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Many of you know and love our guest, Prabha Mitchell from WESK – Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan. If you are an entrepreneur, you can be sure her name is familiar! Tune in to learn what drives her to work with one of the craziest, self-employed groups? What keeps her going in spite of some challenging times financially? Learn about makes this lady tick!
Barb McGrath 0:01
Welcome tonight views The Secret Life of entrepreneurs on 91.3 FM CJ tr Regina community radio. We’re live with a local business owner who’s making a difference in y qR. And in fact, we’re live with the leader of local business owners today. So stay tuned to learn her secret about what makes her tick. What keeps her going and what helped her become successful. You’re listening to your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner, and marketing guru. Our guest today is Prabha Mitchell from the Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, or WESK, as we often hear them called she’s going to talk about what motivated her to look at an opportunity working with hundreds or thousands of entrepreneurs across our province. So welcome Prabha. Thank you, Mark. Such a pleasure to have you here today. So let’s start there, hundreds or thousands of entrepreneurs.
Prabha Mitchell 1:09
So we have about 750 members that are part of WESK across the Saskatchewan.
Barb McGrath 1:14
Wow, that’s a very significant number, and fairly evenly spread across our province, north and south, east and west.
Prabha Mitchell 1:22
Most of our members reside in Saskatoon and Regina,
Barb McGrath 1:26
Of course, okay in those two larger cities, larger cities. Okay, awesome. All right. Well, let’s start off. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to work with women entrepreneurs? And I guess maybe I should ask at the beginning of our broadcast. Is it better for me to call them women entrepreneurs or WESK?
Prabha Mitchell 1:44
WESK is the new brand. Okay, thank you. And it is one entrepreneurs couch one but known as WESK. Now, in my previous role, I was the leader of an accounting designation. That was at a time when we had three accounting designations, the Chartered Accountants, the CA’s, the CMA is the Management Accountants and then the certified general accountants. They’ve been around for 330 years as rivals and competing designations. So in 2012, it was the third time in the history of the accounting profession that the three groups came together to unify the profession of accounting, to create CPA. And so I was part of the core group that created CPA in Saskatchewan and the legislation in Saskatchewan. Wow. Needless to say, was one of the most political undertakings,
Barb McGrath 2:39
Yes, I actually remember that I have a tire
Prabha Mitchell 2:42
Allergy, to put three, you know, rival groups in a room and then come to a consensus on several aspects of creating the new organization. Once CP was created, I was looking for my next opportunity when I was phoned one day by one of the board members and asked to consider this opportunity as the CEO, then known as women entrepreneurs sketch one very nice.
Barb McGrath 3:09
Yeah. That sounds like a very interesting time, probably. And I can imagine that the lessons learned from something like that were probably fairly significant. Is there anything from that time in your life that you found that you’ve carried over now to your role with WESK?
Prabha Mitchell 3:27
Absolutely, um, you know, through the merger discussions, I mean, one of the critical aspects that that stood out was our ability to negotiate. And we would often spend our days talking about, is this really a hill to die on? And, and, you know, picking our battles, and focusing on those wins that are really important and really critical that we, we might have to give up a little to gain more, right? And that’s an important lesson, even as an entrepreneur.
Barb McGrath 3:58
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. You can’t get caught up in the small details. Right? You really have to look at the big picture and the long term salutely. And it makes a huge difference in your business. Absolutely. Yeah. So tell me what it was about the West opportunity that called to you.
Prabha Mitchell 4:18
I think it was working with the business community working with women in particular, I didn’t know too much about WESK at that point in time. But what I will say is, I love my job more today than I did four and a half years ago. Okay, I have the privilege and the opportunity to meet some incredible female entrepreneurs across the sketch on a bet. And I enjoy that. It’s very inspiring. I’m very passionate about it. But I also have the opportunity to meet some very unique, interesting male entrepreneurs as well. And I mentioned that simply because in terms of what we’re doing, I think it’s important to have men become part of the change. We want to see happen. Sure. And I’ll talk a little bit about the change we want to see happen in a little bit. Okay. But men need to be part of that conversation. And they need to help mobilize that change..
