Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

When her business exploded, Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s WE-CAN program gave Brooke Woboditsch the tools to flourish

Photo of Kaoru Miller, owner of Cha Cha Tea
Brooke Woboditsch, President of CCS.

CCS participates in programs offered by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), made possible with support to Queen’s University from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario through the Scale-up Platform Project and from the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario to the WE-CAN Project.

Like so many companies, Brooke Woboditsch’s CCS took a hit when COVID-19 swept the world. And like so many others, she rolled up her sleeves and started searching for ways to bounce. Come fall 2020, she suddenly found herself swamped with new business. Good news. But she hadn’t expected it.

Thanks to Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s WE-CAN (Women Entrepreneurs Can) Project for female entrepreneurs, she’s been able to make it work.

For the last ten years, Woboditsch has been president of CCS, a company created more than two decades ago by her father as a “retirement” project after leaving the broadcasting industry. If you’ve ever sat in a waiting room scanning the subtitles running with a silent TV news broadcast, you’ve probably seen CCS’s work. Those are their captions. And they do other work too, for the blind, low vision and partially-sighted. It’s a tough competitive market and, Woboditsch says, it takes a lot to stand out.

When it comes to working remotely, CCS has been a pioneer for the past two decades. Woboditsch herself is the only employee located in Kingston, and one of just three people who worked full-time for the company. CCS maintains a large network of highly skilled contractors and sub-contractors who are scattered across North America. When COVID-19 hit, CCS’s transition to the new work reality was largely seamless.

What Woboditsch had not anticipated, however, was an explosion in demand for what is known as communication access in real time (CART) services – providing captions, American sign language and other communications aids for events as they happen. At first, the pandemic hurt them as sporting events and in-person appearances got cancelled. Then, as people adjusted to the new reality, conferences, festivals, artists’ talks, educational lectures and seminars went on-line – and many organizations, wanted their events to be more accessible. And they wanted it delivered in a variety of challenging technological ways and across multiple platforms, not just on Zoom but also pushed out on Facebook and YouTube. By this past fall, CCS was flooded with work.

By her own admission, when it comes to business, Woboditsch had “a whole lot of practice but very little theory. I don’t have an MBA or anything like that,” she says. “I’m just one of those people who was thrown in with the wolves.” She first learned about Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation through its Facebook page; she saw webinars that looked useful. One thing led to another and when she was given the chance to work with mentor Judith Pineault through the WE-CAN Project, in September of 2020, she took the opportunity. Through WE-CAN, she also gained a spot for CCS in the second offering of QPI’s Growth Accelerator in October. Right as everything was exploding.

A self-characterized “Whirlwind,” Woboditsch found herself trying to juggle weekly meetings with mentor Pineault with once every two weeks sessions as part of the accelerator program on top of CCS’s explosive growth. “The extra work was a challenge, but I am so glad I did it.”

“Judith managed to give me some ways of looking at the business I hadn’t thought of,” says Woboditsch. Pineault headed her own company, Eastern Fluid Power, for many years and as a result, says Woboditsch, “She’s been through some of the same difficulties, so she can warn you to not make the same kinds of mistakes. She lifted me up at times when I was feeling overwhelmed.”

The Growth Accelerator program itself paid immediate benefits (“When I learn something I apply it right away,” says Woboditsch), often in unexpected ways. “At the beginning of the program, I was feeling very overworked and stressed. I needed to grow the team to accommodate the demand, so I put it out to the program that I needed help and I needed it now. A fellow accelerator participant, said, ‘I can help you.’ That connection brought her someone who is now part of her team. The program also helped her build local business connections, something she had not had before.

Each session featured a different aspect of building a successful business. Says Woboditsch, “They really spelled it all out.” The accelerator featured sessions on marketing, team-building, product differentiation and developing their value proposition. “They brought in different speakers for each one, and we were allowed to talk with them afterwards one on one,” she says. The tangible end products of the accelerator after it finished in February she says, were a customer pitch deck, a fifteen-minute presentation that explains to any potential customer what CCS is and what it can do for them and also a growth plan. “It’s a 35-page document with well-thought-out vision and goals, timelines and finances.” And thanks to it and mentoring she has received from Pineault, which wraps up this April, she is putting in place new relationships that should benefit CCS long after the pandemic has faded: new strategic partnerships with three other companies including one that does American sign language as well as a company in Colombia that does work similar to CCS, but in Spanish. On Judith’s advice she has hired a part-time CFO. In future she hopes to join another WE-CAN offered accelerator once she has implemented everything she learned this time out.

“it was an invaluable experience. I am happy to have gone through it.”