Using a vibrant Toronto skyline as her virtual backdrop, Petra Hwang speaks both eloquently and passionately about her business over a Zoom call. She’s a savvy entrepreneur, and it shows — displaying a level of comfort and confidence she says she’s newly gained as part of ACCESS Community Capital Fund’s Women’s Business Accelerator program.
“When I first read about the program, I honestly thought it wasn’t real,” she says with a laugh. “It sounded too good to be true. But after reviewing the course and the organization’s history I realized this is something I should definitely sign up for… and I’m so thankful I did.”
Originally from Korea where she majored in media arts, Hwang moved to Canada seven years ago and found a job as a graphic designer. It was at that company that her close circle of colleagues encouraged her to pursue a long-time dream of owning her own digital marketing business with a specialized focus on augmented reality content.
Yet as a relative newcomer to the country and unseasoned in the business world, Hwang says she felt overwhelmed — a sentiment that Ryan Hollinrake, executive director of ACCESS Community Capital Fund, says is familiar amongst the women who sign up for its Women’s Business Accelerator program.
“When it comes to starting a business in Canada, there are many nuances that anyone would find hard to understand,” says Hollinrake. “When you add cultural differences and religious differences to that mix, it can be especially difficult to know where to start.”
Hollinrake explains that ACCESS, a charitable organization that focuses on sustainable employment and self-employment for individuals across the GTA, launched the Women’s Business Accelerator Program in 2019 with the goal of providing free workshops to equip newcomer women with the tools they would need to build a profitable business in Canada.
“There aren’t a lot of programs out there that are women-specific and that focus specifically on entrepreneurship and business planning,” he says of the program, which covers topics ranging from business registration to public speaking to financial literacy.
“This is so vitally important because, as we’ve found, once these women are lifting themselves up and starting their businesses, they tend to lift up the community as well.”
Hollinrake adds that in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, the ACCESS team has quickly moved all of its small business programming to the online space, recognizing the vital importance of self-sustainability in these challenging times.
“What’s actually been great about these changes is that we’ve had an increase in participation due to the virtual setting,” says Hollinrake, further explaining that the facilitators who lead the Women’s Business Accelerator workshops — all experts in their field and all volunteers— are all female as well.
“For newcomer women, it often comes down to a choice: invest in yourself or feed your family,” says Hollinrake. “Our thought is, let’s do both.”