Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Making it possible: YourWay Program supports women entrepreneurs with a global outlook 

Imagine arriving in a new country where you don’t speak the language, have no business network and no social circle to support you. You experience the shock of your first winter, grapple with new cultural customs and find yourself feeling isolated and alone much of the time. Compound these difficulties with the challenges facing all Canadians during a global pandemic, and the prospect of establishing your own business seems almost overwhelming.

Sofia Milley of Tierra Mia Family Farm. Photo courtesy of Munchy Guru.

And yet, through it all, something inside you whispers, “Start something new.” 

At first, it seems impossible. There are too many barriers to overcome, too many unknowns.

But then you learn about an unexpected opportunity: a new program known as YourWay that’s uniquely designed to help newcomer women to Canada, BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour) women, or women with disabilities launch their own business venture.

For more than 20 women in the greater Kingston region, the YourWay Program delivered by a partnership between KEYS Job Centre, St Lawrence College and the City of Kingston has provided a pathway to possibility over the past few months and opened new doors to valuable connections and useful resources.

A part of the WE-CAN Project led by Queen’s University, YourWay includes a 15-week program designed to provide:

  • College-level business training leading to a micro-credential through St. Lawrence College
  • Culinary training and support to access a commercial kitchen for those pursuing food-related businesses
  • English for Self-Employment training for participants who speak English as a second language
  • Individual and group-based support to develop a business plan
  • Mentoring and support from established entrepreneurs and relevant experts
  • Meaningful workshops and peer support
  • Individual support from the KEYS Women’s Entrepreneurship Facilitator
  • Branding and marketing advice

To date, YourWay has engaged women entrepreneurs representing 11 countries and who speak 11 different languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Mohawk, Portuguese, Ukweni, Tamil, Sindhi, Hindi, French, Kirundi and English.

Through the YourWay program, a number of new businesses have emerged, and other businesses have grown beyond the initial stage. From bread-making and sewing to daycare services, crafts, and specialty cuisine, each business is as unique as the woman leading it.

“Over the years, we at KEYS have witnessed the struggles of newcomer women finding their way into the labour market. Self-employment became a good and interesting alternative for many,” says Madeleine Nerenberg, KEYS Job Centre Immigrant Services Manager. “However, language is the first barrier many women encounter when trying to learn how to start with a business. Another barrier is the access to business-related training. YourWay seeks to fill this gap by providing intensive training that includes entrepreneurship skills, cooking skills, English support and digital tools.”

“In my role, I walk alongside the participants, supporting them at every stage of business development while they are in the program,” indicates Elizabeth Lopez, Women’s Entrepreneurship facilitator at KEYS. “Their creativity and determination inspire me. I believe in them and in their businesses, and am so gratified to provide practical guidance, connections and training and the moral support necessary to help them find their way.”

Photo courtesy of YourWay

“Last December, 13 participants finished the training program. They developed themselves professionally, expanded their network and connected with peer support. This January, the YourWay team is welcoming 11 more participants who are excited to start this journey,” says Amy Shelley, YourWay project coordinator with St Lawrence College.

The impact of the YourWay program to date has been far-reaching. Not only have the women business owners been affected, but their families and local communities have been positively impacted as well.

“I want my daughter to see that anything is possible,” says YourWay participant Sofia Milley who recently immigrated to Canada from Mexico. Today, as the owner of Tierra Mia Family Farm in Parham, Sofia says she has learned many practical things about setting up a business and the skills needed to prepare foods from her gardens.

“But what I really learned was that I could do it,” she adds. “I can have a successful business.  I have the skills and the interest and the support to make it happen.”

Sofia and other YourWay participants recently celebrated their success with a virtual graduation ceremony attended by friends, family and colleagues from across Canada and around the world. An emotional gathering, the event was a poignant celebration to mark this significant milestone of achievement for a group of dedicated and resilient women.

Possibility is a powerful word. And it’s at the heart of everything the YourWay program stands for.  

“Not only does the YourWay Program surround women entrepreneurs with a positive community of peer supporters, it also offers practical skills and training to help them launch and grow their own business,” says Kerry Ramsay, Project Manager for the WE- CAN Project. “Anything is possible with the right tools and support.”

The YourWay Program is funded by the WE-CAN Project at Queen’s University with support from FedDev Ontario through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy Ecosystem Fund