The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our daily interactions with each other and our communities. It has also impacted the way that we do business. The Centre for Women in Business was established at Mount Saint Vincent University in 1992 and, with the support of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, has been dedicated to supporting women business owners through exposure, connection and learning for the last 28 years.

Navigating COVID-19

The CWB team transitioned remotely when the university closed in early March with in-person business advisories, networking and business skills training quickly moving online.

“While COVID-19 has impacted the business landscape and our members, it has not changed what we do and that’s support women business owners,” says Executive Director, Tanya Priske. “Of course, there have been a few technological hiccups, but the change that we are seeing now is that we are more accessible than we’ve ever been to women business owners across the province. I expect that a lot of the changes we’ve made now will continue even after we’re back on campus.”

While the support has not changed, Communications Coordinator Tanis Trainor says that their communications certainly has. “We’re communicating more regularly – 2-3 times per week instead of per month,” she says, “There’s something unique about this situation where everyone needs (almost) the same information on programs, reopening and what to do next and that’s where we can help.”

Since COVID-19, the CWB has not only increased the frequency of its communications, but its also increased frequency of it online networking program, Coffee Talk, and their certificate training programs. They have launched a High Growth Recovery Program and are leading their first virtual trade mission for a delegation of Atlantic Canadian businesses.

Re-connecting with women business owners

Michelle Petitpas (pictured in the banner at the top of the page) is a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and business owner in Annapolis Valley. For Michelle, attending events and trainings previously required a half-day commitment, but she can now participate and connect from home.

“I went on the CWB website to see what programs were being offered virtually during COVID-19. The email updates have been invaluable. Before re-connecting with the CWB, I was spending hours trying to find program details and information that I could share,” says Petitpas.

In addition to running Michelle Petitpas Health Services, Michelle is part of a group of approximately 80 foot care nurses providing care in Nova Scotia. The group has been reviewing the regular CWB email updates together and even set up a visioning workshop with CWB business advisor Natalie Frederick-Wilson.

“We are a niche group of self-employed medical service providers. COVID-19 is challenging us to change our businesses drastically,” adds Petitpas.

The visioning exercise served two purposes for Michelle. While the exercise was geared towards rethinking and visioning how to provide foot care in a pandemic, it also sparked and encouraged a new business idea. Michelle is setting out on a new adventure, called Heal the Healthcarers, where she will empower and equip health care workers suffering from trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout with sustainable resilience. Michele Petitpas Health Services is growing to help nurse entrepreneurs with the skills to start, grow and scale their businesses.

Though they may not currently be on campus every day, the work of the CWB has far from slowed down. Providing one-on-one business advice, finding provincial and federal support programs, making connections to other women business owners, and providing workshops and skills training are just a few of the ways they are continuing to support women business owners – through the pandemic and beyond.

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