LITTLE CURRENT – This year’s Women of Manitoulin Entrepreneur Network (WOMEN) conference, held last month at the Little Current-Howland Recreation Centre, offered a number of educational and networking opportunities that highlighted some of the achievements and perspectives of the region’s foremost female entrepreneurs.

“It’s been overwhelming; there were so many wonderful ideas,” said conference organizer Barb Baker, who formed WOMEN last April.

“This year was more about providing them with speakers to talk about different topics, more like a formalized conference, and have a roundtable of information on where they’d like to go in the future,” she said.

The opening presentation was by Karen Bird of RBC Royal Bank and discussed business owner planning topics, including retirement, taxes and estates, succession and preparation for ‘what ifs.’ PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise was featured next by Susan Milne. PARO (which is Latin for ‘I am ready’) helps female entrepreneurs find funding opportunities and offers mentoring services.

ReThink Green/Green Economy North’s Rebecca Danard spoke next about ways to find up to a 20 percent increase in business efficiency, as well as some of the ways Green Economy North’s services can be used for businesses.

Anong Beam and Marianna Lafrance spoke next about how artists and artisans based on Manitoulin Island can network, find commonalities and generate opportunities to partner, form co-operative groups and grow their collective abilities. They also dabbled into making business operations that are plastic-free as well as social media marketing as a way of achieving business goals.

One of the Island business partnerships highlighted at the meeting was for anyone with a food component to their businesses to join in the Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA)’s booth at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Information about the Business Development Bank of Canada followed, such as the ways the organization helps businesses through loan funding and other assistance.

Following a lunch break, Tammy Albers presented about the many hidden jobs that businesswomen have to juggle in addition to their work responsibilities, including tasks that arise as part of motherhood or a relationship.

Ms. Baker then talked about the true meaning of ‘accessibility’ and why that word means much more than physical access concerns. These areas include appropriate lighting, proper font sizes in written materials for easy readability and even more subtle touches like adequate background music and understandable washroom gender signs. She said this was particularly important considering the aging population on Manitoulin.

Photo by Warren Schlote

MTA’s Shelba Millette then presented on sweeping changes to the organization, including a shift in focus of some new offerings and a new logo. The association has recently completed a 50-page business plan as well which outlines the future directions of the MTA.

Leigh Kitlar of Contact North then presented information about what her organization does for job-seekers in underserved areas of Ontario, especially in Indigenous and Franco-Ontarian communities.

Following that presentation were break-out sessions that delivered suggested conversation topics to each table, some of which were designed to help Ms. Baker direct the future of WOMEN toward a direction in which most people sought support. Topics for consideration included a possible business centre, accessibility concerns and how best to make use of fellow women entrepreneurs’ services.

Ms. Baker said the topics for the conference came as a result of her own attendance at a number of conferences in the past year, where she listened to presentations that she felt may apply to WOMEN.

Unfortunately, due to the current federal political sphere being in the midst of election season, Ms. Baker said she missed out on speakers to represent federal funding opportunities such as FedNor and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. However, she said she had plans to make up for that soon.

“A really important component for everyone in business is their ability to get funding,” said Ms. Baker. “I will be hosting a networking meeting when we have all of the funders available, after the elections.”

All throughout the event were plenty of networking opportunities for the women to share their projects and explore possible ways they might have been able to collaborate and build a greater combined output.

After all was concluded, Ms. Baker ended up with nine pages of attendee feedback that she said would help to direct WOMEN going forward.

One aspect of the conference that Ms. Baker said was particularly important was the use of majority Island women-owned businesses to provide services for the one-day event. These included LocoBeanz, Manitoulin Coffee, Manitoulin Tea, The Island Jar, Anchor Inn Hotel, Laidley Stationery, EagleOwl Party Rentals, Shelva Reiss, The Hawberry Florist and the Little Current grocery stores.

Ms. Baker invited anyone seeking more information on WOMEN to contact her at