A group of Okanagan women has created an angel investment fund that it hopes will help more females get into the local business world.
Okanagan Women’s Mentoring and Angel Network, or WMAN, is part of the Women’s Equity Lab, which was founded in Victoria in 2017. WEL’s mission is to increase equal gender opportunity in the area of early stage investing, and it has so far launched three funds in Victoria and one in Vancouver.
Now it is coming to the Okanagan.
“To mark International Women’s Day, the new Okanagan Women’s Mentoring and Angel Network will begin accepting applications from women founded, led or co-led businesses from the Okanagan region,” co-founder and general partner Camille Saltman said in a press release.
“Our goal is to increase the number of women angel investors, remedy the gender gap in start-up funding and aid women business owners who are bearing the brunt of economic fallout from the pandemic.”
WMAN will be similar to Accelerate Okanagan’s OKGN Angel Summit, whose finale will be held March 18. Under the WEL model, partners will invest $5,500 for a pool of almost $140,000 that will be used to invest in companies the group thinks will generate the best return.
“Angel investing is as much about the business as it about the people,” said WEL Okanagan co-founder and general partner Carollynn Schafer, who is also the director of the OKGN Angel Summit. “As we work towards a more equitable distribution of funding, it will be important for entrepreneurial women and women investors to witness and connect with each other.
“By creating a women’s network, we hope to create a space for women that not only expands their knowledge of angel investing but also builds a thriving community of female entrepreneurs and investors.”
To learn more information about WMAN or to apply for funding, send an email to Saltman at [email protected].
By Michael Lamont
When David Mullner and Celine Nativel immigrated to Canada with their family four years ago, their resumes looked very different. Nativel, who was previously a psychologist for the hospital, and Mullner, who operated his own physiotherapy clinic, traded in their white coats for chef’s jackets when they became chocolatiers.
“When we arrived here we couldn’t find chocolate that we really loved … so we started first to make chocolate for ourselves and finally we made people try it,” Nativel said.
“They were amazed because they didn’t know this taste … it was so flavourful, and in Canada they are used to sweeter chocolate. So when people tried our chocolate they said we had to open a store and it snowballed, and that’s what we did.”
Since September 2018, Mullner and Nativel have been creating low sugar, vegan chocolates under their business named Maison Mulnati—maison meaning house/home (or “homemade”) and Mulnati by cleverly blending the couple’s last names.
However, this year Maison Mulnati has been working on moving to a new home, right in the heart of downtown Penticton, at 221 Main St. next to Castanet’s Penticton office.
The couple previously shared the business’ challenges associated with its old location off Eckhardt and Highway 97. The space allowed for a newly equipped commercial kitchen, necessary to produce and preserve their chocolate confections, but lacked the walk-in traffic necessary for this style of business.
“We thought that we would be busy and work like crazy when we opened but … that was not the case,” Nativel said. “People always support [businesses] in the beginning because it’s exciting to be a part of this flow and to do things, but once you are open it is really difficult, especially a location with not a lot of walk-in traffic.”
Faced with pandemic precautions and a complete halt in walk-in business, Mullner and Nativel developed a temporary Saturday ‘Breakfast Delivery’ program consisting of vegan pastries and chocolate. Orders allowed you to enjoy a mixed selection of pastries every Saturday, ready for pickup between 8:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. or delivered from 10 a.m.
To accommodate the change in location, the successful breakfast program was halted this January and delivery will not be offered for this program moving forward. However, a selection of pastries and chocolate will be available to curate your own selection of breakfast items any day of the week.
Faced with renovating a new space, the business was also noticeably absent from this year’s 8th Annual OneWorld Multicultural Festival, an event hosted by SOICS, which helped Maison Mulnati get its start.
“I think it was an ad in a newspaper talking about free english courses and David really needed those courses,” Nativel said with a chuckle. “So we went to SOICS, and we discovered the other services … we met different people and [eventually] they asked us [to participate in] the OneWorld Festival.”
The SOICS staff who was familiar with French cuisine knew that French dishes and pastries were popular in Canada, so they presented the idea to participate in the annual event.
“When they asked us if we could cook, we thought: Why not? Let’s give it a try. And we made our chocolate for the OneWorld Festival, and that was the kick I think to make us open this store because the people who tried it … were asking where the store is.”
Although originally from France, Nativel shares that Maison Mulnati’s chocolate recipes and techniques were created in Canada. The recipes reflect the couple’s passion for chocolate—a passion that is highlighted by the use of local, organic, quality ingredients, including Okanagan fruits and nuts when available.
Like so many other attractions, 2020 was a rough year for Historic O’Keefe Ranch.
The sudden and unexpected collapse of the tourism sector due to COVID-19 hit the ranch hard. Deep cuts, including reducing staffing levels to the bare minimum, were necessary to keep the 154-year-old ranch afloat.
But the ranch weathered the storm, and O’Keefe Ranch and Interior Heritage Society president Bruce Cumming said they are optimistic for 2021.
