. She is wearing pink eyeshadow.

“They tried so hard to bury us, they didn’t know that we were seeds”. With these words, Ojibwe founder of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics, Jenn Harper, set the tone for this year’s STRIKEUP event – a digital conference for women entrepreneurs.

Harper had me hooked. Her profound words during her remarkable opening address became the emotional backdrop of the entire event for me. She went on to share her personal journey of survival, healing from inter-generational trauma of residential schools and settler-colonialism, to eventually going on to run a successful beauty brand.

Based on my previous experiences at entrepreneurship events which centred on individualism, grit and glorified capitalism, arriving at STRIKEUP I had expected to gain business acumen. I wasn’t expecting to be quite this moved and motivated. This space felt different. This space gave space to stories that left my heart full, and my mind buzzing with ideas.

As a multi-passionate entrepreneur, I was eager to learn about ways to nurture the growth of my businesses ethically and sustainably in a pandemic market that seems to be changing at a mind-spinning pace.

Imge showing a zoom panels of speakers from the Strike Up event
Panel at STRIKEUP 2022 ‘Decision Points: Your Edge to Success’. Pictured from left to right, Suzie Yorke, Catherine Addai, Indira Moudi, Teara Fraser, Agatha Alstrom. This year's event featured 30 speakers. Over 4000 women from 25 countries participated.

Collective Care in Commerce 

Work-life balance was a theme that came up often in the success stories that the speakers shared.

STRIKEUP centered much of the conversation of success in business on inclusion and an ethos of self-care and community care.

In a fireside chat with Joanna Griffiths, she shared the importance of boundary setting to avoid taking on too much, reminding us that ‘no’ is a beautiful word. It was inspiring to hear from women who valued their reclaimed time -for how much more they were able to invest it back into themselves, their loved ones, and even their customers.

Catherine Addai, Founder of the clothing store Kaela Kay said it beautifully when sharing that her decision to focus only on her business instead of working multiple jobs was a risk, but one that allowed her time for herself, her family, and her mental health. Throughout the conversations, there was an important parallel drawn between our capacity to care for ourselves as entrepreneurs, and the possibility to also care for and nurture every aspect of our business and the stakeholders involved – from collaborators to customers.


An image of a muslim woman wearing a hijab speaking into a microphone. Text says Strike Up Something Beautiful by Timaj Garad
Want to hear something beautiful? Check out Timaj Garad's spoken word performance capturing her experience at StrikeUp 2022 here. For more of her work, click on the social media icons below.

The Futurepreneurs 

What I found most inspiring about STRIKEUP was the hope it instilled for the future of women’s growth in business.

In her talk about AI (artificial intelligence), adaptations and tech trends, Amber Mac debunked the idea of the doomsday scenario often depicted by the idea of AI and automation, highlighting our incredible ability to adapt to technology. She shone a light on technology’s ability to unite us by providing greater access to all, while also helping us prioritize our purpose and re-imagine work. Her focus was on ‘growing’ or ‘soft’ skills like critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence that push us forward and help us to continually adapt to a changing world.

Similarly, in her fireside chat, Griffiths says that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ‘Futureproofing’ – preparing your business for the future. Building a business that is future-ready is about truly listening to your customer’s needs and continually trying to understand and adapt to their wants and needs.

When it comes to future-focused thinking, businesses are shifting faster than ever. Social Media Strategist Alecia Bryan’s learning lab about simplifying operations was an insightful, deep-dive into automation tools and approaches that could support that shift. She reviewed e-commerce software that supports adaptive change such as optimized online stores, conversational commerce, and social media platform integration as key to a ‘digital first’ business approach.

My most meaningful takeaway from STRIKEUP was the validation that women business owners can successfully emerge into a lane of our own choosing, through a multitude of entry-points into entrepreneurship.

There is no specific roadmap, only a fine tuning of your internal compass, the right tools to stay on your path, and strong companions to help you find your way. Harper put it succinctly. “There really is no wrong decision if you learned something from it”.


a gray image featuring pictures of three women announcing Strike Up events now available on demand
STRIKE UP 2022 Talks Now Available on Demand

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Categories
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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Categories
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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Feminist Practices Transformative Ideas

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemon Aid

Rachel Kelly, founder of Make Lemonade, 2019. Photo provided.

Like the many enterprises that relied on in-person interaction, Make Lemonade, a Toronto-based, women-centric co-working space for entrepreneurs was suddenly squeezed dry by the pandemic and closed its doors in August 2020. It was the third closure in three years of a well-loved physical co-working space focusing on women — the others were Shecosystem and Women on the Move. LiisBeth talked to Rachel Kelly, the 30-year-old founder and sole owner of Make Lemonade to learn about the journey and where they are now–given the pandemic. 

LiisBeth: Let’s rewind to get the full story. Why did you start Make Lemonade?

RK: It was 2015 and I had been freelancing for a couple years, bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop and working from home — way before it was cool. One day while travelling on a streetcar to yet another café, I realized I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I was trying to convince myself that this way of working, like a nomad, alone, was great and that the indie freelancing life was sustainable for me. It occurred to me in that moment the key thing lacking in my work life was a day-to-day community of colleagues.

Around this time, I signed a salaried contract with a company I was freelancing for and let go of all my freelance gigs. And even bought a couch! But shortly thereafter, they called to say the contract was cancelled. They never told me why but I suspect it had to do with their budget.

I reminded myself, I am only 26 years old. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

The old dream I had of starting a co-working space for independent freelancers like me resurfaced. And I have to thank my parents for inspiration. They were also entrepreneurs and taught me to dream big and worry about the details later. Which is exactly what I did.

