Anita Heidema calls herself a “corporate misfit” – a label she wears with pride. She spent much of her career climbing the corporate ladder at a global business headquartered in Toronto. But in May of 2009, after a transition in her senior management role, she suddenly found herself unemployed.
“I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do,” she says.
Heidema was often told she had an entrepreneurial drive, but her fears had stopped her from going out on her own. She had the business experience, but wasn’t sure how to translate that into running her own company.
“I found there was a real gap between being in corporate life and being a busy entrepreneur,” she says.
Her background in coaching and previous experience in the travel industry led her to register her own business under the name “Your Inspirational Journeys.”
In July of 2009, she stumbled across an article in the Era Banner describing a new business incubator program for female entrepreneurs, hosted by the Women’s Centre for York Region (wcyr.ca). Her application was accepted.
The program required committing to two morning classes a week for ten weeks, covering fundamentals in business planning, marketing, accounting and much more. “They’d bring in entrepreneurs from around York Region to teach us how to expand, and what we needed to do as entrepreneurs to grow our businesses,” Heidema says.
The program introduced Heidema to a number of networking opportunities, connecting her with the Aurora and Newmarket Chambers of Commerce, and exposing her to a vast network of other entrepreneurs in York Region, which would prove incredibly valuable over the years to come.
Heidema now offers coaching programs for serious entrepreneurs who want to take charge of their business to discover more profit, more freedom and a greater impact.
“We [find ourselves] spinning our wheels in ways that are not productive to our business,” she says. “And then we don’t have time for what’s important: whether it’s family, or loved ones, or time for ourselves.”
It often comes down to a success mindset, Heidema explains. And investing in local entrepreneur resources can help you stay on track.
The WCYR Entrepreneurial Business Incubator (EBI) has also evolved and is now a 14-week program that helps entrepreneurs build their business plan while also providing financial backing through a micro-lending program. It’s available at no cost to those accepted, and there’s currently a waiting list.
“Entrepreneurs have certain skills but they don’t have all the appropriate skills for starting a business,” says Karen McConvey, the co-ordinator and facilitator of the incubator program with WCYR. “But they’re passionate, and once you have that passion, we can help direct it. And they really do just soar.”
It’s also encouraging to have the support of fellow entrepreneurs along the way. Heidema advises joining a local networking group. She is a member of Upper York Business, which meets in Newmarket once a week, as well as SWAN Connection, a group for female business owners. She has also been involved in local BNI chapters – a more structured group focused on business referrals.
With the depth of support available to local entrepreneurs, you have the opportunity to select the group or service that’s the best fit for you. “Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there”, says Heidema. “You never grow if you just stay within your regular self. You have to take that next step, and be uncomfortable, in order to grow and make things happen.”
by Charlotte Ottaway
Women’s Centre for York Region
(To get involved, email Karen at email@example.com)
York Small Business Enterprise Centre
SWAN – Successful Women Always Network
BNI Greater Toronto Area