Changing the Face of Local Entrepreneurship for 25 Years and Counting

August 10, 2017

In 1990, Mount Saint Vincent University, with an interest in assuming a leadership role in the education of and research about female entrepreneurs, proposed a Centre for Women in Business. The proposal was inspired by a 1984 study of Maritime women entrepreneurs, indicating women had specific challenges in starting and expanding their businesses. Programs and services dedicated to local women-owned businesses were needed, so the Centre for Women opened on campus in 1992 with assistance from the federal government.

Today, the Centre for Women in Business is still dedicated to offering skills training and resources to women entrepreneurs at every stage of their business journey. “We are primarily a skills development organization, helping women receive the tools they need to operate and scale their business to build revenue,” says Executive Director Tanya Priske. 

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Tanya Priske leading the Centre’s annual International Women’s Day celebration.

This year, the Centre is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since opening its doors, they have assisted more than 14,000 women-owned enterprises across mainland Nova Scotia.

“We are a membership-based organization with approximately 430 members, however we help all women who are interested in starting or growing a business.” The Centre offers management skills training and resources; one-on-one business advice, workshops, networking, access to trade missions, and more.

“Women entrepreneurs form a significant portion of Nova Scotia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Business Development Officer Laurie Sinclair. “They bring to the table a unique set of talents and skills that compliment those of male entrepreneurs. We think the magic is in the interception of these skills and how that collectively benefits economic development in Nova Scotia.”

The Centre is the only business development organization on a university campus dedicated to women in Canada. “We have a number of clients who generate anywhere from half-million to multi-million-dollar revenues annually,” Laurie says. “Our clients are making a significant impact on Nova Scotia’s economy.”

Tanya says there is a diverse range of women entrepreneurs who are members of the Centre. “Diversity and inclusion is something we’re passionate about. We embrace women of all cultures and ages. For example, we work closely with ISANS and the Network of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities to understand the challenges their clients may face when starting or building their business. We also understand the gender disparity women sometimes face in the business world. We want to help businesses understand that evolving their cultures to best serve both men and women boosts the bottom line.”

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A POWER Lunch workshop in progress

The Centre is also developing a new program, the RBC Alliance of Young Women Entrepreneurs, to support female MSVU students from creating an idea in their first year to being prepared to start their business in their fourth year. “Young women are not as represented in the entrepreneurial world as women aged 40-55. We try to encourage young women to look at entrepreneurship as a career option,” says Tanya.

The Centre is part of the Halifax Partnership’s SmartBusiness Action Team. When a SmartBusiness Account Executive meets with a local business, they learn their challenges and refer them to a member of the Action Team that is best suited to help. The Action Team is a group of 30 business and government organizations that help resolve these business issues in a timely manner. 

“When business owners are referred to us, we offer a meeting to chat about their challenges and opportunities,” says Laurie. “Sometimes they become members, sometimes we conduct one-off meetings that meet their needs. Most referrals are young owners or startups that need help growing or solving a specific challenge.” 

“I think it’s important to partner with referral programs because we may only have one piece of the answer. The challenge is how to navigate all the resources that are out there and know where to go. Referral programs like SmartBusiness help entrepreneurs navigate these resources and find the help they need.”

Tanya would like women business owners to know they are here to help. “Our doors are open to all women in HRM and across the province.” The Centre’s advisory team conducts business consultations over the phone or by Skype, as well as through an e-advisory form on their website.

“If you’re a woman business owner, you need to know about us.” Both the Centre for Women in Business and the SmartBusiness Program are available to help your business grow and succeed.