“We were in a very tough spot, but we managed our way out of it and we are in good shape looking forward,” Cummings said.
The ranch will keep its traditional Mother’s Day opening this year, but they are not out of the financial woods just yet.
The huge financial loss from 2020 has ripples into 2021 as the ranch strives to return staffing levels while maintaining some of the oldest buildings in the province.
“Our mandate is to look after the collection out there,” said Cummings, noting most of the buildings are owned by the city, but others are owned by the society.
“Trying to divert money into maintenance has been very difficult and it’s impossible without grants, so we are constantly applying for infrastructure-type grants.”
An area of concern last year was the animals that call the ranch home. The goats, pigs, chickens and other critters still had to be fed and cared for even in the middle of a pandemic, and when the call for help went out, the citizens of Vernon answered.
“We had a campaign in the summer, preparing for the winter to look after the animals and so many people stepped up we had enough to cover the animals over the winter,” Cummings said.
Currently the ranch is open by donation, and Cummings said last year’s season passes will be honoured this year.
“And of course we will sell you one, too,” Cummings said with a chuckle. “If you want a season’s pass, they’re cheap.”
Two wineries at the far end of Lakeshore Road have an application into the province that, if approved, could increase capacity by about 900 people.
Cedar Creek Estate Winery and the adjacent Martin’s Lane Winery have both applied to the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch for a “winery special event area.”
According to signs on the property outlining the application, Cedar Creek is asking for outdoor capacity of 700 people within two separate areas, which would be “event driven only.”
The Martin’s Lane application seeks 120 people inside and 80 outside.
It’s not clear the reason for the application, however, Cedar Creek has hosted concert series in the past.
Some neighbours in the area have voiced concerns the impact so many vehicles will have on the winding section of road, which city officials admit is maintained to rural, not city standards. Concerns have also been raised about the parking needed to host an event with 700 attendees.
Residents within a half mile radius of the properties are able to comment to the LCRB by March 17.
Officials with the City of Kelowna were surprised at the notice, since applications typically come to the city first.
City planning director Ryan Smith says he expects the provincial agency will send the application to the city and the Agricultural Land Commission for comment before issuing approval.
The provincial agency refused to comment on the application to “protect the privacy of applicants and licensees.”
Calls to the wineries for comment were not returned. An email request to the wineries’ parent company, Mark Anthony Group, also received no response.
Even if the application is eventually approved, neighbours won’t have to worry in the foreseeable future since large events have been banned due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the provincial health officer.
Match Eatery restaurants at casinos in Vernon, Kamloops and Penticton have been given approval to reopen.
A BC Government Employees Union memo to staff says the restaurants will reopen at the Cascades casinos in Penticton and Kamloops, and Lake City Casino in Vernon, as well as the Starlight Casino in New Westminster.
The restaurants will reopen for dine-in, takeout and delivery service starting March 15, BCGEU vice-president Dave MacDonald said in the email.
“While this is not an indication that the casinos will be opening up anytime soon, it is a positive step in the right direction to getting people back to work,” MacDonald wrote.
Casinos across the province were ordered closed by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on March 16 last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We expect that those who are called back to work will receive updated health and safety training as well an orientation on the new protocols for reopening,” MacDonald said.
“In the meanwhile, the union will continue the work to make sure that everyone is able to return to work as soon as possible when allowed by the public health officials.”
Kelowna-based Women’s Enterprise Centre has recommendations for those who offer funding to female entrepreneurs.
WEC conducted a survey in advance of International Women’s Day on Monday, and it found the major of women in business feel current funding models don’t fit their needs. Nearly 80% of the more than 400 women who took the survey indicated they will need funding in the next two years, but 61% believe the funding process could be improved.
“Our intentions are to understand the challenges faced by women as a result of the pandemic, highlight the opportunities that come with funding their business startup, recovery or growth, then provide actionable recommendations for ecosystem funders and champions to close the gap in access,” WEC chief executive officer Jill Earthy said in a press release. “In this report, we explore each step of the process, from marketing to funding models, applications, approval rates and support.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we hope this framework will serve as the basis for long-term change in the BC funding landscape.”
Some of the tips from WEC are developing funding models that go beyond marketing, simplifying the application process, lowering eligibility criteria and partnering with organizations to offer long-term support. WEC says recently studies have shown the COVID-19 pandemic have been hitting female entrepreneurs harder than their male counterparts.
“As we look towards economic recovery, funding will play a critical role,” Earthy said. “Ninety-one percent of respondents say they’re optimistic about the future, and 77 per cent plan to seek funding to accomplish their goals.
“The need is there, and we have a unique opportunity to redesign the funding landscape so we can develop a stronger pipeline of diverse and thriving businesses.”
Other findings in the report are:
• 63% of women business owners request less than $50,000.
• 60% of survey respondents did not apply for funding pre-pandemic; many women thought they would get turned down.