Barb McGrath 5:11
Excellent. Well, you know, I’m thinking back to I think it was late in the fall, and WESK at press conference here in Regina. And I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend. And I remember you talking about funding and how funding varies depending on if you are a man or a woman? Can you touch on that for us?
Prabha Mitchell 5:32
Yeah, absolutely. So So, you know, I use I use this all the time, and I talk about this all the time, men and women start businesses at the same rate, and maybe women actually start businesses at a greater rate. Okay. women owned businesses do not achieve scale, to the same extent male owned businesses do. There are several reasons because women entrepreneurs face some unique barriers. One of those barriers is access to capital. Ah, and so we’ve several things happening there. One, women don’t ask for money, they tend to rely on their own money. So you know, they dip into their personal savings to when they do ask for money. They’re not asking for enough money. So female owned businesses are what we call undercapitalized. And that really impedes one’s ability to scale.
Barb McGrath 6:25
Prabha Mitchell 6:26
To grow, to hire to innovate, to diversify products to go to different markets. So that’s a second barrier. And thirdly, I mean, this is quite alarming. The rejection rates for women are something like 65%, and I and our capital. And I have to qualify that by saying, because of lack of collateral, lock I lateral and and for men, it’s about 35%.
Barb McGrath 6:51
That is a big contrast. Eight, that’s huge. Can you explain that a little bit more for me, so I think about my own business, if I was going to apply for a loan. from a business standpoint, the only collateral I have, and you might be able to tell me different is me. I’m the brains behind the operation. And I’m not about to attach my house to a business loan. So do men do it different? Or do they have something else that they can attach to it,
Prabha Mitchell 7:19
They will often have other things they can attach to it. And women these days do have their home attached to it. Okay, that is becoming a fairly common practice it is we are in the lending business as well. And that is becoming a common practice. Okay, but because women don’t know women are starting off. They haven’t had that many years in business. They haven’t don’t have the business assets and the inventory, perhaps that a male entrepreneur die. So there are several barriers. And so, you know, they often rejected because of collateral. And I also talked about conscious and unconscious bias. And so when you look at venture capital funding, women actually don’t acquire venture capital funds to the same extent as male owners. So venture capital, funders tend to be a little more skeptical. And the questions about female owned businesses are quite different than male owned businesses. Okay, so there is unconscious bias in that regard as well.
Barb McGrath 8:14
So events very interesting to me. Do you also find that there’s a difference between the number of men versus the number of women starting industrial or equipment or hard skill, tangible type businesses versus soft skill? freelancing? Right?
Prabha Mitchell 8:34
Are you seeing that as well? Absolutely. So most female owned businesses tend to be in the health human services sector. And we don’t have enough women owned businesses in manufacturing, agriculture, technology. So these are the sectors that would be characterized as higher profit, higher growth. Yeah, we don’t have enough women entrepreneurs in those sectors. That’s great part of the change that we need to see happen as shifting, you know, shifting where women are starting their businesses and growing their businesses. And this is what we call the gender entrepreneurship gap, the lack of representation in some of these sectors. And then the fact that women owned businesses don’t scale to the same extent, as male owned businesses creates the gender economic gap.
