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By Mike King
LOANS CIRCLES like the Aurora Business Project provide training, mentoring and microcredit for start-ups
With sadness and regret we report that this is Mike King's sign-off story. Our friend and colleague died early Sunday after he had filed the article a couple of days earlier.
The reasons Chilean actress Tamara Rubilar and Afghani refugee Makai Aref are growing businesses in Montreal are as varied as their backgrounds.
But the two women received financial and practical support from the same microcredit and entrepreneurship training program to get their enterprises off the ground.
The Aurora Business Project is a loan circle for anglophone and allophone women that is run by Compagnie F, a local non-profit organization that provides them entrepreneurship education and mentoring.
(Microcredit is called community credit in Quebec, and the province leads the country in that sector.)
Aurora coordinator Lis Suarez calls the project's approach women-centred because it "strikes a balance between family and work."
In the case of Aref, who graduated from Aurora's 12-week training program in 2006, the mother of five used the $1,000 start-up loan to found Afghani Catering Food Service.
"I find jobs for stay-at-home Afghani women," Aref said. "It gives them a chance to get out of the house to meet others and make some money."
The recently widowed 59-year-old said the youngest woman she has hired so far is 40 and the oldest over 65.
Rubilar, a 2009 Aurora graduate, had been dabbling in jewellery design using recycled material until deciding "a couple of years ago to make it a business with a plan."
She enjoyed the program, which combines everything from accounting and business planning to networking and market research.
"It was nice to meet with other women and know you're not alone," said 36-year-old Rubilar, whose Estrella Bijoux now sells her "ecocreations" in 10 Quebec boutiques as well as one in Toronto. She is also working on finding a sales point in New York City.
British seamstress Deborah Adams, who completed the Aurora program a year before Rubilar, is preparing to seek a second loan "to hire someone to help me with production and to buy more material."
Her 3-year-old, one-woman company designs recycled leather handbags. The initial Aurora loan paid for a special sewing machine she needed to work with leather.
Aurora loans are $1,000 for the first, $2,500 for the second and a maximum of $5,000 for the third with what Suarez calls "quite competitive" interest rates of prime plus 2.5 per cent.
Each loan must be paid back in full before applying for the next one.
Adams and Rubilar are among more than 40 ethical entrepreneurs from 19 nationalities displaying and selling their products at the Ethik boutique-gallery-business centre close to Compagnie F headquarters on St. Hubert St. Ethik was established nine months ago by Suarez as a social economy project of FEM International (Femmes Entrepreneurs du Monde), of which she is also director.
"Ethik is not only a boutique, but a true incubator of ethical fashion and entrepreneurship where monthly events touching ethical fashion and sustainable development take place," she said.
In the four years since Compagnie F took over Aurora, established by the Notre Dame de Grace YMCA in 1993, it has helped 142 Montreal-area women create 69 new businesses.
During that time, there have been 16 loans totalling $16,500 awarded and the payback has been 97.5 per cent -which would be the envy of banks and other commercial lenders.
Suarez said 62.5 per cent of those women had annual incomes before participating of less than $20,000, 60 per cent were between the ages of 18 and 35, and nearly 48 per cent were immigrants or visible minorities.
Provincewide, Karyne Talbot, coordinator of the Reseau Quebecois du credit communautaire, said 10 member loan circles (including Aurora) handed out 40 loans last year worth more than $108,000.
Sixty-two per cent of the recipients were women and, among them, 71 per cent had earned less than $20,000 a year (12 per cent had no income and 32 per cent were on some type of social or employment assistance). Eleven per cent were immigrants or from visible minorities, down from 25 per cent in 2008.
One year ago, Compagnie F also launched Investissement Femmes Montreal, one of five regional organizations created across Quebec to provide financial assistance to women through all stages of their businesses.
"We bring economic equality to women," says Roselyne Mavungu, generalmanagerof CompagnieF and president of Investissement-Femmes.
An entrepreneur herself as head of music publisher/distributor Editions Blue Hut, Mavungu proudly noted $500,000 has been lent to 30 budding businesswomen since January 2009.
The investment in a single project -the money comes from the Department of Economic Development -ranges from $1,000 to $25,000 for a maximum of five years.
"More than 100 women have come to us so far because our services are dedicated to them," Mavungu said.
On the Web: www.compagnie-f.org
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One million and counting
CIBC World Markets Inc. estimates one million Canadian women will own a small business by the end of this year. An Ernst&Young report released in April -Scaling up: Why Women-owned Businesses Can Recharge the Global Economy - points to compelling research supporting the importance of investing in female entrepreneurs.
-¶The number of self-employed women in Canada has surged 50 per cent since the early 1990s, to about 800,000.
-¶The number of female-owned businesses is growing 60 per cent faster than those run by men, according to CIBC.
-¶Women in Canada make up a larger share of the self-employed than in any other country, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
-¶Women in Canada own and/or operate 30 per cent of all firms, according to the Bank of Montreal's Institute for Small Business.