I started by creating an Instagram account called Make Lemonade to gauge interest about the idea and guess what … it generated traction! In fact some people already thought the space existed and actually emailed me saying “you might like this space” not realizing I was the one posting about it. Ha! With this validation, I got to work. I put together a business plan. Landlords required me to submit the plan along with an offer to lease the space because we were a startup. I looked for places that offered bright, natural light and a canvas that made shared work possible. Finding a space with a good landlord was also important. The commercial rental market was hot at the time. I found a beautiful 3,000 square foot space at 326 Adelaide Street West in the heart of downtown Toronto and quickly signed a five-year lease.

LiisBeth:  Tell us about the Make Lemonade Community? Who showed up?

RK: At first, I thought the space would attract mostly 25 to 35-year-olds but we ended up with members from of all ages — all the way into their sixties. Members paid $500/month for a three-month plan with a fixed desk; $300/month for Monday to Friday access; $30/month for community membership. Make Lemonade offered a communal kitchen, phone booths, printing and mailboxes. About 80 per cent of the members — or our “lemons” as we affectionally referred to each other — were full-time self-employed creative types, writing or producing professionals and other artists. Other members included graduate students working on their thesis, a few salaried folks looking for an inspiring focus zone and people with full time jobs who needed space to work on their side-hustles.  

One of our members, Breeyn McCarney, is wedding dressmaker who designed non-traditional wedding gowns. She lived in Hamilton but most of her clients were in Toronto so she regularly booked our meeting rooms for client fittings. When her customers came for their final fitting, she would host a champagne celebration in our “virtual” patio room, an indoor room that was decked out to look like an outdoor patio.

Breeyn hosted beading workshops for aspiring artists — they worked with their hoops and beads and used Make Lemonade as a production space. At its peak, we had over 200 members.

Many of our members have seriously grown their enterprises since joining the Make Lemonade community. For example, when newcomer to Canada Katy Prince joined, she could only afford to come on Mondays (half price days) at first she didn’t have many friends or a network. Katy significantly expanded her network while at Make Lemonade. Today, Katy works for herself as a full-time coach and has a handful of staff members. Katy’s experience is testament to the benefits that co-working spaces have to offer and we are proud to have helped play a role in their success.      

LiisBeth:  Did you ever participate in startup program or receive any startup or government grants to help finance or start your business?

RK: No. Truth be told I never applied! I didn’t really know what was available.

Liisbeth: What happened when the pandemic hit?

RK: In early March 2020, we started to hear all about the coronavirus I remember going to sleep one Sunday night knowing the next day I would have to close our doors. At first, we thought it would only be for a short time, but it soon became clear the closure would last for a while. When we made our announcement (a year and a half after our temporary closure) in August 2020 that the doors were closing, we received close to 300 comments on just one Instagram post. I still haven’t read through them all because it’s emotionally overwhelming. What’s important to note — and also bittersweet — is that our busiest time were the months leading up to the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel Kelly’s announcement on the closing of Make Lemonade’s physical coworking space in Toronto. Screenshot via Instagram.
 

When the pandemic hit, we were not sure what to do but quitting was not an option. Our mantra was (and still is): when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. We had to try something new.

My staff member, Ashley Fulton, Director of Good Vibes, and I began brainstorming about how we could bring and keep the community together online. We started with free virtual co-working meet ups. Then added free daily support calls. Next, we added a short newsletter called “Your Daily Dose of Sunshine”. We later added online co-working sessions and work sprints and didn’t charge for any of it.

Once we were confident we had something worthwhile to offer, we invited people to start paying us for the services. And a good number of them did.

Over time, we added more features such as accountability calls and introduced The 4-Week Challenge that involved working on goals for four weeks in community. People loved it and paid to participate! We noticed multiple repeat participants for the program and eventually turned it into a new service called the Get Sh*t Done Club. 

As time went on, we learned that while the physical space with tables and internet access was great, our real strength was supporting entrepreneurs through all the highs and the lows of business ownership. Lemonade became more like lemon aid.

Today, the Get Sh*t Done Club is still running strong as a 12-month online business foundations community that supports entrepreneurs to hustle less, grow more and have more fun. We do virtual kick-off brunches, offer workshops on goal setting, host work sprints, brainstorms and facilitate small  groups within the program. We have an event called the Lemon Mixer—an open conversation where members ask for what they need and are able to give back by offering services or expertise. Members also get full access to our Business 101 online course. And of course, we have fun! We celebrate successes with an honour roll and give shoutouts and cheers when progress happens for someone.

LiisBeth: As a player in the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem space, what would you like to see change or happen in the coming years to further strengthen the women’s enterprise space?

RK: It almost seems ridiculous with the kind of company that I created that I didn’t get a “Hey, welcome to the women’s entrepreneurship support world.” Or a “Did you know, these are the resources that are available?”

We build community for others, but where is OUR community support?

LiisBeth: What’s Next for Make Lemonade? You?

RK: Looking to the future, we have some new ideas percolating, including meeting up with our “lemons” in real life again.

Things have been tough, but the pandemic was the catalyst for creating something bigger than the physical space. It led us to creating an online community and a new way of providing members with the support they need. The pandemic was also a wake up call. Which means it’s time to start making lemonade again … whatever that looks like. Funny how things are kind of coming full circle.

Also, when I think about what’s next, I’m reminded of how my parents started out and where they are now. They founded an automotive manufacturing company. But like so many businesses, that’s not how the enterprise started. Believe it or not, their original business was selling fruitcakes. So whenever I worry about not knowing what the future holds, I remind myself, I’m still in my fruitcake, or perhaps lemon cake, phase. I’m experimenting with different ingredients, making up recipes to see what works best.

LiisBeth:  Thank you for sharing your incredible and inspiring story

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