Barb McGrath 9:25
So I recognize that this next comment doesn’t necessarily tie to what you’re talking about. But one of the things that I learned when I became a parent 10 years ago, was all of those fallacies that we had had had always heard about how boys are encouraged to do different things in girls. I never really believed it because I had never lived it. And I’ve always had a very strong propensity towards technology. So for me, I never felt it, but I’m seeing it in my own kids at the earliest of years. So my son is 10 My daughter is 11. And yes, I only became apparent 10 years ago. So do the math there. But, but I see how in the classroom, girls are being rewarded, and they have fantastic teachers like, this is not a teacher criticism, criticism at all. But I can see how girls are rewarded for following the rules, staying in a box being quiet, where boys are bouncing off the walls, and again, not a criticism, but they are encouraged to think differently and see differently. And, and I was quite taken aback by that, as I saw, I didn’t, of course, here’s me, the ultimate parent behind both my kids, you know, telling my daughter, who cares fight back, you know, push out of that box. And I don’t think as society, we don’t see that enough, right. And so from the very beginning, we have a very traditional idea of what a boy is, and a girl is and you know what they’re supposed to do. And I tell you, if you don’t fit inside that box, it’s no wonder 20 years later, when they’re looking for funding. It’s it’s still a different game. It’s not the same level playing field.
Prabha Mitchell 11:18
And this is not just about stereotypes, and I think that is really the the role that WESK is playing is getting people communities government to understand this is not just about gender, it is about an economic case, it is about a business case, to support women entrepreneurs, because advancing gender equality through entrepreneurial activity, could potentially add another hundred and 50 billion to 400 and 20 billion by 2026.
Barb McGrath 11:46
Wow. So that’s not that far away. That’s seven years from now.
Prabha Mitchell 11:49
So this is not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. Mm hmm. And so I think it’s important for communities and people and governments and business sector to understand this equation.
Barb McGrath 12:00
So probably let me ask you, if that business case is complete, and we we can see the additional revenue that would be earned? Why aren’t more businesses saying yes? Why aren’t more capital Thunder saying yes. And taking that risk?
Prabha Mitchell 12:18
I think we’ve taken a long time to make that case. Okay. But I think we are here now. And it’s gonna take some time to make that shift. It’s an economic shift. It’s a cultural shift. And it’s a paradigm shift. Hmm. Because people tend to see this as a gender and a diversity issue. And we’re saying, hey, it’s more than gender. It is an economic issue. It’s a lost economic development opportunity. So it’s going to take time for people to buy into that paradigm to understand that paradigm.
Barb McGrath 12:48
Yeah, but I think we’re making some change. Okay. Well, that sounds good. All right. Well, let’s move on to some lighter topics, because that’s certainly a very, I think, intense topic. And I just sense that it’s something that you really have some personal passion about. So I’m glad we got to talk about it. Um, tell me, what does a day look like for you? You actually work in Saskatoon, but you’re down here in Regina for a couple of days. So tell me what does a day in the life of probably look like?
Prabha Mitchell 13:16
Yeah, I’m insane. We capture it. And, you know, I, I tend to thrive in a in a fast paced, dynamic, unpredictable environment. Quite honestly, my day begins at 5:15am. And, you know, I, it’s because I go to the gym to work out or I’m on a plane early Sunday and plane to China. And I spent a lot of time meeting with people or working with my team. And I have a management team. And so providing leadership providing direction guidance, working a lot with people in the community because I’m quite involved in the community. I’m in Regina, as much as possible for the uncorked events every third Thursday, I mean, every third Tuesday. And I just love being here. And I have shaken with a twist in Saskatoon that I try not to miss. And so I think, you know, just like any entrepreneur, my day is actually consumed in terms of people, managing people, making sure the organization is financially sustainable, making sure we’re building the brand and building the profile of the organization. And essentially, making sure what the organization is moving towards the vision.
Barb McGrath 14:29
That’s right. Yep. And what is WESK’s vision that a day will come?
Prabha Mitchell 14:32
When, in Saskatchewan, when men, male entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs have an equal opportunity to achieve success and be recognized? And essentially in a in a nutshell, it means that a day will come when organization like wesc does not have to exist.
Barb McGrath 14:52
Yes. I remember when WESK was founded, and so I can’t remember how old I was. But I remember the news coverage from back then, because it was very pink and fluffy and pretty perfume and it was very feminine. And the media was not particularly supportive at that point in time, because it was another initiative that many saw as funding something that was unnecessary. Mm hmm. So how many years later, are we now?
Prabha Mitchell 15:25
How long has what was the sound in 1996 1996?