• 63% of women business owners experienced revenue decline as a result of the pandemic; of those, 43% were forced to temporarily close their business, and 12% directly related to lack of child care.
• More than 60% of women have accessed business advisors, online education or mentorship since the pandemic started, the majority of which have approached non-profit organizations for support.
• 91% of women business owners are optimistic about the future.
• 77% of those surveyed anticipate needing funding in the near future, but 61% say current funding doesn’t fit their needs.
• More than 40% of women business owners suggest a simplified application form and say advisory support through the process could improve the experience.
• Since 1995, Women’s Enterprise Centre has provided more than $72.8 million in direct and leveraged financing to women businesses owners, and has created more than $2.18 billion in economic activity in the province since 1995, which helped create or maintain 3,378 jobs in the province (as of March 31, 2020). Its loan repayment rate is 96% and, due to proactive concessions made for loan clients early on, none has defaulted as a result of the pandemic to date.
• 75% of WEC-funded businesses are still in business past five years, compared to the national average of 65%.
Uptown Rutland Business Association has a new board of directors as well as a new look.
The organization held its annual general meeting on Wednesday and revealed its 11-member board, which includes president Jamie Needham of Interior Savings.
“I look forward to working with this year’s board as we will be developing a new focus and direction for URBA as an organization,” Needham said in a press release. “We will be strategizing on how to bring more businesses and development to Rutland. It’s an exciting time for Rutland.”
The organization recently completed a rebranding process that concluded with the release of its new logo, which features URBA in bright, red letters.
“I’m very proud of the hard work accomplished by the board as we developed the vision and mission statements,” Needham said. “They really put their hearts into it.”
This year’s URBA board includes:
• Nick Aubin, Aubin & Associates
• Justin Bullock, OK Tire
• Ruby Dulay, Centex Gas
• Laura Fitzsimmons, Lux Homes
• June Forman, MCC Thrift Store
• Jon Garratt, Whisk Cake Co.
• Chris Gayford, Cheeba Cheeba’s/Mary Jane’s Headquarters
• Navjit Khun Khun, Benson Law
• Domenic Rampone, Mara Lumber Home Building Centre
• Nancy Wells, Kelowna Hospital Foundation-Rutland Thrift Store
Mountain Girl Crafts, Tie Dye Towels and Woodwork with Grandpa are just a few of the online stores that have been created by students at Big White Community School.
The Big White Community School’s Young Entrepreneurs program is usually an in-person affair each year, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented that from happening this year. Instead, the students have taken their entrepreneurial ideas to the internet, which allows for even more potential shoppers.
Normally the students, whose grades range from kindergarten to Grade 9, spend the year creating their business idea and then sell their products during a one-day spree.
There are 29 online stores selling their wares. The Young Entrepreneurs website went live on Monday and will remain open until March 17.
Golf season is in full swing at the Penticton Golf and Country Club, which opened up this week and quickly filled its tee sheet.
“It’s great. We opened on Tuesday, (and) we’re on day three right now,” Penticton Golf and Country Club GM Guy Dow said. “Our tee sheet is full all day. There’s just so many people that are looking for something to do outside, and definitely golf is one of those items, those sports you can do at this time.”
Now that the spring weather has come to Penticton, the interest in golfing has grown, especially during COVID-19, as more people look to find outdoor activities to do safely.
“We anticipate every day to be busy if the weather co-operates,” Dow said.
The club usually opens between the third week of February and the first week of March and goes until the middle of December if it can.
“We’re looking forward to everyone getting outside and doing more things, not necessarily just golf, but being able to be out and enjoy themselves,” Dow said.
And it’s not only the snowbirds stuck in the city who have come out for the outdoor activity; more players of all ages are teeing up to try to get their hole-in-one.
“This year this spring is definitely different. A lot of snowbirds are around, but a lot of younger people are taking up golf maybe a little bit more than they have in the past,” Dow explained.
“The casual golfer is becoming a little bit more of a full-time golfer.”
The country club is open to the general public as well as members, inviting everyone to join throughout the season.
While the country club hasn’t been able to host events or tournaments and expects the same for this year, revenue has been remaining steady thanks to more people signing up for memberships.
“It’ll just be regular daily play, but again, the golfers are just excited to be able to get out here and enjoy themselves,” he said.
The golf course is open seven days a week, and more information on hours and tee times can be found online on the website here.
The Okanagan Regional Library has reached an agreement with the union representing its librarians.
The new deal between the ORL board and the Professional Employees Association that represents the librarians runs for three years ending Dec. 31, 2023. The key terms include combined wage and benefit-cost increases totalling 2% in each of the three years.
A news release indicates both the library and its professional librarians felt it was important to reach a longer-term agreement with the uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This new agreement is in line with other collective agreements in the public sector,” a statement read. “It ensures that the library and its staff can continue to focus all efforts on providing excellent library service to all of our communities.”
The Okanagan Regional Library was established in 1936 and is the 16th largest library system in Canada, serving more than 400,000 residents through 31 branches.