Lori Fox/Yukon News A gathering of Whitehorse’s female entrepreneurs met Oct.18 at Baked Cafe for the second Smrt Women speakers event.

Whitehorse SMRT women get down to business

‘It’s lonely, being a female entrepreneur’

Amid the clatter of wine glasses and clamour of talk, somebody laughed. Packed from wall to wall, with every single seat in the house occupied, Baked Cafe was overflowing with women, smiling, standing and sitting in tight little groups, sharing stories, chatting, some gesticulating wildly with their hands. On Oct. 18, this particular group of more than 60 women had gathered together to share advice and experiences about being a female entrepreneur in the Yukon.

The event, called SMRT WOMEN, was the second in a series of motivational speakers on this subject, the first of which was held in March. SMRT WOMEN is the brain-child of the self-described “dynamic lady boss duo,” Selene Vakharia and Sofia Fortin, who run SMRT POP UPS, who organize various events around the city including the (in)famous Drunken Lectures Series.

“After the first SMRT WOMEN event, people said, ‘We want more. Give us more!’ So, we did,” Fortin said.

The evening featured talks by Emily Payne and Erin Nicolardi of Rivers to Ridges, Emma Barr of Emma Barr Fine Art, Anne Lewis of Yukon Women in Mining, Patti Balsilliem, management consultant, Brianne Bremner of GBP Creative and Stephanie Dixon, a motivational coach. Among the topics discussed was the importance of having people who believe in you, having supportive partners, and struggling for (an often non-existent) work-life balance.

Dixon — who is also a retired paralympic swimmer —opened the evening with feeling and candour, speaking about her mother, who had recently passed away.

“I’m going to try to get through this without crying, but no promises,” Dixon said with a little laugh.

“My whole life, I had people — even absolute strangers — think it’s amazing when I can do even little everyday things…. My mother wasn’t like that … she believed in me so fiercely.”

That fierce belief is essential to her success, both as an athlete and an entrepreneur, Dixon said.

Work-life balance and finding people who understand the hectic demands of being a female entrepreneur were recurring themes for speakers.

“I’m not going for work-life balance,” said Lewis.

“If you’re starting a business, research it constantly, see if it’s worth it, if you’re passionate about it.”

SMRT POP UPS is hosting a “female entrepreneur accelerator program” starting in January, which is designed to help women fine tune their businesses through coaching and skills training, Vakharia said.

“There’s a need for ongoing mentorship,” Vakharia said. “Mindset is a big thing. Having the confidence to move forward and promote yourself…. Women tend to do better when they have other female entrepreneurs around.”

For more information on this and future SMRT WOMEN projects, visit www.smrtpopups.com.

The idea for the SMRT WOMEN speakers series came out of a 2013 report on women in business from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, Fortin said, which identified key needs for successful female entrepreneurs, including mentoring and funding.

“Honestly,” said Fortin, “the biggest need is a community. It’s lonely, being a female entrepreneur. To meet with other women who understand your lifestyle is a game changer.”

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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