Barb McGrath 15:28
Okay, so you’ve been around for 20 years?
Prabha Mitchell 15:31
More than 20 years?
Barb McGrath 15:32
Yeah, yes. 23. Thank you. Yeah, I’m a creative type note. Okay, so for 23 years. So let’s talk about that long term vision. You alluded to men early in our conversation. What can you tell me about that?
Prabha Mitchell 15:47
Yeah. So, WESK, I have to say this WESK will always be focused on women. That is our mandate. And that is a cause cause and that’s what we’re passionate about closing the gender entrepreneurship gap. But in order to make change happen, we need to deal with and work with male entrepreneurs. We all know that male entrepreneurs are part of some incredible networks. And you know, male entrepreneurs benefit from some incredible mentors, and that male entrepreneurs are quite well connected in the community. And so we need to make sure women have access to those networks, that women have access to those role models and mentors, and that women can be sponsored by male entrepreneurs, meaning that some of these established male entrepreneurs can open some doors for women entrepreneurs, get them connected to the right people to the right opportunities. So I think it’s really important for men to understand what we’re doing, and understand the business case, but behind what we’re doing, and to be part of this change.
Barb McGrath 16:49
Yeah, absolutely. Can you talk about some of the early ways that men are getting involved?
Prabha Mitchell 16:55
So one thing WESK has done is we’ve got what’s called an associate membership category, okay, so men can become associate members. So we finding that men come out to our networking events, and support are female entrepreneurs. Okay? When they’re being showcased, and featured. Men are speaking at a conference, men are supporting our annual conference. I think men are much more open to have that dialogue around how can we support women entrepreneurs, and the businesses scale? So possibly, you know, in a mentorship role? So I think I think we’re engaging men. Okay. And I think it’s important for men to understand that we want to have that conversation, and we want to collaborate with them.
Barb McGrath 17:37
Yeah, absolutely. So probably, how would you respond then to the question, as a member? What’s a good example? Well, let’s use one of the speakers at the conference in May. He’s a male from Alberta, very well respected in his field, he competes against a number of your members. So how would you respond to that concern from members? How would you sort of help folks understand why it’s important for for, I don’t wanna say outsiders, but that’s a word that pops into my brain to an outsider coming in and and talking with members as opposed to a member.
Prabha Mitchell 18:13
So I think if we remove the gender aspect, and let’s put min Manjeet min, Haas in the equation, okay, we’re looking at one of the strongest female entrepreneurs in Canada, coming from outside of Saskatchewan, that’s right to share her expertise and her knowledge and her wisdom and her skills, right. And so I think it would be the same, we’re not taking something away from our women entrepreneurs. But how do you use this opportunity where you have somebody that’s really an expert in their field? How do you use that opportunity, being in the room with them to tap into that knowledge, that skill set that experience? How can you gain from it grow from it? Right? So I think it’s an opportunity. When we are in the room with those kind of people like like Manjeet min, Haas, for example, there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to learn, right, grow?
Barb McGrath 19:02
Yeah. So what I really like about what you said, and I think what I would add to that is, the value that someone else brings to the table far outweighs the value of keeping them up. So it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you’re going to compete with someone. And competition is a healthy thing. So, you know, I think about some of the questions that I’ve been asked based on the work that I do with you folks. And and there are there are lots of competitors out there. But the more value that you as an organization can bring to your members, then the stronger your members will be as a whole.
Prabha Mitchell 19:38
Absolutely. And it’s exposure, right? I mean, if WESK can facilitate that exposure and and that connection with people that you and I would generally not be able to connect with value to that. Yes. Male or female.
Barb McGrath 19:53
Yeah, I gender is probably not even a factor that influences something like that. Right? Yes, no, I agree wholeheartedly. Okay, so tell us about some of the initiatives that you have happening at West then you’ve mentioned chicken with a twist. You mentioned uncorked, which of course happened last night.
