Offering plenty of support and amenities, Camrose, Alta., is a great place for women entrepreneurs to set up shop and succeed.
What’s behind the high number of successful female entrepreneurs in Camrose, Alta.? For one thing, the former sleepy retirement city has seen an influx of young families over the last decade, bringing with them a youthful, entrepreneurial spirit. Another is the combination of lower startup costs, shorter travelling distances, and affordability of retail space in a small community, with the ability to get all the goods and services of a big city. Then there’s the City of Camrose’s commitment to helping local businesses thrive and succeed through various grants, online resources, and access to a dedicated and knowledgeable staff. Finally, Camrose is a community where businesses support other businesses. All these add up to an ideal place for women to start up and scale up a business.
A strong contingent of successful women-owned businesses is also good for Camrose. “They’re leaders in their fields, well connected, and tend to give back,” says Patricia MacQuarrie, General Manager of Community Development at the City of Camrose. “Many are also mentors to other business owners, both men and women, and tend to be guideposts for new business startups.” Mediaplanet spoke to a few of them.
Owner of The Trendy Walrus
2021 Innovative Marketing Award, Camrose & District Chamber of Commerce Awards
When Teresa Kroeger opened her clothing boutique, The Trendy Walrus, in 2018, she wanted to create a personal shopping experience for customers to feel good about themselves. Through her storefront off-Main Street location in Camrose and online store, Kroeger sells mostly Canadian-owned clothing companies that are ethically and sustainably sourced, unique, and inclusive regardless of people’s age, size, or gender.
From the very start, Kroeger has felt supported by the City of Camrose and others in the business community. As well, the lower operating costs and cost of purchasing a space, compared to larger centres like Edmonton, have eased her entry. “It doesn’t even compare, so for a new business to get going, this is a really good centre,” says Kroeger.
During the pandemic, Kroeger managed to qualify for a façade improvement grant to pay for signage at her new store location and a web development grant to help boost her SEO rankings. She commends the City’s ongoing communication on grants and other information that can help business. “I feel they are certainly doing everything they can to get us supports that we might need and qualify for,” she says. She believes there’s plenty of potential for other niche businesses like hers to start up in Camrose and feel supported. “We have lots here, but we don’t have everything, so there’s room for some neat additions,” she says.
Owner of Vinesation
2018 Woman in Business Award, Camrose & District Chamber of Commerce Awards
Bridget Lennartsson, a former administrative assistant, and her son thought it would be fun to open a small business together. One day they were given gifts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That sparked the idea to bring an olive oil and vinegar tasting room to Camrose. Vinesation opened in June of 2014, the day just happening to coincide with an outdoor City event called Jaywalker’s Jamboree, which brought thousands of customers to the shop.
Vinesation — which is also an Indigenous-owned business — continues to bring a steady stream of customers to the tasting room and employs one full-time and three part-time staff. Lennartsson has been active with her local Chamber of Commerce and women’s entrepreneurial groups like WISE — Women in Business and Leadership Group. “I didn’t know there was so much more I could utilize in our community, and these women became strong mentors for me,” she says. The City of Camrose helped Lennartsson with details related to obtaining her business license, and the downtown business community was welcoming and supportive. Last year when she was ill and off work for six months, the business community rallied around her. “These people wanted to see our business succeed, and so they fought for us,” she says.
Owner of Camrose Energy Corporation
2016 Home-Based Business of the Year Award & 2019 Small Business of the Year Award, Camrose & District Chamber of Commerce Awards
Ten years ago, Denise Hawkins was a stay-at-home mom looking for a job that gave her some flexibility to make her child her priority. She and her husband were in the process of putting solar panels on their new home when he learned of an opportunity in the energy marketing field that required zero experience.
Hawkins jumped at the chance and today is the owner of Camrose Energy Corporation, one of 26 local, independent electricity and natural gas marketers operating under the umbrella agency of Utility Network and Partners. (Alberta is Canada’s only province with a deregulated electricity and natural gas system.)
Groups like WISE and other women’s groups have been integral to Hawkins’ success, especially at the beginning. “Everybody’s industry is different, but there are still some very parallel struggles, and there’s always something that you can learn from somebody who’s been in business longer,” she says.
The City of Camrose has also been a great support and highlighted Hawkins’ business during 2021 Small Business Week. “This is one example of the City going above and beyond to help small businesses succeed in Camrose,” she says.
2019 Woman in Business Award, Camrose & District Chamber of Commerce Awards
Sometimes referred to as the Cake Lady, Tania Greenwald started her home-based bakery, Cute & Classy Cakes, in 2013 as a maternity leave hobby. It soon turned into a full-time cake and cupcake business, which she ran on her family’s acreage just outside of Camrose. When COVID-19 hit and business slowed, Greenwald started experimenting with other baked treats like cookies, candies, tarts, and scones, and a local flower shop opened its doors to her, and let her sell them through a pop-up cooler display at their storefront location.
The new treats were a hit and business exploded, so much that Greenwald needed to find a store location in Camrose. She opened her new store, now called The Sweeterie, in August 2021 and employs seven full-time and two part-time staff. “The City did an incredible job helping make the transition very smooth. I’ve heard stories about it taking years to get a development permit in big cities like Calgary. Here I think I had it within the week,” she says.