Prabha Mitchell 20:12
So it it’s today, last night, or last night.
Barb McGrath 20:17
So tell us a little bit about some of the other initiatives.
Prabha Mitchell 20:20
Right. So I’m really excited about uncorked and Regina I have to I have to emphasize that it’s a it’s a signature event. I mean shaken with the twist has been happening for many years and Saskatoon but uncorked is new. We started with an event called Connect last year and then last fall, we created uncorked. We’ve had some spectacular speakers, some online, wonderful speakers. And last night was Dr. Gina grandi, the Dean of the hill Business School, always very inspiring and dynamic is a fantastic lady, right. And the one other initiative that I think is really important for the future of wesc is matchstick and matsya. program to support Indigenous women entrepreneurs start and grow a business. The project is done March 2020. But we’ve had some incredible traction. We have an advisory council for that project. Right now we’re in phase two. So business planning training in seven communities across the snatch one. So we’re in the middle of the Saskatoon business planning, training six weeks, three hours, each week, we have something like 30 women, we had a workshop, we had a six week series in Fort capelle, Regina will be going to not North battleford and PA and so it’s just incredible to see Indigenous women really participating strongly. And we know we’re making an impact. And phase three is having them come back to us for business advising and financing. Excellent, very excited about that project.
Barb McGrath 21:56
Yeah, and you know, probably I would think that if women are being declined 64 65% of the time, then Indigenous women are probably being declined 95% of the time.
That’s an else, you know, unique barriers, women entrepreneurs, but Indigenous women have those unique barriers. And a few additional barriers. Right, exactly. matchstick, so is a big one for us as well, this year, you can expect to hear from us about a new program to support women scale up their business. Okay. So stay tuned for 2019 that should happen this year. But I think you will still see us in the news in the media, absolutely working with government pushing our advocacy agenda around closing the gender entrepreneurship cap, we’re not going away, we’re going to keep pushing up that we’re gonna have to have people understand that, and it’s not going to be done in 2019 we want to make that business case for why we need to invest in women entrepreneurs.
Barb McGrath 23:00
Excellent, that is fantastic. We are nearly out of time. any final comments that you’d like to share words of wisdom for someone who’s maybe thinking about, you know, a career like yours, or becoming an entrepreneur,
Prabha Mitchell 23:15
I would say courage, you know, and in when people ask me about the most defining quality of attribute about being a leader, and, and and leading the organization I lead, I think we need to mirror the attributes of entrepreneurs, courage, resilience, you fall down, you pick up, pick yourself up, and you know, do battle the next day, you keep moving and you don’t give up. I think it for me personally, you know, I see life in two segments, the first part of your life and the first half of your life is spent building legitimacy and credibility. And the second half of your life is spent building a legacy. And I am at that point in my life, where I think about, you know, what is the legacy? What’s the impact, and it’s an important part of one’s lifetime?
Barb McGrath 24:04
Absolutely, yes. Tell me how should someone get a hold of WESK.
Prabha Mitchell 24:11
And you can go on our website, which is wesk.ca. Or you can call us at 4777173? or you can email your general inquiries, which is west.ca.
Barb McGrath 24:24
Excellent. Well, and probably I can certainly say as a member, I know, I have always had some fantastic support from your team. Anytime I’ve had a question anytime I’ve had something that I wanted to talk about. Your team was always very, very open, open to the discussion, open to ideas, open to suggestions. And so I have certainly enjoyed my opportunity to work with WESK as well. We have an incredible team. You do definitely. Well, folks, we are out of time. So I’d like to thank Prabha for joining us today to talk about WESK and the changes that are happening in that organization. And I need to find my notes here. Go. I will be back on the third of April and I will be back with Dan Benesh from Barterpay another local regional business, really changing the landscape in how businesses scale and grow and drive new revenue. If you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on Facebook and Instagram. Just a reminder, you can submit questions in advance in advance of the live show on our Facebook page. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Sherry will be here with you next Wednesday at 12 o’clock. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.